Smith Calls for Emergency Debate on Gaza

06 January 2009
SNP Member of the European Parliament Mr Alyn Smith has added his weight to calls for an emergency debate in Strasbourg when the European Parliament reconvenes next week to debate the ongoing humanitarian disaster in the Gaza strip and called for the immediate suspension of all EU-Israel agreements pending a durable ceasefire.

The MEP, who grew up in the Middle East, has close links with the region and visited Gaza, the West Bank and Israel in late 2006 has followed the conflict closely for many years and recently signed a joint open letter with other Scottish politicians and civic society expressing their horror at the current military action and condemning the actions of the Israeli leadership.

Smith said:

"I am quite heartbroken to see the pictures on our screens, and all the more so given that the conflict has been so clearly coming for so long. It was quite apparent when I met with Hamas MPs in 2006 that there was no intention or desire on their part to enter into any dialogue, and likewise no intention on the part of the then Israeli leadership to do anything meaningful towards a two state solution.

"There is wrong on all sides in this conflict, and I condemn all violence. Closer to home in Northern Ireland, as well as countless other conflicts, we have seen that there is no such thing as a military solution and the crisis can only be resolved by genuine dialogue taking account of the legitimate concerns of all sides. The cruel hypocrisy of the international community, particularly the US and my own member state government of the UK, given how many UK produced arms are now being used against civilians, does not help. The UK and US have neither clean hands nor credibility in the eyes of the Islamic world.

"On the European level, we have also seen confusion from the current Czech EU Presidency calling the actions of the Israeli military "defensive", as well as mixed signals from the member state governments in the run up to the current hostilities when they approved in December an actual upgrading in relations between the EU and Israel at a time when the Israeli military was clearly preparing for this offensive. Any notion that the upgrade was necessary to encourage moderate forces within Israeli politics now seems a particularly naive if not disingenuous stance.

"The SNP in Parliament and at our National Council in December opposed the EU-Israel association agreement, and I have today written to External Relations Commissioner Ferrero Waldner calling for the suspension of it and all other agreements the EU has with Israel until we see a ceasefire and actual co-operation with EU and UN humanitarian agencies.

"I fear that the decades of brutalisation of all sides of this conflict has produced a generation of leaders who not only, if left to their own devices, cannot talk to each other, they are locked into a mutually dependent and ever decreasing circle of mutually assured destruction. The upcoming Israeli elections have become a bidding war in who can call for the most bloodshed, and the weak and fragmented Israeli political landscape born of their voting system lends itself to extremism.

"The Israeli and Palestinian leaderships must be saved from themselves. Only clear and unambiguous action from the international community in condemning all violence and mediating in the conflict will have any chance of success. The US has patently failed in this role and the EU must step up. It saddens me greatly that I just cannot see it happening and I cannot hide my own despondency. We all have a stake in this conflict, the images running 24 hours across the Islamic world are the best recruiting campaign Al-Qaeda and their like could have dreamt of."

The Press Release on Mr Smith's visit to the region in late 2006 is below. The BBC coverage of the visit is below that, and the open letter reproduced at note 3.

1: http://www.alynsmith.eu/news/232/82/SNP-To-Meet-Palestinian-President-And-Israeli-Politicians.html

2: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/highlands_and_islands/6150086.stm

3: The text of the cross party letter of 31 December 2008 published in the Herald, the Guardian and elsewhere is below.

World leaders must try to stop the bloodshed

We are writing to express our disgust, condemnation and concern at the attacks carried out by Israel on the Gaza Strip, killing more than 300 people - including women and children. There is little doubt that the number of civilian deaths will rise in the next few days and weeks as Israel shows no signs of stopping its offensive on the people of Gaza.

The situation is bleak, with hospitals running out of medical supplies as the Israeli blockade continues to suffocate the people of Gaza. The region's power and infrastructure networks are on the verge of collapse with over 85% of Gazans depending on UN food aid - which is at critically low levels.

We call on the UK and Scottish governments to do all they can to pressure the Israeli government to halt attacks on the Gazan people who are being collectively punished for the actions of a minority. While we believe that Israel has the right to defend itself and its civilians from rocket attacks, it cannot be allowed collectively to punish, maim and kill innocent Palestinian civilians in the process.

In the past 48 hours we have heard from the Israeli Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, that the attacks will not be short and will become increasingly intense. We believe a strong statement of condemnation of Israel's actions must be forthcoming from world leaders and political institutions before the attacks escalate and further air attacks are intensified and ground troops sent to the region.

We urge world leaders to do all they can to halt the killing of innocent lives and to send a strong message of condemnation to the Israeli's for their current attacks.

Pauline McNeill MSP, Glasgow Kelvin, Convener, Cross-party Group on Palestine; Sandra White MSP, Glasgow; Mohammad Sarwar MP, Glasgow Central; Jamie Hepburn MSP, Central Scotland, Cross-party Group on Human Rights and Civil Liberties; Osama Saeed, Chief Executive, Glasgow, Scottish-Islamic Foundation; Bashir Ahmad MSP; Jim Devine MP, Livingston; Michael Connarty MP, Linlithgow and Falkirk East; Katy Clark MP, North Ayrshire and Arran; Jim Sheridan MP, Paisley and Renfrewshire North; Russell Brown MP, Dumfries and Galloway; Bill Kidd MSP, Glasgow; Angus Robertson MP, Moray, Westminster SNP Leader; Mike Weir MP, Angus; Christina McKelvie MSP, Central Scotland; Joe Fitzpatrick MSP, Dundee West; Jim McGovern MP, Dundee West; Alyn Smith MEP, Scotland; Anas Sarwar, Labour PPC; Trevor Cope and John McHugo, Liberal Democrats Friends of Palestine; Baroness Jenny Tonge, House of Lords Lib-Dem Councillor; Councillor Jonathan Bloch, London Borough of Haringey; Barry Levine, Jews for a Just Peace; Sgt Amar Shakoor, Scotland, Strathclyde Police Muslim Association; Glasgow Central Mosque; Lebanese Community in Scotland; Nicola Fisher, Glasgow Stop the War Coalition; Aamer Anwar, Scottish Human Rights Lawyer; Mick Napier, Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign Campaign; Glasgow Palestine Human Rights; Scottish Friends of Palestine; Dave Watson, Unison; Association of Indian Organisations; Scottish Afghan Society; Rev Ian Galloway, Convener Church and Society Council, Church of Scotland; Rev Donald Reid, Committee for Relations with People of Other Faiths, Scottish Episcopal Church