Experts discuss Israel and Gaza conflict at sold-out Golders Green event

In the wake of this month’s escalation of violence between Hamas and Israel, the London Jewish Cultural Centre (LJCC) hosted a highly-charged debate just 24 hours after a ceasefire began.

The sold-out event last Thursday (November 22) was organised by Yachad, a non-profit UK group campaigning for peace in the region, with a stellar cast of speakers to grapple with the issues.

Sitting on the LJCC’s top table, in North End Road, Golders Green, was former Israeli government adviser Daniel Levy, professor of politics at Queen’s University, Belfast, Beverley Milton-Edwards, international human rights lawyer Richard Hermer QC and Professor Alan Johnson from Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM).

From the outset, Mr Levy left no doubt about the severity of this development in the Gaza conflict.

“In the last week we had rockets on Tel Aviv,” said Mr Levy, director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at the European Council for Foreign Relations. “We can be as proud as we like about the Iron Dome system (Israel’s missile defence system) but that is not good.

“I don’t see how this ends well if you’re only pursuing military solutions to political issues.”

This month’s conflict has claimed the lives of 160 Palestinians, with more then 100 of them believed to be civilians.

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After Israel launched Operation Pillar of Defence over 1000 rockets were fired towards the country, killing three civilians and leaving 4.5 million Israelis within rocket range.

But Mr Hermer insisted last week that until “the fog of war” clears and the full facts of the conflict emerge, it is not possible to be certain about whether either side had committed war crimes.

However, the QC insisted that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank was “plainly unlawful” and a “seemingly insurmountable obstacle to peace”.

Professor Milton-Edwards, who spent time in Gaza earlier this month speaking to Hamas leaders, said a “different approach” to the one taken in previous ceasefires was needed.

“A ceasefire can be the beginning of a dialogue and a dialogue can take you anywhere,” she said. “A ceasefire without a dialogue is going to break down.”

As the debate drew to a close, frustration among audience members seemed to reach a head, with one man bellowing repeatedly: “What does Israel have to do to stop firing from Gaza?”

Professor Milton-Edwards offered one perspective, adding: “The Hamas leadership says ‘Israel has to stop killing our children, stop killing our women, stop blockading us - give us our freedom, give us our self determination’”.

Mr Levy wrapped up on a more ominous note, concluding: “I am not convinced that there can ever be the kind of peace that maybe we thought there could be 20 years ago. I think the entire Israel project is somewhat sitting on a thin sheet of ice.”