Over the past few days I have received several hundred emails from constituents about the Israel/ Palestine conflict, and they are still coming in. I hope you will appreciate that it will take some time for me to do justice to people’s concerns, but I will reply to everyone who has contacted me, and I thank you for taking the time to do so.
The scale of civilian casualties and loss of life in the region has been truly heart-breaking. I condemn in the strongest possible terms the terrorist attack last week by Hamas, which killed 1400 innocent Israelis, and saw hundreds more taken hostage. Gaza is now facing a military onslaught from Israel, and an emerging humanitarian crisis. Thousands of innocent Palestinian civilians have died, with many more injured and suffering. This is a complex and constantly evolving situation, and I do not think it would be helpful to try to give a running commentary, particularly when the facts can sometimes be hard to ascertain. I will, however, set out a few thoughts here.
As Keir Starmer said at Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday, Israel has a right to defend itself against Hamas, but international law must always be followed: Hamas are not the Palestinian people, and the Palestinian people are not Hamas. Supplies of medicines, food, fuel and water must be allowed into Gaza immediately, and humanitarian corridors opened to facilitate this. As UN Chief Antonio Guterres said earlier today, we must ‘avoid the collective punishment’ of the Palestinian people, but Hamas must also recognise that it is putting innocent Palestinians at risk by its actions.
Many of the emails I’ve received are calling for an immediate ceasefire. The counter-argument would be that Israel has the right to root out Hamas and rescue hostages (within the bounds of international law, as I state above). But it’s become increasingly apparent that a ceasefire is the only way to stop the death toll of innocent civilians rising and to allow humanitarian aid to get through. I think it’s unlikely, however, that Hamas or Israel would accept one at this stage. I fear that the hopes of a lasting peace in the region, based on a two-state solution and the 1967 borders, are diminishing by the day. We need stronger international leadership. The UK, given its historic involvement, has a particularly important role to play in future peace-broking. The immediate priority, however, must be to prevent further violence and a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza.
I know how strongly many of you feel about this issue, and do please continue to contact me, especially if you have friends or relatives in the region who are affected. I will do my very best to help.
Bristol is a diverse city and I hope we can get through this without experiencing the rise in islamophobia and antisemitism we are, sadly, seeing elsewhere, but if you are anxious about this, or a victim of this, again, please do get in touch with me.