Tag Archives: Palestine

A life-long Genocide – the Nakba

I was a Nakba child. Born just 11 days before the official start of the great catastrophe that was imposed on the Palestinian people in May 1948, I have been aware from very early in my life of that foul genocide. For all of my life that genocide has continued.

My father Pearse, son of a 1916 revolutionary father and an equally revolutionary mother, always championed the rights of oppressed people throughout the world. No wonder, since James Connolly and Liam Mellows were the significant figures from our revolutionary period that my father held dear. Their parallel political philosophies informed his thinking, and in turn his children absorbed those ideas.

All of us were made aware of the great crimes committed by colonialists against the Native Americans – north and south, the people of Africa, India, Australia – and the Middle East. We were aware of the plight of the descendants of slaves in the US – still effectively slaves, still oppressed, exploited, abused in the 1950s and beyond. We were aware of the intolerable oppression visited by white settlers on the people of Rhodesia and particularly South Africa.

Pearse was a civil rights and human rights activist long before it became fashionable to be so. He rowed against the tide.

We were made aware of the similar experience in all of these colonies to our historical experience in Ireland at hands of the English – the greatest offenders in the past four centuries in worldwide colonisation, exploitation and atrocities against indigenous peoples. As a much older man, I now see the US take up that mantle.

But Palestine figured large in my father’s life. He understood what the Balfour Declaration – issued one year before his birth – had brought about for the people of Palestine. Understanding full well the divisions – largely on religious lines – that had been created in his own country by ‘Plantation’ and ‘Settlement’ policy, divisions that last to this day, he knew what that foul declaration was intended to do to the Palestinian people. And so it came to pass.

My father was an Irish republican, holding dear those Enlightenment values of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, embodied in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic together with the explicit anti-sectarianism expressed in that document. He had equal respect for all, regardless of religious persuasion or none. That included Jews, of course.

No surprise that our optician, chosen by my parents, was Michael Stein of Harcourt Road, a Jewish man rated highly as a man, and optician, and friend, by both of them. There were two Jewish families on our road of fifty houses. No surprise that my younger brothers went on Saturdays – the Sabbath – to do those tasks forbidden to Jews on that day, and did it willingly, without question. No surprise, really, that my father raged at the outspoken anti-Jewish sentiment of a Nazi-sympathising Irish politician, Oliver J Flanagan, father of the current Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan – himself now a supporter of Zionist Israel.

No surprise, since my father’s aunt, sister of his revolutionary father, had married a Jewish man.

We, Pearse’s children, knew early on the difference between a Jew and a Zionist – one a religious belief system and the other a political ideology not confined to Jews. One he respected and cherished, the other he despised, not least for the damage it would do to Jews as well as Palestinians. He understood the great crimes visited on the Jews by the Nazis and others. But he also understood the great crime visited on the Palestinians decades before a Holocaust that they had no hand, act or part in creating or executing.

A few days before his death, I sat at my father’s bedside. He said that he was worried that anything he said about Israel or Zionism was unfair or unjust to Jews. I was able to reassure him, in full truth, that that was not the case.

That 27 years after his death that great crime of genocide against the Palestinian people continues unabated, and intensified, would shock him. He would be sickened by the slaughter of innocents in Gaza, by the deliberate targeting of homes, schools, even hospitals by crazed and psychotic and even psychopathic individuals who claim to represent the Jewish people, as if that was not, demonstrably, a great lie.

He would be even more sickened to know that in Ireland we have a government and a media to willingly, and with conviction, mouth Goebellsian propaganda to justify and prolong genocide. That is the polar opposite of James Connolly’s great wish that the Irish Republic would act as a beacon of hope to the oppressed people of the world. How far we have fallen.

We must confess our failure. We must rebuild ourselves as an ethical people. We must put into place in a constitution that is fit for purpose binding provisions to protect oppressed people, wherever they are, and to work actively to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The immediate, pressing issue – the one that has lasted for all of my 66 years – is Palestine.

Rage. Rage against inhumanity. Rage against oppression. Rage against the slaughter of innocents. Rage against genocide. Rage against the perpetrators. Rage against the collaborators.

