It is impossible not to have reacted with sheer horror and disbelief at the harrowing events that have taken place in Israel. Just under two weeks ago, terror was unleashed on an unimaginable scale.
At dawn on 7 October, around 2,500 Hamas militants entered Israel’s southern border from the Gaza Strip. They went on to murder 1,400 people, wound a further 3,500, and take another 200 hostage. More Jews were killed on that Saturday than on any day since the Holocaust.
The victims were chosen indiscriminately. Young people enjoying themselves at the Re'im music festival; families waking up on the morning of the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah in their homes at the Kfar Aza kibbutz; elderly people who survived the trauma of the Holocaust and who had sought sanctuary and built a life in the Jewish Homeland.
The level of violence and acts of inhumanity inflicted upon innocent men, women, and children, demonstrated an unadulterated evil. People were killed, tortured, mutilated, raped, and burned alive. They were not just murdered, but massacred.
The devastation and mourning extends far beyond Israel. The murdered and the missing come from over 30 countries, including the UK. There will be few in the Jewish community in this country who will not have family, friends, or loved ones who have been affected by this attack. The spike in antisemitic incidents in the days that followed is not just depressing, but wholly unacceptable.
We should be clear that Hamas is fully responsible for this appalling act of terror. Proscribed as a terrorist group in the UK, Hamas’s stated purpose for being is to kill Jews and extinguish the existence of the State of Israel. This atrocity was an existential strike at the very idea of Israel being a safe and secure homeland for the Jewish people.
I believe we must support absolutely Israel’s right to defend itself. Those being held hostage must be returned to their families, the terrorists who planned and committed these heinous acts must be brought to justice, further incursions into Israel must be deterred and prevented, and Israel’s long-term security must be strengthened. These are legitimate and justifiable objectives.
They must be pursued, however, in line with international humanitarian law. Israel is facing a vicious enemy who embed themselves behind innocent Palestinian civilians, but those civilians should not pay the price for the barbarism of Hamas. Hamas care little about the sanctity of life of those living in Gaza and seek to put them in harm’s way. It is the humanity, law, decency, and respect for life that sets democracies apart from the mindless violence of terrorists.
This is why we must support the Palestinian people caught up in Hamas’s war with Israel. An acute humanitarian crisis is unfolding to which we must respond.
The UK has been a long-standing and significant provider of humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people. The Government has announced this week that it will increase our aid by a third, providing an additional £10 million of support. This funding will allow trusted partners, including key United Nations agencies, to provide relief items and services. This could include food, water, and emergency shelter, and will depend on what is needed on the ground.
We must also ensure that this humanitarian support urgently reaches civilians in Gaza. The UK is also exploring options for moving humanitarian supplies closer to the region and liaising with aid agencies in the region to ensure relief supplies can be distributed as quickly and effectively as possible This will require both Israel and Egypt to allow in the aid that is so badly needed. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has also spoken specifically to President Sisi of Egypt about supporting civilians to leave Gaza by the Rafah border crossing which, as I write, remains closed.
The Prime Minister is currently visiting Israel in a show of solidarity against the evil of terrorism. He will then go on to visit other capitals in the region. As he told the House of Commons during his statement on Monday, as well as offering support to Israel’s pursuit of justice, and providing humanitarian assistance to civilians living in Gaza, ultimately, we need to continue to ask the tough questions about how we can keep the flame of peace and stability for the region alive. This can only be achieved through a two-state solution that guarantees security for both Israelis and Palestinians, and through normalisation between Israel and its Arab neighbours.
Hamas, through its evil acts, have sought to destroy this process. It is vital that we do all we possibly can at the most difficult of times to keep the prospect of a more stable and peaceful long-term future for the region and its people alive.