When I visited Israel last year it was impossible not to be struck by the threat that Israelis live with. With countries on its borders that do not believe in its right to exist and members of terrorist groups within touching distance, the security checks in most places are very high.
During the trip, the group I was part of went into the Hezbollah tunnels, which were being built from Lebanon underneath the border with Israel in preparation for an attack. Thankfully, the government of Israel learned of their existence and flushed them out.
It is through this lens that I viewed the terrorist attack by Hamas earlier this month. This is the sort of attack that the Israeli Government and Israelis fear. In addition to the men, women and children that have been brutally murdered, there remain a high number of hostages – mostly women and children – that have been kidnapped by Hamas.
British politicians are almost all committed to a 2-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, myself included, but there can never be any accommodation or tolerance of attacks of this kind. You are not a freedom fighter if you indiscriminately kill innocent members of the public – you are a terrorist and Israel has every right to deal with Hamas and defend itself,
Last week myself and the other education ministers visited a Jewish school that had closed on the 13th October. It had done so as Hamas had encouraged ‘a day of rage’ and they were concerned the girls at their school might be attacked.
As we listened to the children, staff, governors and other community figures at this school, we heard quite shocking tales of everyday antisemitism that they experience on their way to and from school or going about their daily lives.
There has been a disgraceful rise in such anti-semitic incidents since Israel was attacked, and members of the Jewish community are feeling unsafe. This is in Great Britain, one of the world’s most tolerant countries.
One person who spoke said he felt that while we had made great strides in using school to fight racist attitudes over decades, we have not done nearly as much to tackle antisemitism beyond hoping that teaching children about the Holocaust would ensure they did not have such attitudes. Listening to the experiences we heard around the table it was hard to disagree.
As the Prime Minister said, we stand with Israel and support their right to defend themselves, rescue the hostages, and ensure that Hamas can never again perpetrate atrocities like we saw on 7 October - but we must also support the Palestinian people, because they are victims of Hamas too. That is why we are rightly providing an additional £20 million of humanitarian aid to civilians in Gaza which will provide essential relief items and services, such as food, water, and emergency shelter and are more than doubling our previous support to the Palestinian people.
The UK will continue to stand with Israel and the Palestinian people.