Last week, I wrote an open letter to Glasgow City Council following their decision to fly the Palestinian flag above Glasgow City Chambers. Yesterday I received the following generic response from Glasgow City Council deputy leader, Archie Graham (with my response to it below):
Dear Sir or Madam
Thank you for contacting me about the decision to fly the Palestinian flag from Glasgow City Chambers.
This was a gesture of humanitarian solidarity with the innocent civilians of Gaza who have suffered disproportionately from the effects of the economic blockade and especially from the recent incursion by the Israeli army. The life of a Palestinian child is of equal value to the life of an Israeli child.
The gesture, following representation to the Lord Provost from the Mayor of our twin-city of Bethlehem, was certainly not intended as an indication of support for any particular regime or movement. Indeed the council administration has made clear that our position is that the rocketing of Israel by Gaza-based militants must stop, a ceasefire should be universally observed, both sides should engage in meaningful negotiations, and the blockade should be lifted as pre-requisites for a viable Palestine alongside a secure Israel.
In making this gesture, the council is highly conscious of the sensitivities and insecurities stirred among our local population by this painfully long-running dispute. And we are very supportive of community-based efforts to sustain what are strong and respectful relations between Glasgow’s Muslim and Jewish populations. Glasgow utterly abhors and rejects any forms of discrimination, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.
As a city with a proud history of internationalism, we cherish the diverse and cohesive character of our city, and we hope that innocent civilians can live in peace with justice in more troubled parts of the world, including the middle east.
Councillor Archie Graham, depute leader, Glasgow City Council
Dear Councilor Graham
Thank you for your response.
The Council may not have intended to support a side but in its choice to fly only the Palestinian flag it has done just that.
A lone flag flying above the City Chambers cannot encapsulate a war this complex and tragic. It showed solidarity with the innocent civilians of Gaza but its autonomy also defined a side of blame. The lack of an Israeli flag sent a symbolic message to the people of Glasgow that its council believes Israel are the aggressors in this conflict. No signal was sent to acknowledge the Israeli’s killed or living with terrorism on their doorstep. Israel was singled out as being the problem.
A simple act of gesture politics can in no way paint a picture of what is happening in Gaza. My previous letter attempted this and still falls depressingly short of the whole truth.
I don’t think your decision showed any sensitivity. With rising levels of global anti-Semitism, you served only to further anti-Zionist sentiment and general hatred toward Jews. The comments posted to your Facebook page over the last week are excellent proof of this. A Scottish Council of Jewish Communities (SCoJeC) report released this week also highlights a spike in recent incidents (almost equal to the total for 2013).
Actions are stronger than words and the hoisting of a flag both in times of triumph and solidarity is a particularly emotive act. You may not have wanted to nominate “a right” and “a wrong” but it appears to me that you did just that.
I request the following information from you:
1) What was the decision making process that led to the Saltire being lowered and the Palestinian flag being raised on Friday 8th August 2014 between 08:00 and 17:00 BST?
2) Was it at any point suggested to also fly the Israeli flag? And if so, why was this rejected? Similarly, was it suggested to fly a flag that symbolises peace or any other flags as a sign of empathy toward innocent lives lost in conflict elsewhere in the world?
3) How many complaints were received before 08:00 on Friday 8th August and what steps were taken to ensure that these were fairly considered? How many complaints have been received in total?
On top of this I ask for an apology. I feel that your decision was poorly conceived and it has hurt me both as a Glaswegian and an Israeli. I was astounded and insulted to see people clapping as the Saltire came down, and the victorious chanting of “Free Palestine” as the Palestinian flag went up left me feeling chilled and shaken. Is that what you wanted when you were taking into account the “sensitivities and insecurities” of those you serve?