THE BLOG

Never Forget: In Israel and Palestine, Violence Breeds Violence

18/11/2014 15:39 GMT | Updated 18/01/2015 10:59 GMT

For weeks now, tensions have been rising in Jerusalem, simmering since the kidnap and brutal murder of three Jewish teenagers in the occupied West Bank in June, the barbaric setting alight of a Palestinian teenager in the following month, and the bloody conflict in Gaza in July and August which left more than 2,000 Palestinians dead, including some 500 children.

For weeks now, I've received emails from both British citizens and residents of the Middle East about the illegal and provocative actions of extremist Israeli settlers, as well as Israeli troops, in or around the holy Al Aqsa compound - and the corresponding lack of international condemnation. Although publicly, the Israeli government hold to the line that there will be no changes to the 1994 peace treaty and the restriction on prayer, in reality this agreement is constantly broken, triggering resentment and inter-community violence.

It's an issue that has preoccupied many around the world with anger voiced by, among others, the head of the 56- member Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), Iyad Madani, who earlier this month at a conference in Rabat called on the UN Security Council to take urgent action to stop Israeli "aggression" in occupied East Jerusalem. Yet here in the UK, both the media and ministers have had little to say and have turned a blind eye.

The tragic and brutal killing of worshippers in the West Jerusalem synagogue on Tuesday has reminded us of how brutal that conflict can be. These murders must be condemned. I condemn them, as I have loudly condemned previous instances of Palestinian violence against civilians.

Here in the UK, nevertheless, we are at risk of coming across as both naive and hypocritical. Naive, if we claim we didn't see this coming, if we treat these violent episodes as unprovoked or unconnected to wider a series of events and 'facts on the ground'. That is not, of course, to justify the violence. As the Guardian columnist Gary Younge once wrote: "To explain is not to excuse". But explain we must.

Hypocritical, because we excel at our condemnation of Palestinian terror but stay silent when Israeli forces - fighter pilots, soldiers, settlers - are terrorising Palestinian communities in East Jerusalem, on the West Bank or inside the Gaza Strip.

When I quit the government in the summer, I pointed out that the "British government can only play a constructive role in solving the Middle East crisis if it is an honest broker and at the moment I do not think it is".

Little has changed, it seems. My successor as Conservative Party chairman, Grant Shapps, is only too willing to criticise Palestinian terror while refusing to vote in favour of a Palestinian state in parliament, and give young Palestinians hope and dignity.

The truth is that we must hold both sides accountable for the extremists in their midst and for the violence that they commit.

And the best tribute we could pay to the poor, innocent people who have been killed is a recommitment to genuine peace and justice, rather than a strategy based on, to quote Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, "a heavy hand".

Remember: the indisputable lesson of modern Middle East history is that violence breeds violence.