with the people of Palestine by Eddie Whyte

UEFAs Discrimination of Palestine

UEFA’s discriminatory treatment of the Palestinian national flag was once again in focus last week when Glasgow giants Celtic met Hapoel Be’er Sheva in the Champions League in front of 60,000 spectators. The Israeli team was met with a veritable sea of Palestinian flags.   The home team is now being threatened with yet another fine from European football’s governing body.

UEFA’s Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body meets on September 22nd to weigh up their options and decide a suitable punishment for Celtic FC. According to the UEFA football authorities, waving the Palestinian national flag is apparently a crime and a breach of Article 16 (2) of UEFA’s disciplinary rules which prohibits “the use of gestures, words, objects or any other means to transmit any message that is not fit for a sports event, particularly messages that are of a political, ideological, religious, offensive or provocative nature.”

So how come the European football association chooses to define Palestine’s national flag as an “illicit banner”. The question really does need to be asked: why is it only the Palestinian national flag that is perceived by UEFA as offensive or provocative?

This is the same flag that flies proudly outside the UN building in New York, and was recently carried during the opening ceremony at the Olympics. The UEFA attitude smacks of discrimination and an attempt to criminalize Palestinian national symbols.

celtic-fans-face-fine-after-palestine-flags (1)

It is not the first time Celtic fans have been at odds with UEFA in demonstrating their solidarity for the Palestinian cause. The club was penalized with a £16,000 fine in 2014 when fans used banners and flags at the match against KR Reykjavik to show their solidarity with Palestinians during Israel’s bloody attack on civilians in Gaza.

Ahead of this latest match against Hapoel Be’er Sheva, supporters and Celtic FC were bombarded with not so subtle threats and the media were willing participants in the Israeli propaganda campaign.

The Israeli embassy in London warned against any demonstrations of support for Palestine and reminded the fans that there was a second leg to be played a week later in Be’er Sheva. Scottish police quoted Europe’s most idiotic law against “offensive behavior” at football matches and threatened to imprison people who came to the match with Palestinian flags. Newspaper headlines joined in, whipping up the frenzy reminding readers that Celtic had previously had to pay hefty fines for showing solidarity with the Palestinians.

Celtic supporters are not easily intimidated and have a long tradition of supporting the Palestinian liberation struggle. They relate readily to the historical parallels between Ireland and Palestine – colonization, occupation, oppression and a small nation struggling for its freedom against a major military power.

celtic latuffThe fans response to the intimidation campaign that preceded the match came in the form of a huge wave of Palestinian flags during the match. Social media ensured that the images spread quickly around the world, forcing the so-called “mainstream media” to cover it. A separate hashtag #ThanksCelticFans began trending on several continents and video footage from the Palestinian refugee camps showed banners in green and white and enthused Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, grateful for the solidarity being shown in Glasgow.

When UEFA released its statement warning that the club was facing a disciplinary hearing, Celtic supporters responded by starting a fundraising campaign with the hashtag #matchthefineforpalestine.

The aim was not to pay the threatened fine against the club – which many think the club should fight –  but to raise funds for the organizations Medical Aid for Palestinians and the Lajee Cultural Centre at the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem, which Celtic supporters have worked closely with for several years.

The supporter’s initial target of £15,000 was passed after only a few hours as the number of contributors continued to rise. The campaign ends in a few days, and so far it has raised over 10 times as much as expected – £160,000 pounds – mostly small amounts from over 9,000 individuals.

The overwhelming support for the fundraising campaign is now being interpreted by many as the necessary moral support the club needs to fight any fine imposed by UEFA.  Some supporter groups have already begun investigating pursuing a court case against UEFA for discriminating against the Palestinian national flag.

Out on the football field an impressive 5-2 home win for Celtic and a nerve wracking 2-0 loss in Israel ensured advancement to the group stage of the Champions League. Hapoel Be’er Sheva had to be satisfied with a place in the Europa League alongside another Israeli team, Macabbi Tel Aviv. The two Israeli teams will now be playing in 6 different European countries. The Israeli propaganda machine, its foreign office  and embassies around the world are no doubt working feverishly to prevent supporters in other clubs from following Celtic’s inspirational example. It is probably already too late.

