Solidarity

with the people of Palestine by Eddie Whyte

New Trade Union Network for Palestine

Recently over 100 trade union delegates, representing twenty nine unions and three million members from all over Europe, gathered in a historic first meeting in Brussels to challenge European governments’ complicity with Israel and establish a cross European platform in solidarity with the people of Palestine.

Israel’s blatant disregard for international law is well documented. Perhaps less well known, is its co-operation agreement with the European Union providing it with access to trade and allowing more participation in EU programs and projects than any other non-European country.

The European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine (ECCP) has recorded that whilst the Israeli government contributed €535 million to the EU’s research programs over a 6 year period, Israeli firms and institutions actually received even more funding in return –  €840 million worth. Israel is expected to benefit similarly from the new Horizon 2020 research funding program unless the repeated appeals from the international Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) Movement are heeded.

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The very existence of this 16 year old Agreement is all the more remarkable given that Article 2 emphasises that it is based on a “mutual respect for human rights and democratic principles”(!) Not something one immediately associates with a state which continues to illegally occupy Palestinian land in contravention of international law and in defiance of countless statements of condemnation from international governments and organizations, including many from the EU itself.

The two day long trade union gathering heard calls for an end to the occupation of Palestine and the repeal of the much criticized agreement, seen by many as a legitimization of the illegal occupation in contravention of international law and UN Conventions.

The new initiative has been taken by a cross-European group of trade union organisations intent on developing a network strengthening ties between workers organisations in Europe whilst also reaching out to all sections of the Palestinian trade union movement. Indeed the PGFTU, the Arab Workers Union band the New Unions were all active participants in the discussions.

The campaign focus is on raising awareness on their respective governments’ complicity in Israeli human rights abuses and war crimes, and the culpability of corporations that support and benefit economically from the illegal occupation.

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The organising committee’s scathing criticism of the EU accuses it of failing to hold Israel accountable for its grave violations of international law, failing to address the illegality of the occupation of Palestine, failing to tackle the rampant discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel and numerous human rights abuses – including the denial of the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homelands as adopted by the UN in resolution 194, almost a full seventy years ago.

The formation of this network is a major breakthrough for solidarity work within the European trade union movement, which has been consistent in its call for a just solution for the Palestinian people.

The EU has previously had no hesitation in applying various forms of sanctions against Russia when it annexed Ukrainian territory and has acted similarly towards about forty other states at various times over recent years. The shameful double standards being applied in the Israeli case are unacceptable and are interpreted by many as tacit support for Israel’s continued violations of international law.

Under massive international pressure, the EU ruled in 2015 that products from the illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, should be clearly labelled as such. This month, almost a full year later, France became the third member state, after the UK and Belgium to enforce the decision.

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Delegates supporting the establishment of a new trade union network

Ironically, the original ruling led to the Netanyahu government threatening to boycott co-operation with the EU whilst The Independent reported an Israeli minister calling the decision “disguised anti-Semitism” – the usual red herring reserved for censoring open debate on Israel’s brutal occupation policies.

The same news report refers to European diplomats admitting “in private that the strength of the Israeli response made many member states wary of issuing their own specific guidelines.” The Israeli propaganda machines concerted efforts to stamp anything and anyone critical of their government policies as antisemites is clearly bearing fruit in some circles. Indeed, one of the issues raised at the Brussels meeting was the need to effectively challenge the misleading campaign by the Israeli government to redefine antisemitism to suit its own distorted political agenda.

However, the French government has now joined the ranke og major European nations that have broken through that self-imposed barrier and the remaining European governments should immediately follow suit. The European trade union movement will be doing their utmost to ensure that this happens sooner rather than later.

The global BDS movement has been under increasing attack from the Israeli propaganda machine in the last year and yet 2016 has heralded a series of major victories for human rights in Palestine. Prominent multinational companies such as Orange, CRH and G4S have followed Veolia’s lead in withdrawing their business from projects that infringe on Palestinian rights.

Also this year, an increasing number of European municipalities or city councils in countries as diverse as Norway, Spain and Ireland have declared their opposition to the Israeli occupation whilst major churches in the US have been divesting from Israeli banks and international companies who support the occupation.

