Flag compromise over Gaza conflict

The public gallery was packed at a Dunedin City Council meeting yesterday, as speakers debated...
The public gallery was packed at a Dunedin City Council meeting yesterday, as speakers debated whether the Palestinian flag should be flown from city buildings. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
The New Zealand flag will be flown at half mast in Dunedin today to recognise the suffering of both sides of the conflict in Gaza.

The move from the Dunedin City Council followed discussion yesterday about whether the Palestinian flag should be flown from city buildings.

Seven speakers — from both sides of the argument — presented their thoughts during the council’s public forum, as well as discussing the war between Israel and Hamas and calls for a ceasefire.

In the end, most councillors backed a compromise put forward by Cr Andrew Whiley, that the New Zealand flag be lowered to half mast on city council buildings.

Cr Whiley credited his wife, Jackie Dunham, with the idea.

Several councillors said they had received more than 100 emails about Palestine and Cr Whiley said he had received raw feedback from both sides.

"I do not believe it is the council’s role to favour one group of residents over another," he said.

Crs Marie Laufiso and Steve Walker, who had advocated for the Palestinian flag to be flown on the United Nations international day of solidarity with the Palestinian people today, accepted the compromise.

Councillors also endorsed Christchurch Mayor Phil Mauger's call for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

The vote in each case was 12-2, the two councillors against being Lee Vandervis and Bill Acklin.

Both had been wary of the city council getting involved in matters they said were not core council business.

The latest conflict in the Middle East started on October 7, when Hamas fighters killed about 1200 people in Israel, mostly civilians.

Israel responded with air and ground assaults in Gaza and concern has mounted about a particularly high death toll for women and children.

A temporary truce holds at the moment.

Dunedin Anglican Dean the Rev Tony Curtis set the tone for the council meeting in the time set aside for an opening prayer.

"It is only by lifting each other up that we will find peace," he said.

Yana Greenman, a granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, said the initial proposal put forward by Crs Laufiso and Walker was provocative and one-sided.

Otago Jews had become fearful for their safety and were worried about speaking up, she said.

Rula Abu-Safieh introduced herself as a Palestinian Kiwi and longtime resident of Dunedin.

She spoke of decades of what she described as cruel military occupation by Israel.

"I am a Palestinian who lived in Gaza and the West Bank and my sole mission was staying alive," she told the council.

James Irwin said Jewish people were homeless for centuries and they were targeted by pogroms and persecution.

Cr Walker said showing solidarity with Palestinians did not amount to endorsement of Hamas militants.

It was about standing up for children and opposing needless loss of life, he said.

The death toll in Gaza was 14,000 and rising, he said.