COUNCILLORS condemned the “collective punishment” of Palestinians living in Gaza during a heated debate in which Bradford Council voted to call for a permanent ceasefire.

Two motions related to the conflict in Israel and Palestine were debated at a Bradford Council meeting this evening, with many Councillors expressing despair and anger at the situation in Gaza.

But a Conservative Councillor argued that they represented District Council, not the United Nations, and questioned what Bradford Council could do to influence politics in the Middle East.

At one point members of the public began heckling Conservative Leader Councillor Rebecca Poulsen before being removed from the Council chamber.

Two motions went before the meeting – the last Full Council meeting of 2023.

One was brought by Councillor Taj Salam (Independent, Little Horton), who recently quit the Labour Party due to Keir Starmer’s decision not to push for a ceasefire.

His motion “unequivocally condemned”  Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7 – but heavily criticised Israel’s response and said the Council should push for a permanent ceasefire.

He said: “Before I’m called a Hama sympathiser, I’m going on the record to condemn the attacks, and all attacks that target defenceless, innocent civilians.”

He criticised the “genocidal language” used by some Israeli military leaders as well as the displacement of 1.8m people from the North to the South of Gaza.

Cllr Salam said: “There have been premature babies, who have not even opened their eyes to the world, that have been killed.

“I can’t understand how this collective punishment could be called the right to defend yourself. Places of worship and refugee camps have been bombed. There are no safe places anywhere in Gaza, everywhere is being bombed.

“Members of the Jewish community should not be blamed for the acts of Israeli Government, but why are Palestinians being held responsible for the actions of Hamas?”

A second motion by the Labour group called for an “immediate and lasting ceasefire” in Gaza.

Council Leader Susan Hinchcliffe said: “Noone can fail to be moved by what we see on our TV screens – children covered in rubble lying next to the bodies of their parents.

“1.9m people have been displaced.

“What we see is a form of collective punishment against the Palestinian civilians – we can’t stomach that, it has to stop.

“The people of Bradford know we are not international diplomats, but they expect us to hear their calls.”

The Conservative Group put forward an amended motion condemning the violence in Gaza, but questioning why the Council should debate issues that the Authority has no power to influence.

The amendment included the line: “As both sets of combatants in the conflict have no interest in the calls of petition signatories and elected members in the UK, such calls will have no bearing on the resolution of the conflict.”

Conservative Leader Councillor Rebecca Poulsen (Worth Valley) said: “We are a Metropolitan District Council, not the United Nations.

“Last meeting we had members of the public shouting ‘what is the Council doing about Palestine?’

“The answer is – nothing, we can’t do anything, we have no remit. We have to better explain to the public what we can and can’t do.”

While she was speaking, people in the public gallery began shouting down to Councillors. After being warned twice, some of the hecklers were removed by security.

Councillor Riaz Ahmed (Lib Dem, Bradford Moor), said: “We’re not the UN, but if you ask the people of Palestine they won’t care, the UN hasn’t been there for them for the past 75 years.”

Councillor Moshin Hussain (Lab, Keighley Central) described the situation in Gaza as an “absolute disaster” and said Councillors needed to “be on the right side of history.”

Councillor David Green (Lab, Wibsey) said a ceasefire was not enough, arguing “lasting peace” was needed, adding: “Without this peace any act of violence will just beget more violence.”

Councillor Matt Edwards (Green, Tong) said: “Bradford Council needs to show it will not be silent.”

Councillor Talat Sajawal (Ind, Little Norton) criticised what had been said by the major parties as ‘politics being played out’ adding: “People of Bradford will never forget your silence.”

Councillor Noor Elahi (Ind, Little Horton) said to other Councillors in the chamber “For the past two months the silence has been deafening.”

Cllr Hinchcliffe replied: “How can you say we’ve been silent on this issue? I stood in this chamber on October 17 and said the violence had to stop now. We Condemned it then and we condemn it now.

“Why do you think this started a few weeks ago? This is something we’ve been debating for years.”

After a lengthy debate members voted to approve the Labour amendment to Cllr Salam’s motion, and the Labour Motion.