Last month, Glasgow celebrated Nelson Mandela International Day.
This was a celebration of his legacy, the dramatic changes that have occurred in South Africa over the past 20 years since the end of apartheid, and the small but important role Glasgow played in the downfall of apartheid.
Mr Mandela visited Glasgow in 1993 to receive the Freedom of the City, which he was awarded in 1981. Glasgow was the first city in the world to bestow this honour on him. It took this action when Mr Mandela and the African National Congress were considered terrorists by many people. Glasgow's support for the anti-apartheid campaign is now seen as prescient.
I was reminded of this when I heard that Glasgow City Council intended to fly the Palestinian flag over the City Chambers in support of "the innocent people who are being hurt in Gaza". Given the extremely fraught nature of the situation, this set off a firestorm of controversy and accusations of bias. The Glasgow Jewish Representative Council said it was angered and hurt by the decision.
Let us look at a few facts. Palestine has been occupied by Israel for decades. This includes Gaza, given that Israel controls most of Gaza's borders, decides who goes in and out, decides what goods go in and out and reserves the right to invade militarily.
This is the functional equivalent of occupation. Israel periodically invades Gaza, supposedly to protect itself from terrorists but, in fact, it is intended to maintain the occupation.
Should Hamas be firing rockets willy nilly into Israel where they might kill innocent civilians? Of course not, but the damage these rockets have caused is minimal compared to the damage inflicted by Israel over and over again on Gaza. Does Gaza (and the rest of Palestine) have a right to resist occupation? Undoubtedly. Unfortunately, it has few ways to actively resist.
According to the website Mondoweiss, 40 people have been killed by the rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza from 2001 until now; 27 civilians and 13 military personnel.
In the most recent "war" (I use this term advisedly since there has been an ongoing war against the Palestinians for decades; sometimes it just does not seem like it) the figure is 13. All but two (or three) of these were military targets, which would be legitimate targets in a war of resistance against an occupation.
Close to 1,900 people have been killed in Gaza recently, most of whom have been civilians. Israel claims that it scrupulously avoids targeting civilians but the numbers demonstrate otherwise. In all, 146 Gazans have been killed for every Israeli killed. The proportion of civilian deaths is vastly higher in Gaza, even though Israel claims to target only Hamas while asserting that Hamas targets civilians. It is clear that civilians are bearing the brunt of the ongoing conflict.
Should Glasgow City Council be flying the Palestinian flag? I say yes, and it should do so proudly. The Gazans, and Palestinians more generally, are in desperate need of support and solidarity. Large numbers of people are dying in a grossly disproportionate war that is not going to solve anything. Even if the tunnels are destroyed, they will be rebuilt, and more generally the underlying situation - illegal occupation - will still be there.
This is not anti-semitism. Glasgow City Council is siding with the people of Gaza who are under illegal occupation and disproportionate collective punishment. Anyone of conscience, whether Jewish or not,should want to condemn the slaughter of innocent civilians.
Further, being Jewish does not necessarily mean that one supports everything that the state of Israel does. There are many Jews who do not support the actions in Gaza or the wider occupation.
Will this lead directly to peace in the Middle East? No. But this act of conscience, like the one in 1981, will hopefully combine with an ever increasing number of acts of conscience to put pressure on Israel to end the violence and the occupation.
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