Two days after the Celtic game, the Israeli team Beitar Jerusalem, known for its anti-Palestinian racism, were confronted with dozens of Palestinian flags during their match against St Etienne in France. The Israeli occupation and UEFA authorities have yet another headache to deal with.


You can still contribute to the fund here

Surely they should be held accountable?

Considerable opposition from the Irish community at home and abroad has forced the Birmingham-based Carey Academy of Irish Dancing to cancel the event optimistically billed as the “1st Israeli feis”.

Initially the Academy had ignored appeals to respect the cultural boycott of Israel in the hope that the protest would blow over. It was unlikely. Irish people have a natural affinity with the Palestinian struggle and allowing Irish culture to be misused to legitimize the Israeli occupation would have been simply inconceivable for many.

Yet while Irish supporters of the steadily growing Boycott, Sanction, Divest (BDS) movement are relishing yet another victory for the solidarity campaign, there are several questions on the matter that still need to be answered.

carey cancelled

The original statement cancelling the event published by the Carey academy on their Facebook page maintained that intimidation and a real fear for the safety of children attending the dance school was the reason for their withdrawal.

Several named individuals and the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) were accused of organizing a “a not-so-peaceful protest outside of our dance studio”, issuing threats against both teachers and teenage dancers and warning that “everyone who takes part in the feis would be shot in the head.” Serious allegations indeed. Allegations that one would expect to be reported to the police and prosecutions filed.

No evidence of these dramatic allegations of shooting children in the head has been provided in spite of continued calls online for the Academy to publish them. As to the other accusation, the supposedly violent demonstration, footage is available online which shows clearly that the Carey Academy is lying. There is simply no other word for it.

The initial statement containing the outlandish allegations against respected human rights activists was later replaced by a somewhat less hysterical one, after several people, including the alleged perpetrators of the threats, demanded the Academy publish the evidence to back up the claims.

carey cancellationA screen shot of the statement which was later modified

Along with many others, I am left wondering as to why an organization like the Carey Academy which claims to be non-political is acting in such a belligerent and underhand manner, using language which could easily have been taken right out of the Israeli propaganda manual. Mudslinging is an essential element in the Israeli propaganda war against the international BDS campaign.

The Ireland Palestine Activists Collective (IPAC) are following up and organizing a new picket demanding a public retraction of the allegations. The conclusion here remains to be seen.

Then there is the question as to why the commission for Irish dancing – An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha (CRLG) – and its Vice-Chairperson Seamus Ó Sé, approved, facilitated and publicised the organization of this event.

An announcement on its pages responding to criticism under the heading “Feis in Israel” states that the CRLG does not “comment on national or international political matters”. A total cop-out – and a particularly hypocritical attitude given that the organization itself was actively involved in promoting a potential breach of the international cultural boycott supported by over 500 Irish artists.

Whilst the Carey Academy has been the focus of the campaign, the CLRG and its mother organization Conradh na Gaeilge have slipped quietly under the radar so far. Surely they should be held accountable?




Promoting the Israeli Apartheid State?

So it seems the Carey Irish Dance Academy and An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha (CLRG) are leading us a merry dance, if you will pardon the pun. Their organisation of what they are calling the first ever Israeli Feis has created a furore of objections from Irish people at home and abroad. Palestinans in the occupied West Bank are calling for the event to be cancelled.

Palestinians are appealing for the Feis to be cancelled Photo:Haitham Al KhatibPhoto: Hamza Burnat

Shame on you! Palestinians on the West Bank appeal for the Feis to be cancelled  Photo: Hamza Burnat

The organisers of the Feis originally defended their breach of the international cultural boycott of Israel claiming that the event is “not about politics” and specifying that “running a feis in Israel does not mean we support or are involved with the Israeli government or any extremist groups in any way shape or form.”

At the time I called the statement a cop-out and wondered if they were being extremely naïve or deliberately misleading. As it turns out, it would now seem to be the latter.

