Friday, January 09, 2009

Scottish Parliament backs Gaza ceasefire call

The Scottish Parliament yesterday backed calls for a ceasefire in Gaza and recognised the work of charities and NGOs trying to help improve the plight of the Palestinians.

The text of the motion was

S3M-3179 Nicola Sturgeon: The Humanitarian Disaster in Gaza—That the Parliament expresses its concern over the loss of all lives in the conflict in Gaza; joins the international community in calling for a ceasefire; acknowledges the unfolding humanitarian disaster in Gaza; recognises and welcomes the role being played by those in Scotland involved in the humanitarian response, and supports the work of all charities and NGOs in Scotland that are responding to this situation.

and it was supported by everybody except the Tories. How you could actually fail to support something calling for a ceasefire is beyond me, but they managed it.

Jim Tolson, MSP for Dunfermline West, and Hugh O'Donnell, who went to Gaza in November on a Parliamentary visit were the Liberal Democrat contributors and I thought that their contributions were worthy of reproducing here.

Jim Tolson (Dunfermline West) (LD): Like millions of other people, I am absolutely shocked by the huge scale of the Israeli attacks that have been taking place since 27 December and which we have seen on the worldwide television news. With 1.5 million people crammed into the Gaza strip, high levels of civilian casualties were inevitable. There is no credibility in the Israeli statement that the Palestinians have used people as human shields, because it is impossible to have human shields when so many people are crammed into such a small space anyway.
In December, I attended the cross-party group in the Scottish Parliament on Palestine. The feedback from Hugh O'Donnell, Sandra White and Pauline McNeill on their audacious boat trip to Gaza was absolutely heartbreaking. There was also feedback from Palestinian people, many of whom had suffered for years in their homeland at the hands of the Israelis. There was feedback, too, from aid workers who had been attacked and harangued out of Gaza, and from Scots who had lived in Gaza and had felt that in many ways they were living under occupation. We heard heartbreaking points from all. We heard that no spare parts are allowed for sewage systems and how Israeli gunboats force fishermen to remain close to the shore and to fish in waters that are contaminated with sewage, which inevitably contaminates the food chain.
I decided to be no armchair supporter. I was sufficiently moved to join 2,000 demonstrators in Glasgow last Saturday. A cross-party group of MSPs was there in support of the demonstration, although there were no Tories. The demonstration, which was on behalf of and in support of the people of Gaza and Palestinians worldwide, was peaceful but vociferous. The heartbreaking news about what has been going on in Gaza, particularly since 27 December, was well elocuted by many. I cannot condone the rocket attacks on Israel, but the Israeli response is utterly disproportionate. All violence must stop now and not just for three hours per day. Violence breeds violence and only a democratic settlement will bring lasting peace.
Nicola Sturgeon was absolutely right that almost all Scots are concerned about the situation. As she said, the violence is shattering and hopes for a long-term peace are the way ahead. I back those sentiments fully. The motion's focus on charities and NGOs pulling together is the right approach. The one point on which I agree with Ted Brocklebank is that that is one response that Scotland can make, whereas we cannot act on many other matters. Nicola Sturgeon also referred to the MSPs' trip to Gaza in November. That was a brave and audacious attempt by our colleagues to provide aid. They definitely managed to do that and I am glad that they did. At the end of the day, as Nicola Sturgeon said, we hope that the Parliament will speak with one voice on the issue. It is crucial that we do so.
Pauline McNeill was one of the members who went on the trip to Gaza. She talked about how Scotland can respond to the crisis in humanitarian ways. We heard much about that at the demonstration last Saturday. People can comment here and elsewhere on what is happening to try to ensure that the Palestinians' story gets out to a worldwide audience. We can also comment on the scale of the suffering, which has been going on for many years and not just since 27 December. Pauline McNeill rightly suggested that the public expect us to add our voice to that of others. The world focus must be on an immediate cease-fire in Gaza. Some Israelis, and even George Bush, have denied that there is a humanitarian crisis. There is no credibility whatever in that statement. I am glad that Mr Bush is going, but I wish that I could believe that the Israeli Government will be more reasonable in the future. I do not hold out too much hope of that.
Ted Brocklebank's speech was sad indeed. Although he deplored the tragic deaths of civilians in Gaza, including those of 200 children, he soured the debate somewhat, which was rather sad to witness. Hamas is not just a militant organisation—no more than the Tories are in the Parliament. It is unfortunate that Ted Brocklebank took that line. My colleague Hugh O'Donnell, who took part in the trip to Gaza, made a good speech. I am glad that he congratulated the organisations that are taking practical steps to help people in Gaza. The Liberal Democrats' UK leader, Nick Clegg, has called on the UK Government to stop arming the Israelis. I certainly back that call.

Hugh O'Donnell (Central Scotland) (LD): The Palestinian people are paying a dear price for Europe's guilt about what happened to European Jews. I find Mr Brocklebank's comments completely inappropriate but unsurprising, given the fact that the Conservatives did everything that they could to prevent the debate from taking place, notwithstanding what the cabinet secretary said.
I congratulate all the organisations in Scotland that are taking practical steps to help the people in Gaza. Even those of us who were there recently can have only a limited understanding of what has gone on in the past two weeks. We have watched in horror as the conflict in Gaza has claimed innocent victim after innocent victim. We have watched the UN schools, for which the Israelis have the co-ordinates, being completely destroyed. The past two weeks have been a telling indictment of the international community. We have an outgoing United States President who is giving Israel carte blanche to do what is being done to the people of Gaza and, regrettably, an aching silence from the President-elect. We also have a European Union that is encumbered by clumsy decision making and confused messages.
Nevertheless, there is a glimmer of hope, which has been referred to by other members. It is the short respite in the bombing that has been promised by Israel, along with the talk of a cease-fire. The three hours to which Nicola Sturgeon referred is barely enough time to do anything—let alone to feed a population of 1.5 million—but it is a start, even if it is intended only to deflect growing international criticism of what Israel is doing.
As other members have said, Israel has every right to defend itself, but its current approach is self-defeating and conveniently ignores the roots of its existence in the Stern gang and Irgun. There is no more a military solution to this situation than there was to the situation in Northern Ireland. We must get the sides to talk to each other. We were brave enough to talk to the Irish Republican Army, so why can we not make the Israelis brave enough to talk to Hamas and Hamas brave enough to talk to the Israelis?
The overwhelming use of force by Israel and the unacceptable loss of civilian lives are radicalising moderate Palestinians. We are now seeing Hezbollah launching attacks from Lebanon.
Britain must condemn unambiguously Israel's tactics, just as it has rightly condemned the Hamas rocket attacks. We must lead the European Union towards using its economic and diplomatic influence in the region to broker peace. That includes, if necessary, cancelling the preferable trade agreement that it is currently negotiating with the Israelis.
Finally, the world's leaders must accept that the response to the election of Hamas has been a strategic failure. Attempts to divide and rule the Palestinians by isolating them and collectively punishing an innocent civilian population in Gaza will not succeed. No terrorist organisation has ever been bombed into submission. To secure peace in the middle east, Hamas must turn its back on its terrorist activities to help to create Palestinian unity and Israel must recognise that the people of Palestine have as much right to exist on that land as the Israelis do. In Scotland, we must do all that we can to support the humanitarian efforts for the civilians in Gaza.

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