Palestine Divides The British Isles
There is a wave of sympathy for Palestinians in Scotland and Ireland
The British Isles, a geographic unit comprising England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, are divided on the issue of the war in Gaza. In the United Kingdom (UK), as such, the leaders of the Conservative and Labour parties are at odds with a significant section of the population which supports the Palestinian cause.
In Scotland and Ireland, on the other hand, both the leaders and the population are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, even as they acknowledge the right of Israel to defend itself against the kind of terrorism Hamas unleashed.
‘The Guardian’ reported that in London, five persons, who were part of a pro-Palestinian sit-in at King’s Cross station, were arrested for obstructing the free movement of commuters. Among the slogans raised were “Free, free Palestine” and “In our thousands, in our millions, we are all Palestinians”. A banner accused Israel of “genocide.”
Referring to the planned demonstration by Palestine supporters on Armistice Day on November 11, and Remembrance Day the next day, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said that there was a “clear risk that the Cenotaph and other war memorials could be desecrated, something that would be an affront to the British public and the values we stand for.”
In London, two women, Heba Alhayey(29) and Pauline Ankunda (26), face terror charges after they displayed paraglider images in a pro-Palestine march in London. Hamas had used paragliders in their attack on Israel on October 7.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was criticised by Yasmine Ahmed, the UK Director of Human Rights Watch, who said: “This is a deplorable attempt by the British government to suggest that compassion for the plight of Palestinians is somehow at odds with remembering the sacrifices of British service people.”
Meanwhile, Conservative party councillors in Slough wrote an open letter calling for "an immediate ceasefire" in Gaza.
Two council leaders belonging to the opposition Labour Party demanded that the party chief and Leader of the Opposition Sir Keir Starmer step down from the party leadership for refusing to back a Gaza ceasefire, BBC said.
Burnley Council leader Afrasiab Anwar and Asjad Mahmood, who is the leader of Pendle Borough Council, said they were making the call on behalf of Labour councillors in their areas.
Anwar said that Sir Keir had "not stood up for Labour values". Anwar further said he and his colleagues had "seen the sad loss of people including young children in Palestine" and accused Starmer of "blindly following the position of Rishi Sunak".
“This was not acceptable to us and our residents who we represent,” he added.
Asjad Mahmood accused Starmer of failing to listen to calls for a ceasefire to stop further loss of lives. Starmer should resign “to allow someone to lead our party who has compassion and who speaks out against injustice and indiscriminate killing of innocent human beings," he said.
There are 22 Labour councillors on Burnley Council and nine on Pendle Borough Council.
Sobia Malik, who represents Burnley Central East on Lancashire County Councillor, announced her resignation from the Labour party. Malik, plans to stand as an independent councillor. “Starmer's profound inability to demonstrate empathy or compassion, let alone challenge war crimes, has made my membership untenable," she said.
Labour has seen a number of resignations in councils across England over its stance on Gaza, including in Oxford. The MP for Middlesbrough Andy McDonald was suspended as a Labour MP, after the party said he had made "deeply offensive" comments relating to the Israel-Gaza war.
In a public speech McDonald, a former shadow minister under Jeremy Corbyn, said: "We will not rest until we have justice. Until all people, Israelis and Palestinians, between the river and the sea, can live in peaceful liberty," according to the BBC.
The phrase "between the river and the sea", which refers to the land between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean, features in a chant which has been heard at pro-Palestine protests.
Critics of the chant, including Israel and most Jewish groups, argue it implicitly calls for the destruction of Israel.
This interpretation is disputed by some pro-Palestinian activists who say that most people chanting it are calling for an end to Israel's occupation of the West Bank and blockade of Gaza, not the destruction of Israel itself.
Labour party chief Starmer said that to ask a sovereign country like Israel, when 200 of its civilians are being held hostage, to give up its right to self-defence, is not the correct position.
The Labour party has said it condemns the actions of Hamas and while stressing the need to alleviate humanitarian suffering in Gaza and go for a Two-State solution.
About 6,000 protestors took part in a pro-Palestinian march to the United States consulate in Belfast on Saturday. The rally, organised by the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign, sought a ceasefire, with some speakers urging the US government to end financial support to Israel. Posters displayed were critical of the US government.
‘The National’, a Scottish daily, reported that amidst a sea of politicians offering unconditional support to Israel in the current conflict, Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf stood out “as far more supportive of peace and human rights than others.”
Yousaf condemned Israeli attacks on civilians as well as the Hamas terrorist attacks. He called for a ceasefire and condemned collective punishment of Palestinians by Israel.
His stance has attracted criticism from Scottish right-wingers, with one Conservative MSP calling him “an embarrassment to our great nation”.
The data suggests that on the issue of Palestine, Yousaf is far more in tune with the electorate than his critics. In contrast to the unified support for Israel that can be found across the British political class, Scottish voters are far more supportive of the Palestinian cause and favour a peaceful resolution to the conflict, ‘The National’ stated.
When asked in a poll last Thursday if they favoured an immediate ceasefire, 73% of Scottish voters rallied behind the idea – while a mere 11% opposed it.
Furthermore, when asked which side in the conflict they most sympathise with, more Scottish voters leaned towards Palestine (25%) than towards Israel (20%) – with 23% favouring both entities. This makes Scotland the most pro-Palestine part of the UK, and far more pro-Palestine than England.
Scottish scepticism towards Israel’s military tactics is again evident in a recent poll on Israel’s use of air strikes in Gaza. When asked if they thought that Israel made an effort to minimise civilian casualties in such strikes, 49% of Scottish voters said No – and a mere 17% said Yes.
In England, only London had a higher share of respondents who were critical of Israel’s strikes (51%).
Support for Palestine has been consistently high in Scotland since 2020, and remains high to this day. Some 57% support a “Two-State solution” (which would see the creation of a Palestinian state in addition to Israel) with a mere 5% opposed to the idea. And finally, on the issue of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, a mere 6% of Scots thought such settlements were acceptable.
The BBC reported that in Ireland, the Sinn Fein party called for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador. Its leader, Mary Lou McDonald, said that Israel was not acting purely in self-defence. She also called for sanctions against Israel.
However, the Irish government has said there are no plans to expel the Israeli Ambassador. Leo Varadkar, the Taoiseach (as the Irish PM is called) said that it was important to have "some lines of communications open".
But he too said that “what is happening in Gaza is not just self-defence on the part of Israel, but resembles something more approaching revenge".
At the same time, he said that the whole crisis was precipitated by Hamas’ murderous attack on Israel on October 7. "I strongly believe, like any state, Israel has a right to defend itself, has the right to go after Hamas so they cannot do this again," Varadkar said.