Following several posts criticising the breaching of the cultural boycott, the Israeli Feis facebook page censored the posts and closed it for public comments. This week the page linked to an article from the Israeli embassy page in Dublin which aggressively ridiculed opposition to the feis-event. The censorship clearly does not apply to posts from the Israeli government and its embassy.

carey comment

The Israeli Embassy gets a free run on the Feis pages

It should be remembered that the Israeli embassy in Dublin is no ordinary diplomatic mission – it is notorious for its online extremist views. Last year public opinion forced it to delete several controversial anti-Palestinian images from its official twitter feed.

The offending posts were condemned worldwide as racist and included one of the Molly Malone statue wearing Muslim-style clothing entitled “Israel now Dublin next” and another of a Palestinian flag superimposed with a picture of Adolf Hitler with the words “Free Palestine now!” Only last week the embassy’s twitter account advocated that Palestinians should move to Syria.

This is the extremism that “non political” CRLG and the Careys are now supporting.

         carey hitler  carey molly
Extremist tweets from the Israeli embassy in Dublin

Last summer in an interview on Israeli military radio, Nurit Tinari-Modai , the Deputy Ambassador to Dublin – and the Ambassador’s wife (!) –  launched an astonishing attack on Irish critics of Israel denouncing pro-Palestinian supporters as “ignorant [and] anti-Semitic with an intensely rooted hatred of Jews.”

Playing the anti-semitic card is, of course, the standard refuge for an Israeli government under international pressure. It is the proverbial red herring intended to suffocate the debate and totally ignores the steadily increasing number of Jewish individuals and organisations both in Israel and abroad who condemn the barbarity being inflicted on the Palestinians in their name.

Whether it be the numerous Israeli soldiers who testify to the horrors they were forced to participate in, the conscientious objectors who protest at their own government’s policy of occupation, the numerous Israeli organizations documenting human rights violations or the prominent Israeli politicians such as former Israeli president Avraham Burg who warns that Israel’s immoral war on the Palestinians will lead to Israel losing its very soul.

And then there are the countless number of Jewish writers and academics who make their voices heard in protest at Israel’s human rights violations and the state’s oppression of the Palestinians. People like Miko Peled, Michael Selzer, Ilan Pappe, Rabbi David Weiss, Moshe Menuhin, Eibie Weizfeld, Steve Quester, Joel Kovel, Norton Mezvinsky, Ora Wise, Norman Finkelstein, Phyllis Bennis, Adam Shapiro, Daniel Boyarin to name a few.

The international cultural boycott was started by the people on the receiving end of the Israeli oppression – the Palestinians themselves. It is a non-violent campaign which challenges a state which violates international law on a daily basis. The campaign is receiving increasing support and leaked Israeli government documents show that it is having a real impact.

The Carey Academy and the CRLG are either pawns in the Israeli propaganda machine or willing participants in promoting the Israeli apartheid state. Which is it? They should heed last week’s call from the Jewish Voice for Just Peace and the Palestinian solidarity groups which are asking them to withdraw from the event.

Musician Anthony Davis who was originally billed for the event has already done so. The ajudicators for the Feis – Seamus Ó Sé, Áine Ó Sé and the CRLG should follow his lead.

You can sign the petition urging the Carey Academy not to dance in Israel here -#DontDance4Israel.

Don’t Dance For Israel

An event billed as the first ever Irish Feis in Israel is scheduled for August the 15th  in Tel Aviv. It is being organized by the Carey Irish Dance Academy based in Birmingham, England under the auspices of the governing body for Irish dance An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha (CRLG).

Palestinians in the occupied West Bank earlier this week appealed for the event to be cancelled in line with the international boycott of Israel whilst an international protest has taken off on social media under the hashtag #DontDance4Israel.

Photo: Haitham Al Khatib

Palestinians at the apartheid seperation wall appeal for the event to be cancelled Photo:Haitham Al Khatib

This time last year our television screens were flooded with images of dead and dying Palestinians – the overwhelming majority were civilians, and many were children. It was live on international television – the Israeli military was openly waging war on a trapped civilian population in Gaza, targeting apartment blocks, health clinics, schools, hospitals and UN buildings.

