A HEATED debate took place in Belfast City Council on Wednesday night over the ongoing Israeli bombardment of Gaza.
An original DUP motion to light up City Hall in Israeli colours was defeated at committee but was revised to have City Hall lit up white as a symbol for peace in the Middle East, as well as condemnation of civilian casualties on all sides, which passed at committee level.
At full Council on Wednesday People Before Profit Councillor Michael Collins further proposed an amendment to write to the Irish Government calling for the implementation of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel and the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador.
Cllr Michael Collins says he welcomes that the city hall won't be lit up in support of Israel. He says its disgraceful that the DUP have tried to put this through.— David McCann (@dmcbfs) November 1, 2023
The motion was met with laughter and sniggering from DUP Councillors and Councillor Collins reminded those assembled that the Council voted in favour of the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador in 2021.
DUP Councillor Andrew McCormick said it was shameful that City Hall was not lit up after the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7 which claimed the lives of 1,400 people. DUP Councillor Bradley Ferguson added that the DUP supported Israel's right to exist and defend itself against terrorism.
Seconding Councillor Collins' motion, Green Party Councillor Anthony Flynn condemned Hamas but said the past few weeks had been a humanitarian disaster with 8,500 Palestinians killed, most of whom were women and children. Councillor Flynn said Israel was well documented as an apartheid state and was committing genocide, and called for an immediate ceasefire. Councillor Flynn then proposed another amendment calling for an arms embargo to stop more weapons reaching the region.
Councillor Michael Long of the Alliance Party put forward his party's belief that there was no military solution to the problems in Israel and Gaza and would support a motion for a ceasefire, the release of hostages and an arms embargo – but not the expulsion of the ambassador.
Vote on supporting an arms embargo:— ash Jones (she/her/ash/aer) (@ashanraijones) November 1, 2023
For - 43 - Greens/PBP/SDLP/Alliance/Sinn Féin/Independent
Against - 15 - DUP/TUV
Abstained - 2 - UUP
Sinn Féin called for a ceasefire, humanitarian aid to enter Gaza and an end to Israeli bombing of the Gaza Strip. Councillors Ronan McLaughlin, Tómas Ó Néill and Caoimhín McCann condemned the Israeli Government for its starving of civilians of food, water, fuel and medicines and stated that the October 7 attack did not happen in a vacuum.
However, Sinn Féin abstained on the vote to call for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador. Councillor Ciarán Beattie said: "We have sent teams and teams of our leadership people to try and get a resolution to try to develop a sustainable peace process and that's what needs to happen now."
On the issue of expelling the Israeli ambassador Councillor Beattie said: "We don't believe we're there yet, we're not opposed to it, we are not opposed to the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador but we believe the focus now should be on a ceasefire and humanitarian aid. That's what people in Gaza want. There's people lying in rubble now that don't care about the expulsion of ambassadors, they just want the war to stop."
The SDLP and Green Party backed Councillor Collins' motion with Deputy Mayor Áine Groogan (Greens) saying it would put pressure on Israel. Councillor Collins' motion was ultimately defeated with nine voting for, 28 against and 23 abstentions.
Councillor Flynn's motion on supporting an arms embargo passed with 43 for, 15 against and two abstentions.
Once again, @sinnfeinireland abstained tonight at the Belfast City Council vote on expelling Israeli ambassador.— John Hurson (@JJHurson) November 1, 2023
What is going on with them as nearly 9,000 Palestinians have been killed?
For - 9 - Greens/PBP/SDLP
Against - 28 - DUP/Alliance/UUP/TUV
Abstained - 23 - Sinn Féin
Responding to the vote, Councillor Collins said Israel was not listening to calls for a ceasefire.
“I am appalled at those Councillors who have refused to hear the cries of the Palestinian people," he said
“Apartheid Israel has proven impervious to calls for a ceasefire. War criminals like Netanyahu are intent on wiping Palestine off the map. It will take international sanctions, economic boycott and divestment to force Israel’s hand."