Gaza: Derry & Strabane Council call for expulsion of Israeli ambassadors and immediate ceasefire

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Derry and Strabane Council is to write to the British and Irish governments urging the expulsion of Israeli ambassadors while also expressing horror at the killings in Gaza and calling for an immediate ceasefire.

Two separate motions on Gaza were tabled by SDLP Councillor Brian Tierney and People Before Profit Councillors Shaun Harkin.

Tabling his motion, Colr. Tierney said it was ‘extremely unfortunate’ that this discussion had to take place, but that he believed that the Council needed to call for an end to the terrible attacks on Gaza.

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Colr. Tierney said: “As a council, and if we are listening to people across this city and district, what we need to see is an end to the terrible attacks that are happening in Gaza.

Members of the al-Zanati, family killed following an Israeli strike, are taken to a waiting vehicle to be driven to a cemetery for burial in Khan Yunis on October 23, 2023. (Photo by MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)Members of the al-Zanati, family killed following an Israeli strike, are taken to a waiting vehicle to be driven to a cemetery for burial in Khan Yunis on October 23, 2023. (Photo by MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)
Members of the al-Zanati, family killed following an Israeli strike, are taken to a waiting vehicle to be driven to a cemetery for burial in Khan Yunis on October 23, 2023. (Photo by MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

"We have all watched on our TV screens over recent weeks the terrible, terrible events which are taking place at the moment, and I think we are extremely well placed in this part of the world to understand that for any peaceful solution there has to be a process, and from our experience the first stage in that process is a ceasefire and that needs to happen straight away.”

He added: "The indiscriminate bombing of men, women and children in Gaza needs to stop and it needs to stop now. We cannot sit idly by and ignore what is going on across the world. This is very much a humanitarian issue and anyone who is looking at this in a humanitarian way needs to support the calls for an immediate ceasefire.”

Colr. Tierney said the Council also should support calls for the international community to step in as a matter of urgency and for a ceasefire based on trust and respect.

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"Imagine where we would be today if the international community didn’t step in and help us and help our political leaders, the Good Friday Agreement generation, bring about the ceasefires that we in this chamber have been very lucky to benefit from,” he said.

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL - OCTOBER 22: Pictures of over 1,000 persons abducted, missing or killed in the Hamas attack are displayed on empty seats in the Smolarz Auditorium at Tel Aviv University on October 22, 2023 in Tel Aviv, Israel. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)TEL AVIV, ISRAEL - OCTOBER 22: Pictures of over 1,000 persons abducted, missing or killed in the Hamas attack are displayed on empty seats in the Smolarz Auditorium at Tel Aviv University on October 22, 2023 in Tel Aviv, Israel. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL - OCTOBER 22: Pictures of over 1,000 persons abducted, missing or killed in the Hamas attack are displayed on empty seats in the Smolarz Auditorium at Tel Aviv University on October 22, 2023 in Tel Aviv, Israel. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

"What we are seeing going on is an absolute disgrace and my heart goes out, genuinely, to the people caught up in these terrible, terrible events.”

Following conversations with organisations in Palestine, Colr. Tierney proposed the Council send a clear and strong message advocating a ceasefire straight away, and call for the implementation of humanitarian aid corridors into Gaza overseen by the UN, the safe release of all hostages held by Hamas, and condemn ‘the horrifying and indiscriminate murder of civilians in Gaza and southern Israel’.

The Council was also asked to support a ‘full International Criminal Court investigation of potential war crimes committed against people in Gaza and southern Israel’, and called on the international community to begin a fulsome, diplomatic effort towards reaching a two-state solution.

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"It is a legitimate position to support the people of Palestine; support their cause and to condemn the Israel government for what they are doing and what they are inflicting on the people of Gaza. I also think it is a legitimate position to condemn Hamas for what they have been doing as well,” Colt Tierney said as he appealed to fellow local representatives to support this, saying that he didn’t care what side of the house they were on, and that they should all call for the killing of civilians to stop.

SDLP Colr. Brian TierneySDLP Colr. Brian Tierney
SDLP Colr. Brian Tierney

Backing the motion, Sinn Féin Colr. Christopher Jackson said the Council had a proud record of standing with the Palestinian people in their right to self-determination.