The callousness and brutality of the Israeli war machine’s attack on what is often called the world’s largest prison camp was the fourth in eight years and was undoubtedly the most vicious. It was rightly condemned by people all around the world.

The UN Secretary General, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Red Cross and The International War Crimes Tribunal all accused Israel of varying degrees of violations of international law, war crimes and attempted genocide. In a new UN report Justice Mary McGowan Davis confirmed the validity of the allegations at a press briefing in Geneva earlier this week.

Whilst the bulk of the condemnation was reserved for Israel, the Palestinian government also received a critical sideswipe – presumably for the sake of balance. The figures speak for themselves – 2,251 Palestinians were killed, including 1,462 civilians. On the other side, 73 Israelis died – 67 soldiers and 6 civilians.

One year later and Palestine is no longer the top news item on our TV screens, but the Israeli occupation remains in place. Palestinians are still living in a state of siege and Israel seems more determined than ever to continue its colonization policy by expanding the illegal Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land. The world stands idly by.

Palestinians on by the apartheid wall are appealing for the event to be cancelled Photo:Haitham Al Khatib

A protest under Israeli attack at Bil’in just outside Ramallah  Photo:Haitham Al Khatib

A statement on the Facebook page for the Carey feis event reacting to criticism from both home and abroad defends their event and claims that “Running a feis in Israel does not mean we support or are involved with the Israeli government or any extremist groups in any way shape or form…We are dancing for peace and friendship, not for politics.”

The statement is either extremely naïve or deliberately misleading. It flies in the face of the Irish people’s many years of solidarity with Palestinians and Palestine. Either way, it is a total cop-out. The grassroots international boycott campaign (BDS) against Israel is not just a political issue it is very much a moral one. The BDS campaign has its roots in the non-violent traditions of Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and our own Irish civil rights movement. Like most movements for civil rights it was started by the people on the receiving end of the oppression – in this case the Palestinians themselves.

In a statement issued this week, Jewish Voice for Just Peace (Ireland) called on the Careys and the CRLG to withdraw from the event which they describe as a propaganda tool for the Israeli state.

The Palestinians see the BDS campaign as a non-violent alternative challenging the oppression which confronts them on a daily basis. The campaign is receiving increasing support and it is having a real impact. According to UNCTAD – the UN’s trade and development agency – foreign investment in Israel was almost halved in 2014 – a fact attributed by many to last summer’s assault on Gaza and the growing impact of divestment and boycotts whether they be economical, academic, cultural or political.

Boycotts of individual companies or states that ignore humane or moral standards of behavior have a strong tradition in Ireland. The Irish invented the boycott and we know that boycott campaigns work. It was an international boycott campaign that helped force the South African government to the negotiating table and led to the abolition of apartheid.

The Careys and An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha (CRLG) should rethink their involvement in this amoral support for the Israeli regime. They would be better off adding their names to the long list of prominent Irish artists like Christy Moore, Donal Lunny, Andy Irvine, Damien Dempsey, Liam Ó Maonlaí, Sharon Shannon, and Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill who support the campaign to end Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

The CRLG claims to foster and promote Irish culture worldwide. Breaching the international cultural boycott of Israel is most definitely not the way to do that.

You can sign the petition urging the Carey Academy not to dance in Israel here -#DontDance4Israel.

Protect the Children of Gaza

Two years ago, I travelled to Gaza as part of a Norwegian trade union delegation. We met ordinary people like you and me who want to live in peace. Parents who want the best possible life for their children. Young people who dream of being able to work, travel, meet other young people and experience what the world has to offer.

We met dedicated human rights activists like Mahmoud Hamada, Khalil Zaquot, Reem El Wihaidi and Wedad Naser from Norwegian People’s Aid who work selflessly every day to help others struggling in the most appalling of circumstances.

Reem El Wihaidi (left) and Wedad Naser
Reem El Wihaidi (left) and Wedad Naser (2012) (Photo: Eddie Whyte)

The same evening we arrived in Gaza, two people were killed in an Israeli drone attack. Unfortunately it was nothing unusual. The people of Gaza have been under Israeli occupation since 1967. The latest Israeli offensive is yet another attempt to crush a besieged, civilian population. It is the third such massive onslaught in five years.

