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Council / Council passes Gaza motion calling for immediate ceasefire

SHETLAND Islands Council is calling on the UK Government to use the power at its disposal to achieve an immediate and permanent ceasefire by all parties in the ongoing Gaza conflict and for the immediate provision of all necessary humanitarian aid and the release of all hostages.

A motion brought forward by councillors Alex Armitage and Ian Scott won the support of 11 of the 21 members present when the issue was debated in the council chamber on Thursday (Robbie McGregor, Dennis Leask, Stephen Leask, Cecil Smith, Liz Peterson, Ryan Thomson, John Fraser, Davie Sandison, Catherine Hughson).

Six councillors voted with a counter motion tabled by Allison Duncan and Tom Morton asking for support of the “direct negative” (Emma Macdonald, Andrea Manson, Gary Robinson, Mark Robinson).

Four councillors abstained (Moraig Lyall, Bryan Peterson, Arwed Wenger, Neil Pearson)

Shetland South councillor Alex Armitage.

Councillor Armitage’s motion was supported by a petition organised by the Palestinian Solidarity Shetland group which had collected just over 300 signatures.

Presenting his motion, the Green councillor acknowledged that it was unusual that international matters would be discussed at council level, but added that he believed the voice of the council could play “a small but significant part in ending what I think is a very gruesome conflict which has taken the lives of too many Israelis and Palestinians”.

He added: “I want to make it clear that horrific war crimes including sexual violence torture were perpetrated by Hamas on 7 October, and also that Palestinians have been subjected to war crimes and horrific violence including sexual violence and torture.

“I think this escalating circle of violence only suits the extremists, and not ordinary Palestinians and Israelis,” he said.

“I passionately believe in the security of Jewish people within and outwith Israel, and I share the concern that have been raised. I agree with the point that you do not build security by killing your enemy’s children.

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“In calling for peace I do not think that we are divisive here, we are standing up for the security of Palestinians and the long-term security of Israeli people. I don’t want to see a repeat of what happened of 7 October.”

He added: “I reject the notion that this motion is somehow self-indulgent or virtue-signalling; I believe it can have an effect alongside other similar motions passed by many other local authorities in Britain to push the UK Government to use its considerable power in this issue to make a vital change.”

Strongly opposing the motion was Shetland South councillor Allison (Flea) Duncan. Photo: SIC

Opposing the motion, Southend councillor Allison Duncan said he was disappointed to see the motion “paraded” in the media before councillors had been notified, a point challenged by Armitage in a later contribution.

Duncan added: “I move to dismiss this motion and that the council moves on to the next item of business without delay.

“No one in this chamber, anybody in this community wants war; we all want peace. But the motion will not achieve that, we are only fooling ourselves if we think a small local authority with no remit or mandate can influence international affairs like this.

“The motion calls for a ceasefire from two sides. The divisions between these two sides are of biblical proportions and timescales, and I emphasise with the innocent people of both sides caught in the conflict.

“The motion of Messrs Armitage and Scott has already caused division and anger in the community and is an inappropriate distraction from the very important work that we have been elected to do.”

His seconder Tom Morton added: “This motion is unnecessary; it is divisive, and it has been all week a distraction from the business that this council has got through and has still to get through today.”

He said that he like many of his colleagues have received representations from islanders in the issue, and read out a short section of a letter received from an unnamed Jewish citizen living in the isles.

“As a Jewish family in Shetland I never thought the day would come when I felt I needed to tell my children not to disclose their heritage, or when I would feel I needed to hide my Star of David when out and about.”

During the debate councillor Stephen Leask said he would be voting in favour of the motion, in the knowledge that neither he nor his fellow councillors were international diplomats, but the community expected councillors to use their voice to express their concern.

Quoting Gandhi, councillor Leask added: “The human voice can never reach the distance that is covered by the small voice of conscience. So, my small voice would certainly vote for the motion.”

Referring to the scenes in the House of Commons on Wednesday night, Armitage said in summing up that he wanted to thank his fellow councillors for the respectful way the debate in the council chamber was conducted.

“I understand people have very strong feelings,” he said.

“The only self-congratulation I would like to do is congratulating ourselves for having respect for each other in a way that wasn’t seen in the UK Parliament yesterday.”

Meanwhile, referring to the House of Commons, isles MP Alistair Carmichael said he was glad “to support a motion (…) which backed an immediate ceasefire”.

“Parliament has not covered itself in glory. We witnessed an hour of shouting and counterclaims which seemed far more about bruised egos than anything else. The back-and-forth drama and game-playing has been a distraction from the people at the heart of this issue.

“Somehow our politics seems to have lost sight of the basics here. Nothing is going to get better for the besieged people of Gaza until the killing stops.

“They deserve better than the political manoeuvring we have seen. There was an opportunity for MPs to come together and it is unfortunate that this has not happened.”

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