Doug Beattie: Israel-Gaza conflict ... Wanting peace is not a weakness, in fact creating peace is far harder than fighting wars
I am reminded of a quote by Dwight D Eisenhower: “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”
An accurate quote but only if you read it as a soldier; however, the reality is the vast majority affected by war are innocent civilians. Men, women, and children caught up in a conflict they did not start, did not want, and pray for it to end.
As social media feeds us competing narratives, fake news and graphic images, the mainstream media attempts to give balance by sticking to statistics. The number of dead or injured, rockets fired, targets engaged, the political initiative and the mobilised demonstrations.
All this while innocent civilians continue to face the brutality of war as unknown faces, unheard voices; as pure statistics. A quote, often said: “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.”
Here in Northern Ireland we feel we must take a side, that there is no room for ambiguity or nuisance. Yet those who know war know that things are seldom that simple.
Hamas is a terrorist organisation; it must be dismantled so Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace. In prosecuting the conflict Israel must adhere to the laws of armed conflict - humanity, necessity, proportionality and, of course, distinction - and in doing so they must do all they can to safeguard innocent Palestinian civilians.
Hamas must realise they are also bound by the same rules. Their attack on October 7, aimed at murdering innocent civilians, torturing, beheading, raping and kidnapping, breaches every single one of those conflict laws.
We already know Hamas has embedded themselves within the Palestinian population. They have scant regard for their own people as they use them as a disposable commodity to appeal to the international community for support.
The information war of claim and counter-claim is what fuels any war and it will drive the international community to react to this unfolding crisis. Israel knows they must destroy the Hamas terrorist network; just degrading their command-and-control structures in Gaza won't be enough.
Innocent Palestinians are suffering horrendously. It is ok to show genuine human emotion, empathy, and humanity for those who are caught up in this terrible conflict. In doing so it does not weaken your empathy and humanity for innocent Israelis murdered and terrorised by Hamas.
Wanting peace is not a weakness, in fact creating peace is far harder than fighting wars.
A long-term ceasefire might not be possible but a strategic pause in the ground and air offensive could help. It would allow for the evacuation of the wounded, the vulnerable, including children and non-combatants. It would allow for increased humanitarian aid and help create safe zones.
All hostages must be released now, without conditions. Their brutalisation cannot be viewed in the abstract purely because their faces and stories do not appear on our TV screens daily.
A quarter of a century ago the Belfast Agreement was signed. It created an imperfect peace, but thankfully it has endured. This showed that intractable differences could be put aside for the common good. The horrors in Israel and Gaza, and in the Ukraine, show that the world is at an inflection point that could lead to much worse.
Now is the time to look ahead to help set the conditions for a long-term peaceful co-existence in the Middle East.
There must be the recognition that Israel has the right to not only exist, but to exist in peace.
There must be a valid option for a proper sovereign Palestinian state, one that is not held sway by corruption, terror, and the malign influence of Iran.
These are hard goals and objectives and won't be achieved quickly, but until Hamas is dealt with, and peace restored to Gaza and the West Bank, we cannot even begin to start on this long journey.
This conflict needs to end, latent anti-semitism must be challenged, and the international community must do more to address the deep-rooted causes of this regional instability which Iran uses to spread its influence.
If peace is to ferment, then there needs to be more than just words of condemnation or partisan views. There must be a renewed emphasis on the Oslo accord, and this may require an enhanced, international military presence.
If we do nothing but wait it out statistics are all we will have left.
Doug Beattie MC MLA is the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party