Gaza is is one of the world’s most densely populated areas. People live literally on top of one another, building upwards, as there is no room to build outwards hemmed in as they are on all sides.

Nearly 1.8 million people are trapped there surrounded by closed borders in what many call the world’s largest outdoor prison. The vast majority are refugees from Israel’s previous military campaigns of 1948 and 1967 in which the Palestinians were forced from their own lands in what Israeli Professor Ilan Pappe describes as the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

The Israeli blockade is now in its 8th year and denies Gaza’s people all the basic necessities that we all take for granted – food, water, electricity, medical and educational materials – and that was before the recent Israeli attacks.

When the Israelis launch their drones and jet bombers into Gaza airspace they are fully aware that there is no place for Gaza’s civilian population to hide, no place to escape to, no bomb shelters. So far we have almost fifteen hundred dead, almost nine thousand injured and hundreds of thousands forced from their homes.

Our trade union colleague Norwegian Dr Mads Gilbert who recently returned from Gaza has stated publicly that the Israelis are using internationally proscribed weapons in their ongoing offensive. Dense Inert Metal Explosive (DIME) munitions cause deep lacerations, which he has found on the bodies of killed and injured Palestinians.

Children on the beach in Gaza (2012)
Children on the beach in Gaza (2012). (Photo: Eddie Whyte)

An estimated 80% of the dead are civilians, many of them children. Following the horrific murders of four children from the Bakr family on the Gaza seafront, Human Rights Watch called for an international inquiry into the illegal targetting of civilians. It has since degenerated even further into a bloodbath.

This is not a war. It is a military onslaught on an occupied people unable to defend themselves. Gaza has no army, no navy and no airforce.  The average age of the population is sixteen. Israel, one of the worlds most advanced armies and a leading military power is attempting to bomb the world’s largest refugee camp into submission. It stinks of ethnic cleansing and genocide.

How long can the international community sit on the sidelines and watch the continual targeting of a civilian population? The continued Israeli ground invasion will lead to even more innocents being injured and killed. It seems Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is in it for the long haul.

The Israeli Dirty War is part of his political power play where innocent Palestinian civilians are the victims. Netanyahu is under pressure from his own cabinet and party ranks – the one trying to be more hawkish than the other.  Dead Palestinians are mere pawns in their internal power games. They want blood and they want it now.


The demonisation of the Palestinians by public figures in Israel is not widely reported in the international media and yet it is such an essential part of the Israeli political psyche. Recently Ayelet Shaked a parliament member for the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home party called for the slaughter of Palestinian mothers who give birth to “little snakes.”

The attack on Gaza must cease immediately. The civilian population must be given international protection, the Israeli blockade must be lifted, the supply lines to the hospitals opened and the protection of the the civilian population guaranteed. The international community needs to take a stand on the Israeli onslaught on Gaza and the plight of the Palestinians. We need to protect the children of Gaza.

Put Palestine on your Union Agenda and Keep it There


Earlier this year I attended a fringe meeting at the Scottish Trade Union Congress (STUC) about how labor activists can support the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel. The meeting which was organised by Dundee Trades Council and the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign took place just after the STUC had voted to endorse the campaign against G4S, which Norwegian Unions and human rights Groups have also been campaigning for.

 Dundee Trades Council at the STUC Congress  

With Mike Arnott from the Dundee Trades Council at the STUC Congress


I was privileged to be one of the invited speakers at the fringe meeting and spoke about our model of building meaningful solidarity with Palestine.  Norwegian unions have a long tradition of international solidarity and Palestine has been a key area for us. We had been trying for a while to find a way to mobilize more union members on the Palestinian issue. You can read an interview…

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Put Palestine on your Union Agenda and Keep it There

Earlier this year I attended a fringe meeting at the Scottish Trade Union Congress (STUC) about how labor activists can support the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel. The meeting which was organised by Dundee Trades Council and the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign took place just after the STUC had voted to endorse the campaign against G4S, which Norwegian Unions and human rights Groups have also been campaigning for.

