By Lorely Burt
August 4, 2011
This is the full version of a letter in this week's Jewish Chronicle
To the Editor,
Your paper recently criticised myself and parliamentary colleagues from the UK and European parliaments for speaking to Hamas on a visit to Gaza last week.
It is perfectly true we met the Prime Minister and other elected members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, which included Hamas, during our visit. We also spoke to Fatah, NGOs, UNRWA, OCHA, business people, women's groups, families of prisoners, and made visits to a hospital, a water utility, a university and a refugee camp.
I will explain my reasons for speaking to Hamas, which was not in an official capacity, as your article implies.
My first job after being elected in 2005 was to be a member of the Northern Ireland Grand Committee. I spoke to both sides and felt then that the bitter and entrenched attitudes I met could never result in a peace. But today we have relative peace, and Northern Ireland largely governs itself.
Through this experience I learned that every argument has two sides. And each side builds its own narrative to justify its actions, however extreme. It has carefully crafted justifications at the ready to answer every criticism of its own actions, and this can shield it from objectively considering awkward questions that fall outside the narrative.
During the three days we visited Gaza I am told the Israelis fired two rockets, one of which landed less than a mile from our hotel. I was told that rockets fired back into Israel are today not coming from Hamas but from extremist groups who consider Hamas as not radical enough and have become part of the establishment.
I have many Jewish friends in the UK, and have been invited to visit Israel. If the Israeli government are good enough to allow me in, I want to make that visit: to see and hear the other side of the story.
I expect to find in Israel the same as I found in Gaza: a proud and enterprising people in a beautiful land whose wish is to live in peace and freedom.
But to achieve this, I believe that one side has to blink first, and right now it seems to me the Israelis are holding all the cards.
My initial thoughts are that Israel is making a rod for its own back by imposing the blockade which continues to provoke anger, resentment and backlash from the Palestinians. These actions are feeding extremists who are recruiting new young terrorists, who have little hope of jobs and prospects, from the refugee camps. From what I have seen the backlash is solely against Israel and not against Hamas.
Please consider this scenario. Suppose Israel were to lift the blockade and allow in everything except weapons and explosives. Would this not dissipate much of the anger and frustration, and weaken the extremists' hold?
Would it not also win Israel much needed international support at a time of great uncertainly in the wider region? But would it not also take courage and foresight on the part of the Israeli government?
And the achievement of a peace, which both peoples want, would need both governments to be prepared to do what we did in Northern Ireland: to think the unthinkable and talk to the enemy.
Liberal Democrat Member of UK Parliament