The BDS Movement is expanding and its round up for 2016 points to major successes for the right to boycott Israel in support of Palestinian rights under international law from the European Union, the governments of Sweden, Netherlands and Ireland, as well as from Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union and the International Federation of Human Rights, as well as “hundreds of political parties, trade unions and social movements across the globe”.

Another major victory came in March of this year when the UN Human Rights Council, voted to create a database of Israeli and international corporations that are complicit in and profiting from Israel’s occupation – a development that will expose even further business interests who are complicit in Israel’s numerous and continuous violations of international law.

This latest coordinated trade union mobilisation in Brussels in support of the Palestinian people is certain to exert even more pressure on European governments to fulfil their moral and legal duty to ensure an end to Israel’s illegal occupation and the denial of Palestinian rights.

At the conference in Brussels, an appeal was issued to more trade unions to get involved – if your union is interested in affiliating to the campaign please contact the organizers here.

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The following unions are already affiliated to the network:

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), Fagforbundet (Norway), Union Syndicale Solidaires (France), La Centrale Générale-FGTB (Belgium), ACV/CSC Brussels (Belgium), UNISON (UK), The Norwegian Trade Union Federation LO in Trondheim, (Norway) Unison N. Ireland Region (Ireland), Derry Trades Union Council (Ireland), Belfast&District Trades Union Council (Ireland), Workmates – trade union section of Norwegian Palestine Committee (Norway), Trade Union Friends of Palestine (Ireland), Communications Workers Union (Ireland), Confederacion Intersindical Galega (Spain), Mandate Trade Union (Ireland), ELABasque Workers Solidarity (Euskadi), IRW-CGSP (Belgium), LBC-NVK (Belgium), Palestinawerkgroep-FNV (The Netherlands), CNE (Belgium), IAC (Spain), Civil Public and Services Union – CPSU (Ireland), Intersindical Valenciana (Spain), Irish National Teachers’ Organisation – Branches: Derry City, Newry, Dungannon, Armagh, Belfast West (Ireland), The Palestine Committee of Norway, Union section (Union of railway workers), IMPACT (Ireland), CGT France – 66, The Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance (NIPSA).

Palestine’s Forgotten Refugees

The week after our delegation from Fagforbundet and Norwegian People’s Aid arrived home from Beirut, Lebanon finally got a new President – after a full two years of negotiations. Lebanon is a politically complicated society dependent on a division of power between the three major religious groups – Christians, Sunni and Shia Muslims. The necessary compromises can often take time.

The religious-political situation in the country has its roots in the imperialism of the First World War, the colonial politics of European superpowers and, not least, the relationship to Israeli neighbours further south. There has been a significant presence of Palestinian refugees since 1948 when nearly one million people were forced to flee what the Israeli scholar Ilan Pappé has called the ethnic cleansing of Palestine – the establishment of the state of Israel.

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An artist’s  portrayal of the forced scattering of Palestinans all over the world

Almost seventy years later in 2016, Lebanon is the country with most refugees per capita in the world. Nearly one-third of a total of six million inhabitants are displaced people or refugees. Over a million of the “new” refugees fled Syria after the war broke out in 2011, and before Lebanon’s Minister of Social Affairs closed the border declaring that the country was on the brink of political and economic collapse.

Among the newly arrived victims of the war are tens of thousands of the half a million Palestinians who have been living in Syria since their families were forced to flee from their original homeland by the Israeli war machine. Having lived in Syria for several generations, many of the Palestinians had become well integrated, gaining some basic economic and social rights but without achieving what would be called full civil or political equality.

Those hard earned rights disappeared when they were forced to cross the border into Lebanon. Lebanon is not Syria. The sectarian division of power is to be maintained at all costs, and citizens rights for Palestinians – who are mainly Sunni Muslim – are seen as a threat to the fragile political status quo.

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Ibrahim Shawaheen and Family at Rashidieh Camp. Foto: Geirmund Jor

The situation for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon is nothings short of shameful. They have few rights as such and are openly discriminated against, especially in the labor market and housing. They have no automatic access to public schools and health care, have no voting rights, no right to own property, no right to citizenship and are barred from many professions.

