The people of Ireland are hugely sympathetic to the people of Palestine! There you go my bid of understatement of the year is well and truly lodged.
Like most people, I have watched incredible and horrific scenes of Palestinian people losing their homes, jobs and relatives as they face a pounding from one of the most advanced military forces in the world. Likewise, I have watched images of Israeli’s running for shelter as rockets fly in from Hamas. While there is no question that the people of the Gaza strip have suffered the most, I wonder is our own contribution of viewing the situation in such black and white terms providing any useful insight to this debate.
I grew up in relative ignorance about the Israel/Palestine conflict, it was a situation that I never had register any opinion about, until one day in Stormont an MLA asked me to write a speech on Israel’s blockade against Gaza in mid-2010. As I tried to get the blank look off my face (why the hell was he asking me), the words ‘no problem’ came flying out of my mouth. While at the time I thought approaching a situation like this with a blank sheet of paper was a hindrance, looking back it was actually a real strength.
After being given the task, I ran off looking for materials to read and devoured reports issued by Amnesty International and the United Nations. Most people in any conflict situation (ours included) like to identify a good guy and a bad guy. Yet, the more I read, the more nuanced I realised the entire Middle East conflict is. On the Palestinian side the desire for a prosperous and viable homeland is a legitimate request that should be honoured by Israel and supported by the international community. Then Israel has legitimate security concerns, it is surrounded by countries who have tried to attack it and is one of the few states in the world where the leader of another sovereign state has vowed to wipe it off the map and denied that the holocaust even happened. I know there are questions about how long can you carry around the baggage of events that happened 60 years ago, but Christ, in 2014, we are still obsessed with events that happened nearly a century ago.
These shades of difference made me realise that like our own conflict there are no absolute rights or wrongs. Both states deserve to live in peace and security and while there are a lot of issues that are murky, I know championing the superiority of one side over another won’t achieve any stable peace. Both sides have legitimate grievances that need to be addressed and it will require leaders from both sides to raise their heads above the parapet and take some risks. Listening to hardliners like Hamas and far right parties in Israel will not achieve anything. In our own situation we had leaders who had used violence in the past who were prepared to tell their followers that the war was over and likewise, we had two governments prepared to make concessions that made that process easier.
What is going on in Gaza is indicative of the tragic failure of leadership that exists within Israel at the moment. Security and peace can only be achieved through a viable Palestinian state that gives its people a more attractive future than becoming a suicide bomber. In addition to this, imagine if the resources that Israel currently commits to defence could be reduced and used to improve the lives of its own people and their Palestinian neighbours.
This is all a bit of a muddle, but the situation in the Middle East is not a Cowboy and Indian film with a good guy v bad guys and an eventual winner at the end. The only proper solution is two sides living beside one another without the threat of violence. We have largely achieved that in Northern Ireland by recognising differences and making some compromises. The solution to the current trouble in Gaza lies in political leaders in that part of the world doing the same thing.