Given our colonial history, we have a duty to stand with the Palestinians

MORE than 650 Palestinians and 31 Israelis have died, so far, as a result of ‘Operation Protective Edge.’ For two weeks, each day’s news has brought fresh horrors: yesterday, 12-year-old Palestinian, Rabee Qasim, was killed by an Israeli shell as he led a donkey and cart through a Bedouin village.

We may wonder if TDs Clare Daly and Mick Wallace would have found incriminating evidence on a US military plane in Shannon, even if they’d been invited in and offered a seat. But because we’re Irish, many of us agree with everything Wallace said about the US-backed Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip.

You can see our knee-jerk support for the Palestinians as a “dark seed in the Irish anti-colonial mindset”, as Jason Walsh, of the Christian Science Monitor, said. I agree that a self-serving comparison, of Nationalists with Palestinians and Unionists with Israelis, is often made in the North.

But just because, for many of us, sympathy with the Palestinians is part of being Irish, that doesn’t make it stupid. It’s no more stupid that the pro-Israeli stance of people in Britain and the US who are bombarded by Israeli propaganda.

Israel exists because, between 1947 and 1948, Europeans drove 800,000 Palestinians off land that had been theirs for centuries. In 1967, Israel seized yet more land and the occupied territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are relics of this invasion.

The Palestinians, who were driven out of their homes, have no ‘right to return’, a point Dervla Murphy makes in her recent book on Gaza, A Month By The Sea. Jewish people, from anywhere in the world, have the right to ‘return’ to land in Israel that they never owned.

The state of Israel was established as the full horror of the attempted annihilation of Jewish people during World War II was emerging. No one is denying that horror. But many of us can’t see what the hell the Palestinians have to do with it. Why should they pay the price? Europe made the horror of the Holocaust. Europe should have atoned.

But, of course, it suited the Western powers to kick the problem of destitute Jewry east. And while it’s easy to understand how the idea of a ‘homeland’, far away from the European crime against them, appealed to horribly traumatised European Jews, the truth is that Israel is not their “homeland”. Europe is.

The creation of the state of Israel was a result of the mania for ethnic cleansing that started in Russia and involved a traumatic ‘population exchange’ between Greece and Turkey in the 1920s. The idea of the nation-state based on ethnicity was born.

It was important to spin the myth of a unified nation-state of the past. Thus, the reborn Greek monarchy threw a line back to Ancient Greece, the Irish were all descendants of Brian Boru, and Ataturk created a new Turkish language by ‘cleansing’ it of Persian and Arabic.

Many of us mourn the loss of the ethnically diverse Eastern Mediterranean, of which the huge riches of Jewish culture were an intrinsic part. While it is understandable, after what they went through, that the Jews would want a place where they could be safe, it is a terrible shame that we created the nation-state, based on ethnicity, that is Israel.

It’s a terrible shame, too, that Israel is a nation-state born of trauma. Dervla Murphy quotes Richard Falk, UN special rapporteur in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, who is himself a Jew: “Is it an irresponsible overstatement to associate the treatment of Palestinians with this criminalised Nazi record of collective atrocity? I think not.”

Israel has existed for nigh-on 70 years and few believe that Dervla Murphy’s ethnically diverse ‘Land of Canaan’ will ever exist in Palestine. The two-state option seems the best thing that can come out of this mess. But it should be the Israel established in 1948, not the Israel created by force during the Six Day War of 1967, when they took the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip from Egypt, the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria. It is not hard to see the source of this expansionist mentality. The late deputy prime minister of Israel, Abba Eban, described the state that existed before the offensive as having “a memory of Auschwitz”.

It is agreed by the International Court of Justice, the UN General Assembly, and the UN Security Council that Israel is illegally occupying the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and though Israel may no longer occupy the Gaza Strip its blockade makes the territory an open-air prison. This was made clear by the findings of the UN Human Rights Council. There is no argument here: Israel is an illegal, occupying force.

The reason Israel is permitted by the international community, notably the US and the EU, to carry on regardless, is because of the strength of the Jewish lobby in the US and the country’s strategic importance. One estimate projects the US’s allotted military spend for the region, from 2008 to 2019, at $30bn, and Israel is the world’s fourth biggest military power and has plenty of bucks to spend: our own exports to Israel total €250m.

This is why, as Irish people, we are torn between what most of us feel to be wrong and the promise of prosperity. We feel for the Palestinians, but the US is a hugely important trading partner.

Realpolitik consistently gets in the way of our attempted gestures: when local councils, including those in Cork and Dublin cities, called for an end to services contracts with the French multi-national, Veolia, (it runs the strategic Israeli train line into occupied East Jerusalem and also runs Dublin’s Luas, deals with hazardous waste in Fermoy and provides drinking water to Limerick City) they were largely ignored.

It is time for the Government to get off the fence and stand with the embattled Palestinians. First, we need strong words from our new Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charles Flanagan; given that his father, Oliver J., used his maiden speech in the Dáil to call for the Jews to be chucked out of Ireland, this would allow Charles to make an absolute distinction between anti-Semitism and resistance to the state of Israel. We need the organised boycott of Israeli goods, called for by Palestinian civil society, until a two-state solution, guaranteeing Palestinians their rights, is agreed. Let the consequences be what they will.

I understand how angry this article may make some Israelis, who will rightly ask what business I have making these points. But the very fact that I understand how they may feel is a legacy of coming from a small, colonised country, along with my conviction that we must support the Palestinians.

If we will not stand with them, who will?

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