"We have passed numerous motions in the past in calling for solidarity and acting on specific measures we can take as a Council to support the cause of the Palestinian people, but now we are faced with a genocide with the indiscriminate bombing of civilians. It is harrowing to see the news that is coming out of Gaza in particular and right across the West Bank,” he said.

Colr. Jackson said they were engaging regularly with humanitarian organisations and leaders within Palestine ‘and their clear demand is for the international community to collectively join them in calling for an immediate ceasefire and for international law to be respected’.

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He said the “war crimes” being committed in Palestine had been widely documented and were causing great anger around the world, and said the best thing the Council could do was to “call for an end to the indiscriminate slaughter”.

People Before Profit Councillor Shaun Harkin. People Before Profit Councillor Shaun Harkin.
People Before Profit Councillor Shaun Harkin.

People Before Profit Colr. Shaun Harkin said the Council had previously voted to endorse the Boycott, Divest, Sanctions (BDS) campaign, and said there were over 2,000 who demonstrated in Derry on Saturday in solidarity with the people of Palestine.

"We have to call what is happening what it is, which is a genocidal siege of Gaza," he said. “There are now 6,500 people dead, probably more now. There are thousands of dead Palestinian children. And obviously what happened on October 7 in terms of what Hamas did, a lot of people will be shocked by that, it sent shockwaves around the world, it was harrowing for a lot of people.

"I think that this is the outgrowth and this is a consequence of what apartheid Israel has been doing,” he claimed, adding:

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"For people who want to start history on October 7, they will not help resolve this, they will not help bring about peace.”

UUP Alderman Derek Hussey said that the current situation did start on October 7.

Ald. Hussey said a lasting peace settlement in the Middle East was something ‘that every single person in this chamber believes should happen, and hope may happen and one day be achieved’.

"Israel, with the support of America, Egypt and others has indeed begun to allow a certain humanitarian corridor to get aid in to those who have been displaced due to the horrific actions of a terrorist group, namely Hamas. They started that on October 7. Their actions have horrified the world,” he said.

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He said the ‘unfortunate truth’ was there were those across the Middle East who did not want peace but wished for the eradication of Israel and claimed that this was Hamas’ stated aim. He said any lasting peace in the Middle East starts with calling out terrorist organisations and that any motion calling for a true and lasting peace must start by calling out terrorists and their apologists.

Abstaining from the vote, he took issue with the two state solution element of the motion as a ‘pre-judgement’, but stated that he did support the humanitarian issues.

Independent Colr. Raymond Barr condemned the Israeli government and those in the international community who, he claimed, ‘by their practical support for Israel are complicit in this act of ethnic cleansing’.

Independent Colr. Gary Donnelly said that this did not start on October 7, and claimed that what happened on that date was ‘a reaction to what the Israeli state has been doing for decades to the Palestinian people’.

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"I’m not going to condone the targeting of civilians, and there are hostages on all sides. Before October 7 there are thousands of Palestinians including 100s of children who are being detained.... I have no problem calling for a ceasefire but a ceasefire is not enough, you need to address the core cause and the core cause is Israeli aggression.”

He warned that the ‘world stood idly by’ and let this happen and said the language coming from Israel and the US was absolutely shocking.

UUP Alderman Ryan McCready declared an interest saying he had fought Hamas and its elements in the Middle East and around the world for the guts of 20 years and drew distinctions between Hamas and the Palestinian people.

He accused Hamas of hijacking a region for a religious war and said the people at the mercy of this were the Palestinian people. “My heart goes out to them because they are people of this world, they are our people. It just so happens that they have a different religion. They are young children, women and men and families who are going to be caught up in this for the next number of years.”

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He said Israeli government and military had a right to defend itself ‘but that’s not carte blanche were they can flatten villages and entire regions’. “That is equally unacceptable,” he said.

"From my personal experience, there are no winners in war. There are only losers,” he said, adding that there was no negating collateral damage.

