In November 2012 I witnessed first-hand the suffering of the people in Gaza at the hands of the Israeli Defence Forces.
As part of a delegation from the Council for European Palestinian Relations, I surveyed the horror of the aftermath of Operation Pillar of Defence, as it was so-called by the Israeli Defence Forces.
I met with members of a family who lost eleven of their loved ones – defenceless men, women and children – in a barrage of death and destruction from the air. I visited bombed out schools, play parks homes and other building developments razed to the ground in the eight day-long campaign of air strikes by the IDF.
Just as today, the IDF attempted to justify the brutal onslaught by stating the attacks were a response to missile attacks on Israel from within Hamas-governed Gaza. We could not accept such feeble rhetoric then and we cannot accept it now. The truth is that the latest round of indiscriminate mass murder by the IDF in Gaza is part of the ongoing Israeli campaign to break the will of the Palestinian people.
Israel's campaign of collective punishment to crush the spirit of the 1.7 million Palestinians on the Gaza Strip has crippled the region for more than a decade. The indiscriminate bombardment we've seen in recent days is a brutal facet of this constant campaign of disregard for life and basic human rights.
Power is regularly cut, nearly half the people of Gaza receive water every three days while almost a third of households are not connected to a sewerage network. Some of the worst examples of the Israeli campaign of collective punishment are when air strikes destroy sewerage and water facilities and the Israeli blockade prevents the import of supplies to rebuild them. Such cruel tactics can only serve to create an even greater humanitarian crisis.
Conditions may not have improved for the embattled people since 2012 but I hope the great spirit and resilience I witnessed has not been diminished. In my time there I was struck by the willingness to find accommodation among the Palestinians. Their resilience and great dignity gave real hope for the future. It will be difficult to sustain this hope in the light of ongoing Israeli assaults but it is vital that the international community does all in its power to help ensure that it endures. The indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israel is completely wrong and unjustified but it cannot be used to justify Israel’s murder of hundreds of defenceless civilians.
The international community, and in particular the United States government, need to bring pressure to bear on the Israeli government to cease the onslaught and enter into proper dialogue with all the parties. The resilience I saw in 2012 in Gaza must be harnessed and encouraged and optimised. The cycle of fear, death and destruction must end.