Why I'm backing Israel
Why I'm backing Israel
The left and the Islamists portray me as a Zionist neocon,
but it takes two sides to make a peace deal .
Friday November 24, 2006
Some said I should have my head examined after I agreed to become the chief executive of a pro-Israel advocacy group, the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre. But people said the same when I joined Labour in the mid-80s.
There is never a wrong time to do the right thing and if, like me, you are convinced of Israel's cause, then why not support Israel and why not now? I have always been a practical idealist, a non-Jew who has always believed in a two-state solution. But I have never been more concerned about the false reality many people are constructing around Israel and the Middle East, here and abroad. Our polling shows that opinion formers know that Israel is a fully functioning democracy, but care more about what Israel does than what Israel is.
Since its birth 58 years ago, Israel has always been prepared to compromise for peace. From Begin's agreement with Sadat in 1979 to the Arafat-Barak talks at Camp David in 2000, Israeli leaders have been prepared to challenge their own people in pursuit of peace. Last summer Israel withdrew from Gaza, angry settlers and all. Yet the terror from the Gaza Strip has continued - more than 1,000 rockets have been fired into southern Israel in the past year. Since 2000, nine fatalities have been caused by Qassam missiles.
Some media have reported the panic these missiles have caused but they downplay the impact because of the small scale of fatalities compared with those on the Palestinian side. My husband, a British soldier, is currently serving a tour of duty in Iraq. His unit has come under mortar fire nearly every night for the past six months. Not many service personnel have been killed by these missiles but every soldier fears that the next one might have his or her name on it. Do you think that a child, a parent or a grandmother in one of the towns bordering Gaza thinks there have been "only" nine fatalities? Can you imagine what that does to a civilian population?
We need to think carefully about the consequences of questioning the defensive reactions of a nation-state that is constantly bombarded by an enemy calling for its destruction, especially after it has withdrawn from Lebanon and Gaza. Would we as British citizens accept a single rocket on a British town, let alone hundreds?
The commentators' objection is that the response is "disproportionate". But how does a nation-state defend itself against a terrorist organisation or organisations that are part of, and deliberately hide behind, ordinary citizens? Of course the Israeli military and all military forces must act ethically. But if the number of civilian casualties continues to be the main issue, there is no incentive for the terrorists to stop using the civilian population as a shield.
We live in dangerous times when, in parts of the left especially, you can't be a friend to Islam or to Muslims unless you are anti-Israel. That is exactly what al-Qaida wants us to think. Events in Rochdale at the last election represent a microcosm of what we are sleepwalking into globally. The Islamists and the left argued that, because I supported Israel and its right to exist, all my work for my Muslim constituents was a lie. They suggested I was an opportunistic, neocon Zionist, aiming to dupe them.
Israel's willingness to compromise for peace has never been enough, because Israel alone cannot gain peace. The Palestinians and others in the region also have to want peace. Israel needs a serious interlocutor so that peace can stand a chance. So my question to the left is this: why not concentrate your attention there, rather than on the one player in the region who has always been serious about peace?
· Lorna Fitzsimons is chief executive of the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre and the former Labour MP for Rochdale=
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