Palestinian refugees do not fall under the remit of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). They “belong” rather to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) which was created in 1949, one year before the UNHCR. UNRWA was originally intended to be a temporary measure, but now, almost seventy years later, Palestinians are still in the same refugee camps and, even more worrying, totally dependent on the international goodwill of a few nations. UNRWA does not receive regular funding through the United Nations – it is dependent on annual allocations from so-called donor countries, who contribute on a voluntary basis.

The new wave of refugees from the war in Syria has put heavy pressure on Lebanon’s limited public services and has been further exacerbated by the inaction of the world community. A decline in international assistance to Lebanon in 2015 has meant that non-governmental aid agencies have been forced to cut back on relief efforts, whilst UNRWA in particular finds itself in a very difficult situation.

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Gwyn Lewis from UNRWA paints a rather grim picture (Photo: Ingunn Eriksen)

Gwyn Lewis is a native of Dublin and a representative for UNRWA in Lebanon. She  recently took over the role after several years in Gaza and the West Bank and admits she was shaken by the conditions of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

Sitting in her office, behind the security walls of UNWRAs headquarters in Beirut, she is open and honest about concerns for the future. UNRWA faces enormous challenges when it comes to covering Palestinian refugees’ basic needs. She paints a rather grim picture of reality and her emotion and commitment are evident when she says that the organization’s financial crisis is putting refugees lives at risk.

Families are not receiving enough aid to make ends meet and essential services such as health programs, emergency relief, social services and sanitation in the 12 UNRWA camps are about to collapse. The sanitation system in the camps is in a destitute state. The garbage trucks cannot be repaired and yet there are no funds to replace them. The health risk is increasing almost daily.

UNRWA is facing a financial crisis at a time when the area is reeling under the effects of multiple armed conflicts and a massive displacement of people on a scale not seen since the Second World War. The demands now being made on the organization charged by the international community with the welfare and human development of Palestinian refugees have increased dramatically. Indeed, the situation for 5.3 million Palestinian refugees in the Middle East is in many ways worse than at any time since 1948.

The Norwegian government must unfortunately be included among the culprits responsible for this untenable situation. Previously one of UNWRA’s main partners, with a prominent role among donor countries, the situation changed dramatically when Conservatives and the rightwing Progress Party formed a new coalition government in 2013. Since then the Norwegian contribution to humanitarian aid abroad has been reduced dramatically by the same government that prides itself on having Europe’s toughest asylum and immigration laws.

Our current government seems content to accept yet another generation of Palestinians growing up in the horrendous conditions of the cramped refugee camps of Jordan, Syria and Lebanon and Palestine. For those of us who are Norway-based, it gives us yet another incentive to support the campaign for a new government in the national elections due to take place in September next year.

We need political leaders in Norway who will re-establish the policy of international solidarity that until recently has been the hallmark of Norwegian foreign policy. And we need the political leaders in the world community to step up and take responsibility for ensuring a just solution for Palestine and its people. Palestinian refugees have been forgotten for far too long.

Solidarity in Brussels

This weekend over one hundred trade union delegates, representing twenty nine unions and three million members from all over Europe, are gathering in Brussels in a show of solidarity with the people of Palestine.

It is a historic first meeting aimed at building a cross European platform for trade unionists calling for an end to the occupation of Palestine and challenging European complicity with the Israeli government’s continued violations of international law.

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Scottish Trade Unionists at Congress

The two day seminar will discuss concrete steps to strengthen ties between European and Palestinian workers unions and the establishment of a campaign highlighting  corporate complicity in the illegal occupation, including the controversial Association Agreement between the European Union and Israel.

The international trade union mobilization echoes previous calls from MEPs and human rights organizations for the suspension of the much criticized agreement, seen by many as a legitimization of the illegal occupation of Palestine in contravention of International Law and UN Conventions.

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Irish Solidarity with Palestine

The international trade unionists are also inviting people to express their solidarity with the Palestinian people at the steps of La Bourse, in Brussels city Centre on Friday the 18th of November at 17:00. Are you in Brussels? See you there?

