By Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis
I welcome the much needed ceasefire in Gaza and pray that it will lead to a lasting, long-term resolution of a bitter and tragic conflict.
However, the prospect of a lasting cessation of hostilities between a Hamas-controlled Gaza and Israel will only be achieved if root causes of the conflict are fully addressed.
What we have witnessed in Gaza is not a conflict between Israel and the Palestinians but a war between Israel and Hamas – a ruthless terrorist organisation.
Within the last month alone, Hamas has fired over 3,000 missiles at population centres in Israel. In its deep-rooted desire to murder and cause maximum damage, Hamas does not distinguish between Jew, Muslim and Christian, so hell-bent is it on killing Israelis.
Since Israel withdrew from Gaza nine years ago, Hamas has been diverting humanitarian funds donated by us, the international community, intended to assist and enhance quality of life for the people of Gaza. These funds have instead been used to perpetuate terror and hate. Concrete and other materials intended for the building of vital infrastructure, have been expropriated by Hamas to build a network of tunnels for use in the murder and kidnapping of Israelis.
Many people are unaware that Hamas does not seek a two-state solution, or any kind of accommodation with Israel. Hamas’s stated aim is the elimination of the Jewish State and all its Jewish citizens. As recently as 25th July Hamas warned, “We will exterminate you [Jews], until the last one, and we will not leave even one of you.”
The Palestinians deserve better leadership than that offered by Hamas. A leadership that values life instead of embracing death. A leadership that builds hope. A leadership that builds mosques, schools, clinics and playgrounds instead of tunnels of terror.
Israel has no desire to kill or injure civilians in Gaza. They are potential partners in peace whose death only serves the interests of Hamas’s PR war.
Successive UK governments have shared our belief in the State of Israel as the manifestation of the right of the Jewish people to national self-determination. We uphold Israel’s right to peace and security. We accept that it is the absolute duty of Israel’s government to protect its citizens. Each of these fundamental principles is currently under attack from those who fail or refuse to understand the existential challenge facing Israel. Prime Minister David Cameron has led from the front, demonstrating strong moral leadership and a deep understanding of this conflict. His commitment to securing a lasting peace that ensures Israel’s security together with Palestinian self-determination is commendable
To measure the morality of war by the military might of each party, the number of deaths or the amount of suffering on each side is not merely misguided; it plays into the hands of a ruthless and calculating aggressor.
I often hear reference to “the cycle of violence” in Gaza. Such a phrase suggests a moral equivalence between the sides. In reality, one side is motivated to maximise civilian casualties and has an exterminatory agenda. The other side is motivated to protect its citizens from terror. It goes to extraordinary and unprecedented lengths to minimise civilian casualties. Tragically, they have not always been able to succeed. Some focus exclusively on the consequences of Israel’s military action aimed at the aggressor. In so doing they overlook the repugnant behaviour and objectives of Hamas. Such an approach is a tacit form of appeasement and abdicates moral responsibility.
I deplore the loss of all innocent life. The scenes from Gaza bring much sorrow and anguish to me, to Jews in this country and worldwide. The loss of innocent life is all the more tragic when those who seek the destruction of Israel glorify death and have no interest in protecting their own civilians. The recent discovery of a Hamas training manual in Gaza, which advocates the use of human shields for urban warfare, is shocking evidence of this.
Rather than allowing Hamas to put its energies into amassing rockets to fire at civilians and constructing tunnels to be used to kill and kidnap innocent civilians, I implore the international community to ensure that the aid that is once again brought into Gaza will be used to build a better future for Gazans.
I pray that ceasefires in Gaza will hold. God challenges us to “choose life in order that you and your children may live” (Deut. 13:19). Judaism celebrates life and I ask the people of Gaza to join us in celebrating life together. Give Palestinian children the future they deserve. Put your time and effort into building and creating. Unlike Hamas, choose life.
Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis is the Chief Rabbi of England.