On Remembrance Sunday, 8th November 1987 in Enniskillen in Northern Ireland, a bombing took place that proved to be a turning point in The Troubles. 12 civilians were killed, the final victim having died 13 years later in December 2000, with ages ranging from 20 to 74, including three elderly married couples. Words used to describe the attack ranged from ‘savagery’ to ‘barbarism’. The killings shocked many on all sides and undermined both the IRA and Sinn Fein. Now, imagine the reaction at the time had a protest march in support of the republican cause taken place the following weekend, and then again the weekend after that. Imagine if during that march chants were heard calling for the expulsion of all protestants from the island of Ireland.
The death toll of the Hamas attack is around 1400, many of whom were women and children. The method of killing has horrified many, including the forensic pathologists who have had to perform autopsies. There are reports of rape and the murder of a pregnant mother and her foetus. The scale of this atrocity is huge, relative to Israel’s population. It is as if 40,000 were killed on 9/11.
Here in the UK, the response to an attack that has seen the most jews killed since the Holocaust has been extraordinary. Media organisations including the BBC and Sky have declined to use the word ‘terrorist’. The dictionary definition of a terrorist is ‘a person who uses violence, especially murder and bombing, in order to achieve political aims.’ Having read of the events of the 7th October, I would challenge any right thinking person to disagree that they were acts of terror, carried out by terrorists. That is an accurate and impartial analysis.
On the Saturday 14th October a march took place in London in support of the Palestinian cause, barely a week after the Hamas massacre. At this protest, and at the protest that took place again a week later, we’ve seen calls for the Israeli state to be dissolved, celebrations of Hamas, antisemitic signs and threats of violence, all witnessed by a seemingly indifferent Metropolitan Police.
On the 17th October 2023, an explosion occurred at the Al Ahli hospital in Gaza. Initial reports were of approximately 500 civilians killed, many of them women and children. Within hours journalists from the BBC, Sky and the Guardian had reported it was as a result of an Israeli air attack, quoting ‘Palestinian authorities.’ Those authorities are actually Hamas, the terrorist organisation (as proscribed by the UK government) responsible for the 7th October massacre. This rush to apportion blame, at such a highly charged and sensitive time, and when the facts were not known, was grossly irresponsible. The evidence may not be 100% conclusive, but it is increasingly clear that a misfired Hamas rocket struck the car park of the hospital. Despite this, politicians in the Middle East have condemned Israel, and social media is awash with conspiracy theories.
There are demands for Israel’s response to be proportionate, and for there to be a ‘ceasefire’. What is Israel expected to do? Negotiate with an organisation whose charter states that Israel should be destroyed? The tragedy for the current crisis is that moderate voices have been side-lined, and extremists on both sides are in the ascendancy. We’re seeing settlers armed in the West Bank, and Hezbollah are making aggressive noises to the north as Iran’s theocracy is seen as a highly malevolent force in the region. Tragically civilians on both sides will now reap what Hamas has sewn.
The Remembrance Day bombing in Enniskillen led to a re-energised peace process, which culminated in the Belfast Agreement in 1998, just over ten years later. One hopes the current crisis can lead to something positive emerging from the Middle East.
With all this in mind, it is so important for our media class to call out atrocities when they occur, and to not give an equal voice to Hamas. Our political leaders need to ensure that jews feel safe in this country. These are basic requests, but it is sad that they need to be made. As editor of Aspects of History I’m therefore proud to have signed the October Declaration, and encourage you to do so too.