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Letters / Silence is complicity

Quick question: Did talking about the Vietnam war help end it earlier?  How about apartheid in South Africa? Easy.  Of course, it did.  So, what are we to make of Shetland Island Council’s refusal to debate a ceasefire in Gaza, as so many councils across the country have?

Council convener rejects Palestine ceasefire motion

Christmas celebrations have literally been cancelled in Bethlehem this year.  Jews, Christians, Muslims, and those of no faith, are reeling and grieving, as we know.

Hostages, wrongly taken on both sides, are suffering, as are their friends and loved ones.  The point in conducting a civil discussion about the need for peace, and the justice it requires, is surely to add strength in support.  Are we our brother’s keeper?  When it comes to opposing blatant and ongoing war crimes, the answer must surely be yes.

Lerwick Town Hall gets lit up for this cause and that every now and again, but obviously not to mark the United Nation’s International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, next 29 November. Why not?  Because, as we know from the mouth of the convenor, that would be political. How very awful. Just imagine.

Just imagine how damaging it would be for the agenda of the council to allow time to acknowledge what is probably the worst moral outrage in living memory. Innocent folk seeking refuge at the entrance of a hospital which can no longer function being picked off by sniper fire.  Pregnant women giving birth by cesarean section without painkillers.  Poor council agenda.  It is busy don’t you know.

Just imagine no food or clean water, no electricity or medicine, and all because our closest ally the Middle East was given a blank cheque to exact illegal collective punishment against a civilian population by our government and His Royal Majesty’s loyal opposition.

The indiscriminate bombing, shelling and shooting is supported by UK spotter planes flying overhead. British navy ships are providing tactical support, and stand ready to attack Israel’s neighbours should they make any move.

Arms companies based in the UK are seeing their share prices soar.  Meanwhile ethical organisations are stopping any investments they have in Israel, be that in their pension pots or share portfolios.  Let us not talk about the BDS movement though.  Shetland Charitable Trust?  Do not ask.

There are Conservative, Lib-Dem, Labour, Green and SNP MPs calling for an immediate ceasefire.  On the mainland of Scotland solidarity has been shown coast to coast.  In Lerwick every Saturday folk are gathering at the doors of our Town Hall to protest, acknowledging far too little has been done to promote peace for far too long.

Amnesty International, Oxfam, Save the Children and Christian Aid have all called for a ceasefire, as have Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael and Shetland’s MSP Beatrice Wishart. Why?  Because, although all war is hell, the nature of this disproportionate carnage almost defies description.

At the time of writing the latest death toll stands at 20,301 Palestinians and about 1,139 people killed in Israel since 7 October. Get your fresh updates here, or, if our shared humanity has nothing to do with people in Shetland, don’t.

But there is no reason to believe the Israeli ‘Defence’ Force will stop once they reach a ratio of ten to one.  The bulk of Palestinian deaths are women and children.  Despite the calls for an end to the cycle of violence of so many grieving relatives, the fires of hatred are being fueled for generations to come.

An equivalent scale of assault in Shetland would see countless homes and half of the civilian infrastructure bombed, the remaining health infrastructure totally unable to deal with the mounting casualties, the population told to move to Dunrossness for their safety, only to be bombed there too. Everyone would know someone who had died, someone that was missing, and several that were injured. Hunger, thirst, grief and pain would be so widespread as to be virtually inescapable.

On the 14th of this month the defence minister of Israel’s far right government told Jake Sulliven, President Biden’s national security adviser, that the defeat of Hamas would require several more months.  Given the mounting civilian death toll, what will that ultimately look like?

The withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza can and must be brought forwards by pressure across the UK.  Keir Starmer MP describes the violence being “intolerable”.  Why then should we tolerate his and our government’s complicity?  The British establishment is waiting for us to reject their current path in order that they can change course, and reject it we must.

Shetland is part of a global society, and has a part to play in securing a fairer and more peaceful world.  Shetland Islands Council is obliged to be concerned with securing human rights, and human rights, as we know, are indivisible, although not if you are Palestinian apparently.

According to convenor Manson, Shetland’s insular council has “more important topics to discuss”, “closer to home”.  What has colonial oppression and land clearance by an increasingly extreme and brutal ethno-state got to do with a Shetland which suffered at the hands of Scottish lairds, where Catholics were literally beaten out of existence and into the ‘right’ faith, and where families were cleared off their land?  Nothing of course.  We don’t do politics: as if to say that itself, as and when convenient, is not in itself to take a political position.

Councilors elected because of their conscience are being silenced because the matter has been deemed to be a matter of international politics, as if bellicose Britain’s decision to support war over public services has nothing to do with council cuts.

Would allowing a debate in the council chamber, which might result in Shetland joining with Aberdeen council, and so many others across the country to demand a cease fire, make any difference?  Yes it will.  And why?  Because silence is complicity.

There are elected councillors in Shetland whose voters want them to help stop genocide.  In such a drastic situation, such a moral vacuum as this, it is only proper that they be allowed to do so.

Peter Hamilton


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