OPINION: Israelis and Palestinians urgently need new leadership

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OPINION: Israelis and Palestinians urgently need new leadership

Lord Parry Mitchell travelled to the Kfar Aza and other sites where he saw evidence of Hamas' atrocities

Pic: Lord Parry Mitchell
Pic: Lord Parry Mitchell

I have just returned from Israel. We were a group of 22 including 10 UK parliamentarians plus 10 EU lawmakers and two journalists.     

The Israeli area adjoining Gaza is now a wasteland. I have been to towns and villages after major hurricanes and that is what it was like – plus very extensive burning and bloodstains all over the floors, walls, kitchen cabinets and furniture.

Small things hit hard: kids bicycles mangled, BBQ grills smashed and of course homes totally and utterly devastated. You can almost hear the cries of anguish and pain from those being slaughtered and the shouts of triumph from Hamas. My blood ran cold.

You stand on a village street in Kibbutz Kfar Aza (now known as Death Road), you look at the carnage and at the same time to your left you see Gaza City, no more than a mile away across a field. Artillery booms, the ground you stand on shudders, machine guns rat-tat-tat and black smoke hovers over the buildings. You can smell and taste it in the air.

At the same time in Gaza itself, you know only too well, that there are thousands of innocent people who are also dying, and families whose lives have also been wrecked.

Pic: Lord Parry Mitchell

Weeks before the attack, Hamas had held rallies by the border fence: they caused diversions by burning tyres and creating smoke – that enabled them to attach explosives with delayed timers to the fence itself, these were not spotted. The attackers were very well briefed – ordinary Gazans had worked in the Israeli towns and kibbutzim for many years, they knew who lived where, names, ages, even whether they had dogs. This was mass-murder made to order.

There’s a field called the ‘car cemetery’. Hundreds of cars piled up. Each had been burned with their occupants in them. For the first time ever pieces of cars had been buried in a Jewish cemetery because they couldn’t detach body parts from the metal, so fierce was the burning. There were 30 early morning revellers at the pop concert who were corralled together, doused with petrol and then incinerated. There was a baby whose fingers were cut off as souvenirs for the terrorists to take home. This wasn’t a war army to army – this was vile pre-meditated brutality reminiscent of another, but not too distant age.

We were honoured to meet Israeli President Herzog. He joined us for an hour. He talked about wider geo-political issues. And it is interesting that despite everything no country has broken off diplomatic relations with Israel.

Pic: Lord Parry Mitchell

To me it was all summed up when I looked at the  flight arrivals board at Ben Gurion International airport. The only foreign airline flying in from either North America or Western Europe was Delta, whereas BA, Virgin, Ryanair, EasyJet, American, Air Canada etc had all cried off. But who was it that were still flying into Israel?

Emirates from Dubai; Etihad from Abu Dhabi; plus flights from Cairo, Amman, Bahrein and Morocco. What’s that telling us?  When this is all over the Abraham Accords will prevail and relations between Israel and its neighbours (maybe even Saudi Arabia) will we hope grow and prosper.

The meeting with the senior Israeli politicians was to my mind disappointing. I’m not sure they were listening. We talked about the dangers of famine and disease in the Gaza Strip if the number of aid trucks doesn’t increase significantly. This is humanitarian aid and is desperately required. In my opinion Israel can do much more to supply Gaza with food and medicines and I fervently hope they will, soon.

We also talked about leadership. Not for me to rant here about my views on Netanyahu and the lunatics who form his government, you can tell where I stand – Israel needs an election soon to get rid of these terrible politicians.

And so too does Palestine. For years Palestine has been served by venal and corrupt politicians. Mahmoud Abbas is old and ineffective and is held in contempt by most Palestinians. The Palestinians need a team of young charismatic leaders who can chart a course towards a peaceful Palestinian state.

Pic: Lord Parry Mitchell

My guess is that such leaders exist, but today are probably in Israeli jails and have blood on their hands. But in Northern Ireland we British signed the Good Friday peace agreement with former terrorists who also had blood on their hands. Nelson Mandella was jailed as a terrorist, to say nothing of former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Sometimes you have to negotiate with people who have nasty backgrounds.  You don’t make peace with friends, only with enemies.

Of equal overwhelming sadness to visiting the devastated kibbutzim was meeting the families of the hostages. 100 days have come and gone since their family members were kidnapped. We try to imagine what horrors pass through their minds, but we can’t, it’s too deep. But they were brave and spoke with great clarity and passion. It was hard to hold back the tears.

Now I’m back in London, what do I think?

I am horrified to hear Israeli politicians now talking about Gazans being ‘voluntarily’ exiled to Africa and other places. Gaza belongs to Gazans and nobody else – exile stinks of ethnic cleansing and we as Jews should have nothing to do with it.

I also am greatly saddened by the one sidedness of people’s attitudes to the conflict. There are Palestinians, Arabs and many others around the world who deny that the atrocities on 7th October ever took place. My eyes told me otherwise.

Equally there are many Israelis who blank out the carnage that is taking place in Gaza.

I am as wedded to the two state solution as I have ever been. Netanyahu and his cronies hate the concept, but Israel has to look long term and create a safe, prosperous region for its people and the same for the people of a Palestinian state. Both need brave, visionary leaders – neither have them at the moment.

You would be inhumane not to weep at the brutal carnage wrought by Hamas on October 7th: never forget that it was they who started this war. But you’d also be equally inhumane not to weep for the killing of thousands of children in Gaza during the past few months.

Both sides seem to have dehumanised each other: somehow, this mutual hatred has to stop.

  • Lord Parry Mitchell is a Labour peer
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