gaza rockets israel
Smoke trails are seen as rockets are launched towards Israel from northern GazaReuters

There was a sense of déjà vu when Liberal Democrat David Ward sparked outrage by suggesting that, if he lived in Gaza, he might fire a rocket at Israel.

We have heard similar sentiments before, and not only from Liberal Democrats.

In 2004 the party's then children's minister, Jenny Tongue, said of Palestinian suicide bombers: "If I had to live in that situation, and I say that advisedly, I might just consider becoming one myself."

She was forced to stand down and attempt to explain, saying: "I was just trying to say how, having seen the violence and the humiliation and the provocation that the Palestinian people live under every day and have done since their land was occupied by Israel, I could understand."

Two years previously the then-prime minister's wife, Cherie Blair, was forced to apologise after saying: "As long as young people feel they have got no hope but to blow themselves up you are never going to make progress."

The timing of her comments, just hours after 19 Israelis died and over 40 were injured in a suicide bomb attack on a bus in Jerusalem, fuelled the storm of protests.

david ward
Ward is facing disciplinary actionFacebook/David Ward

And that is often the ingredient that sparks these controversies; that they come at a time when the violence in the region has escalated and when what might otherwise be seen as a fumbled attempt to express some human empathy is magnified through the lens of politics.

It is also often the reaction to remarks from someone who has a record for expressing similar sentiments, as was the case with Tongue and now Ward, who tweeted: "if I lived in Gaza would I fire a rocket? - probably yes."

Ward was previously suspended from the party for questioning the continuing existence of the state of Israel and Tory MP Nadhim Zahawi has now referred the comments to the police on the ground they might amount to incitement to violence under the Terrorism Act.

The issue here is not just that politicians with liberal leanings often find themselves drawn into attempts to explain, if not justify suicide bombers or rocket attacks.

It is partly the timing of such clearly inflammatory remarks but also the obvious fact that they come from politicians and will be interpreted elsewhere as a sign of wider sympathy for a cause.

And, in a region where the choice of words can be literally lethal – just as was the case in Northern Ireland – these apparently careless or, worse, calculated comments invariably take on a political life of their own.