 Dundee Trades Council at the STUC Congress  

With Mike Arnott from the Dundee Trades Council at the STUC Congress


I was privileged to be one of the invited speakers at the fringe meeting and spoke about our model of building meaningful solidarity with Palestine.  Norwegian unions have a long tradition of international solidarity and Palestine has been a key area for us. We had been trying for a while to find a way to mobilize more union members on the Palestinian issue. You can read an interview on the pages of Electronic Intifada.

A Gesture of Solidarity

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States is in session as I write. Yesterday the preparatory committee voted in favor of a motion calling for divestment from companies that do business with Israel.

It is a welcome sign that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is gaining increasing momentum. Last time around, the resolution didn’t pass committee level.

Rev. Dr. Walt Davis, Co-Chair of the Israel/Palestine Mission Network, is quoted in the Israeli daily Haaretz, as calling the decision “an encouraging step”, adding that “It’s been a long and thorough process and it’s finally time for the church to stop profiting from the suffering of the peoples of the Holy Land.” A sincere statement that commands our full attention.

The Separation Barriers in Jerusalem

Economic boycotts of individual companies or states that are seen to ignore humane or moral standards of behavior have a strong, if controversial, tradition in Norway. Earlier this year Norwegian retail chain VITA stopped all sales of Ahava products which originate from illegal Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine.

Their decision echoes the words of Dr. Davis and came after a period of active lobbying from Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) and the 320,000 member strong Norwegian Union of Municipal and General Employees (NUMGE).  Human rights activists in Norway have also focused on Ahava and a new campaign has been launched aimed at convincing other stores to follow.

Only three weeks ago Norway’s finance ministry excluded Shikun & Binui from its Government Pension Fund (GPFG), citing the company’s role in the construction of illegal Israeli colonies in East Jerusalem as the reason.

The campaign to boycott, disinvest and sanction is not merely a political issue it is very much a moral one. It is a weapon in the nonviolent tradition of Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and the Irish civil rights movement I grew up with in Belfast.

The BDS movement was started by the people on the receiving end of the oppression that is being challenged – the Palestinians themselves. They see it as a non-violent alternative to challenging  the oppression which confronts them on a daily basis.

Almost forty years have passed since Israel’s illegal, forced military occupation of Palestinian lands. The Israeli state is presently in the process of unilaterally annexing occupied East Jerusalem and large parts of the West Bank by means of the so called Separation Barrier.

A majority of Palestinians are stateless refugees and Israel’s entrenched system of racial discrimination against its own Arab-Palestinian citizens remains intact. The similarities to the racial bantustans of the South African apartheid regime are there for all to see.

Segregation and Apartheid
Whilst in Palestine, in June, our delegation met with the Palestinian Non-Governmental Organisations Network (PNGO), representing over 130 independent, non-governmental organisastions.

They were clear in their support for an economic boycott as a non-violent means of opposition. Their representatives reflected an attitude that was prevalent and resurfaced at various meetings with our project partners.

Representatives from the PNGO in Gaza

Amjad Y. Shawa and Monem Rmadan from the PNGO in Gaza at the June Meeting

“We are suffering injustice, oppression and state violence. Someone is making money out of it. That cannot be right.”


The final vote at the General Assembly of the US Presbyterian Church is expected later this week. We wish the delegates well in their deliberations and hope you will join us in extending  the General Assembly’s international  solidarity to the Palestinian people. Your support counts.

Risking Their Lives Daily

Fagforbundets Ambassador Corps visited Palestine at the beginning of June. During our first two days in Gaza, Israeli airstrikes and an artillery attack killed three people and injured eight. Nine houses, a poultry farm, a dairy factory and a carpentry shop were destroyed in the attacks. The Israeli Occupation Force (IOF) claimed it was targeting weapons factories following a border clash in which a Palestinian and an Israeli died in an exchange of gunfire. The owner of the dairy is now calling for an international inquiry and demanding an explanation as to why his livelihood was destroyed in what is often described as Israel’s economic war.

The wounded at Khan Younis, after an Israeli missile-strike June, 2012. (Reuters/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)

On the same day we arrived in Palestine, Israeli naval vessels opened fire on Palestinian fishing boats off the northern coast of  Gaza. The fishermen fled, heading immediately back to land. There were no casualties or injuries that day but neither was there any fish caught and families again went hungry.

