This has been a difficult week given events in the Middle East and we took the decision not to produce reactionary responses to the ongoing crisis. We have been extremely concerned with the escalating violence unfolding from within Jerusalem and emanating from the Gaza Strip. The Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel (LDFI) prides itself on its affinity with the region, belief in two states for two peoples and always attempts to be balanced in exercising the responsibility we have within our Party and community.

LDFI would like to attempt to explain the events of the last week and share our considered view on the situation Israeli and Palestinian citizens find themselves in.

As many of you will know, the Middle East, especially Israel and the Palestinian territories, are extremely complex and always tense. Tensions rose in the past couple of weeks due to the impending evictions of four Palestinian families in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah. While it is a complex legal issue, with history stemming back to before Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, we take the view that it is discriminatory for right-wing Israeli settler organisations to use laws to evict residents of Sheikh Jarrah, when there is no equivalent law for Arabs and Palestinians.

The right-wing groups, who organised intimidating and volatile protests in the middle of the neighbourhood, have gained greater legitimacy in recent months, with the election of the far-right religious parties to the Israeli Knesset (Parliament). These political figures were supported in their electoral success by Likud Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to hopefully form part of a right-wing governing coalition. LDFI believes that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish people and the State of Israel, however, we feel that to achieve any form of peace, the Israeli government of the day must recognise and appreciate Muslim and Palestinian ties to the City.

The inflammatory protests by the right wing nationalists led to volatile street protests and rioting within the Old City of Jerusalem. While we understand the distressing nature of the potential evictions and the occupation of the West Bank, we cannot condone any violent attacks from either side. This includes overaggressive responses by Israeli security forces, further angering rioters, particularly on the shared religious sites of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Temple Mount, as well as the attempted lynching of a Jewish Israeli by the protestors in the heart of Jerusalem. Israeli and Palestinian leaders must take responsibility for their neighbouring communities and call for de-escalation and an end to violence.

In the last 48 hours, the Palestinian militant organisations of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, both deemed as terrorist groups, by Israel, the US, EU, and UK, have launched over 1,000 rockets at Israeli towns and cities, endangering the lives of innocent Israeli citizens. However, a third of the missiles shot from Gaza fell in Gaza, injuring Palestinian citizens. Make no mistake, Hamas are not trying to defend the Palestinians in Jerusalem or protect the Islamic holy sites of Al-Aqsa mosque, they are trying to stoke tensions with Israel, by harming Jewish and Muslim residents of Jerusalem and wider Israel. Hamas are trying to bolster internal support for their cause, following Fatah leader and President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas’ decision to cancel the upcoming Palestinian elections. There is further instability due to the ongoing Israeli government coalition negotiations and incumbent Prime Minister Netanyahu’s corruption trial.

The State of Israel has a right, and a duty to protect its citizens. Thousands of Israelis have spent two nights in bomb shelters, shielding from the potentially fatal attacks from Gaza. These strikes by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have been and will be met with retaliatory action by Israel, targeting militant operatives, which will only cause more bloodshed and pain for Israeli and Palestinian families. Yesterday a school in the Israeli city of Ashkelon was hit by a rocket from Gaza. Due to an order by the Israel Defence Forces, the students stayed at home today. In the last two days, 13 children have been killed, in both Gaza and Israel. Children have died because of a conflict they were born into and never were given a chance of exiting from. We unequivocally condemn acts of violence on all sides. There is no excuse for the indiscriminate targeting of civilians, especially children.

As always when a conflict erupts in the Middle East, activists and Parliamentarians often jump to conclusions and attribute blame to one side or another, without all the facts. This does not bring about a dialogue or a solution, it only sharpens the divide. As Liberal Democrats we must call out acts of aggression and terror, from whoever perpetrates it. We call for an end to the occupation, to terrorism, to rocket attacks. This cannot continue. We will continue to strive for Shalom, Salam, Peace.

Following an investigation by the Israel Defense Forces, they are now able to confirm that the first 9 Palestinian children who lost their lives in Gaza this week, were hit by rockets fired by Militants in Gaza (Hamas or Islamic Jihad), which constitutes the majority of child casualties in Gaza during the present conflict. (The Palestinian Human Rights Center confirmed on Wednesday that seven Palestinian civilians were killed by Hamas’ launched rockets).

Approximately a third of all rocket launchings from Gaza has failed to reach Israel and caused casualties and damage to civilian Palestinian population and property, including a sewage treatment plant funded by the EU for the benefit of the Gazan population.