Dear Gaza, please ignore us, we have so little to teach you…

AFTER hearing Jeffrey Donaldson on Talkback and Nelson McCausland on Stormont Live, I couldn’t help but feel that – while they have a point – the two were perhaps not best placed to criticise Saturday’s rally for a ceasefire in Gaza. Both have described as hypocritical the attendance of former terrorists who attended the Belfast rally, yet both have attended unionist rallies where loyalist terrorists were present. Unionist politicians have generally had no problems associating with paramilitaries at anti-Agreement, Drumcree, Ulster Says No and countless other rallies. So who’s the hypocrite? Nonetheless, there still seemed to be a gulf between the voices on the platform on Saturday, and the most vocal members of the assembled crowd. For a start, some of those at the rally clearly did not support a ceasefire at all.The Jerusalem Post , perhaps with DUP assistance, was quick to pick up on the fact that Brighton bomber Patrick Magee and ETA bomber Juan Ignacio de Juana Chaos took part in the rally. They could also have named Old Bailey bomber Gerry Kelly, but perhaps one Assembly junior minister informing on the other would have been too politically embarrassing even for Jeffrey.

And there were others in the 57 varieties of republicanism the JP could have mentioned, from unionist bete noir Bobby Storey, the former IRA intelligence chief and current Belfast Sinn Fein chairman, who appeared to be wearing an ill-fitting tea towel round his shoulders on Saturday, right through to far-left republicans who actually know how to wear their keffiyeh.

But as Donaldson well knows, you can’t keep terrorists – former or current, loyalist or republican, dissident or maintream, repentant or unreformed – away from public rallies in public spaces.

In a democracy, or what passes for democracy here, it’s a tad rich for unionists to complain about anyone exercising their civil right to walk the Queen’s highway.

It’s simply an argument that doesn’t stand up.

Yet there did still seem to be a certain awkward disconnection between the calls for peace from reaonsable voices on the platform and the most vocal demonstrtors in the crowd. The SWP loudhailer blared out ‘Victory to the intifada’ and – as recounted with such glee by Nelson – ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’. And the gentleman standing with the Republican Network for Unity (surely a misnomer given the number of republican groups present) with the Hezbollah flag depicting an AK47… was he more interested in a ceasefire, or more violence?

There were other moments where the actions of a minority of protesters seemed to jar with the organisers’ message of peace. As noted by Mark in his excellent blog post, after the burning of the Israeli flag, one woman voiced her disgust, and tore it from the railings of City Hall. When I saw her later, she was holding a Sinn Fein placard, which pleasantly confounded my expectations (or perhaps prejudice).

Earlier in Castle Court mall, Mark and I witnessed and recorded the eirigi protesters dumping hundreds of leaflets over an Israeli stall from the balcony. While pretty harmless in the physical sense, I wonder if the direct action wasn’t counterproductive. The stall was trading again shortly afterwards. The workers’ voices in the background of the video I took didn’t sound sympathetic to the calls for a boycott of Israeli goods, nor did many on Talkback who witnessed the action in Marks & Spencer.

While I wouldn’t go so far as to say the rally was hijacked by a minority, I think it’s fair to say the message of those who attracted my attention most on Saturday seemed out of kilter with the views of the platform party.

And while Protestant ministers addressed the crowd, there did not appear to be any unionist groups represented in the march to City Hall or unionist politicians present, although I’m certain there were individual unionists present. Perhaps they could comment below on how they felt the rally went.

In the wake of the rally, editorials have appeared in the Press calling for the lessons from Northern Ireland to be applied to the Middle East. Sinn Fein politicians called for a Stormont debate (denied by the DUP Speaker) and held a protest/photocall (criticised by the DUP) at Stormont, where Gerry Adams appealed for dialogue. The Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre subsequently issued a statement reminding us of David Trimble’s words that “If there is one lesson to learn from the Northern Ireland experience it is that preconditions are crucial in ending violence and producing a settlement.” And Israeli director of Friends of the Earth Middle East, Gidon Bromberg, has called for funding for grassroots peace-building initiatives, as opposed to an elite, leadership-driven Middle East peace process.

The peace process was so morally and politically ambiguous, you can draw whatever lesson you like from Northern Ireland. It’s a practically meaningless exercise these days.

But given the level of political maturity in Northern Ireland – ably demonstrated by the DUP/SF partners in government fighting a phoney PR proxy war – perhaps the best thing the Middle East could do is ignore us and find its own way. But that starts with a ceasefire, not an escalation in violence.

