Gaza – faults on both sides

First published in Salisbury Letters

YOUR correspondent, Margaret Duncan, expressed her dismay at what she saw as my “non-committal” position on Gaza (Postbag August 7). I am morally opposed to the intentional killing of civilians, to disproportionate military response, and to violations of international law. Any loss of civilian life is a deeply regrettable tragedy and is an imperative for a ceasefire. I am also clear that Israel has a right of national self-defence.

Violations of international law are bold and serious allegations. However, I, like most others, are not qualified to declare on the basis of contested facts what constitutes a breach of international law.

The fact that Israel has an effective anti-rocket system in place does not lessen the severity of the attacks from Hamas; and the fact that it has reduced the number of Israeli casualties does not imply that Hamas' attacks are more restrained, and therefore that any Israeli response is automatically disproportionate.

The reports of Hamas using civilians as human shields, making use of civilian buildings to store weapons and failing to pass on Israeli warnings of strikes suggest that Palestinian casualties are not intended by Israel but may well be intended by Hamas.

Mrs Duncan states that the UK government has declared itself “staunchly in favour of Israel and its policies”. The government – and I – condemn settlement building by Israel, and strongly support restraint, a ceasefire, and negotiations between both parties. This is far from uncritical support for Israel.

Unequivocal condemnation is a virtue in the face of uncontested facts and the clear moral standing of one side in a conflict. It is a vice when these same facts are contested and when there are moral faults on both sides.

John Glen

Member of Parliament for Salisbury

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