On 17 June this year Ed Miliband was the keynote speaker at the Labour Friends of Israel annual lunch. He delivered a rousing speech, drawing on his recent visit to Israel. But he also spoke about the security challenges that Israel face and he mentioned his visit to Sderot, which has suffered terribly from Hamas rocket attacks, for many years.
Miliband said: ‘We must ensure Israel’s security and right to protect itself’. He also mentioned Isis and compared it with what Israel has to face on its borders whether Hezbollah in the north or Hamas in the south. These were strong and impressive words but the key test is whether they translate into action.
Miliband has issued a number of statements during the Gaza operation. Their theme is very disappointing. While he reiterated Israel’s right of self-defence against Hamas’ terrorism he also said he could not support any ground incursion into Gaza and has indeed condemned Israel’s action. The problem is that in order to deal with Hamas’ terror tunnels Israel had no choice but to mount a ground operation in Gaza to eliminate these tunnels – this in addition for the need to respond to rocket attacks. Hamas has fired over 3,500 rockets, and hundreds if not thousands of lives could have been lost if it had not been for the Iron Dome. How exactly Miliband expects Israel to protect itself is a question that he has not answered. While Israel used the Iron Dome to intercept rockets, sitting idly by, knowing that these terror tunnels exist and that Hamas could use them to transfer weapons and to kidnap and kill Israelis, is not an option.
Astonishing too has been Labour’s attempt to score points off the back of the resignation of Sayeeda Warsi. While she declared her resignation was because of the government policy on Gaza, it was noted by different Conservative commentators that the real reason was internal party politics. Sadly, the consequences of Labour’s handling of the situation are that former LFI director and adviser to Jack Straw, Kate Bearman, decided to leave the party after 20 years, claiming the party has ‘chosen to disregard the culpability of Hamas’.
Meanwhile, foreign journalists who have recently left the warzone have confirmed how Hamas threatened journalists from reporting, and how Hamas was using human shields and were firing rockets from schools and hospitals. We also know that the ‘disproportionate’ debate is based only on a number of casualties, which is the wrong logic. First of all, disproportionate use of force relates to how and which force is being used and since there was no investigation into this operation, Israel cannot be accused of using disproportionate force, as it is doing everything it can to minimise the loss of civilian life. Second, the BBC and New York Times looked into data and came to conclusion that the IDF did not kill indiscriminately. In fact, the vast majority of casualties are men between the ages of 20-29, the age group most applicable to Hamas fighters, which confirms what many think about Hamas inflating numbers and misleading the media. Third, the reason why Israel has fewer civilian casualties is because of the successful Iron Dome system, while in Gaza, Hamas leaders hide in bunkers while they sacrifice their civilians (Hamas could have spent money it got on schools, hospitals and even shelters, but it decided to spend it on terror tunnels and rockets).
Israel may have made mistakes during this operation and mistakes do happen during wars, despite Israel’s attempts to make its response as surgical as possible. Let us not forget that the main reason for civilian casualties in Gaza is because Hamas uses civilians as human shields and is not even afraid to admit it live on television, while the ‘urban warfare’ manual of Hamas explains the benefits of its human shield strategy. Despite having all this evidence available, and despite Hamas’ genocidal strategy, Miliband, together with shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander chose to continue to speak out against Israel and are highlighting the issue of arms export licences to Israel. If Israel ‘has a right to defend itself’, why are they pressing the government to review arms licences to Israel? Do they want to weaken Israel so it is unable to defend itself? Do they think that pressing Israel into ceasefire without eliminating the terror threat and demilitarising Gaza will achieve lasting peace?
Once this military operation ends, Israel has to sit down with Mahmoud Abbas and negotiate an agreement which will lead to the two-state solution. The people of Gaza want peace and the people of Israel want peace. It is Hamas which does not want peace, it is Hamas which breached all the ceasefires agreed during the operation, and Hamas whose charter calls for destruction of Israel. Hamas refuses to meet the conditions of the Quartet and therefore cannot be a partner in peace negotiations. Therefore what Miliband has to push for is the demilitarisation of Gaza with Hamas disarmed – once these conditions are met, negotiations for peace can really begin.
Photo: Amir Farshad Ebrahimi
Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.
Our work depends on you.