Bath Palestinians issue plea to save their families in Gaza

Palestinians and supports in Bath (left to right) a supporter who preferred not to share his name, Majdi Lebaqa, Marie Duffy, Karen, Ameerah Lebaqa, Jane Samson, Lara Amro, and Mohammed Alruzzi
Palestinians and supports in Bath (left to right) a supporter who preferred not to share his name, Majdi Lebaqa, Marie Duffy, Karen, Ameerah Lebaqa, Jane Samson, Lara Amro, and Mohammed Alruzzi -Credit:John Wimperis

Bath’s Palestinian community have urged their local council to petition the government to help them bring their families safely to the United Kingdom from Gaza.

Gaza may be a long way from the small Somerset city but for Bath’s Palestinian residents, the horror of the war is far from distant. Each buzz of a mobile phone could be news from family still trapped in Gaza.

Bathonians have been regularly on the streets since the conflict began calling for a ceasefire. Bath MP Wera Hobhouse is among those who have called for an end to arms sales to Israel.

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Two years ago, when Putin’s forces invaded Ukraine, the city stepped up. Over 350 Ukrainians were welcomed to the city and surrounding area under the Homes for Ukraine scheme and Bath and North East Somerset Council signed a friendship agreement with the city of Oleksandriya, supplying the similar-sized Ukrainian city with generators and an ambulance for the hospital.

Now the city’s Palestinian community is appealing to the council to use its influence to help them bring their families to safety too.

About 35 Palestinians and other Bath locals supporting them held a protest outside the Guildhall on Thursday May 16 as Bath and North East Somerset Council prepared to hold its annual general meeting, with many then heading inside to address the meeting as public speakers.

Lara Amro, who is studying International Development with Conflict and Humanitarian Action at the University of Bath, told councillors: “I am a proud Bath resident.”

She said: “Currently, there are 12 million Palestinians in exile and I am one of these 12 million people and I am here to share my story with you.

Lara Amro addresses Bath and North East Somerset Council on Thursday May 15 -Credit:Bath & North East Somerset Council
Lara Amro addresses Bath and North East Somerset Council on Thursday May 15 -Credit:Bath & North East Somerset Council

“My grandparents from my mum’s side escaped their home in Haifa and walked all the way to Jordanian refugee camps. My father was three years old when his family evacuated from Hebron and moved to Jordanian refugee camps as well. My two families closed their homes and took their home keys with them and took asylum in Jordan, hoping that it would be a week the war would be over, a month the war would be over.

“76 years have passed and they haven’t returned to their homes yet. My grandparents have passed. My parents have passed. And I am still here hoping to go home and I still have the keys to my family homes back in Palestine.

“But right now there are settlements built on these homes, my family home has been demolished, Israeli settlements have been built on it, they were built on the blood of my people.”

In Jordan, she and her family were granted citizenship. She was able to study at the University of Jordan and work with the United Nations high commissioner for refugees to assist refugees in the country. She said: “ It was my way of giving back.”

She told councillors: “I am here, I am alive in front of you today because I was given asylum and I hope these children in Gaza are also considered.”

Describing his family’s experience in 1948, Majdi Lebaqa told the council: “They lost everything and they were forced to go to Gaza. After, they tried to build their life again, worked very hard. They managed to do a five storey house and the best restaurant in Gaza, and the best coffee shop in Gaza.

“And then again the army of Israel destroyed everything — absolutely everything.”

He said he had recently been texting with his cousin, who told him the house next door had been bombed, killing five children and their parents. He said: “That can be my family’s situation any time.”

The protest outside the Guildhall in Bath on Thursday May 16 -Credit:John Wimperis
The protest outside the Guildhall in Bath on Thursday May 16 -Credit:John Wimperis

Ameerah Lebaqa urged the council to put pressure on the government to launch a family scheme, similar to the Homes for Ukranians scheme, to allow Palestinians in Gaza to come to their family members in the UK temporarily until it is safe to return. She said: “As a British citizen of Palestinian descent I know the profound impact that a scheme like this would have for families living in the UK with loved ones trapped in Gaza.

“Just recently my family received the devastating news that my two twin distant cousins were killed at just three years old as they played in their uncle's lap before an airstrike hit their home and plunged them beneath mountains of rubble.

“They, like many others, would still be here today experiencing the childhood they should have had if the UK had established a family scheme granting them the safety that they deserved. As your constituents, we put our trust in you to use your power to pass a motion urging the government to set up a family reunion scheme that would protect human life and secure the right to family unity.”

Marie Duffy added: “The UK has a long and proud history of welcoming refugees to its towns and cities and Bath can rightfully take pride in itself on how swiftly it rolled out the Homes for Ukraine Scheme. [...] Will the council support our MP Wera Hobhouse who has joined cross-party MPs on striving for peace and the urgent need to get aid into Gaza? ”

The leader of Bath and North East Somerset Council, Kevin Guy (Bathavon North, Liberal Democrat) invited Ms Lebaqa to speak with the council’s cabinet member for children’s services, but he said that the council had only been able to support Ukranians because of the government scheme which helped them get into the country.

He said: “If the government provides that particular service for any other country — including Palestine — Bath and North East Somerset is a very welcoming place and we would happily provide that same service.”


Gaza had also dominated at the council’s previous full council meeting on March 14, which began with a protest outside after a “peace motion” from the Green group on the council was judged to be unconstitutional and not related to the council’s responsibilities and functions. As well as calling for a ceasefire, the motion would have called on the government to freeze assets of some Israeli cabinet members and review arms sales, amongst other actions.

Instead, a statement was read out on behalf of all group leaders on the council which said: “We would like to express deep sympathy for all those affected by the conflict in Palestine and Israel. To those in the Bath and North East Somerset area who have been affected by this conflict, we offer our support during this difficult time.

“We hope for an immediate ceasefire and a peaceful resolution to this conflict. We hope for the immediate release of all hostages and for aid to be delivered.”

But addressing the council on Thursday as a public speaker, Jane Samson of Bath Campaigns Network asked what support had been offered to local people affected. She said: “Words are not enough. As far as we are aware you have made no attempt to follow through on your statement. Are you aware of the abuse that people with brown skin living in Bath have received since October 7 last year?”

Mohammed Alruzzi had addressed the meeting in March about his experience as a Palestinian in Bath. Speaking on Thursday he said: “When I expressed these concerns, the response was dismissive. A question about my experience living in Bath under these circumstances was brushed aside in favour of adhering strictly to the agenda.

“This disregard speaks volumes about the invisibilisation, dehumanisation, and hypocrisy against us. It reveals a chilling indifference not just to me but to the regular protests in Bath, a cry for attention and help that goes unheard.”

He said: “How many of you have truly asked about me, about my life, about how we cope? How do we cope every minute, receiving the news, phone buzzing? Have you checked about our families? How are they doing? Have you offered any kind of help?”

Green group leader Joanna Wright (Lambridge, Green) had, along with the city’s two other Green councillors, attended the Palestine protests before both council meetings. Speaking after the meeting on Thursday, she said: “We are still working to bring a peace motion to full council.”

She said she hoped it would go to a vote at one of the next two council meetings in July or September. She said: “We fully support that a ceasefire should take place and the council needs to write to the government.”

Motions calling for a ceasefire in the current conflict in Gaza were passed by both Somerset Council and North Somerset Council in December and January respectively.