At the Somerset Council meeting of 20th December Councillors backed a motion calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. The motion was put by a Green Frome Councillor of Jewish origin (Helen Kay) and a Taunton Lib Dem councillor of Iranian origin (Habib Farbahi). The motion was supported by Labour, Green, Lib Dem and Independent councillors present while the Tories abstained.
Cllr Brian Smedley (Bridgwater South, Labour) spoke in support of the motion saying “Towns across Somerset have been holding vigils and demonstrations calling for a ceasefire. I attended one in Bridgwater at the weekend organised by the Trades Council and the Peace Group. I am very glad that this motion has been brought here and happy to support it. Whilst condemning the October 7th attacks by Hamas and accepting Israel’s right to self defence this operation to ‘remove Hamas’ has now claimed more than 20,000 Palestinian lives, 70% of which are women and children. A ceasefire and a serious concentration on a two-state solution is the only way forward with any practical positive outcome. “
The three Bridgwater Labour members present for the vote, councillors Brian Smedley, Kathy Pearce & Hilary Bruce all voted to support the ceasefire motion.
Tories spoke to explain why they were abstaining. Cllr Conor Payne (Chard) said he was “Only on council to deal with potholes and bins not Palestine” and Cllr Mark Healey (Huntspill) attempted to put an amendment which said “What about Russia!” but this was not accepted by the chair as ‘too far removed from the subject’.
Another Tory Councillor had a better go at defending his abstention saying he had Jewish friends and could not bring himself to do other than abstain. He was immediately attacked by a Lib Dem voice quoting Tory philosopher Edmund Burke saying “The only thing neccesary for the triumph of evil is for good men to stay silent” and then claiming that he was ‘a good man‘. The councillor remained silent and the Chair rebuked the Lib Dem for naming a fellow councillor in a debate.
Cllr Farbahi read a Persian poem and the meeting held a minutes silence for the victims of the conflict.
The Motion as put
- Motion on the immediate bilateral ceasefire in Israel-Gaza conflict The following motion will be proposed by Councillor Helen Kay and seconded by Councillor Habib Farbahi:
Council condemns the awful terrorist attacks carried out by Hamas in Israel on 7th October 2023.
Council is horrified by the scenes of violence in the weeks and days since, in particular the devastating humanitarian situation in Gaza where thousands of innocent Palestinians have already been killed and over 136 Israelis are still being held hostage.
Council affirms that Hamas remaining in Gaza is not tenable, for the security of Israelis and the future of Palestinians, but additionally it is clear that a military solution to eliminate Hamas is not possible.
Council further affirms that a lasting peace and a two-state solution is the only way to guarantee the dignity and security which both Palestinians and Israelis deserve.
1) All combatants must act in accordance with the rules of war and international humanitarian law.
2) The hostages held by Hamas must be unconditionally released.
3) Essential supplies of water, food, medicine and electricity must be restored to Gaza, and the passage of aid into Gaza must be facilitated.
4) Israel has a right in international law to protect its citizens which means targeting terrorists, not civilians, and ensuring that innocent Palestinians do not pay the price for Hamas’ actions.
5) With a humanitarian catastrophe, ongoing hostage situation, and the risk of regional escalation growing, now is the time to attempt movement towards a political solution.
6) The UK Government must lead calls for an immediate bilateral ceasefire which will:
- a) Facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid into Gaza
- b) Provide an opportunity to realise the release of the hostages
- c) Allow for an intensive period of diplomacy to realise a political solution, to get Hamas out of Gaza, and realise a two-state solution and a lasting peace.
Council accordingly resolves to write to the UK Government to call for an immediate bilateral ceasefire.
Council notes with deep concern the severe reverberations of this crisis in the UK, with Jewish, Muslim and Palestinian communities all fearing and grieving, and condemns the rise in antisemitism and Islamophobia since 7 October 2023.
Council thanks community leaders for the role they are playing in reducing tensions at this sensitive and difficult time.
Council calls upon community leaders and public figures to act responsibly and work to bring communities together at this sensitive time.