Yesterday Parliament met for the first time since Hamas’s attack on Israel, and the Prime Minister took questions for two hours from MPs. There was near-unanimity across the House that the brutality inflicted on Israeli civilians last weekend was utterly inexcusable; that the hostages taken to Gaza must be returned; and that Israel has the right to defend herself.
This last point requires definition. While mouthing the words ‘Israel has the right to defend herself’ some MPs called for a ceasefire. What they mean is that Israel’s right to self-defence does not extend to incursions into Gaza; that the Israeli Defence Force should respect the borders between the territories even if Hamas do not. In other words, Israel should do nothing to pursue and bring to justice the people who perpetrated the worst atrocity against their country, and against Jews anywhere, since the state’s creation in the aftermath of the Holocaust.
This position strikes me as very wrong. For the sake of the victims, who deserve justice, and of Israel’s future security, Hamas must be rooted out of Gaza. This will not be easy and of course, tragically, it will be bloody. Military action will never completely extirpate terrorism, and indeed the likely tragedy of civilian deaths will spawn new terrorists among the Palestinians. All this is true. And yet the fact remains that Israel is mortally threatened by the group that controls Gaza, and the only way to counter this threat is to go in after them.
We know that Hamas launched their attack last Saturday in order to derail the talks on cooperation and agreement between Israel and some of its Arab neighbours. There is simply no chance of peace in the region, or a secure homeland for the Palestinian people, while Hamas are able to operate from Gaza.
I am not a military tactician and I have no advice to give the IDF on how they should conduct their operation, other than to say I expect them to observe the rules of war - as they have so far, by giving civilians in northern Gaza due warning that they are coming.
My hope is that the military operation against Hamas will be swift and effective. Attention can then turn to the future. Out of this carnage a new commitment to the two-state solution may be found on both sides, including among the Palestinians’ regional backers.
Meanwhile here in the UK we have some work to do. We have seen disgraceful scenes on British streets of people celebrating Hamas’ attacks and targeting Jews for hatred. We need to condemn this as clearly as we condemn anti-Muslim hate. I hope that the police and prosecutors are able to identify and punish some of the worst offenders - and ideally, if they are not British citizens, deport them. They clearly have no place in our - by global standards - tolerant and peaceful country.