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There will be no peace while Hamas still has power

(Alamy)

6 min read

They murdered and kidnapped Holocaust survivors, massacred babies and gunned down young people as they danced at a music festival.

It is difficult to comprehend – let alone explain – the savagery which Hamas terrorists visited upon innocent Israeli men, women and children on Saturday 7 October. 

The darkest and bloodiest day not just in the history of the State of Israel, but in the history of the Jewish people since 1945. Hamas’ deliberate and indiscriminate targeting of civilians represents the worst terrorist outrage of the 21st century. 

While hundreds of Israeli families mourn their dead, many others are tortured by the knowledge that Hamas is holding their loved ones hostage in Gaza. Among those seized by Hamas: nine-month-old Kfir Silberman-Bibas, his four-year-old brother Ariel and their parents and grandparents; Vivian Silver, a 74 year-old veteran peace activist; and Rut Perez, a teenager suffering from muscular dystrophy who has to be fed through a tube, and her father. 

Hamas has opted to invest in weapons of war and terror tunnels rather than the Palestinian people

As Israel rightly seeks to rescue the hostages and end the threat to its people posed by Hamas, our thoughts must also be with innocent Palestinian civilians in Gaza and our focus on ensuring humanitarian relief reaches them. 

They are victims, too – victims of Hamas’ antisemitic genocidal aspirations and its contempt for human life: Israeli and Palestinian. I write both as a vice-chair of Labour Friends of Israel and a supporter of Labour Friends of Palestine.

It is important, at all times, that we keep in mind these two fundamentals: Hamas bears the responsibility for the suffering of Israeli and Palestinians alike and the people of Gaza and the terror group aren’t in any way synonymous. 

Hamas – and fellow terror group Palestinian Islamic Jihad – lives off and exploits the legitimate Palestinian demand for self-determination in order to advance the interests of its paymasters in Tehran. 

But those interests – the destruction of the State of Israel and regional hegemony – do nothing to advance the cause of peace and progress. “Hamas doesn’t care about the safety and prosperity of Gazans. They care about killing Jews. To call them Palestinian freedom fighters is an insult to reality”, the Palestinian academic and human rights activist Yasmine Mohammed argued this week. When it is rightly asserted that there is no military solution to the Israeli-Hamas conflict, it must be equally asserted that there can be no terrorist solution either. Any cessation of hostilities, including any ‘humanitarian pause’, must be two-sided.

Since seizing power in Gaza in a bloody coup in 2007, Hamas has pursued its goals without a care for the people subjected to its brutal Islamist rule. 

Opposition has been crushed, the free media snuffed out and human rights routinely abused. Women and LGBT Palestinians have suffered grievously. As Freedom House details, Gaza is a de facto one-party state, where the security forces regularly carry out arbitrary arrests and detentions, and the activities of Palestinian trade unions are curtailed. 

In a free democracy, such as Israel, at least citizens can remove Joe Biden, Rishi Sunak or Benjamin Netanyahu at the ballot box. It’s not so easy for Palestinians. 

This is the reality that those who champion and glorify Hamas as ‘freedom fighters’ have sought to romanticise. They have also worsened tensions in community cohesion here in the UK, with record incidents of antisemitism and Islamophobia in recent weeks. We must have no blind spots: British Jews and British Muslims bear no responsibility for events thousands of miles away.

Hamas has time and again placed its war against Israel above the material and economic interests of the population of Gaza. Despite crushing poverty, sky-high unemployment and creaking infrastructure, Hamas has opted to invest in weapons of war and terror tunnels rather than the Palestinian people.

It has even proudly posted images of Hamas fighters digging up water pipes and converting them to fire rockets at Israel. Indeed, since the terror attacks, Hamas’ leaders have openly boasted that they tricked Israel into thinking they were interested in improving the economic well-being of Gazans. 

For 16 long years, Hamas and PIJ have hidden behind and among the Palestinian people, using them as human shields: deliberately placing rocket launchers in their schools and hospitals and among their homes. We saw the result of this in the tragic events last week. As the Chief Rabbi, Sir Ephraim Mirvis, said: “In all the pain and frustration of the clamour to wrongly blame Israel for the horrific loss of Palestinian life at the Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza, let us not lose sight of what is, above all, a most awful human tragedy. Every life is sacred.” 

Of course, the plight of the people of Gaza isn’t shared by Hamas’ most senior leaders. While many in Gaza attempt to get by on $1 a day, Ismail Haniyeh, the terror group’s leader, is estimated to be worth about $4bn and chooses to live in luxury in Qatar. 

Nor is Haniyeh alone in living the high life. Palestinian Authority officials allege that the tunnel-smuggling market has transformed 1,700 Hamas chiefs into millionaires. 

The Hamas oligarchy is, quite literally, invested in terror: no wonder that, at every turn, it has sought to frustrate the desire for peace of the Israeli and Palestinian people. Thirty years ago, its response to the Oslo Accords was to send suicide bombers into Israel and destabilise the Labor governments of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. In 2010, it again used terror – including shooting dead a pregnant Israeli woman at close range – to derail the peace talks between Israel and the PA initiated by the Obama administration. This month’s terror attacks are similarly driven by a desire to frustrate the Abraham Accords normalisation process. 

We know from polling conducted in Gaza earlier this summer  that Hamas’ attack didn’t reflect the desire of its people – 70 per cent of Gazans want to see the PA take over the administration and security of the Strip and Hamas give up its armed units. 

After the scale and nature of recent terrible events, the trust and empathy required for a resumption of a peace process could take time to build. Israel must defend itself and its people, in line with international law, against the genuine threat of genocidal terror.

Hamas cannot be allowed to continue to pose a threat to Israelis and Palestinians alike. There can be no sustainable long-term peace, security or recovery – for Gaza or Israel – with Hamas’ power and arsenal left in place.

Ultimately, only practical action – not simplistic slogans, protests or gestures – will create the conditions for de-escalation and a peace process leading to a two-state solution.

Whatever the complexities and nuances of the conflict between Israel and the Hamas, one fact should be crystal clear: Hamas’ rule of Gaza has been a disaster for both the Israeli and the Palestinian peoples. 

 

Diana Johnson, Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull North and vice chair of Labour Friends of Israel

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