Richard Burden MP in Huffington Post on Gaza
by Richard Burden MP, 14 November 2012
[Richard Burden was part of a Caabu delegation to Gaza, which was the first parliamentary delegation to enter the Strip following Operation Cast Lead]
And so it spirals once again. Hamas fires rockets into Southern Israel, growling, Russell Crowe-like, that Israel's actions have 'opened the gates of Hell.' Israel strikes Gaza by air and sea, the Israeli army taking to Twitter to "recommend that no Hamas operative, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead" Chilling stuff from @idfspokesperson, who has also helpfully launched the hash tag #PillarofDefense and blog-post complete "with photos and videos all in one place". Lovely.
You would think it was all some kind of spectator sport. But it is not. Innocent people are dying in Gaza - however 'surgical' Israel claims its strikes to be. Across the border, casualties in Southern Israel have so far been mercifully rare: the ramshackle nature of rockets from Gaza and the technology of Israel's Iron Dome missile defence see to that. But the fear and trauma is real. Civilians know that the sirens leave them and their children just 15 seconds to move to safety.
Both sides have their narratives to excuse their actions. Israel points to the rockets. Hamas points to air strikes and the blockade which Israel has imposed on Gaza for not far short of a decade now. Both have their domestic reasons for squaring up to each other right now. Hamas wants to retain credibility on the streets of Gaza as more extreme Jihadi groups paint them as 'yesterday's men,' unwilling to stand up to Israel and not delivering for Gaza's poor. It also wants to show Hamas in Gaza as a major player as different national parts of the Muslim Brotherhood jockey for position in the region.
There are some similarities in Netanyahu's reasons. He has his own election coming up and he wants to show himself the 'strong man' domestically. He also probably wants to put the USA under pressure to unequivocally back the old ally before the second term Obama presidency gets too many ideas about new ways to achieve a sustainable Middle East peace.
And both Hamas and Netanyahu have a common interest in boxing in Mahmoud Abbas as he seeks upgraded recognition for Palestine at the United nations. Indeed, some senior Israeli ministers have already been bizarrely claiming that UN recognition and rocket attacks go hand in hand. Hamas, meanwhile, wants to portray Abbas' approach as irrelevant to the needs of ordinary Palestinians.
So where will the latest escalation lead? To another Operation Cast Lead with thousands dead and injured and more homes destroyed? Or will we see another hastily-brokered ceasefire as we have done during other, less serious fare-ups over the last year or so, with both sides having given the their domestic audiences a glimpse of their desired images.
The latter is certainly preferable to the former. Indeed the rest of us have a right to ask why Israel chose to dramatically ratchet up its strikes yesterday when Egypt had been brokering a ceasefire this week. The international community must also be clear in its call for an immediate ceasefire - that means telling friends that they must stop as well as making the demand on enemies.
And it means driving forward a political solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Not only in Gaza but in the West Bank too. International law, numerous UN resolutions and peace initiatives have provided the framework. But we need to mean it. Britain voting for recognition of Palestine at the UN in a few weeks time - no more than Israel demanded and received for itself as of right - would be a sign that we, at least, are serious.