 

 

Time to Return to Palestine

“Have you been to Nablus yet?” she asked. “I am from there myself but I have never been. One day, I will go there, Inshallah.” Tania Naboulsi is a 30 year old voluntary youth worker in the Beddawi Camp for Palestinian refugees in Tripoli, the second largest city in Lebanon. Nablus is just a few hours drive away in the (Israeli) occupied West Bank in Palestine.  The devotion of younger Palestinians and their sense of belonging to towns, villages and indeed a country they have never been to, is perhaps the strongest trait of the Palestinian national character.

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The Right to Return 

The ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 and the Israeli war of attrition in 1967 has resulted in over five million Palestinian refugees, many of whom live enclosed in cramped refugee camps in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Occupied Palestine. A staggering seven decades after being forced off their land, they are still confined and in exile with no solution in sight. As the world looks on in cold indifference, the Israeli government continues to deny displaced Palestinians the right to return to their hometowns that was originally enshrined in the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194. The resolution has never been acted upon – much to the shame of the United Nations and the international community that approved it.

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Beddawi Camp 

The Beddawi camp sprang up around the port of Tripoli in 1955 a few years after the first major wave of ethnic cleansing of Palestinians that led to the foundation of the state of Israel. It is one of 12 camps in Lebanon alone where almost half a million Palestinians live in dire conditions and without basic human rights.  Palestinian refugees, even those who are born in Lebanon, have no voting rights, no right to own property and are prohibited from employment in many areas – even if they are qualified for the positions available – and no right to Lebanese citizenship.

With the return home to Palestine being barred by Israeli aggression, the possible integration into the host society is made unworkable by the enforced restrictions that discriminate against them in Lebanon. Several generations after being forced to flee their homes they are still in exile and future prospects look bleak without a major international intervention.

Tania Naboulsi represents the new generation of Palestinians intent on generating hope in the most difficult of circumstances. She is an ardent member of the youth group in the Beddawi camp, the Palestinian Arabic Cultural Club (PACC) and uses her wall art to promote Palestinian unity. She is intelligent, articulate and clearly has a burning love for her people and her country.

“Art has always been used in the struggle for the Palestinian cause”, she says. “Tamam Al-Akhal would use the hairs of her head to paint because she had no money to buy brushes. Creative art gives us the opportunity to portray our Palestine – the people, the land, the trees and the seas. It is in our soul and our blood. Palestine is everything to us.”

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Tania Naboulsi at Work 

The PACC currently organizes youth projects in three camps and aims to expand to all twelve in Lebanon. They believe in the empowerment of youth and are working for a caring society based on equality, regularly collecting and distributing food for people struggling to make ends meet. They coordinate training courses for young people making them aware of their rights and challenging the camp’s bureaucratic steering committees to think anew – they want more youth representation and more women on the committees. In a situation dominated by a history of hopelessness, it is not difficult to feel inspired by their vision of the new world.

When asked about her own personal vision of the future Tania replies straightaway that she would like to be a better artist but, more than that, a better person. She has a disability as a result of a childhood illness and poor medical treatment that led to one leg being shorter than the other. She is determined that it will not hinder her work. “My main focus is for the world to recognize Palestinian rights. Our work gives our young people hope and that is something everyone needs given the conditions here in Lebanon. Everything we do is for Palestine and its people. God willing, I will also soon be able to climb more scaffolds and paint more murals. I want to be an example to our young Palestinians. We must never give up the struggle. I want people to look beyond my disability and see me as Tania the artist.”

Her appeal to the world community is straightforward and full of expectancy. “If you believe in human rights and especially the rights of women and children, then you need to take a stand for us Palestinians.  Please open your eyes to the truth and what is really happening in Palestine. Look at who is being oppressed and who is doing the oppressing. Help our people to get their rights. The right to return needs to be more than just words on paper and it has to happen – sooner rather than later. “

“One day we will all go home to Palestine. Everyone will go to his village or city. I’m going first to my Mother’s and Grandmother’s village – Tantoura in Haifa and after that to Nablus – my city.”

I wish Tania well on her journey.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Solidarity

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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