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Why the Irish are so sympathetic towards the situation in Palestine

On Saturday 4th of July, the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) alongside the Palestinian communities in Ireland and the Irish public held a number of protests across Ireland against the proposed Israeli Annexation of the West Bank. This protest is the latest of many pro-Palestinian protests held on the Island.

The Palestinian cause has been of interest to the Irish public since the start of the conflict, perhaps due to the similarities between the two countries’ histories.

Back in the 1920s the Irish sympathised with the Zionist Jewish movement that aimed to establish a homeland. The Jewish people were discriminated against and therefore Irish advocates stood by their side. Fast forward a hundred years and the state of Israel formed, giving the Jewish population a country, but this is no ordinary state. This is a state built on top of another state. The incoming Israelis had just escaped prosecution and, a few years later, their newly established state drove out hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes, according to reports from the Guardian.

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The Saturday July 4th demo in Dublin to say “no” to the Israeli annexation and to call on the Irish government to take action to punish the State of Israel.

Irish and Palestinian parallel histories

After the fall of the Ottoman Empire in World War 1, Palestine fell under British control. It was a land where Muslims, Christians and a Jewish minority lived together in peace. At the same time, Zionism, which is a movement which aimed to establish a Jewish homeland in British-Palestine, was growing in Europe.

The British supported Jewish immigration into Palestine after the Holocaust, which resulted in hundreds of thousands of European Jewish immigrants fleeing to the Holy land. The Arab Palestinians were not happy with this mass immigration into their country, and therefore violence broke between the Palestinians and newly established Jewish militias. The UN in 1947 decided to partition the land between a Jewish and a Palestinian state. This angered the surrounding Arab states as it was seen as a new form of European colonialism and therefore, they started the Arab-Israeli war which marks the Palestinian ‘catastrophe’ (Nakba) as over 700,000 Palestinians had to flee their homes and to this day cannot return.

The Irish struggle tarted back in the 12th century, when King of England at the time, Henry II, ordered the invasion of the island of Ireland. English rule banned the use of the Irish language and viewed the native Irish to be of a lower class. In the 16th century the protestant reformation took place which added a religious divide between the Irish Catholics and the English protestants. In the early 1600’s the Ulster plantation happened, as Scottish and English settlers confiscated land from the Gaeilge Irish, as a way to stop resistance of British rule by the Irish people in Ulster. This plantation was by far the most successful as in just a few years the Protestants made up a majority in many areas of Ulster. In the following 300 years all forms of Irish rebellion were immediately put down by the British monarchy.

Similarities between Ireland and Palestine

The key link between the two causes is the struggle against the occupiers. The acting president of UCD’s People Before Profit, Darryl Horan said, “Irish, both North and South, have traditionally been pro-Palestine because of the relationship between republicanism and international anti-imperialism. In this sense, Irish republicanism sees the fight for the liberation of Palestine and the reunification of Ireland as one and the same.”

The role of prisoners was key in both scenarios. According to the ex-Sinn Fein leader, Gerry Adams, Irish prisoners played “an important role” in Irish liberation. According to reports from the Middle East Eye, there are over 5,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, many of them detained with no charges or based on ‘secret evidence’. The human rights of prisoners in Israeli jails are routinely violated much like those of Irish prisoners during the conflict with the UK. These violations include malnourishment, medical negligence and much more. Prisoners could play a huge part in political negotiations, just how prisoners helped end the Irish and South African conflicts.

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The Saturday July 4th demo in Dublin to say “no” to the Israeli annexation and to call on the Irish government to take action to punish the State of Israel.

Key Differences between the two struggles

A major difference is that Palestine is only considered as a de jure sovereign state by members of the United Nations and is not universally recognised by all countries. It is still losing land and has no fixed borders as a nation.

Ireland, on the other hand, managed to get back onto its feet. After two home rules, a failed rising and a war for independence, the Anglo-Irish treaty was signed in 1921 which established the Irish Free State excluding 6 counties in Ulster (Northern Ireland). This treaty resulted in a divided Irish population as some supported it while others viewed it as a defeat, which started a civil war. The war ended with the birth of a new Irish political party and the removal of all British ties in the Irish constitution while also claiming Northern Ireland. This remained the case up until the Good Friday agreement was signed in 1998, and the Irish constitution was amended to remove claims over Northern Ireland.

Dr. Stephanie Dornschneider from UCD’s School of Politics said, “I do not think that ‘occupation’ applies to the current Irish context in the aftermath of the Good Friday Agreement, whereas it certainly applies to the current situation of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and Gaza.”

Another key difference is the Israeli settlements. While plantations happened in Ireland, many settlers became more Irish, except in Northern Ireland. However, Israeli settlers and Palestinians do not mix with each other at all.

Irish support for the Palestinian cause

Speaking to the College Tribune, Dr. Jilan Wahba, the Palestinian Ambassador to Ireland, agreed that the Irish people are extremely supportive of the Palestinian cause. However, she said, “the new government should better represent these views”.

This resonates with the words of TD Richard Boyd Barret, as said in a statement on his YouTube channel, “we can’t give Israel favourable trade status when it continues to violate international law and murders people, there has to be consequences like there was for apartheid South Africa”. But Dr. Wahba believes that “the new [Irish] government will stay on the same track as the previous government regarding this matter.”

In 2018, Senator Frances Black put forward the occupied territories bill, which would ban the import of any goods from Israeli settlements. This bill has already passed seven of the eleven stages a bill must pass before becoming law in Ireland. However, this bill was left out of the new government’s programme, leaving its status to be uncertain.

Europeans in general have recently become more aware of the Palestinian struggle. The people of Europe have started to demand their governments to boycott Israel and recognise Palestine. Sweden became the 9th European Union (EU) country to recognise Palestine in 2014, the remaining 8 states are mostly in Eastern Europe. This is all due to the rise of the new form of Palestinian resistance that consists of campaigns and protests such as the BDS movement.

Boycott, Divestment and Sanction

Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) is a Palestinian movement that aims to put non-violent pressure on Israel, as inspired by the South African anti-Apartheid movement. They have three main demands: ending Israel’s occupation of all Arab land; recognising the rights of Arab-Israeli citizens to be equal to their Jewish counterparts; and respecting the rights of the Palestinian refugees since 1948 to return to their homelands.

The mass popularity that the BDS movement acquired in recent years, according to Dr. Dornschneider, is because “of the nature of the campaign through educational institutions and grassroots levels,” in addition to international and domestic reasons such as United States’ President Donald Trump’s bold declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital and the Gaza blockade.

This movement is labelled anti-Semitic by many Israeli organizations. However, as Dr. Dornschneider explained “supporting the BDS is very different from recognising a ‘Palestinian nation’”. In fact, many Jewish groups play an instrumental part in supporting the movement.

Even though the Palestine-Israel conflict is much more complicated than its Irish counterpart, the Irish and Palestinian people have definitely shared similar emotions and struggles against occupation. Non-violent Palestinian movements have now swept across Europe and gained substantial support, but this is yet to reflect in European politics. The Green Party‘s leader, Eamon Ryan, highlighted two weeks ago when the new Irish government was elected that Ireland can lead the way and be the slight beacon of light in the world by “standing up for the rights of those in Palestine”.

Ahmed Jouda – Politics Writer