In November last year, Leicester city councillors voted not to procure services from illegal settlements in the Occupied Territories. Since then, the motion is set to face High Court review next year after a complaint that was filed by the Jewish Human Rights Watch.
Friends of Al-Aqsa met with councillor Mohammed Dawood to find out more about the motion and his personal experience.
FOA: Can you tell us a little bit about how the motion came about?
MD: We put forward a motion not to procure services from illegally Occupied Territories as apposed to the Israeli state. At the end of the day, it is being illegally occupied so we aren’t doing anything wrong. We should be doing something to support the Palestinians and so the motion was put forward.
At the peak of the troubles we decided as elected members to visit Palestine. We were detained for 9 – 10 hours and faced continuous interrogation. Once we had gotten through the airport we were stopped at checkpoints. What we encountered along the way was horrendous. I had never seen anything like it before, from the checkpoints, settlements and the wall. We met a lot of people in Jerusalem and Hebron and we were able to hear what life was like for them. I just wished we had more time in Palestine.
Once we concluded our short visit we all felt that this is not right and something had to be done. For example, our Palestinian guide couldn’t go to certain areas that we could simply because we had British passports. It is fair to say that we were deeply moved from our visit. To be honest, we were leaving people behind, it felt like we had been in a battle and we were the ones getting away safely, and the rest were left behind to deal with it.
When we came back we decided we needed to do something. We agreed to propose the motion. It was passed last November as a collective local authority and endorsed by an overwhelming majority of the members.
FOA: Why do you think the motion passed?
MD: People are generally quite supportive, but like any conflict once someone talks about their personal experience that’s when people start empathising, and even more so when people you know have been through it. Hence, people were supportive of the motion after our trip.
FOA: How do you feel the community has responded to the decision?
MD: We have a good relationship with members of the community from a number of different faiths and backgrounds. Many people from the Jewish community were supportive of what we had done. Some people may disagree with your position, but we have been clear that we are not targeting individuals but rather Israeli policy.
Overall, yes, there has been support but there is still a lack of political activism within the community. With Friends of Al-Aqsa in the heart of the community we should be more active.
FOA: We understand you have received a mixed response from the Jewish community. In particular, the Jewish Human Rights Watch (JHRW) who filed for a judicial review over the decision. Why do you think they have done this?
MD: It is part of their defense argument that it is anti-Semitic and they think it’s a BDS motion, when it’s not. We don’t have anything to do with BDS. Our motion was based upon our personal experiences and what we wanted to do next.
FOA: The Conservative government is set to introduce new rules to stop “politically-motivated” boycotts by local councils. The move seems hypocritical given the history of councils in the UK and their role in boycotting apartheid in South Africa. The pressure is mounting on councils and if the new rule is implemented it will prevent councils from boycotting produce from the illegal settlements.
Despite the Conservative governments position a number of other city councils have also passed similar motions. Do you think more city councils across the UK should take a similar stand?
MD: I think some will be wary and some will be quite robust. In times of austerity when you’re going to the High Court it’s expensive and you’re looking at 6 figure sums. Some local authorities will say why should we go around spending money on the High Court? The other stance is on principle, why shouldn’t we defend it? One thing is case examples if another local council has done it and they have been successful, then this might have a rippling impact on other councils across the UK.