And channel that rage into ending this obscenity.

Free Palestine, without delay! Free Gaza, now!



Ireland, Palestine and Human Empathy

According to Professor of Philosophy at Rutgers University, Alvin Goldman, empathy is “The ability to put oneself into the mental shoes of another person to understand her emotions and feelings”. Most of us experience it on a daily basis, often because of news reports. We empathise with other humans who we do not know when they experience the loss of a loved one in a traffic accident, or in a crime of violence, or suicide, and so on.  Natural disasters affecting large numbers of people, and man made disasters such as war and famine, evoke waves of empathy for the victims from other humans, both as individuals and communities, from across the globe. We imagine ourselves in their situation and empathise with them.

The capacity to empathise is a positive attribute in a person. Not all humans appear to have it, they may have grown to be self-absorbed or they may have suppressed it to enable them to behave in a certain way, such as in war.  It is something that can be deliberately manipulated for good effect, for instance in raising aid for victims of natural disasters or for providing support for bereaved individuals, afflicted children and so on. But it can also be manipulated, and often is, to achieve political, economic, social or military objectives.

Empathy for people we do not know depends on our capacity to see them as being as human as ourselves, and that fact is simultaneously the key to expressions and actions of solidarity with people we do not know, and in the absence of empathy to successfully oppressing, enslaving, colonising, and even attempting to eradicate people. Examples of these things abound throughout history, and it is worth looking at two examples, one from recent history and one which is ever-present today.

When the English set out to conquer Ireland, and throughout that centuries-long failed process, a permanent feature was the portrayal of the Irish as less than fully human (the yardstick of full humanity being English ‘civilisation’). Never mind that the Irish had, prior to the attempted conquest by first the Normans and then the English, a fully developed social system including a very advanced and enlightened Brehon Law system, and a highly developed scholarly tradition – good enough to spread  learning throughout Britain and continental Europe. For the conquest to succeed, the Irish had to be thought of as deviant, uncivilised and uncivilisable, child-like, and even simian (ape-like).

When Anglican clergyman, novelist, university professor and ‘christian socialist’ Charles Kingsley visited Sligo in 1860 he wrote “I am haunted by the human chimpanzees I saw along that hundred miles of horrible country. I don’t believe they are our fault. I believe … that they are happier, better, more comfortably fed and lodged under our rule than they ever were. But to see white chimpanzees is dreadful; if they were black, one would not feel it so much, but their skins, except where tanned by exposure, are as white as ours”.

Another ‘civilised’ man, Robert Knox, an Edinburgh surgeon who was deeply implicated in the Burke and Hare body-snatching enterprise, saw the English Anglo-Saxon as superior to all others. As for the Irish – classified by the British as Celts and therefore not Anglo-Saxon – in his book “The Races of Men” Knox has this to say, among other similarly racist assertions, “…the source of all evil lies in the race, the Celtic race of Ireland. There is no getting over historical facts … The race must be forced from the soil; by fair means, if possible; still they must leave. England’s safety requires it. I speak not of the justice of the cause; nations must ever act as Machiavelli advised: look to yourself. The Orange club of Ireland is a Saxon confederation for the clearing the land of all papists and jacobites; this means Celts”.

But, some would say, that was then and this is now. Such rendering of the Irish into a sub-human species – so that they could more easily be driven from their lands, starved, flogged, enslaved, bought and sold, imprisoned, raped, hanged by the neck at will and sometimes drawn and quartered to emphasise the dehumanisation of the individual and the deliberate terrorism of the act – that could surely not happen in today’s more civilised world, or could it?

Of the myriad of similar examples available in the world today, let us take a look at the plight of the Palestinian people, with whom the Irish should, if they knew the facts of the total oppression of these indigenous people, be able to empathise.

When Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour, issued the Balfour Declaration in November 1917 he laid the foundations of the State of Israel, eventually imposed without their consent in 1948 on the indigenous people of Palestine. This declaration by the British came about after intense lobbying of various governments in Europe by the Zionist movement whose principal advocate was Austrian journalist Theodore Hertzl, who founded the political movement known as Zionism in 1897. The movement’s principal plank was the right of Jewish people to establish a national homeland in Palestine based on ethnic ties and rights established by religious practice.

There was one not inconsiderable problem to this. Palestine was inhabited land, with a population made up in 1922 of 75% Muslims, 12% Jews and 11% Christians. But Hertzl had a plan, as an extract from his diaries in 1895 shows – “we shall endeavour to expel the poor population across the border unnoticed – the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly”. In other words, the indigenous Muslims should be expelled from the land of their fore-fathers and mothers, and the land thus stolen and made vacant be given to the Jewish immigrants from Europe and elsewhere. This is the genesis of the ongoing crimes against the Palestinian people, facilitated then by the British.

When the facts of the attempt by Hitler and his Nazi Party to exterminate as many European Jews as possible became known, a wave of empathy swept the world. That empathy was turned into the fuel that fired Zionists in a war against the British who were mandated to govern Palestine, and more importantly against the indigenous population.  A catalogue of extreme atrocities against the Palestinian people ensued, with entire villages being slaughtered in a Zionist terror campaign, coupled with forced expulsions into the Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. The 14th of May, 1948 marks the beginning of Al-Naqba or The Catastrophe, a catastrophe that has continued ever since.

Over the intervening 63 years, the Palestinians have been denied citizenship in their own land. They have no recourse to effective justice, with the courts being in control of the Israelis and no written constitution to provide safeguards. They have been and still are, on a daily basis, driven off their land which is taken by Israeli ‘settlers’. Their sources of water have been diverted to Israeli use. In the territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip occupied since the 1967 war between the Arabs and the Israelis, the Palestinian population is harassed constantly, shot regularly, is the victim of tear gas attacks (and who knows what other gasses?), is denied the right to normal social and economic life, has been walled in, has had to watch major Israeli ‘settlements’ being built on Palestinian land (illegal under international law), has been denied the right to housing, education, medical treatment and to travel internally in Palestinian territories and abroad.

The Gaza Strip, described as the largest prison in the world, has a population of 1.6 million largely destitute civilians locked into an area of just 360 square kilometres, blockaded by the Israeli army, navy and air force, with regular deadly incursions into the Strip by those forces. Not only is normal trade impossible with the West Bank, Israel itself or the wider world, but in December 2008 Israel launched a major ground, sea and air offensive against the Gaza Strip, including using banned weapons such as phosphorous and depleted uranium encased shells. Over 1,300 women, children and men were killed in 22 days, with 13 casualties on the Israeli side, and much of the Gazan infrastructure – hospitals, schools, housing, sewage works and water works, and so on – destroyed.

A common question asked by people who consider what Israel is doing to the Palestinian people is “how could a people who had a grave injustice done to them then replicate that injustice on to other innocent people?”.

The answer is, of course, empathy, or the absence of it. Just as the British – those fine ‘Christian’ folk – thought themselves to be fully human and the Irish to be sub-human,  so too have the Zionists thought themselves to be fully human and the Palestinian people to be sub-human.

US journalist Stephen Lendman of the Progressive Radio Network who has written extensively on US imperialism and on the Israel-Palestine issue, quotes a 17-year old Jerusalem high school student, Daniel Banvolegyi: “Our books basically tell us that everything the Jews do is fine and legitimate and Arabs are wrong and violent and are trying to exterminate us. We are accustomed to hearing the same thing, only one side of the story. They teach us that Israel became a state in 1948 and that the Arabs started a war. They don’t mention what happened to the Arabs. They never mention anything about refugees or Arabs having to leave their towns and homes”.

Lendman further describes Tel Aviv University’s Professor Daniel Bar-Tal’s study of Israeli Jewish school texts which revealed a pattern of indoctrination of young minds thus: “The early textbooks tended to describe acts of Arabs as hostile, deviant, cruel, immoral, unfair, with the intention to hurt Jews and to annihilate the State of Israel. Within this frame of reference, Arabs were delegitimized by the use of such labels as ‘robbers,’ ‘bloodthirsty,’ and ‘killers,’ adding that little positive revision occurred through the years with mischaracterizations like tribal, vengeful, exotic, poor, sick, dirty, noisy, colored, and “they burn, murder, destroy, and are easily inflamed”.

