Monday, July 2, 2018

Palestine, politicians, and the passion of ordinary Irish people

A little boy flies a Palestinian flag at a demonstration in Galway
Photo courtesy of Skye McKee.

Of all the countries in Europe, Palestinians seem to have a special place in their hearts for the people of Ireland.

It was etched into the faces of the young footballers from Gaza when they were guests of honour at a game between Galway United and Dundalk FC two years ago.

What kind of country, they wondered, would allow them to take pride of place on the pitch before a big game featuring the league champions, mingle with the crowd, and even meet the President of Ireland afterwards?

The things that childhood dreams were made of, as they represented their country, their people, with such pride.

There were tears in their eyes when the entire main stand rose to its feet to chant “Stand up for the Gaza boys!” in the second half of an exciting game.

They were made to feel so special.

It was clear from the pride of their coaches when they spent a day in Kinvara. The small rural community had boycotted Israeli goods while the tiny place where they live was being bombed to bits, causing the deaths of 2,250 people, in 2014.

The Al-Helal boys went to Kinvara, thrashed the local Irish teams, dazzling us with their skills, and were overwhelmed by the generosity of spirit of the local club who arranged for a community circus to perform for them.

These were ordinary people, showing extraordinary care for the members of a football club whose home ground has been bombed twice and whose underage players have experienced so much trauma and conflict in their short lives.

For the most part, they are locked into a little place, which is home to 1.9 million people despite being smaller than Co Louth. The kind of trip which Irish children of the same age take for granted became an extraordinary adventure and a celebration of the ties which bind youngsters who love a game of football together.

Their simple love for the beautiful game and pride in representing their communities transcended the language barrier.

John Griffin of Kinvara presents a Book of Condolences
to the Palestinian Ambassador to Ireland. Photo; Ciaran Tierney

This extraordinary love for Ireland was etched in the broad smile on the face of the Palestinian Ambassador to Ireland, Ahmad Abdelrazek, when he visited Kinvara last weekend. He was overwhelmed that almost an entire village seemed to turn out for a talk about Palestine on a sunny summer’s evening.

On a poignant occasion, when the people of KInvara handed over a Book of Condolences for those who had died in the recent massacre in Gaza, he smiled as he recalled the “secret missions” he has undertaken to Kinvara over the past four years.

He told the villagers how, unannounced and with no fanfare, he often brought international visitors to the South Galway village over the past four years.

His mission was to show them the place which organised a community-wide boycott of Israeli products in response to the sustained Israeli bombing of Gaza, one of the most crowded places on earth, in 2014.

All of them were taken aback by the compassion the people of the village had shown to those living under a brutal siege hundreds of miles away in Palestine.

It was clear from the happy response from the international human rights lawyer from Ramallah upon his arrival at Dublin Airport last month.

What was the purpose of his trip, the customs officer wanted to know.

“I am visiting my second home,” came the delighted man’s reply.

“Oh, do you have a home here?” asked the startled customs officer.

No, he replied. But he had always felt that Ireland was his second home since he studied human rights here for a year in 2005. Even after a travel ban prevented him from picking up a ‘Student of the Decade’ award nine years ago.

The customs offer laughed and gave him a warm welcome back to the land he referred to as his second home.

With Senator Frances Black and the Palestinian Ambassador
during a talk about Palestine in Kinvara, Co Galway, last month

It was etched in the faces of the people when I visited a Palestinian refugee camp in Jordan a decade ago. As the only Irish person in a small group of foreign visitors, I was singled out for attention. They all wanted to meet and greet the Irish man.

I was almost embarrassed by the attention. Once they heard I was Irish, the locals gave me a particularly warm welcome.

Almost every Palestinian person I have met has told me about this deep love for Ireland.

They know about our history, our story of colonisation and being treated as second class citizens in our own land.

They know about plantations, people being displaced from their land, and how it took so long for the Irish to see their liberation. As their own ‘Nakba’, or catastrophe, enters its 71st year they are moved by our story and inspired by the way our people resisted occupation.

They see the Irish as a shining light, an example of what they can achieve.

