Yesterday in Parliament I lead a debate on the situation in Gaza and the wider region and the humanitarian disaster which has been unfolding as a result of the conflict.
You can read my introduction to the debate below and the full transcript, including all contributions on the Official Report.
Motion for debate – S4M-10675, Gaza:
That the Parliament regrets and unreservedly repudiates the ongoing violence and loss of human life in Gaza and Israel, which, according to journalists running risks to their own safety to report from the area, stood, as at 28 July 2014, at more than 1,000 Palestinian deaths and 45 Israelis; considers that the continuation of violence will further escalate the already severe and enduring humanitarian catastrophe in the densely populated Gaza Strip; believes that the number of Palestinian civilian fatalities, including many women and children, indicates a disproportionate action by the Israeli military; condemns both indiscriminate rocket attacks and military bombardment of civilians and believes that hospitals and schools, in particular, should be places of safety and therefore also condemns attacks on them or their use to store or fire weapons; confirms its view that the continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is rooted in the continued failure to achieve a political solution to a problem that cannot be solved by violence; supports the comments made by the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, on 24 July, who has described the situation as an “intolerable, unacceptable crisis” and agrees with him that it is imperative for the killing to stop; notes calls for the international community to fully use its influence to break the cycle of failed talks, continuing occupation and outbreaks of violence that threaten the prospect of a two-state solution by renewed and robust efforts to broker peace and justice in the region with the objectives, amongst others, of an immediate interim ceasefire, a long-term plan to prevent further violence, efforts to aid the necessary rebuilding of Palestinian civilian infrastructure, including the importation of vital humanitarian supplies into Gaza, and crucially a process that can finally lead to the creation of a viable Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel in accordance with previous UN resolutions, and notes calls for the UK Government to support these objectives and to prohibit the supply of equipment or parts of equipment that are likely to be used against civilians and for the Scottish Government to do all that it can in support of the same and to foster and maintain good community relations between all religious and ethnic groups who have their home in Glasgow and across Scotland and who, in common with people around the world, wish to see a settlement that respects the right of all human beings, irrespective of religion or race, to live in peace with both dignity and security.
Drew Smith (Glasgow) (Lab): I am grateful to all those members who signed my motion. I hope that the range of views that no doubt exists in the Parliament will have the opportunity of an airing this evening. In drafting a motion that I hoped as many members as possible could support and which would therefore stand a chance of reaching the chamber for debate, I tried to provide a form of words that would gain the broadest possible support. I hope that this debate will play a small part in a much-needed effort to assure the victims of this conflict of the greatest possible international coalition for peace and justice in the middle east.
I draw attention to my membership of the cross-party group in the Scottish Parliament on Palestine, of which I have previously been an officer, and I thank the current officers Sandra White, Claudia Beamish and Jim Hume for supporting my motion. I look forward to their contributions to the debate. I also refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests as a former member of the Scottish Trades Union Congress general council, as I will refer to the delegation to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories that I joined while I was a member.
In Scotland, as elsewhere in the world, there are a range of views on the solutions to the problems of the middle east and specifically those of Israel and Palestine. Parliament should reflect those if we wish our voices to be representative of the country and of note to those elsewhere. There are few neutral voices. However, the scale of the current and most recent violence, to which we are all bearing witness, and indeed the length of time for which the conflict has gone on have meant that there is a breadth to the voices that say that the current actions of the Israeli Government have been disproportionate. There are instances of action that require international investigation and indeed an international response that goes beyond simply wishing for talks or for different partners in the cause of peace.
I am a supporter of a Palestinian state. I believe that a viable state for the Palestinians is their right and that it is the duty of progressive voices around the world to advocate for it with resolution, with realism about the barriers to it and with firmness against those who frustrate the two-state solution on either side, whether in principle or by delay.
I believe that the current violence and the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza is winning new supporters for the cause of justice and peace, not terrorism and not military action. The motion that we are debating condemns the scale of the violence on both sides. I condemn utterly and without caveat the indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israel from Gaza, I condemn tunnelling into Israeli territory from Gaza, and I believe that the fear and danger that they represent serves no purpose other than the prolonging of the conflict, which reduces the likelihood that Israelis will question the actions of their Government, far less become advocates for engagement with their Palestinian neighbours. Correspondingly, the scale of the horror in Gaza does nothing to bolster the voices of those who recognise that a viable Palestinian state can be achieved only alongside a secure Israel and that it will be created through negotiation of land, not violence against civilians.
Peace for one society and normality for individuals and families will not be lasting if it is achieved only for one group. That is not a justification for violence. It is simply recognition that the underlying issues of the conflict continue. I visited northern Israel in the aftermath of operation cast lead and, like many other international visitors, I have been shown the rockets that come over the border from Gaza. I have spoken to Israelis about their fears of attack and I have no doubt that those fears are genuine. I have also spoken to Palestinians and international observers who have told me of the harsh and brutal reality of life under blockade in Gaza.
The images that we now see on our television screens, about which people are taking to our streets to protest, offend the world. Schools and hospitals that the innocent can only hope are places of safety have become a battlefield that is raging on a strip of land that is one of the most densely populated places on earth. Civilians and children have been killed and injured in their thousands.
To those who say that we need to step back from condemnation of the disproportion of the violence because it needs to be understood against the wider politics of the region, the dispute or the history of the peace process, I say that we should imagine being born into the world on the Gaza strip. Imagine the hopelessness of parents as they look at their children and imagine the desperate future that stretches far beyond the tiny horizons that surround them.
I have no doubt that others will use their time to talk about their reactions to what we are watching. The agony is perhaps more profound now than it has ever been before, but the truth is that much of what we will hear in the debate could have been said in any of the three years since I was elected to the Parliament; it has been said in the more than 10 years for which I have been actively involved in campaigns and it has been continually said in the 30 years of my life and long before that.
I hope that others will touch on the injustices that continue on the west bank, where Hamas is not in control, and I have no doubt that others will mention many of the advocates for the Palestinians who have put the case for change in the middle east better than I ever could, including the late Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Tutu and former President Carter.
The truth is that, while the world desperately desires a lasting ceasefire to the current violence, the hope—the necessity—of a two-state solution is fast disappearing before our eyes. The situation is desperate, but the world simply cannot allow hope to die with the children of Gaza.
Time does not allow me to say all that I wish to, but I will end my speech, as the motion does, by urging the Scottish Government to continue its efforts to do all that it can for good community relations in our country. Members of our minority communities feel the pain of this conflict keenly and they deserve our solidarity, just as the innocent civilian victims in the middle east deserve our resolve in speaking out.
When I have asked ordinary Palestinians what Scots can do and what any of us can do as witnesses, I have been told, “Do not forget us. Do not forget that we exist.” When those who believe in a two-state solution speak out, that should not be described as support for terrorism, which is condemned by our citizens and by those around the world who believe that there is no violent solution to the political problem that exists in the occupied territories. When we tell our children what the United Nations flag represents, they should be proud of it, not compromised by it.
I hope that the message that goes out from the Scottish Parliament and from the debate is one of humanity. We see what exists and we recognise that it is unjust. The leaders of the world will continue to reflect on the steps that can be taken internationally, but the citizens of the world are making it clear that, in our individual actions, we will protest against bombardment and terrorism until lasting peace prevails and demands for justice are met.
Read more on this debate
- Read the full debate online including contributions from all MSPs participating in the debate on the Official Report.