Also abstaining from the vote, DUP Alderman Keith Kerrigan said that he too had issues with the last paragraph of the motion regarding the two-state solution, yet understood the humanitarian reasons behind bringing it forward.

"There are only going to be losers on both sides of this issue here. The loss of innocent civilians on both sides is horrendous and we support anything with regards to easing the suffering of men, women and children,” he added.

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Ald. Kerrigan took issue with Colr. Harkin’s comments and said it was a ‘pure disgrace’ he didn’t condemn the killing of 1,400 innocent people in Israel.

Colr. Tierney said that everyone should vote for the motion on a humanitarian basis.

The motion was passed after a majority of councillors present, 26 endorsed it, with no one voting against it and 11 abstentions.

People Before Profit Councillor Shaun Harkin tabled a separate motion, warning that it was clear Israel was preparing for a ground invasion that could lead to the ‘slaughter of tens of thousands’.

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"And this is happening in a context where, as everybody knows, there is a blockade on food, fuel, electricity, a blockade on the means of life for the people inside Gaza and the trickle of humanitarian aid that is arriving into Gaza right now will not undo the catastrophe that is taking place.”

He said the word ‘genocide’ should not be used lightly but claimed that ‘that is what is happening’.

He said the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank had undermined the potential for a two-state solution.

Responding to Ald. Kerrigan’s earlier comments, Colr. Harkin said People Before Profit do not support or condone the targeting of innocent civilians or the taking of innocent civilians as hostages.

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“We have to be very, very clear: the main problem right now is the bombardment of Gaza by the Israeli army and those bombs are paid for by the American government. We have to stop that from happening and stop Israel from conducting a ground invasion that will see a lot more innocent people killed.”

He said a powerful message would be to call for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassadors to Ireland and the UK. “That would be completely in line with BDS,” he said, warning that the repercussions of what is happening now will be global.

Colr. Harkin’s motion called for Derry & Strabane Council to write to the British and Irish governments calling for the immediate expulsion of the Israeli ambassadors and to call on the two governments to support the calls for ‘an immediate cessation of the bombardment and the genocidal siege in Gaza’.

DUP Alderman Niree McMorris claimed the motion was “very one-sided” and said that the 1,400 people killed in Israel cannot be dismissed.

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"While we don’t want to see any murders anywhere, we will definitely not be supporting this motion.”

Ald. Hussey said the motion was “incredulous” and said that he supported the right of Israel to defend its borders, and said Hamas were putting their own people in harm’s way.

Colr. Tierney said the Council should be doing whatever it could to stop people, innocent people whether they were from Palestine and Israel, from dying, and they would b supporting the proposal from a humanitarian position.

Sinn Féin Colr. Christopher Jackson said it couldn’t be ignored that women and children were being slaughtered in Gaza. “An area the size of this council area, with 2 million people, 50% of them children. There is indiscriminate bombing from the skies. The hospitals are being stripped of vital energy to save lives. Populations are being starved of food and water. If that cannot be described as a war crime, I don’t know what is.”

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However he said his party would not be supporting the motion on the basis that the priorities they were hearing from Palestine were for an immediate cessation and for international law to be respected.

Colr. Donnelly said he was ‘shocked’ Sinn Féin were refusing to back the motion. “I think this is something they will have to explain to the people.”

"People in Gaza at the moment can focus on nothing but staying alive,” he said.

Colr. Donnelly also referenced an earlier comment by Ald. McCready and said that there were winners in war, arms manufacturers and he had seen first hand the damage this causes in Lebanon.

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He said this was a war on the Palestinian people, including the West Bank, where people have been persecuted and where there is no Hamas.

"I fully support the motion and it should be only the beginning of the pressure to be put on the apartheid state of Israel,” he said.

Ald. McCready took issue with the call for the expulsion of the ambassadors and said the whole point was to communicate more, not have less.

Colr. Harkin said the people in Palestine and its diaspora were looking to Ireland to take the strongest possible stand, and that calling for the expulsion of the ambassadors was a small step in that.

He said he was very disappointed that Sinn Féin ‘would not back this basic demand’.

The motion passed, with 12 voting in favour, 8 against and 17 abstaining.