GERARD HOWLIN: Appropriating the Palestinian cause does a disservice to interests of all sides

Dublin city Cllr John Lyons and Fatin al Tamim, IPSC, to mark the raising of the Palestinian flag over City Hall, Dublin.

Palestinian flag flying atop our municipal buildings is about attaining the summit, in a hierarchy of victims, says Gerard Howlin.

WHETHER from solidarity or attention-seeking, a majority of councillors on Dublin City Council, Donegal, Sligo and Galway County Councils decided to fly the Palestinian flag over municipal buildings. 

In Dublin it was for the month of May. If you are so-minded and live locally, today is your last opportunity to salute what is done in your name.

Kildare County Council discussed a motion to follow suit, but demurred. The coincidence is that this time of year is a double remembrance of al Nakba [meaning ‘the catastrophe’] of Israeli independence 1948 and the Six Day War between June 5-10, 1967. 

The description of those events as catastrophic for a people now called Palestinian is not an understatement. It is the colonisation of, and demand for exclusive ownership of the narrative of victimhood, which is controversial. 

A consequential putting of exclusive responsibility on Israel for solutions and for blame, deepens rather than addresses the problem. It is creating another insidious catastrophe in its wake.

There is a double colonisation at play. There is the colonisation of victimhood, and a political colonisation here of the victims themselves. It’s a doubling down on the avoidance of responsibility, to consider let alone move-on towards hard choices. 

There is particular irony in an Irish context. Many, most vehement in their advocacy of the Palestinian cause, use that flag now as an earlier generation did the keffiyeh or scarf — almost as vestments advertising their own credentials. 

The Irish peace process was based on deeply difficult compromises. When it worked best, it shunned flag-waving. Just when we have learnt to tone down exuberant display here, some feel a need to move to somebody else’s flag for permission to provoke.

Palestinian flag flying atop our municipal buildings is about attaining the summit, in a hierarchy of victims. It’s about defining victimhood and apportioning responsibility on the back of it. 

It’s about labelling the aggressor, and then infecting it with contaminating words such as ‘apartheid’. Once you have clearly defined proprietorial rights of victimhood, you have not just the means but a moral permission to dehumanise the ‘other’ as aggressor. 

The Palestinian people are in a very difficult position. The Nakba or catastrophe of 1948 occurred because of a refusal to accept the United Nations decision to establish a state of Israel. The surrounding Arab world attacked. 

There was bloody war, with atrocities on both sides. In the end, and against the odds, Israel was established. Arabs were displaced, or fled. An approximately similar number of Jews arrived in the following three years mainly from Arab countries they had been expelled from. It’s complicated, not clean.

The further catastrophe of 1967 was a concerted unprovoked attack on Israel launched to destroy the state, and drive its Jewish population into the sea. Again, against the odds, Israel won. 

It repulsed the Jordanian attack, and went as far east as the river Jordan. It drove the Egyptians west back across Sinai. 

The fact of that victory, an absolute act of survival, remains both the basis of its security and the deepest challenge to its peaceful continuance. Only irredentist fools, and there are some in Israel, see the present-tense as permanent. 

It’s not permanent because it is fundamentally unstable. But describing the problem falls short of agreeing a solution.

Israel did make peace with Egypt in 1979, and Sinai was returned.

Conspicuously Egypt did not seek to reassert its previous control over Gaza. Instead, its policy now is to blockade the Hamas regime, allied to its own Muslim Brotherhood inside.

Sinai is now a base for Isis, which the Egyptian state can at times barely contain. Gaza under Hamas control is in a permanent internecine feud with the nominal head of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

That is led by the 82-year-old Mahmoud Abbas. He has no obvious successor, and there is no guarantee of a peaceful transition. So what peace process, with who?

And peace processes have not been lacking. In 2000, under Bill Clinton’s aegis, there were detailed but eventually futile negations between Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat. 

In 2008, talks between then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas similarly failed. The Oslo accords remain an unimplemented blueprint. All the while, time passes; containment calcifies. How things came about is increasingly forgotten. 

Moving forward, with reliable partners that provide Israel, a small minority in the regional population, with actual security remains unaddressed. Putting flags on county council offices here tells Palestinians they won’t have to face the reality of accommodating Israel permanently. Victimhood is horrible. But it doesn’t require choices. 

There is a parasitical relationship, easily gratified in our public conversation, with those here who risk nothing and give nothing so they can gorge on solidarity. They are modern-day white missionaries.

The hierarchy of victims overlooks the slow, insidious diminishment of the Arab Christian population in the West Bank. It overlooks the barbaric annihilation of Muslims, other than those deemed orthodox, under Isis in Syria. 

That is not to speak of Christian and Yazidi populations there. It feeds into the legitimation of using Israel as a platform for antisemitism in Europe. It walks in solidarity with a growing entitlement to close down speech in our universities. It starts with Israel, but it spreads insidiously. 

Obsessional concentration on Israel is at best lazy shorthand. At worst it is re-legitimation of anti-Semitism. Where once the sins of the community could be visited on the Jewish race, now the guilt of western society can be visited on Israel. It is both the infantilisation of Palestinians and the demonisation of Israelis. 

It allows participants feel good about themselves and participate in a war, where they never suffer. Simultaneously in adopting the Palestinian flag, it serves as a talisman against international terrorism.

The newly-elected president of France, Emmanuel Macron, put the real requirements of solidarity clearly when he said: “No to the boycott of Israel, no to a unilateral recognition of a state of Palestine by France… If France commits to unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state, we are contributing to an imbalance and will weaken France’s ability to play a role in regional stability and in this conflict.”

A Palestinian state is a clear objective of international policy since 1948. But there can only be a two-state solution if the state of Israel is accepted, and compromise cleaved around that fact. To date that hasn’t happened. And I acknowledge the plight of Palestinians which derive from this stalemate.

A continuous calcifying of containment, and consequent securitisation clearly increases the problems of the Palestinian people. It is also deeply problematic for Israel. 

The fact of those Palestinian flags flying here today is evidence of that. But those flags are put up as symbols for us, their host society. It’s the political continuum of religious missionary work — without the impulse of charity.

There is a parasitical relationship, easily gratified in our public conversation, with those here who risk nothing and give nothing so they can gorge on solidarity


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