Comment: Ireland should affirm Palestine’s right to exist

Like everyone paying attention to the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, I was horrified to read that a large group of civilians gathered for a peace demonstration near the Israel-Gaza border was mercilessly gunned down by terrorists with no regard for human life.  

That was five years ago, when the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) attacked Palestinians protesting for the right of return to their homeland.

The IDF, according to a subsequent report published by the United Nations, committed crimes against humanity, indiscriminately targeting journalists, medical personnel and people in wheelchairs, shooting 6,106 demonstrators and killing 183.

This is how Israel treats Palestinians engaged in non-violent resistance.

What happened at the right of return protests, and other peaceful demonstrations over the past several decades, is a small part of the context in which last Saturday’s events emerged, when Hamas militants crossed into Israeli territory and killed hundreds of people, including civilians, in an attack described as the deadliest in Israeli history. 

If one learnt about the Israel-Palestine conflict from much of the commentary following this attack, one might believe Hamas had materialised from nowhere, initiating an unprovoked, incomprehensible assault against Israel for its own sake.

But the facts tell a different story. And it is crucial that Ireland does not facilitate the racist, apartheid state of Israel as it continues its brutal, criminal, dehumanising treatment of the people of Gaza and the West Bank.

The world’s largest concentration camp

Gaza, according to the late Israeli sociologist Baruch Kimmerling, is the world’s largest concentration camp. Approximately 70 percent of its 2.2 million inhabitants are refugees, many of whom were forced to flee their homes in 1948, when Zionist militia groups displaced at least 750,000 people in an event known to Palestinians as the Nakba. Fifty percent of the population are children. Half of Palestine’s residents are unemployed. The illegal Israeli blockade, ongoing for almost two decades, prevents food, and other essential resources from entering the area, resulting in mass malnutrition. Gazans are blocked from leaving, barring exceptional circumstances.

The IDF kills Palestinians with virtual impunity. Israel has committed too many atrocities in Gaza to list in a 1,500-word article, but let’s look at one example. In 2008 Israel launched Operation Cast Lead, a 22-day assault on Gaza that killed 1,400 Palestinians, among them 300 children. The 2009 United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza conflict report – authored by Zionist judge Richard Goldstone – found Israeli soldiers had “deliberately subjected civilians, including women and children, to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment throughout their ordeal in order to terrorise, intimidate and humiliate them”.

Fatalities on the Israeli side? Ten soldiers, four of whom were killed in friendly fire, and three civilians.

In recent years, Israel’s fascist government – don’t take my word for it, read the words of Israeli finance minister Bezalel Smotrich, who describes himself as a “fascist homophobe” – has blocked Palestinian statehood efforts and escalated attacks on Gaza and the West Bank. This has included pogroms, random shootings of civilians by IDF soldiers, attacks on refugee camps and extremely provocative incursions by ultranationalist Zionist settlers into the Jerusalem complex that contains the Al Aqsa Mosque, a sacred site for many Muslims around the world.

As political scientist Norman Finkelstein said on a recent podcast, it is in this context, one of imprisonment, mass malnutrition, and random killings for years on end, that the prisoners of the Gaza concentration camp staged a revolt.

'Unhelpful language'

Our politicians’ initial responses to the recent terror campaign in Gaza were shameful.

The government supports Ukraine’s right to defend itself against occupation to such an extent it is willing to violate Irish neutrality by providing Ukrainian soldiers with weapons training. Our support for Palestinians to resist occupation however is tepid. Queried by reporters, tánaiste Micheál Martin said Israel has a right to “defend itself” – though “defending itself” from Gaza seems to mean starving 1 million children - but refrained from saying Palestinians can do the same. 

During an interview on RTÉ’s Drivetime, Simon Coveney would not condemn the IDF’s bombing of Gaza and refused to acknowledge similarities between the plight of Ukrainians and Palestinians. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, responding to a parliamentary question about the inconsistency in Ireland’s positions on Russia and Israel, told Richard Boyd Barrett that “neither of us would be able to live our lives in Gaza because of the oppression that would be imposed on people like you and me”.

