A COUNTRY as small as Trinidad and Tobago need not wait for the US and the UK to make the first move before severing ties with Israel, says Jamaat-al-Muslimeen leader Yasin Abu Bakr.
As far as the public is aware, TT's bilateral ties with Israel are limited to buying arms and spy equipment, a relationship the Jamaat believes is not worth maintaining.
On Thursday, Abu Bakr called the media to the Jamaat's headquarters on Mucurapo Road, Port of Spain, to dispel rumours about an Israeli flag being burned there, and to share the group's views on the civilian casualties, displacement of people and the destruction of Gaza.
Hostilities broke out between Israel and the Palestine resistance movement Hamas earlier this month after Israeli incursions into the al-Aqsa mosque, one of Islam's holiest sites, in occupied East Jerusalem, where there were also attempts to evict Palestinian families.
Bakr said it is compelling that the Prime Minister, as the country's leader and chair of Caricom, has not addressed the issue, as St Vincent and the Grenadines did a week ago. St Vincent condemned the "military aggression of the State of Israel against the State of Palestine."
In fact, Caricom issued a statement on May 19 calling for a ceasefire, condemned the violence and expressed support for the UN-backed two-state solution to the impasse.
On the rumour about burning the Israeli flag, Abu Bakr said police from the Guard and Emergency Branch visited the Jamaat earlier on Thursday and said they had information about "certain activities here today which included the burning of flags.
"We are not copycats," he said. "We are leaders, not followers."
"If you burn a nation's flag you are disrespecting the entire nation. We don't believe, for instance, that everybody in Israel agrees with what Netanyahu is doing.
"So it's the same thing in Trinidad...if someone has a grouse with Trinidad, and they burn the Trinidad flag, which represents the whole nation, and the PNM is in government, well then, they probably have a grouse with the PNM, but they are disrespecting everyone in TT, which would not be right."Bakr and other members of the Jamaat subsequently hoisted Palestine's flag.
On trade and other relations with Israel, Abu Bakr said the US had the strength but lacked the will to hold Israel to account, describing President Joe Biden's calls for a ceasefire as mere propaganda.
As for TT's relations with Israel, former PM Patrick Manning notably travelled to Jerusalem to meet with Israel's ex-PM Ariel Sharon in 2005 about what the TT government said concerned "several security matters including the protection of TT's borders in order to stem the flow of the illicit drugs and guns."
That was followed by several substantial purchases from Israel, including $130 million worth of Israeli radar equipment and other surveillance hardware and software.
"We understand what it's like to have your lands unlawfully (occupied) because we've lived through it," Abu Bakr said.
He was referring to the almost nine acres of land on Mucurapo Road, which the Jamaat has occupied since 1978. In 1984, the court ordered the Jamaat to vacate the land and to demolish all illegal buildings on the site. In 1988, police raided the premises, seized weapons and arrested Jamaat members. The Jamaat staged an attempted coup in 1990, car-bombing police headquarters and storming the Red House and Trinidad and Tobago Television. Over 20 people were killed and most of the Cabinet held hostage.
Bakr added,"So we are in solidarity not only with the Palestinian people, but with all legitimate struggles all around the world," which he said included the Black Lives Matter movement and groups of any oppressed people.
Editor's note: This story was updated on May 25 with the inclusion of Caricom's position on the Palestine-Israeli hostilities.