Ireland continues to stand in solidarity with Palestine in spite of attempts at gradually normalising relations with Israel from some elements of the Irish government, writes Roddy Keenan.
Ireland has recently become a focal point for international opposition to the Israeli regime, with a number of developments highlighting support for the Palestinian people. For example, the Dublin branch of the National Union of Journalists has said it will support members who refuse to cover the upcoming Eurovision Song Contest due to be held in Israel, while local towns such as Dublin and Sligo have flown the Palestinian flag in demonstrations of solidarity. But the passing of a bill banning settlement goods and the first twinning of an Irish town with a municipality in the West Bank have delivered significant momentum in the battle to end the ongoing oppression of Palestinian men, women and children.
A major blow was struck in this battle when the Dail (Lower House of Irish Parliament) passed a bill in January preventing the importation or sale of goods from Israeli settlements, becoming the first EU nation to do so.
The Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill, originally proposed by Senator Frances Black, was passed in the Irish Senate (Upper House) back in January 2018. In January 2019, Fianna Fail party MP Niall Collins, subsequently introduced the bill in the Dail, where it passed by a margin of 78 votes to 45, with three abstentions.
The bill seeks to ‘give effect to the Irish state’s obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War and under customary international humanitarian law.’
In so doing, this law would ‘make it an offence for a person to import or sell goods or services originating in an occupied territory or to extract resources from an occupied territory in certain circumstances.’
Penalties for breach of the law can lead to fines of up to 250,000 euros or five years imprisonment.
Parliamentarians had faced intense lobbying from US congressional opponents of the legislation, yet still voted for the bill in a clear demonstration of opposition cross-party support.
Responding to government threats that opposing US policy would lead to economic retaliation, Mr Collins said the US had to ‘clean up its act’ in relation to its social and moral responsibilities. ‘We cannot give it a free pass on everything simply because it provides us with jobs,’ he argued.
As happened after the passing of the Senate bill, the result of the lower house vote drew an immediate and predictable response from the Occupying Authorities. The Irish ambassador was summoned, as Prime Minister Netanyahu declared Israel to be ‘outraged’ by a bill he described as ‘anti-Semitic’. Meanwhile, the foreign ministry said it constituted ‘an expression of pure hostility’ and a ‘clear expression of obsessive discrimination.’
Despite the bill still having a number of stages to pass through, January’s vote has effectively ensured it will eventually be signed into law.
Meanwhile at a local level, in the summer of 2018, Kerry County Council in south-west Ireland passed unopposed a motion to twin the town of Tralee with the Palestinian municipality of Beit Sahour in the occupied West bank .
The motion was proposed by Councillor Pa Daly of the Sinn Fein political party. The councillor had initially spoken with activists in a local Palestinian support group who put him in contact with Nidal Abu Zuluf, manager of the Joint Advocacy Initiative of the East Jerusalem YMCA, which is based in Beit Sahour.
“We felt that Beit Sahour would be appropriate, as it is a medium sized town like Tralee, and we share an old Christian heritage and history of colonisation,” explained Councillor Daly to PNN. “We believe that we have a lot to learn from each other, and the twinning can break down barriers and help share experiences.”
Mr Abu Zuluf explained how the process will work. Over the past year, both parties have been working on a memorandum of understanding to outline the towns’ shared values. While initially it will deal with cultural exchanges, Mr Abu Zuluf said the memorandum shall remain a work in progress as different areas of cooperation are developed.
The impact of such visits will enable the people of Tralee to experience life in Palestine under Israeli occupation and to witness the ongoing injustice and apartheid for themselves. It will also enable the people of Tralee to demonstrate solidarity with the people of Palestine and develop a close partnership in support of the Palestinian right to self-determination.
Mayor Jehad Kheir of Beit Sahour municipality has welcomed the initiative and said he looks forward to developing strategic relationships to facilitate real and meaningful collaboration in as many areas as possible, such as tourism, agriculture, local industry and investment.
‘We give the green light to any form of cooperation that Tralee wishes to engage in,’ said Mayor Kheir
However, this is only the beginning. The mayor has called on other towns and cities to develop links with Palestinian municipalities. Meanwhile, representatives from refugee camps have spoken of the huge impact extending similar links to specific camps would also have.
In light of increasing support in Ireland for those under occupation and the growing recognition of Israel as an apartheid state, many more of these partnerships may soon become a reality.
Roddy Keenan is a freelance journalist. Originally from Ireland, Roddy is now based in the UK. A former lecturer, Roddy writes on international history and politics. He is also author of the book ‘US Presidential Elections, 1968-2008: a narrative history of the race for the White House’.