Like you, I am horrified by the violence engulfing Gaza. As of today, more than 1700 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, most of them civilians, including hundreds of women and children. Hamas rockets have also killed civilians with over 40 Israeli soldiers also dead. With half the population of Gaza aged under 18, children inevitably bear the brunt of this conflict. (I made this point when speaking in the Gaza statement in Parliament, the full text of which you read in the link).
The clashes occurring inside the West Bank demonstrate that violence is not restricted to Gaza either, and it is obvious that there will be a huge impact more widely within the Occupied Territories.
I have visited Gaza, the West Bank and Israel on several occasions, most recently last summer, and I am deeply aware of how small the space is within which this war is being fought. I have described Gaza as being an ‘open prison', within which more than 1.7 million people are living in conditions that were virtually intolerable, even before the war. There was never any doubt that bombing and a ground invasion would rapidly lead to many civilian casualties. That is why Labour's Foreign Affairs spokesman warned in advance that "a full-scale ground invasion would be a disaster for the peoples of both Gaza and Israel, and a strategic error for Israel" and Labour have opposed the escalation that has followed the deployment of Israeli troops. The Shadow Foreign Secretary has also stated that "as in the past, this incursion will end with an agreement" and that "the question is how many more children and civilians need to die before such an agreement is reached?"
Ed Miliband has made clear "As a party we oppose the further escalation of violence we have seen with Israel's invasion of Gaza. I defend Israel's right to defend itself against rocket attacks. But I cannot explain, justify or defend the horrifying deaths of hundreds of Palestinians, including children and innocent civilians."
I fully understand that southern Israelis have lived in fear of indiscriminate rocket fire from inside Gaza - I have visited and seen this for myself - and rocket fire has extended into other parts of Israel in the recent weeks. I condemn such attacks without reservation - they instil terror into the civilian population, cause considerable damage and have claimed innocent lives. Israel has a right to self-defence and to protect her own citizens.
But Palestinians generally, and Gazans in particular, have suffered massively disproportionate casualties as a result of bombing and military action, both in recent weeks and during previous clashes, such as Operation Cast Lead in 2008, which resulted in 1400 Palestinian deaths. Palestinians, especially those trapped inside Gaza, feel themselves to be being collectively punished for the undoubted crimes of extreme militants both inside and beyond the fringes of Hamas. They are at exceptionally high risk from military action in Gaza, due to the high urban density and lack of shelters. Even in periods of relative peace the conditions they have endured in recent years as a result of the blockade have been unacceptable - a shattered economy, dependence on food aid, the near total loss of freedom of movement, polluted water and danger of death for those getting too close to the Israeli security wall. These are all issues I have raised in Parliament and I will continue to do so.
The failure of the latest attempt to restore the peace process generated understandable despair across the Middle East, and the continuation of the settlement-building programme in the West Bank undermines confidence in the possibility of progress to a two-state solution. We desperately need a ceasefire, to relieve the immediate suffering. But there has to be progress towards a lasting peace settlement, based on the creation of a viable Palestinian state. Without a settlement, conflicts such as the one we are now witnessing are likely to re-occur.
Douglas Alexander, Labour's Shadow Foreign Secretary, has rightly said:
" Israel's military action will increase the future threats to its security rather than countering them. Israelis rightly want security, yet their government's present actions instead risk simply growing a new generation bent on revenge.".
I will, of course, make sure that the present Government/Foreign Secretary knows of the strong feelings held by you and the many others who have written to me on this issue ( from different perspectives) and I will continue to press the case wherever I can.
Karen Buck MP