Given this de-humanisation of the Palestinian people, it is no surprise that empathy with the Palestinians in their suffering is thin on the ground in Israel and in those societies that support Zionism, particularly Israel’s strongest supporter and supplier of much of the weaponry it uses on the Palestinians, the United States of America.

But Ireland is  not Israel, or Britain, or the USA. Ireland – of all of the European countries – should as a result of our historical experience be a repository of empathy for the Palestinian people and for all oppressed people in the world. Their catastrophe should be our catastrophe, just as we have empathy for the Jewish people in the suffering they endured in Hitler’s extermination camps and elsewhere – their catastrophe is also our catastrophe. As a Palestinian man in the Gaza Strip who had just lost his entire family to the Israeli bombs in 2009 asked – “How can they do this. Are we not all children of God?”. Whether or not we believe in a ‘God’, in our empathy we understand what he meant.

The Palestinian catastrophe is a Jewish catastrophe too, for to be Jewish is not synonymous with being a Zionist – many of the world’s most ardent Zionists are not Jewish, and many of the most vocal anti-Zionists are themselves Jewish. The damage that is being done falsely in the name of Judaism in the historical land of Palestine will likely have very damaging consequences for Jewish people throughout the world.

It is right that the Irish people, particularly those who claim to honour the Proclamation of the Irish Republic and the Republic itself, should stand with the Palestinian people by supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction campaign against Israeli Apartheid policies, and by supporting the second flotilla as it attempts to break the illegal blockade of the Gaza Strip. After all, James Connolly, one of the main architects of the Proclamation wished that the Republic would act as a beacon of hope to oppressed people throughout the world.

We must do the right thing – support the BDS campaign and support the flotilla. Indifference just will not do.

The Captains and the Kings

And so, back to normal. Well, almost. No sooner does the Head-of-State of one warmongering, exploitative, imperialist nation leave than another arrives.

The English queen is no doubt a nice woman, something she has in common with the vast majority of women in the world, including those of Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine. Like many of them she is a wife,  a mother, a grandmother. Unlike them, she demands, and receives, extraordinary deference. Unlike them she is surrounded by a wall of steel to ensure her safety, she will never go hungry or live in a hovel, or watch her children die from starvation or treatable medical conditions. Unlike them, when a helicopter flies overhead it is to protect her, not to rain missiles down on her. If being nice was enough the world would be a happier place.

The English queen is no doubt an intelligent woman, something she has in common, again, with the vast majority of women in the world. Like them, she must know that it is wrong to kill, to steal, to cause disharmony, to wage war, to impoverish people to enrich yourself, to preside over the theft of land, resources and even nations, to initiate genocide or to stay silent when others practice it, to facilitate the oppression of people and their effective enslavement. The vast majority of women in the world do not consider doing any of these things. As the British Head-of-State, as an intelligent woman, the English queen knowingly involves herself through her armed forces and her public and private agencies in these crimes, constantly.

The English queen no doubt sees herself as a moral person. She is after all head of the Church of England by right of birth. The vast majority of women in the world would view a claim of that sort as blasphemous, being for the most part moral people themselves whether they belong to an organised religion or not. Having a moral framework set down by her own church, and being very well informed about her government’s policies, there can be no excuse for allowing or promoting all of the above. As a christian, the English queen must be aware of the Sermon on the Mount and what it means. Nowhere in there does it say ‘Blessed are the arms dealers, the oppressors, the warmongers’.

And what of her visit to Ireland, and the things she did and the things she said?

The Irish political class oohed and aahed at her laying of the wreath and her bowing of the head in the Garden of Remembrance. Maybe she meant it, and that would be good – showing respect for the actions of brave men and women is a good thing. But political class amnesia when it comes to ritual and protocol is a handy thing. The English queen is well-practiced at laying wreaths and bowing her head – it is what she does, and does very well.