Two days later we met with the fishermen’s syndicate at Rafah to hear more about their situation. It was a humbling experience. We had decided to meet on the beach which provides a base for some of the 500 small boats that make up part of the 700 strong Palestinian fishing fleet.

One of the many small fishing boats

One of the many small fishing boats

We had an appointment with Jamal Basala, the Vice President of the fishermen’s syndicate in Rafah, and Samir Alnahhal, project worker with the support group Palestinian Environmental Friends. As soon as we arrived we were surrounded by enthusiastic people – young and old – thankful for our visit and keen to tell us their story.

Jamal Basala pulled no punches: “The Israelis want to kill our independence by destroying our livelihood and making us dependent on them. We have the right to work and to feed our families.”  He is clearly agitated and asks us to tell people back home that lack of food is not a humanitarian problem in Gaza. “It is a political problem and it needs a political solution. The international ommunity needs to get involved. We are being denied the right to make a living and support our families the way we have done for generations. We do not need charity, we can support ourselves. Just give us back our rights!”

From left to right: Eddie Whyte, Jamal Basala and Samir Alnahhal

Basala’s family have been fishing for generations. He started at the age of 15 and has two brothers and six sons all trying to make a living under very difficult circumstances. His anger is aroused by the injustice of the Israeli military and naval blockade which ensures that Gaza is sealed in on all four sides. Thousands of people in Gaza depend on the fishing industry to survive and yet they are denied access to the sea.

The Oslo Agreement defined the Palestinian fishing zone as twenty nautical miles from shore. The Israelis have unilaterally decided that this is no longer valid and the zone has been reduced several times to its present three miles. Basala is equally worried about the environmental effects of the naval blockade, pointing out that they are forced into over-fishing the breeding grounds.  It is clearly not sustainable.

“Israeli gunboats are on patrol 24 hours a day seven days a week.  We are under constant threat. The Israelis can open fire, destroy our nets and boats, or force us back to shore,” he says. “They even use helicopters.”

The Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem has been vocal in their criticism of the naval blockade. It is common practice for Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF)  to open fire on the fishermen, confiscate their nets and attack their boats. The IOF operate in violation  of Israel’s legal obligations as an occupying power under international law and they operate in violation of the fishing community’s right to earn a living and support their families. There are regular reports of the same forces harassing Palestinian boats even within the three mile limit unilaterally imposed by Israel. Recently documentary maker and activist Harry Fear documented just such an incursion on film.

There are 4,400 fishermen providing a source of living for almost 70,000 people. Three quarters of the fishermen are affiliated to the syndicate. During an 18 month period in 2009 and 2010, the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights documented  53 Israeli attacks on fishing boats leading to 2 dead, 7 injured and 42 arrested. Most of the arrested were subject to ill treatment. 17 fishing boats were confiscated and destroyed during the same period.

Mending nets on Rafah beach

Increased aggression from the Israeli Occupation Forces has led to 90% poverty rates among fishing families. Palestinian fishermen are risking their lives on a daily basis to support their families. It is all part of the Israeli economic war on Palestine. While it is being waged, the international community stands idly by. A collective punishment is being imposed on Palestinians in clear violation of Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law.

Calls for an international boycott of Israel are gaining increasing momentum in Norway. As trade unionists we are committed to doing our part.

You can read more about the issues affecting Palestinian fishermen at the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights

Pressure Mounts Over Blockade

One week after the return of Fagforbundets Ambassador Corps from Palestine, Norways largest union with over 328,000 members,  joined fifty international charities and United Nations Agencies in calling for the lifting of the illegal blockade of Gaza. The organizations have published a simple three line statement to mark the fifth anniversary of the enforcement of the blockade.

For over five years in Gaza, more than 1.6 million people have been under blockade in violation of international law. More than half of these people are children. We the undersigned say with one voice: End the blockade now!

The government of Israel is facing increasing international criticism for the Gaza blockade and this unanimous statement from some of the most world’s most respected international organizations is likely to increase pressure for the blockade to be lifted.

You can read more here.

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