Irish Current Affairs Blog of the Year 2018
|A little boy flies a Palestinian flag in Galway during a|
protest last year. Photo: Skye McKee.
In the West of Ireland, we don’t like to ask too many hard, tough questions or cause too much of a fuss.
We treat our visitors with respect, but a bizarre visit by a prominent diplomat last Friday has raised serious questions about who makes key decisions at a local level and why our elected representatives can be kept completely and utterly in the dark.
Who decides to invite an Ambassador to our city? And who decides that elected city councillors – the people who actually represent us – have no right to know when a diginitary is coming to our beautiful city?
On Wednesday, I was told by someone who works for Galway City Council that the Israeli Ambassador to Ireland, Ophir Kariv, was set to pay an official visit to the city on Friday.
The person who called me had no idea of the schedule involved, but he had heard that there would be engagements at NUI Galway, the Galway Chamber of Commerce, and City Hall.
I’m guessing he contacted me because he was aware of my keen interest in human rights and the fact that I have written extensively about the gross injustice inflicted on the people of Palestine. I sometimes freelance for Electronic Intifada, who are based in the US and work hard to give an English language voice to the oppressed.
So I made a few calls.
I informed members of the Galway Palestine Solidarity Campaign who, in turn, contacted members of the Labour Party and Sinn Fein who have done so much to raise awareness of the Palestinian issue at City Hall over the past few years.
They raised the flag in solidarity, they called on the Irish Government to recognise the state of Palestine, and no city official had seen fit to tell them about the proposed visit by the Israeli Ambassador on Friday.
Even the Mayor, apparently, wasn’t aware of the plans.
|Flying the flag in Eyre Square|
A few pro-Palestine activists considered a peaceful and dignified flag protest at City Hall, but it was difficult to get people mobilised at such short notice, especially when nobody knew the exact time of the visit. I heard nothing more about it, but I’m aware that elected members of the City Council could not find out anything about the ambassador’s schedule. So much for local democracy!
On Saturday, a number of people sent me a podcast of a recording on local radio station Galway Bay FM, from the previous day.
As it turned out, Mr Kariv had visited the station’s headquarters on Sandy Road for a pre-arranged interview with current affairs presenter Keith Finnegan.
The people who sent me the podcast were shocked by the nature and tone of the interview.
It is normal practice for a new diplomat to visit provincial cities around the country, but activists in Galway were shocked that they managed to get through an entire interview without once uttering the words ‘Palestine’, ‘West Bank’, ‘Gaza’, ‘occupation’, ‘child prisoners’, or ‘house demolitions’.
On the day I was sent the podcast, an Arab family was expelled from their own home in East Jerusalem and suffered the indignity of seeing it handed over to ‘settlers’ who are deemed to be illegal according to international law.
But there was no mention of that in the fawning local radio interview.
And, yes, I took this local "whitewashing" of the representative of an Apartheid state personally. You can listen to the interview here. (The interview with the Israeli Ambassador begins at the 52 minute mark): https://galwaybayfm.ie/podcasts/feb14-2/
|A Palestinian man holds the key to a house|
his family can not return to
In July of last year, a friend and I got together with the members of rock band The Stunning to organise a late night gig in Galway which would raise funds to bring members of a children’s football academy in Gaza to the West of Ireland.
These amazing, hugely talented young boys captured the hearts of Galwegians over the previous two summers and represented Palestine with huge pride. They also met the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, at a Galway United game at Eamonn Deacy Park.
The night out at Massimo was a huge success. We raised €4,250 for the little Gaza boys. The figure surpassed all our expectations and the event fully sold out.
Two weeks later, heartbroken, I had to tell the people of Galway who attended the gig via social media that the boys had been forced to cancel their trip. The inhumane siege imposed on the people of Gaza by the governments of Egypt and Israel prevented them from travelling.
|The Gaza football team during a visit to Kinvara, Co Galway, in 2016|
Something Irish children take for granted, a trip away with a football team, was being denied to the little boys of Gaza. But there was no question about that catastrophic siege for Mr Ambassador.
The money for the young footballers has been left in a bank account for a year. We have no idea if they will be allowed out in 2019.
I thought of those poor little boys, and their broken dreams, when I listened to the podcast of the interview with Mr Kariv.
Not once was Mr Kariv challenged about his Government’s appalling history of human rights abuses and the appalling 52 year occupation of Palestine which has ruled out any prospects of a meaningful ‘peace process’ or ‘two state solution’.
There was no mention of the 600,000 settlers who are living on stolen land.
Perhaps Mr Kariv would like to have been asked about the Occupied Territories Bill, which is currently making its way through the Dail and Seanad, despite huge opposition from Israel, the United States, and the European Union.
Senator Frances Black’s bill has created headlines all across the world and could see Ireland lead the way in opposing an Apartheid State, in much the same way as the Dunnes Stores strikers (and subsequently the Irish Government) did in the 1980s when they stood up against the appalling injustice of Apartheid in South Africa.
Those Dunnes Stores strikers were subsequently thanked in person by President Nelson Mandela. Right now, it's hard to see a future leader of Palestine blazing a trail to Sandy Road.
On Friday, it would have been interesting to hear the Ambassador’s take on a bill which is being opposed so vehemently by the Israeli authorities and saw his Irish counterpart in Tel Aviv, Alison Kelly, being called in for a “dressing down” by the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
This is a huge current international news story, as Ireland’s bill is being watched closely by other countries including the Netherlands and Sweden, but it did not merit a mention during the Ambassador’s visit to Galway.
According to B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organisation, there were more than 200 Palestinian children in Israeli prisons at the end of 2018.
But there was no mention of those children on our local radio station.
|The Gaza children met the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, |
during a visit to Galway United FC
No mention of Gaza, where two million people live under an intolerable siege in a tiny piece of land, which is on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe. Most of them are descendants of refugees from what is now Israel, which might be of interest to listeners of the local radio station.
No mention of the billions in military aid which the USA provides Israel with every year.
To listen to the interview with Mr Kariv, it would be possible to believe that the people of Palestine did not actually exist.
That does a huge disservice to the people of the West Bank, who are living through a daily nightmare in which they are treated as second class citizens while living under a brutal military occupation in their own land.
And to the people of Gaza, who have so little hope when border crossings are closed down and talented little boys cannot even travel to Ireland for a week of football games.
It also does a huge disservice to the hundreds of thousands of Irish people who empathise with the people of Palestine. After all, we understand what it is like to be run out of our homes by “settlers” and forced to be refugees because of injustice in our own land.
They deserve to be told the full story, just as the people we elect to represent us should not be kept in the dark about a secretive visit by a diplomat which someone, somewhere, was afraid would become mired in controversy.
* Ciaran Tierney won the Irish Current Affairs and Politics Blog of the Year award at the Tramline, Dublin, in October 2018. Find him on Facebook or Twitter here. Visit his website here - CiaranTierney.com.
He is available to blog for social media work or to blog for your business. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
|With Steve Wall of The Stunning during an amazing night out|
in aid of the Gaza Kids to Ireland project last year.