More people have written to me about what is happening in Gaza than anything else in the eight and half years I have represented this city. All bar a handful express solidarity with the Palestinians and demand a ceasefire now. I agree with them. And like everyone else, I watch with horror and feel impotent to stop the catastrophe unfolding day by day.
It is the scale that is most terrifying. Twice as many people killed in three weeks than in three decades of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. 11,000 bombing raids dropping ordnance greater than the Hiroshima bomb – more than five kilograms of explosive for every man, woman and child. Most of the two million plus population displaced and homeless, civil administration collapsing, power, food and water running out, disease now taking hold.
And yet, the western world stands idly by and allows this to happen. Sunak and Starmer talk of Israel’s right to defend itself. But the bombing of overcrowded civilian areas and the killing of thousands of innocents is not self-defence. It is a war crime. Demanding that a million civilians head south and then bombing them when they do is not self-defence. It is a war crime. Blocking supplies of food and medicine to people who are sick and starving is not self-defence. It is a war crime.
Whilst the world’s attention is on Gaza, attacks on Palestinians in the occupied West Bank have dramatically intensified. Gangs of armed settlers have so far killed 120 villagers. Not Hamas fighters. Not militants. Olive farmers mainly. The Israeli authorities turn a blind eye, and sometimes collude.
The intention is clear; to force Palestinians from their own land. Israeli human rights groups like B’Tselem report that entire villages are now abandoning their homes under extreme pressure. Some call this a new Nakba, the mass displacement of 1948 – and Netanyahu’s talk of a second war of independence makes clear that this is his understanding too.
The Israeli government claims all of this is in response to the horrific Hamas attacks on October 7th. But we are way beyond that. Apart from international law requiring military responses to be proportionate, they should also not be directed at non-combatants.
In any military situation, there will be innocent casualties. But this is different. We are not seeing civilians caught in the periphery of attacks on military targets. The civilians are the targets.
There are some driving this Israeli campaign who quite clearly believe they are at war with the Palestinian people, that Hamas and the people of Gaza are one and the same.
This is the most extreme right-wing government in the history of Israel. Before this war it was deeply unpopular. Many inside Israel believe Netanyahu is waging death and destruction on this scale in part to keep himself out of jail.
The political objective here is the denial and eradication of Palestinian claims to territory, a redrawing of the map, the end of any notion of a Palestinian state. That is why Palestinians now face an existential threat. That is why we should support them.
I watch in shame at the complicity of the British government in all of this. We cannot do much. But we can speak out. We can say – not in our name.