Anti-war campaigners halt meeting of Derry Council in pro-Palestine protest for BDS action
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The protesters filled the gallery during a full Council meeting on Wednesday, November 22, demanding the expulsion of the Israeli Ambassador and imposition of boycotts and sanctions.
In an address to Derry City and Strabane District Council, Derry’s Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign Chair, Catherine Hutton, said she was concerned that they had not adequately implemented the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) policy.
BDS is a Palestinian-led human rights initiative whose aim is to pressure Israel to comply with international law.
Mrs Hutton said: “We come here not to condemn Council, but to offer thanks for measures you’ve taken in solidarity with the people of Palestine.
“We are also delighted that the Council has backed the BDS policy and supported the expulsion of Israeli ambassadors.
“Derry is synonymous with the struggle for civil rights. We demand that Council motions in reaction to Palestine are implemented, and that Council respects and actively carries out sanctions.
“Despite the acceptance of the BDS Policy in 2017, there has been no practical work done to implement it by Council and this is not good enough.
“We cannot allow pro-Palestinian motions to be idle talk and virtue signalling and this Council must act now more than ever.”
She continued: “We appeal to DUP representatives to use their voice and demand MPs support a ceasefire.
“All parties in this chamber have a part to play, and we ask that they use their influence and their humanity to help change the situation for Palestinians.”
After the address, Mayor Patricia Logue joined Councillors, staff and protesters in a minute's silence, before the protestors left the gallery chanting ‘Free Palestine’.
Earlier in the meeting, Ballyarnett Sinn Féin District Councillor Sandra Duffy and Foyleside People Before Profit District Councillor Shaun Harkin put forward a successful motion to hold a Council meeting in the near future to discuss implementing BDS.
It also proposed lighting Council buildings in Palestinian colours during the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People (IDSPP) on November 29.
Colr. Duffy said the world was witnessing a ‘genocide’ that has led to the deaths of over 15,000 people, half of whom were women and children.
She said the targeting of schools, hospitals and refugee camps was ‘disturbing, despicable and a breach of international law’ and welcomed the four-day long pause in fighting, but said ‘nothing short of a ceasefire’ was needed.
Colr. Harkin said Israeli ministers were now ‘openly saying that this is ethnic cleansing’.
He continued: “I’m very proud that Derry has spoken up for Palestine. We had a brilliant vigil on World Children’s Day, and that’s happened right across this island.
“I think we should commit to the BDS policy. This has been a policy of the Council for years, and there’s a genocide happening.”
Ballyarnett SDLP District Councillor Brian Tierney said the events in Gaza were ‘harrowing’ and ‘genocide in every sense of the word’.
“Derry has been at the forefront in terms of raising the issue, solidarity and support,” He said. “It’s only right that the Council does all it can to implement the BDS policy, support IDSPP, and use council buildings to highlight campaigns people care about.”
Waterside DUP Alderman Niree McMorris said the party ‘recognised the abysmal actions’ in Gaza, but said Councillors had to be mindful of Israelis who have been ‘slaughtered’ during the conflict.
She said: “We welcome the humanitarian pause and call for a ceasefire, but this proposal is not inclusive.
“What kind of message does it send to our Jewish community in Northern Ireland? We’re lighting up buildings and only being mindful about one side of the conflict.”
Faughan UUP Alderman Ryan McCready agreed that standing in solidarity solely with Palestine was one-sided and not inclusive.
“Councillors have spoken with passion and emotion, and with good reason, but that Palestinian child is in the same position as an Israeli child,” he said. “To treat children differently based on religion is abhorrent.
“We’re not lighting buildings in white, but choosing to politicise this by lighting up one colour over another.”
Waterside Sinn Féin District Councillor Christopher Jackson argued that the Council had recognised IDSPP many times in the past, and that standing up against ‘apartheid and discrimination’ this year was ‘more important than ever’.
Colr. Tierney dismissed the idea that the motion was discriminatory or ‘making a political choice’.
“It’s nonsense,” he said. “This is about us as a Council, as a community, and as a country doing whatever we can to stop people from dying. It’s a massive humanitarian issue, and we could have people in Gaza being bombed at Christmas.”
The Moor Independent District Councillor Gary Donnelly said there was a ‘growing frustration’ among people due to the ‘lack of movement’ on BDS policy by the Council.
He said: “There’s a perception that its being prevented and stalled and there's a lot of anger growing.
“This psychological warfare, people are running out of clothing, they’ve had to flee from their homes, winter is setting in and they have no medicine.
“The anger and resentment is growing towards us, as civic leaders, and they see us as being ineffective.
“This didn’t start on October 7. We have been standing on roads and roundabouts for decades, marking atrocity after atrocity. This is huge disaster and Council needs to do more.”
Local Democracy Reporter.