  • Democratic

    Judging by what I seen in town on Saturday – this was no anti-war rally by any stretch of the imagination outside of a few sensible platform speakers. It was in fact what could only kindly be called a Ireland/Palestine political solidarity march. There seem to be few Nationalists here able to tell the glaring difference between the two. Not something that would interest Unionists and whether you feel it makes them hypocrites or not the presence of so many infamous militant Republicans and their entourages is a big turn off…..not the first time I have left a City Hall gathering for the same reasons. The Castlecourt / M&S;debacle was a disgrace and guaranteed to win the “cause” no further converts either…

  • Kathleen

    While pretty harmless in the physical sense

    Was it Gonzo. I was in there yesterday wanting to see if the staff would have liked a right of reply. They want out of the media, my impression is they asked for none of this. I spoke to the mall manager who was there. I heard they’re reassuring the people on the stall, and that the security will be keeping an eye. Young people, not from here who must have felt intimidated beyond belief.

    That wasn’t a harmless protest. I would have blogged about it, only they want it out of the media. Sounded to me, like they just want to keep their heads down.

    Call the protest what ever you like, it wasn’t harmless….

  • I agree with Kathleen about the ‘direct action’ – not only not harmless but also politically crass:

    http://southbelfastdiary.blogspot.com/2009/01/to-march-or-not-to-march.html

  • Mark McGregor

    Gonzo,

    Just a note on the woman who removed the burnt Israeli flag. Indeed she was later holding a SF placard she had picked up off the street but she had written her own message on it and her child was waving it about ‘Stop the rockets’.

    Wouldn’t want people thinking she was a SF supporter when she clearly wasn’t.

  • Greenflag

    The Israelis have now killed almost 1,000 Palestinians in three weeks . At this rate they should manage to kill 17,333 Palestinians a year which if maintained for 40 years would total 693,320. Obviously still not enough to ‘solve’ the Palestinian problem.

    Still you have to hand it to the Israelis – In 3 weeks they’ve managed to kill a quarter of the number killed in NI in 35 years , and I believe an even higher total for children and civilians then the Norn Iron ‘merchants ‘ of death .

    ‘perhaps the best thing the Middle East could do is ignore us and find its own way.

    Unfortunately given the history of the place finding their own way will mean eternal war or a lack of peace if you will .

    Northern Ireland’s present fragile peace would never have been achieved without outside pressure and support from the British , Irish and American Governments .

    Was’nt Tony Blair supposed to be some kind of ‘envoy’ for Middle East peace ?

  • Jimmy Sands

    For the life of me I can’t see why the provos believe their presence on a peace demo actually helps the cause.

  • LURIG

    You can predict what Unionists are going to say about Palestine before they speak. Many are busting a gut to shout “if only the British Army had been allowed to pulverise the Fenians like that……Ulster would be a lovely wee place”. You know it’s just on the tip of their tongues. It’s no wonder Unionists feel a kinship with the right wing Zionists. BOTH stole lands from the native people and used violence to ensure the existence and survival of the two illegal states. The United Nations War Crimes Tribunals MUST now cite Israel for it’s humanitarian abuses and indiscriminate murder of innocent people. There must be a list of Israeli political & military figures who should be arrested on sight and sent to the Hague for trial. Until this happens the UN will be guilty of duplicitous hypocrisy and double standards. They went after Milosevic and Kharadic in Serbia and Liberian War Criminals and the Israelis must now also pay the price. Israel deliberately targeted a UN school and is targeting Arab media outlets in Gaza. There should also be a widescale boycott of all Isreali goods and services on the same scale as South Africa.

  • heck
  • Petr Tarasov

    “You can predict what Unionists are going to say about Palestine before they speak. Many are busting a gut to shout “if only the British Army had been allowed to pulverise the Fenians like that……Ulster would be a lovely wee place”.”

    Lurig, that’s exactly what Mr. Vance has been trumpeting over at the ATW hate site.

    When confronted with the fact that the current Israeli masssacres will act as the best Hamas recruitment officer of all, he replied that he hoped this would be the case, so that they could go on slaughtering Palestinians ad-infinitum.

    Strange how a man who lives in N. Ireland despises the period of relative peace since the ceasfire and yearns for a return to the 70’s/80’s/

  • RepublicanStones

    ATW is the twilight zone Petr me ‘aul flower 😉

  • Petr Tarasov

    Well the site owner is either a troll, or one very disturbed individual. 🙂

  • Democratic

    “It’s no wonder Unionists feel a kinship with the right wing Zionists. BOTH stole lands from the native people and used violence to ensure the existence and survival of the two illegal states.”

    Never stole land or used violence to ensure the existence of anything in my life my friend. Hope you aren’t lining me up for trial at the Hague too….

