In support of its twin city Bethlehem, Glasgow’s Lord Provost, Councilor Sadie Docherty, wrote a condolence letter this week to Bethlehem Mayor Vera George Mousa Baboun.
In the letter, Docherty promised her fellow mayor that the Glasgow City Council will fly the Palestinian flag from city chambers on Friday August 8 as a gesture of solidarity.
Docherty wrote Mousa Baboun, “Glasgow is home to many friends of Palestine and this is a deeply distressing time for them… We hope that peace can be found to ensure the human rights for the people of Palestine.”
Although the partnership between the two cities officially began in 2007, Glasgow has interesting historical ties to the Palestinian cause. In the 1983 race for rector of Glasgow University, students submitted the candidature of Yasser Arafat, then chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization living in exile in Tripoli.
The Glasgow Herald reported in 1983, “The rectoral campaign will provide a perfect chance for Glasgow students to highlight the plight of the Palestinians,” said Palestinian Action Society president Abdul Ibrahem.
Although Arafat did not go on to win the election, the Herald reported the PLO leader had accepted the candidacy.
This current gesture of solidarity with the Palestinian people, coming on the heels of the month-long IDF Operation Protective Edge, is clearly not universally accepted by Glaswegians.
Glasgow native Debbie Barnett, 50, wrote in protest to city hall, “I am horrified that Glasgow City Council are flying the Palestinian flag on the City Chambers… The victims are the innocents on both sides but by flying the Palestinian flag, you are legitimizing Hamas and victimizing Israel. It perpetuates the ‘them and us’ mentality and the deep division which already exits.
“Hamas has in its doctrine the clear message, the destruction of Israel and Jews, by flying the flag you are intentionally or not supporting this,” wrote Barnett.
On the city council’s Facebook page, many others have commented with dismay, often using the phrases, “disgusting decision,” or a “step backwards” for the city currently basking in the reflected glory of hosting the Commonwealth Games.
One commenter, David MacIntyre, wrote, “By allowing the Palestinian flag to be flown from the City Chambers [it] looks like a show of support to the Hamas terrorists. All our hearts go out to the innocent people killed and injured in this latest fighting… Glasgow is a very diverse city and also has a large Jewish community. How will they feel to see this.”
In the dozens of comments to the city council’s post, most were supportive of Israel, some neutral, and only one was blatantly pro-Palestinian.
As Donna Scott of Aberdeen wrote, “The situation in Gaza is complex, a solution will be even more so. Picking ‘sides’ on behalf of all the people of Glasgow is inappropriate at best and potentially divisive and inflammatory at worst.”
One of the driving forces behind the pro-Palestinian movement in Glasgow is Yvonne Ridley, a British journalist who was captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan while reporting for the Sunday Express in 2001. She converted to Islam after her release and has since become a vocal critic of Israel.
On Twitter this week, Ridley posted details of an organizational meeting, adding she’s “working to make Scotland a Zionist-free zone.”
The flag will be flown from 8 am until 5 pm on Friday, August 8, 2014.