A statement released by the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) on the Gaza conflict has provoked debate among social workers. Below, Twitter user @tasha_a7, a social worker who resigned her BASW membership over the statement, explains why she feels the professional body overstepped the mark and went beyond its remit. But first, Maggie Mellon, BASW’s vice chair, outlines the association’s reasons for making the statement and why they stand by it.
‘We made our statement in defence of morality, law and civilians’
by Maggie Mellon, BASW vice chair
Our statement is summarised here but the full version is available on the BASW website:
The British Association of Social Workers joins with (the) International Federation of Social Workers in being appalled by Israel’s attacks on Gaza, and its ongoing illegal occupation of Palestinian land.
While we condemn all indiscriminate attacks on civilians, the scale of the actions of the Israeli government forces, especially the shelling of UNWRA schools and the killing of children while they sleep, in supposedly safe places, is grossly disproportionate. We are appalled by the many violations of human rights that are taking place in Gaza, leading to ever-rising numbers of deaths and serious injuries, particularly among the civilian population. We condemn Israel’s attacks on people’s homes, hospitals and even on children while they play on the beach.
We call for an end to Israel’s aggression, a lifting of the blockade of Gaza and the end of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories.
It is our belief that peace can never be achieved by the use of overwhelming force, the destruction of civilian infrastructure and disregard of human rights. Only continued conflict will be the result of Israel’s military response to the protests and cries of the Palestinian people. That has been proved time and again in Israel, and elsewhere, and is indeed being proved yet again in Iraq today.
That is why, as part of the international social work family, and as a part of civil society here, BASW condemns Israel’s actions and calls for Israel to bring itself into line with international law and to commit itself to a just and equitable peace which will bring peace and safety for all in this disputed territory.”
The statement was agreed after consultation within BASW Council, with our chief executive Bridget Robb, and the chair of BASW’s international committee. It is our firm view that condemnation of the Israeli government is the only moral position that can be taken in the face of the mass killing of children and families, including those sheltering in UN shelters and what appears to be a deliberate destruction of the civilian infrastructure of homes, health, education, water and sewage disposal, and power supply.
We are clear that the Israeli government’s claim that rockets were fired from near or within civilian areas, from family homes, from United Nations Work Relief Agency (UNWRA) shelters in schools, or near hospitals, is not either a moral or legal defence for what was an appalling slaughter of civilians.
Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Everywhere in Gaza is ‘near’ civilians. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were instructed to evacuate their homes within hours, or even minutes, to avoid air strikes that destroyed whole districts, townships and villages. These fleeing civilians then found that ‘safe’ UNWRA shelters that they fled to were attacked without warning, and despite clear and repeated notice by the UN and the civilian authorities in Gaza of their position and their status.
Only those who believe that Israel can never be wrong, and can never be criticised, can believe that the Israeli government’s actions in Gaza over the last weeks are in any way defensible. There is no case for any country, including our own, to be exempt from moral or international law. We made our statement in defence of morality, of law, and of the civilian population of Gaza.
‘BASW’s role shouldn’t be to form opinions on complex political conflicts’
by @tasha_a7, a social worker in a children’s services department
I’m very aware that the conflict in Gaza has stirred up many feelings across the UK and the international community and that this is a very emotive issue for many people. This is the main reason I don’t think BASW should be issuing de facto political statements. I feel that it was obvious that a statement like theirs would cause alienation amongst its members.
I believe that it is always right to speak out about humanitarian crises and I think that most people around the UK would agree that there has been a devastating loss of Palestinian lives during this conflict, one of which I understand was a Palestinian social worker. I think it is fair and just for BASW to highlight this and to unite the social work community around the issue.
However, I believe that whilst difficult, it is possible, to issue a statement on the humanitarian issue without getting into the political domain, as has been done here.
I do not believe that it is BASW’s role to form opinions on very complex political conflicts and to include deeply controversial matters in their statement, which was issued on behalf of all British social workers. I feel this brings division to the social work community – which already has more than its fair share of anger directed at it on a regular basis.
I wrote a complaint to BASW, and I’m aware others did the same. I do not want to get into a battle about the rights and wrongs of the Middle East conflict. I think everyone is entitled to their opinion. My battle is about BASW’s role and remit – I don’t believe it has the mandate to express such subjective political views. I was very surprised that in Guy Shennan (the chair of BASW’s council)’s response to my complaint, he referred to the IFSW’s statement as being very clear that ‘the cause of the conflict is the occupation’ – as if a conflict that has been ongoing for decades can be summed up with a statement like that.
I also raised the point that if BASW feels the need to make a statement about international humanitarian crises, members should also be expecting to see statements related to the many other crises that are taking place currently. Hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled their homes in Iraq over the past weeks fleeing the brutal ISIS but so far BASW have failed to issue any statement, despite noting in their Gaza message that ‘the social work profession accepts its share of responsibility for responding to the distress of refugees”.
Finally, I’d just like to reinforce that this debate is not about whether you agree or disagree with BASW’s opinions on the Israel-Gaza conflict but about whether you feel BASW has the mandate to express subjective political views on behalf of all British social workers.