I don’t have the answers on the Middle East crisis but I know our communities will remain united - Oliver Coppard

My starting point when talking about the Middle East crisis we’re now in, indeed my position on the Israel-Palestine conflict more broadly, is something that most politicians don’t like to admit; I don’t know the answer.

I do not have answers that fully engage with the century's old complexity of the conflict, nor any that truly recognise the deepest of emotions powering the conflict on both sides.

The truth is that my feelings are possibly more uncertain than our current moment allows. I envy those able to find moral or intellectual clarity in this moment.

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I don’t know how Israel unilaterally calls a ceasefire when 200 hostages remain held captive and Hamas will keep on trying to kill, torture and maim Israeli families, whether Israel stops fighting or not.

Oliver Coppard is the Labour Mayor of South Yorkshire. PIC: Gerard BinksOliver Coppard is the Labour Mayor of South Yorkshire. PIC: Gerard Binks
Oliver Coppard is the Labour Mayor of South Yorkshire. PIC: Gerard Binks

And yet I don’t know how to feel anything other than horror and pain as innocent civilians in Gaza face a terrifying assault that most of us can’t even imagine.

What I do know is that more than anything I want the hostages to be returned to their families, and bombs to stop raining down on Palestinian children.

I know that the only people who are happy with what is going on right now are the extremists, the people who want this violence to continue for the benefit of their own ideology.

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I know I want both sides to recognise that the path to peace cannot be found through a pile of yet more dead bodies.

I know that for this to be truly over, Jewish people must finally be able to find safety and security, living in Israel, and the Palestinian people must have a future full of freedom, opportunity and hope.

Those answers are too simple for such a complicated question, I realise.

But I think we may be able to answer a different question - how can our communities show that we can do things differently here; that we can live as one community, respecting the views and identities of those with whom we might disagree, here?

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We can, indeed we must, respectfully mourn those people so brutally murdered on October 7 and express our huge concern for those Israelis taken hostage, while also recognising the extreme fear and frustration of those outraged by what Palestinians in Gaza are going through - a people facing a brutal onslaught, with nowhere to go and no means of escape.

We can do that peacefully and respectfully in South Yorkshire, knowing that whatever our position, others will disagree. I know that because we have always been able to find a way through our differences.

I couldn’t be more aware, or more proud, that this has never been a place where religious and racial differences have divided us.

Over the coming days and weeks I will do everything I can to keep our communities together, to engage in good faith with those members of all our communities who are hurt and angry, while recognising I do not have all the answers to the questions posed by what’s happening in the Middle East.

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But together I am certain we can find the answers to the questions we face here in South Yorkshire.

Oliver Coppard is the Labour Mayor for South Yorkshire. He was the Labour candidate for Sheffield Hallam at the 2015 general election.