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Michael Jansen: A new victory
February 01, 2019
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Ireland’s lower house of parliament, the Dail, last week adopted a bill to ban the import of goods and services from Israeli colonies, branded as illegal by international law. The Irish legislation, supported by a strong majority of 78-45, will now be reviewed and amended before enacted. While the government opposes the bill, it is supported by all the opposition parties as well as independents. It is expected to pass the final stages, making Ireland the first European country to reject the commercial output of West Bank Israeli colonies, thereby criminalising the Israeli colonisation enterprise.

The legislation bars the “import or attempt to import settlement goods, “sell settlement products,” and provision of “services to Israel settlements.”

Last December, the upper house, the Seanad, voted in favour of the legislation despite stiff opposition from the US, Europe, and Israel. The Seanad bill, put forward by Senator Frances Black, an independent, and the Dail measure, was proposed by Niall Collins of opposition Fianna Fail.

Black called the vote “amazing” and said that Ireland “will always stand for international law and human rights.” Once the law is in force it will make history, she observed. Ahead of the bill’s adoption in the Dail, Collins — who compared the situation to that in South Africa during the apartheid period — said, “Repeated condemnation of Israel’s actions by the EU and many in the international community has failed to deter Israel from continuing its settlements project.” He called for global action to change Israeli behaviour.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s office accused Ireland of “hypocrisy and anti-Semitism,” standard Israeli charges whenever its policies are opposed. An Israeli parliamentary delegation cancelled a visit to Dublin. Israel has constructed more than 200 colonies in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan Heights since occupying these Arab lands in 1967.  Some 400,000 Israelis have been planted in the West Bank, 200,000 in East Jerusalem, and 20,000 in the Golan, in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and international law. Israel has acted with impunity because, until now, the Western powers have refused to exert pressure on Israel to halt colonisation and end the occupation of Palestinian territory.

Palestinian and foreign activists who have been courting Irish lawmakers for years call the country’s adoption of the law a victory for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement which is meant to put pressure on Israel to end the occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank and siege of Gaza and permit the emergence of a Palestinian state.

In 2014, the Dail voted unanimously to recognise the state of Palestine but the government has not yet agreed to risk this conclusive step that only Sweden, among European countries, had taken. Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar (whose father is Indian, mother Irish) argues, “We support the establishment of a Palestinians state. No such state exists at present. The Palestinian territories are occupied by Israel.” He also says recognition of Palestine would complicate Irish humanitarian work in the region.

Why has the small, island republic taken this stand while most of Europe has not? First and foremost, many Irish people compare their own history during eight centuries of British occupation and colonisation to what has happened in Palestine. One Irishman observed, “Every 200 years or so we would have an uprising.”

The BDS movement appeals to Irish people especially because the recommended action, boycott, was adopted from a tactic in the struggle for Irish rights during Britain’s occupation. The situation in Palestine today where Israelis are expropriating Palestinian land is seen as comparable to conditions in Ireland in the 1880s. At that time the Irish Land League was campaigning for decent conditions for the mass of Irish tenant farmers by exerting pressure on wealthy landowners, many of whom were absentees. 

The League adopted the legal and non-violent tactic of isolating and ostracising land agents and their colleagues. The tactic took its name from one of the first agents targeted, Captain Charles Boycott whose home was, in September 1880, stormed by angry farmers and labourers and servants driven off, leaving the captain to fend for himself. By December of that year, “boycott” had passed into the English language as a verb. Since then it has become a noun as well.

Irish people initially sympathised with the Zionists as both Jews and Irish people had been persecuted and oppressed for decades but Irish attitudes began to change when under US pressure the UN voted in November 1947 to partition Palestine between Palestinian and Jew. It must be recalled that Britain also partitioned Ireland into the loyalist north and independent south. Partition is a dirty word in Ireland.

One of Ireland’s most beloved authors Sean O’Faolain dismissed the conflation of the Zionist and Irish independence struggles, arguing, “if we could imagine that Ireland was being transformed by Britain into a national home for the Jews, I can hardly doubt on which side you would be found.” Northern Irish Protestant politicians and civilians, who have benefitted from partition, often back Israel in contrast to the Republic’s pro-Palestinian stand.

Ireland moved into the Palestinian camp when Israel emerged in 1948 and expelled 750,000 Palestinians from their homes and expropriated their lands. Ireland responded by calling for the repatriation of Palestinian refugees. Ireland was the first European country to recognise the Palestine Liberation Organisation, did not grant Israel formal recognition until 1963, called for the creation of a Palestinian state in 1980, and did not open an embassy in Tel Aviv until 1996. Varadkar has said the embassy would remain there and not shift to Jerusalem as has the US embassy.

Ireland strives to make positive contributions as an actor on the international scene rather than to intervene destructively in the affairs of other nations. Furthermore, there is a large constituency of Irish people who have lived in this region and have come to know and respect its people.

Since 1958 thousands of members of Ireland’s armed forces have served in UN peace-keeping operations around the world. In this region they have been deployed in Cyprus, Sinai, south Lebanon, supervising mutual withdrawals of troops following the Iraq-Iran war (1980-88), and monitoring the Syrian-Israeli Golan disengagement agreement. During service in Lebanon, 47 Irish troops died during the first 23 years of deployment there, at least 15 due to attacks by Israeli and allied Christian forces.

Scores of Irish men and women have also taken part in humanitarian programmes in Palestine while Irish Aid — government assistance — has provided support for Palestinians for nearly a quarter of a century. Ireland’s Palestine solidarity movement is one of the most active in the world.
The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East
affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict

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