The Irish political class was completely disarmed at the banquet the uninvited citizens paid for in Dublin Castle by her use of a few words of Irish as she began her speech, as if it was unique or original.  ‘Wow’, the First Mary said, followed by another ‘wow’. We were, fortunately, spared the ‘OMG!’. Get a grip. The English queen is well-used to doing this. It is, like laying wreaths and bowing the head, what ‘one’ does. And the Irish political class grasped at straws in their collective search for something, anything, that could be interpreted as an apology for the disgusting treatment of many generations of Irish people over many centuries by the armies and agencies of English kings and queens – and the straws weren’t worth grasping. Worse than that, the English queen sought to implicate the Irish people in those crimes, as if conflict with the English was ever something aggressively and gratuitously and by desire entered into by the Irish, rather than a necessary reaction in self-defence and in pursuit of national independence and freedom from oppression and exploitation by the English monarchs and the English political class.

The event at the war memorial at Islandbridge was another attempt (facilitated of course by the Irish political class) to implicate the Irish in the twin crimes of the First and Second World Wars. It is reasonable to suggest that very many of the Irish who took part in the 1914-18 version did so for economic reasons – ‘join up or your family starve’. Many others swallowed the spurious ‘Defence of Small Nations’ guff and did what they thought was right. There is an appropriate way to commemorate the sacrifice of ordinary men and women on the altar of capitalist expansionism, and feeding the British nation-building Poppy Day exercise is not the appropriate way.

And so, after four days of  near deification by the  Irish political class and their hangers-on, the English queen has ascended into the heavens boosted by four Rolls Royce engines, the sort favoured by the manufacturers of the tanks, warplanes and warships manufactured in England and peddled to brutal tyrants around the world. Saint Elizabeth she is not.

Hot on her heels comes one of the great disappointments of the political world, the man who promised much by way of change and changed nothing for the good, Barack Obama. The wars go on, the sin against the indigenous Palestinian people intensifies, the torturers remain in business, the Military-Industrial complex gets richer and fatter and more greedy, more people starve as Wall Street manipulates markets and commodities for profit. Old worn-out tyrants may go – not because the US wants them to – but new tyrants line up to take their place.

The Irish political class cannot wait for Air Force One to arrive. Thrilled with their success with the English queen’s journeys through over-policed empty city streets to venues where only the chosen few were deemed fit to be seen, the prospect of yet more vulgar self-aggrandisement is almost too much to bear. This time, the plebs will be allowed to take part in the adulation at the same open-air venue that that other warmonger, Bill Clinton, appeared at. Just like Clinton, Obama will scatter fine rhetoric to the four winds, meaningless rhetoric since we can be certain that what is promised will not be delivered.

But he is Irish, he is O’Bama, he is one of us. No he is not. He may have some DNA that connects him to this island, but that is all. He does not share the values that most people on this island most probably share – of non-interference in the affairs of other nations, of peace-keeping rather than war-making, of a sense of fair play and justice, of genuine compassion at the suffering of less fortunate people in the world, of a sense of solidarity with oppressed people in other places. We are not always good at looking after our own shop, we have many faults, we are far from perfect, but we do have a value system that at its core is decent, despite the worst efforts of the Irish political class to sign us up to the corrupt ‘elites’ of this world.

So, come Tuesday, it will be back to normal. Or perhaps it won’t be. Perhaps the Genie is out of the bottle. Perhaps we will remember how we were ‘locked down’ while others feasted at our expence. Perhaps we will remember how dissenting voices were ridiculed and silenced by a powerful hegemonic media – part of the political class and willingly serving its interests. Perhaps we will think about how the State views its citizens, at least most of them, as too suspect and dangerous to be allowed the freedom of their own streets. Perhaps, as another funding crisis hits the health service, or education, we will imagine how that €30 million spent on entertaining two human beings from outside and the political class parasites from inside might have been used.

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. Whatever the outcome, normal is going to feel, well, normal. Can’t wait.

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