Varadkar’s remarks demonstrated ignorance. Israel has historically funded Islamists as a counterweight to secularist and socialist political organisations; Hamas’s rule of Gaza and its treatment of the Palestinian people is rooted in Israeli foreign policy. But even if Fine Gael took power in Gaza, selling the country to investment funds and turning its cities into theme parks for tourists as it has done in Ireland, Palestinians would still live under a regime of apartheid imposed upon them by Israel. Again, don’t take my word for it. Read the lengthy reports published by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch outlining the brutal reality of Israeli apartheid – an accurate term the Irish government refuses to use because it is allegedly “unhelpful”.

Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Greens’ support for Ukraine isn't based on a belief in the universal right to self-defence. It is driven by a Europhilic chauvinism in which Ukrainians are seen as prospective allies of the Anglo-imperial world in a future war between East and West.

The same applies to Israel, which has now effectively received permission from the EU and US to commit crimes against humanity. Israeli flags were projected onto government buildings across Europe this past week while Israel officials referred to Palestinians as “animals”, cut off water and electricity to Gaza – a violation of the Geneva Convention – and embarked on a campaign of indiscriminate bombing of apartment buildings, hospitals and schools, killing hundreds, possibly thousands, of civilians, including women, children and nine staff members of the United Nations.

A little, loyal Jewish Ulster

Palestinians have the right to resist occupation under international law. Accepting this does not mean celebrating the slaughter of civilians. Those who don’t believe the people of Gaza and the West Bank are entitled to fight back – despite boycotting efforts being criminalised, despite peaceful protestors being killed by the IDF, despite Gazans being trapped in what David Cameron called “an open-air prison” – need to be honest about what it is they mean: Palestinians should just lie down and die. 

It is to Ireland’s credit that we were one of just four countries to voice opposition to the EU’s murderous attempt to cut off humanitarian aid to Palestine. Leo Varadkar deserves praise for being one of few EU leaders to call Israel's conduct in Gaza criminal. Now he needs to do more. It’s time we passed the Occupied Territories Bill, which would ban the importation of goods produced in illegal settlements – the first of many steps Ireland should take to oppose apartheid. It’s time we officially recognised the state of Palestine. And we need to start describing Israel accurately as a racist, supremacist, apartheid state with a fascist government engaged in crimes against humanity.

Solidarity with Palestine is popular in Ireland – and with good reason. Ireland too has a history of struggling against colonialism; there are clear parallels between the Irish and Palestinian experiences. Britain consciously exported to Palestine the colonial model used in Ireland. British governor to Jerusalem Ronald Storrs said British support for Zionism aimed to create a “little, loyal Jewish Ulster in a sea of potentially hostile Arabism”. In the early 1920s, Winston Churchill, then colonial secretary, sent members of the Black and Tans to Palestine. It is not a coincidence that many loyalist areas in the north of Ireland fly Israeli flags alongside Union Jacks, while Palestinian flags fly next to the tricolour in republican areas.

The hundreds of billions of euro in foreign multinational profits recorded in Ireland for tax purposes don’t rewrite Ireland's past. This hundred-year state was born from colonisation. A part of Ireland remains a colony. Ireland’s “highly educated workforce” – almost all of whom speak English as a first language and to whom Anglo-American culture, vernacular and etiquette is like water – we supposedly owe thanks to for the delivery of these tax receipts may not want to think about this. The Irish political ruling class and their equivalents in establishment media may try to forget it. The people for whom Irishness extends only as far as the Late Late Toy Show, Tayto and carvery dinners can’t seem to consider it. 

The postcolonial delusions of grandeur these people suffer from causes them to at times emulate custodians of former and current empires with whom Ireland sits alongside in the EU. But that isn’t who we are – nor who we should be. Foreign capital may run its money through the country. We may bail out European banks when we’re asked. This doesn't make us rulers. We shouldn't line up on that side.

To do so would be to forget who we are.

Paulie Doyle

Paulie Doyle