    Anyway perhaps a comment on the topic at hand from yourself?…The “anti-war” rally or are you just using the Palestine conflict for a cheap jibe at Unionists….you wouldn’t be the first on here…….

  • Democratic

    BTW: In whose eyes are Northern Ireland and Israel “illegal states” Lurig?
    Yours obviously I assume…but anyone with any legal standing?

  • ulsterfan

    McCausland did mention some people who attended the protest march but his main criticism was that the Organisers did not protest at earlier events when hundreds of rockets were fired by Hamas into civilian populated areas killing Jewish women and children.
    I wonder why they kept quiet about this and did not lead a protest down Royal Avenue to the City Hall.
    The idea of justice or the lack of it only became apparent when Hamas was on the receiving end of Israeli retribution.

  • runciter

    his main criticism was that the Organisers did not protest at earlier events when hundreds of rockets were fired by Hamas

    The UK and EU governments support Israel. They do not support Hamas.

    Hamas was on the receiving end of Israeli retribution

    Retribution for what? Hamas kept to the most recent ceasefire before Israel broke it in November.

  • Mayoman

    Ulsterfan: so you believe Israel is indulging in ‘retribution’? Some people here have claimed that Israel is acting like the Nazis. It seems they have a point when you look at the Geneva convention’s attitude towards the killing of civilians as ‘retribution’. I presume you will agree that, as you state, Israel is dishing out retribution, they have committed war crimes and should be held accountable?

    Article 33. No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited. Pillage is prohibited.
    Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited.

    Under the 1949 Geneva Conventions collective punishments are a war crime. Article 33 states: “No protected person may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed,” and “collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.“

    “By collective punishment, the drafters of the Geneva Conventions had in mind the reprisal killings of World Wars I and II. In the First World War, Germans executed Belgian villagers in mass retribution for resistance activity. In World War II, Nazis carried out a form of collective punishment to suppress resistance. Entire villages or towns or districts were held responsible for any resistance activity that took place there. The conventions, to counter this, reiterated the principle of individual responsibility. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Commentary to the conventions states that parties to a conflict often would resort to “intimidatory measures to terrorize the population” in hopes of preventing hostile acts, but such practices “strike at guilty and innocent alike. They are opposed to all principles based on humanity and justice.””

    http://liberty.blogs.bftf.org/the-fourth-geneva-convention/

  • ulsterfan

    Mayo

    Israel is acing in self defence and is perfectly right to do so.
    Call their actions by any name you like such as defence, revenge,or reappraisal it does not matter.
    Hamas has openly said it intends to destroy the State of Israel and why then are we surprised if we find Israelis determined to defeat them.
    Do you think for one moment Israel is interested in the Geneva Convention when dealing with Hamas.
    Does this convention apply as Hamas is not competent to declare war?
    Sixty years ago Israel and the rest of the world learned an important lesson.
    The survival of the Jews in the middle east is the responsibility of Israel and Israel alone.
    If other nations USA and GB wish to help well and good.
    If help is not forthcoming the Israelis will do the job themselves regardless of what the rest of the world may think.
    In view of their history in Europe I will defend their right to do so.
    Instead of criticising them we must do all we can to find a resolution to the problem which is defined as Palestinian self determination and resolve the issue of loss of land.
    This is a global problem capable of resolution.

  • 6countyprod

    Dear Gaza, please ignore us, we have so little to teach you…

    I completely disagreed with that statement. The most fundamental thing that the people of Gaza can learn from NI is that terrorism does not pay. It only destroys people`s lives.

    Hamas can learn from SF/IRA that political solutions are possible. The Israelis, the US and Fatah have all agreed to a two-state solution. Problem is, Hamas does not want a resolution to the problem. It does not want peace. It wants death and destruction for Israelis and they don`t care how many Palestinians die in the process. Hamas is a cancer. It needs to be cut out and thrown in the fire. There is good progress being made on that score.

    Anyhow, it`s a good day to be a Canadian!

  • RepublicanStones

    ‘Israel is acing in self defence and is perfectly right to do so.’

    Afraid not, Professor Avi Shalam, an ex-Israeli army soldier has admitted Israel broke the ceasefire on two occassions. Nevermind the fact the Palestinians are merely resisting a war that was declared upon them in 1948.

    ‘Sixty years ago Israel and the rest of the world learned an important lesson.’

    The homes, land and lives of people with dark skin matter less than those of white people.

    ‘In view of their history in Europe I will defend their right to do so.’

    In view of the history of zionisms treatment of the Palestinians you seem to have double standards.

