The left cannot pretend that Israel is the only problem

Until Hamas renounces violence and stops arms smuggling, the problem will only get worse.

I do not know you, Mehdi, so I will not presume anything about you. I am saddened that you think to presume that I do not find the events a tragic, needless loss of life, just because I raise challenging political dilemmas. It is above all else a huge human tragedy. It was also clearly an absolute mistake by Israel that has caused it considerable diplomatic damage.

However, your approach is a manifestation of the problem, in that you seem unable to engage in a discussion about the serious policy and political problems relating to Israel that beset the international community. Serious dilemmas are faced by those that both want peace in the Middle East and also want to stop the suffering of innocents on all sides.

Given your presumption about me, you may be surprised to note that I think the arbitrary way that Israel appears to determine what foodstuffs enter Gaza is punitive, self-defeating and wrong. Furthermore, it detracts from the serious issues that I raised about the smuggling of arms, and the need to support Abu Mazen to ensure the peace process stands a chance. What is happening in Gaza is heartbreaking, but being a bleeding-heart liberal will not help resolve the wider issues.

What the people of Gaza need is for the international community to focus on the following: stop the smuggling of arms, get Hamas to renounce violence, and release Gilad Shalit. Then it will look as though we are not rewarding terror and keep the hope and chance of peace alive. This will in turn make reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah possible and then elections (which Hamas refuses to hold at present).

The best hope for Gaza is for Salam Fayyad to be able to extend his state-building programme there.

No matter how much you accuse me of not caring about human suffering, Mehdi, you can't get round these questions. Israel should answer the questions you raise about what is allowed into Gaza, but you have to acknowledge that the issue is not simple. There are enough good people in the US, UK, EU, PA and Israel that want to resolve this problem and have spent a very long time trying to sort it out. However, whatever Israel allows into Gaza, until Hamas renounces violence and stops arms smuggling, the problem will only get worse.

I feel it is equally shocking to hear someone on the left ignore the human rights abuses inflicted by Hamas, not least upon its own people. Even Amnesty International accepts Hamas is guilty of war crimes. Israel is guilty of many things, but we help no one, least of all the people of Gaza, by pretending that Israel is the sole problem.

Lorna Fitzsimons is chief executive of the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre.

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In focusing on the famous few, we risk doing a disservice to all victims of child sexual abuse

There is a danger that we make it harder, not easier, for victims to come forward in future. 

Back in the 1970s when relations between journalists and police were somewhat different to today a simple ritual would be carried out around the country at various times throughout the week.

Reporters, eager for information for their regional newspaper, would take a trip to the local station and there would be met by a desk sergeant who would helpfully skim through details in the crime Incident Book.

Among the entries about petty thefts, burglaries and road accidents there would occasionally be a reference to an allegation of incest. And at this point the sergeant and journalist might well screw-up their faces, shake their heads and swiftly move on to the next log. The subject was basically taboo, seen as something ‘a bit mucky,’ not what was wanted in a family newspaper.

And that’s really the way things stayed until 1986 when ChildLine was set up by Dame Esther Rantzen in the wake of a BBC programme about child abuse. For the first time children felt able to speak out about being sexually assaulted by the very adults whose role in life was to protect them.

And for the first time the picture became clear about what incest really meant in many cases. It wasn’t simply a low level crime to be swept under the carpet in case it scratched people’s sensitivities. It frequently involved children being abused by members of their close family, repeatedly, over many years.

Slowly but surely as the years rolled on the NSPCC continued to press the message about the prevalence of child sexual abuse, while encouraging victims to come forward. During this time the corrosive effects of this most insidious crime have been painfully detailed by many of those whose lives have been derailed by it. And of course the details of the hundreds of opportunistic sexual assaults committed by Jimmy Savile have been indelibly branded onto the nation’s consciousness.

It’s been a long road - particularly for those who were raped or otherwise abused as children and are now well into their later years - to bring society around to accepting that this is not to be treated as a dark secret that we really don’t want to expose to daylight. Many of those who called our helpline during the early days of the Savile investigation had never told anyone about the traumatic events of their childhoods despite the fact they had reached retirement age.

So, having buried the taboo, we seem to be in danger of giving it the kiss of life with the way some cases of alleged abuse are now being perceived.

It’s quite right that all claims of sexual assault should be investigated, tested and, where there is a case, pursued through the judicial system. No one is above the law, whether a ‘celebrity’ or a lord.

But we seem to have lost a sense of perspective when it comes to these crimes with vast resources being allocated to a handful of cases while many thousands of reported incidents are virtually on hold.

The police should never have to apologise for investigating crimes and following leads. However, if allegations are false or cannot be substantiated they should say so. This would be a strength not a weakness.

It is, of course, difficult that in many of the high-profile cases of recent times the identities of those under investigation have not been officially released by the police but have come to light through other means. Yet we have to deal with the world as it is not as we wish it would be and once names are common knowledge the results of the investigations centring on them should be made public.

When it emerges that someone in the public eye is being investigated for non-recent child abuse it obviously stirs the interest of the media whose appetite can be insatiable. This puts pressure on the police who don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past by allowing offenders to slip through their hands.  And so there is a danger, as has been seen in recent cases, that officers lack confidence in declaring there is a lack of evidence or the allegations are not true. 

The disproportionate weight of media attention given to say, Sir Edward Heath, as opposed to the Bradford grooming gang sentenced this week, shows there is a danger the pendulum is swinging too far the other way. This threatens the painstaking work invested in ensuring the public and our institutions recognise child abuse as a very real danger. 

Whilst high profile cases have helped the cause there is now a real risk that the all-encompassing focus on them does both victims of abuse and those advocating on their behalf a fundamental disservice.

As the public watches high -profile cases collapsing amidst a media fanfare genuine convictions made across the country week in week out go virtually unannounced. If this trend continues they may start to believe that child sexual abuse isn’t the prolific problem we know it to be.

So, while detectives peer into the mists of time, searching for long lost clues, we have to face the unpalatable possibility that offences being committed today will in turn become historical investigations because there is not the manpower to deal with them right now.

So, now the Goddard Inquiry is in full swing, taking evidence about allegations of child sex crimes involving ‘well known people’ as well as institutional abuse, how do we ensure we don’t fail today’s victims?

If they start to think their stories are going to be diminished by the continuing furore over how some senior public figures have been treated by the police they will stay silent. Therefore we have to continue to encourage them to come forward, to give them the confidence of knowing they will be listened to.

If we don’t we will find ourselves back in those incestuous days where people conspired to say and do nothing to prevent child abuse.

Peter Wanless is Chief Executive of the NSPCC.