Many constituents have contacted me about the alarming situation in Israel and Gaza. In response, I would like to set out what the Government has stated, and my personal perspective. The volume of correspondence received by my office means that it is unfortunately not possible to send individual replies to everyone who has written to me, but I have attempted to cover as many of the points raised as possible. Given the speed with which events are taking place, for the most up-to-date and detailed information, I recommend referring to statements on gov.uk alongside the social media feeds of the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary.
I want to start by stating clearly that I condemn unequivocally the appalling acts of murder, violence and terror carried out by Hamas in Israel on October 7th. Absolutely nothing can ever justify, excuse or explain Hamas’s actions in brutally murdering civilians, kidnapping grandmothers and young children, taking hostages, and firing thousands of rockets into residential areas without warning. That is terrorism and it must be defeated.
At the same time, I am ever more concerned about the humanitarian crisis which is unfolding in Gaza. It is impossible to comprehend the pain and loss that innocent Palestinians are enduring. Images of tens of thousands of people struggling to survive, with virtually no access to food, water and medical supplies are profoundly distressing. There has been appalling loss of life, including children and aid workers. The situation in Gaza’s hospitals is now acute.
Calls for a ceasefire
For all these reasons, I entirely understand why so many people are calling for a full and immediate ceasefire.
But we need to be honest about what a ceasefire now would mean, which is leaving Hamas holding more than 200 innocent Israeli hostages, still able to use its network of tunnels and strengthening its position for more attacks. Hamas has previously put road-blocks in the route of Palestinians fleeing south, and ripped up water pipes donated by other countries’ aid programmes to turn them into rocket launchers. Hamas is not an organisation that can in any way be trusted and its terror must be stopped.
For that reason, I support the UK Government’s focus on attempting to secure humanitarian pauses, rather than calling for a complete ceasefire. Those pauses must be meaningful; they must be long enough to allow aid to get where it’s needed, whether by land, air or sea.
The UK’s ministers and diplomats are working extremely hard, with partners and allies in the Middle East and around the world, to ensure that this conflict can be brought to a permanent halt.
The Prime Minister has responded very specifically to calls for a ceasefire that have been made in the House of Commons, and it worth repeating his comments.
He has said:
"It is difficult to tell Israel to have a ceasefire when it is still facing rocket fire on an almost daily basis and when its citizens are still being held hostage. It has suffered an appalling terrorist attack and has a right to defend itself, but, as I have said, it is important that that is done in accordance with international law and it is important that Israel takes every possible precaution to avoid harming civilians. Based on all my conversations, that is something we will continue to expect and continue to impress on the Israeli Government."
"It is absolutely right that Israel takes every precaution to avoid harming civilians. In my conversation with the [Israeli] President, he confirmed that Israel intends to act within international humanitarian law, but Hamas are preventing people from moving, keeping them in harm’s way. ... That is Hamas’s policy: embedding themselves in civilian populations, using civilians as human shields and preventing them from leaving when they have been given advance notice."
“From the start, we have said that the first and most important principle is that Israel has the right to defend itself under international law—support for that position is absolute and unchanged—but we have also said from the start that we want British nationals to be able to leave Gaza, hostages to be released, and humanitarian aid to get in. We recognise that, for all that to happen, there has to be a safer environment, which of course necessitates specific pauses, as distinct from a ceasefire. We discussed that with partners … at the United Nations, and we have been consistently clear that everything must be done to protect civilians in line with international law and to continue getting more aid flowing into Gaza.”
The Government’s view
I believe the UK Government has been right to underline that in the face of the barbaric actions by Hamas, Israel had, and continues to have, the right to defend itself.
At the same time, the Prime Minister has stated clearly the importance of protecting Palestinian civilians and complying with international humanitarian law.
At the Lord Mayor’s banquet on November 13th, he said that while “Israel must be able to defend itself against terror, restore its security and bring the hostages home”, it “must take all possible measures to protect innocent civilians, including at hospitals, stop extremist violence in the West Bank and allow more aid into Gaza”. He called for “unhindered humanitarian access and urgent and substantive humanitarian pauses”.
The Prime Minister has visited Israel, met the leader of the Palestinian Authority, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, the President of Egypt and the Amir of Qatar. Mr Sunak was clear that the first priority from these meetings is to get more humanitarian support into Gaza. To help achieve that, he announced a further £20 million increase in UK aid to civilians in Gaza. This builds on £10 million he had already announced. He emphasised that the UK is leading an international effort to ensure that aid is ready to deliver.
My personal views
Too many civilians are losing their lives. It is essential that Israel’s actions are precisely targeted and truly taken only in the interests of self-defence and freeing the hostages.
I have recently met representatives of Aylesbury’s Muslim community to hear first-hand their concerns about the crisis, and their call for urgent help for innocent Palestinians caught in the violence. I assured them that I will continue to emphasise the need for humanitarian aid and respect for civilians in the meetings I have with ministers.
Indeed, since the attacks by Hamas, I have spoken personally to the (then) Foreign Secretary, the Defence Secretary and a senior member of the Israeli Defence Forces. I have said to them all that we must take great care not to conflate the terrorists of Hamas with all Palestinians. I have also attended a meeting with the Israeli Ambassador to the UK, where the need to protect Gazan civilians was highlighted.
On the broader Israel-Palestine question, I have long been clear that I support the UK government’s position: that is, that there should be a negotiated settlement leading to a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state, based on 1967 borders with agreed land swaps, Jerusalem as the shared capital of both states, and a fair and realistic settlement for refugees. The UK Government consistently calls on Israel – both bilaterally and via the UN – to stop actions that undermine the viability of the two-state solution. This includes ending the eviction of Palestinians from their homes, ceasing the demolition of Palestinian property – including homes and schools – and halting the construction of Israeli settlements in the OPTs. Indeed, the UK is clear that these actions cause unnecessary suffering to ordinary Palestinians, call into question Israel's commitment to a viable two-state solution, and, in all but the most exceptional of cases, are contrary to international humanitarian law. I have joined ministers in London and officials from the UK Embassy in Tel Aviv and at the UN in calling for evictions, demolitions and settlement expansion to cease with immediate effect.
I know how important this is to many members of the community in Aylesbury. That is why, on the morning of the attacks by Hamas, I was with other Conservative MPs at Heathrow airport on my way to see for myself the conditions faced by Palestinians, to hear for myself from the Palestinian prime minister, and to put questions myself to representatives of the Israeli government. Shortly before we were due to depart, though, our visit was understandably and rightly cancelled.
However, at the end of September, I went to Jordan to have discussions there about the urgency of solving the crisis between Israel and the Palestinians, and ways to bring peace and reconciliation. I am making these visits because I believe there is a responsibility on all of us to try to find a resolution.
I have previously spoken myself at Aylesbury mosque about the anger and hurt caused by police violence at Al Aqsa mosque – points I raised with ministers to ensure they were aware of the strength of local feeling.
Like you, I want to see the people of Gaza able to return to a normal way of life. That can only happen if Hamas ceases its violence and attacks, and immediately releases the many hostages it has taken. As the leader of the Palestinian Authority has also said, Hamas does not represent ordinary Palestinians.
Finally, I draw attention to the Prime Minister’s comment that “we all have a responsibility to take additional care in the language we use and to operate on the basis of facts alone”. I agree entirely and hope all constituents will do the same at this incredibly difficult and sensitive time.