  • RepublicanStones

    ‘The most fundamental thing that the people of Gaza can learn from NI is that terrorism does not pay.’

    It worked for the zionists when they ethnically cleansed large swathes of Palestine and claimed land which was not theirs.

  • 6countyprod

    The Jews have been subjected to unspeakable barbarism inflicted by people from all over the world. But they still love life and contribute immensely to mankind. What a contrast to the hideous mentality of warped Islamic theology which glories in inflicting death and destruction on non-muslims, especially Jews and Israelis, in search of eternal bliss in Allahland.

  • RepublicanStones

    Ahh, now we’re gettin down to it. ‘Dirty little muzzies’ is that it 6cp? At least your true colours are on display now.

  • OC

    I always marvelled at the “Brits Out Of Ireland” protests in Manhatten. I mean, who did these folks think owned the land that they live on before Europeans gained possession? I’m not aware of any ashamed Irishmen leaving the USA to show support for American Indians.

  • ulsterfan

    RS

    This is the greatest problem in the world and will not be resolved by Israel/Jews or Palestine but needs a huge input from all other nations.
    After WW2 a Jewish homeland was essential.
    In the process of achieving this Palestinians were deprived of land, Rights and nationhood.That was a terrible price to pay.
    Surely it is not beyond the imagination of men to put matters right at this time.
    We can not do much for those who lost most and suffered 60 years ago but their children and grand children are entitled to justice and that does not mean the destruction of Israel.
    Palestine should be sovereign without any interference from Israel or any other country.
    Massive sums to be invested in Palestine to build a new country with world class facilities for health, education housing and social development.
    At the same time Palestinians recognise the right of Israel to exist and this view supported by Syria Iran and Egypt.

  • Earnan

    I must be a rare breed. I am a nationalist who sympathizes with Israel’s position.

    Maybe I can wrap my mind around the fact that Israel/Palestine issue is not the equivalent of the NI conflict.

  • RepublicanStones

    ‘That was a terrible price to pay.’

    It wasn’t their debt.

    ‘Surely it is not beyond the imagination of men to put matters right at this time.’

    Unfortunatley there are those on both sides who want to have their cake and eat it.

    ‘Maybe I can wrap my mind around the fact that Israel/Palestine issue is not the equivalent of the NI conflict.’

    I don’t think anyone on here has suggested they are equivalent Earnan.

  • Mayoman

    Ulsterfan: the atonement of Europe, and the rest of the world, for the appalling, barbaric, disgusting treatment of the jews cannot be used as an excuse for the murder of innocent Palestinian people by Israel. Spot the disconnect? Past treatment of the jews versus the present crimes of a state? I remind you that is was you that used the word retribution, and if you stand by this, you have to concede that Israel have committed war crimes under the Geneva convention. But I agree that this is world-created (and in particular, by the way, a British-created!) problem, and there needs a world solution. Unfortuantely, the Palestinians seem to have no oil and won’t lick the arse of the west, so the attitude seems to be ‘f**k em’. Lip praise to peace while allowing some of previously abused (as others have pointed out, many jews abhor the actions of Israel) to become the abuser.

  • Mayoman

    I have to concur with RS, Earnan, that the events in NI are irrelevant to my opinions on this present topic. Somethings are just clearly wrong (and by that I mean the firing of rockets into civilian areas as well as the Israeli-sponsored slaughter of innocents).

  • ulsterfan

    Mayoman

    There seems to be a consensus that it is wrong for Hamas to fire rockets into Israel and it is wrong for Israel to attack Hamas in Gaza.
    Do you agree that both sides enter into a cease fire and turn their minds to finding a solution?
    what in your opinion would be the basis of a lasting settlement.
    There has been too much criticism in the Press and not enough forward thinking which offers hope.

  • Big Bird

    Just a note on the woman who removed the burnt Israeli flag. Indeed she was later holding a SF placard she had picked up off the street but she had written her own message on it and her child was waving it about ‘Stop the rockets’.

    Wouldn’t want people thinking she was a SF supporter when she clearly wasn’t.

    Posted by Mark McGregor on Jan 13, 2009 @ 10:17 AM

    No Mark, you wouldn’t want people to think that she was a SF supporter, would you. You wouldn’t want people to think that she was in any way reasonable. Did you ask her, if she was a SF supporter or did you make the assumption. While your friends were trashing a soap stall in castlecourt and conducting a meaningless protest in M&S;, SF supporters, activists, party members, along with many other groups supported the main protest. SF supporters come in many different guises. Just because she didn’t fit your prejudice and political agenda, doesn’t mean she didn’t mark an x beside her local SF rep in the last election. SF supporters are real people too!!