And sometimes it’s embarrassing when you try to explain to them that our politicians don’t always reflect the wishes of the people.

Young footballers from Gaza who love coming to Ireland

People like those in the tiny community of Kinvara who packed the town hall on a sunny Friday night to talk about Palestine.

People like the families who host their young footballers free of charge and the activists who go through so much bureaucracy to make sure the best of their footballing youngsters can live out their dreams by witnessing the green of Ireland.

By playing our best players, by enjoying the peace and quiet of places like Kinvara, or the joys of a circus in a rural field, the kinds of things our own youngsters take for granted, the Irish give them a glimpse of how good life can be.

You are almost embarrassed to tell them that our politicians are afraid of voting for a bill this month which would implement international law in Ireland.

Over the past few weeks, Senator Frances Black (Independent) has been travelling the country to tell small communities about her Occupied Territories Bill, which would ban goods from illegal Israeli settlements from Ireland.

When she explains the settlements at talks in Irish towns and cities – the fact that more than 500,000 people live on stolen land, beyond recognised international borders – she is overwhelmed by the support of ordinary Irish people.

Gaza footballers in Galway. Photo: Andrew Downes

When she talks passionately about the daily humiliations and harassments she has seen in the West Bank, people are angry and sad.

They want to do anything they can to help the children of Palestine.

If it means passing a bill which merely makes international law the law of this land, they see no issue with it. In fact, they are proud that our land could set a precedent for others.

They understand what it would mean to the people of the West Bank. They agree with Senator Black, that it’s time to make sure these goods and services from illegal settlements, considered war crimes under the Geneva Conventions, do not end up on the shelves of Irish stores and supermarkets.

It might be a small thing, but it would send out a powerful signal across the globe.

Senior members of Fianna Fail visited the West Bank just last week to see the hardships imposed on people living under a brutal occupation for themselves.

All week, Irish people have been emailing and calling their politicians to express their support for this bill.

Of course, there are pressing issues which need to be dealt with here in Ireland, including the homelessness crisis and shortcomings in the provision of health care.

But the Irish people have never forgotten where they came from or that their voice can be a powerful one on the world stage.

Senator Black has given up on the Government, who she believes are too in thrall of their European masters to put international law into the laws of our own land.

But imagine, just imagine, the boost it would give to ordinary Palestinians facing daily humiliations at checkpoints across the West Bank if the Irish actually took the lead rather than wait for instructions from our European ‘masters’.

The prospect of any lasting peace, or ‘two state’ solution, is being erased with every new settlement built on occupied land.

The Gaza kids with the Galway United FC mascot
Photo: Sean Ryan. 

Years ago, a small group of women in a Dublin branch of Dunnes Stores made headlines when they refused to handle goods from South Africa at the height of the Apartheid regime.

Their bravery was instrumental in bringing about the downfall of a repressive, deeply unjust regime. It was no surprise when President Nelson Mandela sought them out, ahead of our leading politicians, when he made a visit to Ireland.

People don’t want to hear about trade deals or taking advice from our European leaders while land is being gobbled up by settlers in the West Bank and people in Gaza are trapped in what has been described as an open air prison.

On July 11, Ireland can set an example for countries all across the globe, but it will take courage from our political leaders.

All they have to do is show their support for international law by voting for a bill which finally would show the people of Palestine that our green little island deserves the special place they seem to hold for it in all of their hearts.

Maybe then we actually will deserve the adulation which a people who have suffered so much seem to reserve for this former colony on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.

* UPDATE: Within 24 hours of this blog being written, the Fianna Fail party announced tonight (Tuesday) that they have decided to support Senator Black's bill on July 11. This is a hugely significant development and means that Ireland should become the first country in Europe to ban 'settlement' goods next Wednesday. What a powerful statement that will be from a small country which is aiming to take a place on the UN Security Council. Solidarity with a small country and leading the way in terms of turning international human rights law into national legislation could set a shining example for small nations across the globe. 

Find out more about Senator Black's bill at

Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, based in Galway, Ireland. Find him on Facebook at

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