I have spent recent weeks in Israel, and goodness knows this is a country that has plenty of challenges. But one question I have been asked a lot by an alarmingly wide array of Israelis is: “What happened to Britain?”
Generally, I get protective after this question, and reassure people that Britain is still Britain and that our core of decency remains as it always was. But the response is always the same: “But these marches?” Now perhaps they will say “… and the vote?”
It amazes most Israelis – as it amazes me – that Britain has seen some of the worst scenes of all the anti-Israel marches across the world. And I say “anti-Israel” for a reason. The first protests in London happened before Israel had even begun its military response to October 7. Rallies were held within hours of the massacres. To most Israelis this is nearly unfeasible.
What other country would see 1,400 of its citizens slaughtered, 240 kidnapped and countless more wounded for life, and not be allowed even a day to mourn? What other country, having suffered a set of atrocities hardly superseded in the whole history of violence wouldn’t get even one day of sympathy?
Only the Jewish state. And everybody in Israel knows as much. Pakistan is currently in the process of forcibly deporting two million Afghans. Nobody cares. Bashar al-Assad is in his twelfth year of killing Muslims in Syria and the world’s cameras turned away long ago. Only Israel, when involved in any military action, or even when it is simply on the receiving end of extreme violence, cannot rely even on the world’s understanding.
And it is in this light that Israel notices the British politicians calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. The ignorance of a large number of figures in British political life, from Humza Yousaf to Jess Phillips, can hardly be exaggerated. As it happens, a ceasefire of a kind existed in Gaza. Israel withdrew from Gaza unilaterally, and very painfully, in 2005 – removing every Jew from the strip. They handed over the land and got rockets in return.
Everyone around the Gaza border and across wider Israel was used to running from rockets to the shelters. But despite various exchanges over the years, nobody ever foresaw the battalion-sized terrorist attack of October 7. It was Hamas who broke what ceasefire existed that day when its legions gunned down young people at a music festival, went door to door in small communities, and burned people alive in their homes.
I have been to the sites of many of these massacres. I passed by one – the utterly destroyed kibbutz of Be’eri – earlier this week as I went into Gaza. It is a reminder of a dream that once was. Many of the residents of kibbutzim such as Be’eri were peace activists. I have seen with my own eyes the peacenik literature that lies among the blood stains and looted remains of their houses. Their dream died with them on October 7. Not one Israeli believes they can now live with Hamas – a group whose leaders say they want to repeat the October 7 time and again.
To call for a ceasefire now shows an astonishing lack of military understanding but also a horrific lack of decency. I have watched the Israeli Defence Force manage the evacuation of Gazans from the north of the strip to the south, so that the IDF can try to isolate Hamas and destroy them. It is a righteous mission, though one that is likely to prove incredibly hard.
I have also met many of the parents of the children and others stolen into Gaza. They want their children back. Why has there been no mass movement of MPs – from Labour, say – demanding that there be no ceasefire until Hamas hand back the hostages? Such a move seems to have never been on the cards.
Anti-Israel Labour MPs and others only ever campaign and condemn when they attack Israel. Perhaps because they know that Hamas would never listen to them anyway. These MPs are internationalist eunuchs. But my, do they talk a big game. Especially while they whip along the sectarian politics, which are the real driver of the protests on our streets.
In my view, Israel can look after itself. Watching the unity of this nation at war assures me of that.
But as I watch hooligans clamber over our war memorials and statues and hold our city centres hostage, I wonder whether it isn’t Britain that is the one in real trouble here.
William Turner is a seasoned U.K. correspondent with a deep understanding of domestic affairs. With a passion for British politics and culture, he provides insightful analysis and comprehensive coverage of events within the United Kingdom.