Letter from Westminster 09.01.09

THE SMALL town of Sderot lies just inside Israel on the border with Gaza. From it you can see Gaza City and every day the townspeople of Sderot see the Qassam rockets fired from the Gaza Strip streaking across the sky towards their town.

Sderot is a town that is quite literally terrorised. It is too easy to point out that the Qassam rockets are homemade, not particularly effective and that after seven years of daily attack the number of fatalities is only just in double figures. For the people of Sderot the fear is real and if I lived there, if it was my children’s school that had rockets landing outside it, then I would probably feel as frightened and angry as they do.

Having visited Sderot, I can understand how the people there feel. What I cannot understand is how their political leaders in Tel Aviv (far removed from the range of the Qassam rockets) can possibly believe that anything will be achieved to make their people more secure by attacking Gaza.

Their stated aim is to “crush” Hamas. Most informed commen­tators seem to think that even if they are successful in that then eventually another similar organisation will emerge to take its place. They may in fact be left pondering the old maxim, “be careful what you wish for”. Hamas, for all its faults (and there are many), has at least brought a measure of control to an area which until fairly recently bordered on anarchy. Remove them from the picture and who is going to control the warlords?

What the Israeli government does not appear to understand is that Hamas is not the problem but is a product of the problem facing Israel and Palestine. They are a product of a Palestinian people who are not only dispossessed of their land but who have been cursed with an administration in Ramallah which is dogged by corruption and which lacks effective leadership.

Guns, tanks and planes will not end the violence in the occupied territories. Only a peaceful political process which produces two viable states in Israel and Palestine will do that. That will only be achieved when politicians in Israel and Palestine step up to the mark and take control of their own shared destiny.

For Israel that means that they must return to the pre-1967 borders and end the process of settlement on the West Bank. For Palestine that must mean a commitment to peace­ful co-existence with their Israeli neighbours.

The people that I met in Gaza in September 2007 were not Islamist fanatics or violent extremists. Most of them were simply weary and desperate to lead some sort of normal life. Instead they were condemned to live in a sliver of land which at that point had been bombed to the point where it looked like a moonscape.

The suffering of ordinary people in Gaza is an affront to any notion of ordinary decent humanity.

Alistair Carmichael MP


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