A councillor quit the Labour Party during an emotionally-charged debate over the deaths of innocents in Gaza.
Several councillors broke down in tears as they spoke at the full meeting of Kirklees Council on Wednesday night.
The Green Party introduced a motion calling for an immediate permanent ceasefire, the release of all hostages and negotiations over a resolution in Gaza.
During the 90-minute debate at Huddersfield Town Hall, Clr Ammar Anwar (Dewsbury West) told of his horror at the sheer scale of death and destruction.
“For the past 100 plus days, Israel has subjected Gaza to what has been described as one of the heaviest conventional bombing campaigns in the history of modern warfare,” he said.
“Palestinians in Gaza are being killed by Israeli weaponry and bombs from air, land and sea. They are also at immediate risk of death by starvation, dehydration and disease as a result of the ongoing siege by Israel.”
Wearing the flag of Palestine, Clr Anwar said more than 25,000 Palestinians had been killed by Israeli forces in the last three months, at least 70% of whom were believed to be women and children.
“These killings are nothing short of destruction of Palestinian life. It is inflicted deliberately, no one is spared, not even newborn babies.
“The scale of Palestinian children being killed in Gaza is such that the UN chiefs have described it as a graveyard for children.
“As I came home yesterday, my five-year-old daughter who was watching the news the previous night with me, saw images of what was going on in Gaza.
“She said to me: ‘Dad, what have you done about the videos you were watching?’ That absolutely broke me.
“I have been an active member and supporter of the Labour Party all my life, since the age of 14. I believe in its views and principles but, unfortunately, under the current leadership, the Labour Party has let me down.
“I can no longer be part of this institution after its support of an apartheid state that is killing thousands of innocent people, having killed over 25,000 people in the last 100 days.
“It’s with a heavy heart that I leave the party I always loved.” With that he sat down, sobbing, and had to be consoled by Clr Imran Safdar.
Clr Musarrat Khan (Lab, Dalton) also shed tears and said: “This atrocity will be remembered for decades to come.
“We will all be asked by future generations what we did to oppose this genocide. It’s clear to the world that Israel’s intent is to destroy Gaza and raze the entire region to the ground and render it uninhabitable for generations to come.
“It’s impossible to come to any other conclusion than this is genocide.”
Clr Imran Safdar (Lab, Crosland Moor & Netherton) called for the cycle of violence and occupation to end and for the voices of Jewish and Israeli peace activists to be amplified.
He said a two-state solution was vital and peace talks had to take place with all parties including Iranians.
“In Northern Ireland we negotiated with Sinn Fein, the IRA. We have to negotiate sometimes with unpalatable people to reach solutions,” he said.
Former Mayor of Kirklees Clr Masood Ahmed (centre) in tears after his speech
Labour and the Liberal Democrats also tabled their own slightly different versions of the original Green Party motion, however the Conservatives were unconvinced and subsequently abstained.
Tory group leader Clr David Hall (Liversedge & Gomersal) questioned whether the council should be spending so much time on an issue over which it had no power, at a time the council was facing a financial crisis.
“I do understand the strength of feeling that some members have,” he said. “However, I don’t feel that the motion or the amendments are necessary. I believe all this is doing is politicising a very tragic issue.
“Passing a motion is not going to achieve anything, it’s not going to affect things in the Middle East.
“I have to say time would have been better spent at this council meeting discussing more immediate issues such as the council’s financial difficulties.
“I know there’s a groundswell of opinion but it’s nothing we can affect as Kirklees. Let’s get on with things we should be doing and that’s holding the administration to account for the running of the council.”
Summing up before the Labour amendment was passed, Clr Will Simpson (Lab, Denby Dale) explained why the vote mattered to Kirklees and its population.
“(It) matters to Kirklees because you have heard how much pain that’s causing for our councillors and they are reflecting the pain our residents are feeling,” he said.
“And it’s not just about pain that people are feeling, that pain is also driving division and racism in our communities, be that anti-semitism or Islamophobia.
“We need to end the playing of politics on this issue. All of us agree what we’ve seen is horrific and we want this to end.
“The fact we have councillors in this chamber who feel unsafe and are having to have police visits throughout the last three months because of how this has played out.
“We must stand against the racism and division that’s been driven through our communities. I hope this debate is a clear indication to our residents that we stand with them in the pain we are feeling and that we all see peace as soon as possible.”
Clr Andrew Cooper (Green, Newsome) said: “It’s been quite emotional listening to the speeches and it’s obviously heartfelt.
“I heard Clr Hall saying it’s something we should not be talking about but it definitely is and it’s given a voice to thousands of people in Kirklees.
“Perhaps if our Parliamentarians – our MPs – had stood up earlier there wouldn’t be as much clamour for a political institution like ourselves to say what needed to be said.”