Violence begets violence begets violence……
The easiest way to respond to the current Palestinian-Israeli conflict is, like so many situations of conflict in the world, the dualistic way; one side good, the other side bad (horrible, brutal, vicious, vindictive and so on). This is the easiest response because it does not necessitate us asking the hard questions which we need to ask about the situation, whatever it is. The dualistic model is also not the nonviolent way.
But it is essential to understand the different forms of violence which can be present in a situation, and potentially the asymmetric nature of a conflict. In Israel/Palestine when Hamas attacks Israel and kills someone, Israel retaliates – and the normal death ratio in such a violent exchange would be 10 Palestinians killed for 1 Israeli; at least this ratio is to be expected if the current conflict continues. There are many different forms of physical violence and there are many forms of structural violence. Most people in the world were rightly horrified by the Hamas attack on Israeli civilians in southern Israel on 7th October; children, adults and young adult party goers were all a target in mass killing.
But is the world also horrified by the denial of a Palestinian state by Israel with apartheid-style laws in the West Bank and Gaza as arguably the largest prison camp in the world and without control of borders, water, or fuel and no opportunity to develop to meet the needs of its people? The attack on Israel was born out of hopelessness as much as anything else (that is not to say that Hamas did not have a strategy, hyperviolent though it was). Is the world horrified by Israel’s destruction of Gaza and massive death toll on Palestinian civilians and children? The refusal by the USA and UK to call for a ceasefire is a despicable act supporting Israel’s vengeance. Israel claims it is acting within the laws of war but there is very little evidence of this – and the ‘laws of war’ are in any case broken more than they are obeyed.
Israel and Israeli citizens deserve to live in peace and harmony with their neighbours. But how is this possible if you have taken the land and property of your neighbours and control many aspects of their lives? It is clearly impossible. Breaking out of the cycle of violence and oppression is really difficult; there was a time with the Oslo accords of 1993 and 1995 that it looked like it might be possible. But Israel has been determined to establish (illegal in international law) ‘facts on the ground’ of Israeli settlement in the West Bank and that and other intransigence has led to today’s situation.
Some Israeli settlers in the West Bank, backed by the army, are gradually trying to push Palestinians and Bedouin back and in many cases out. This is not only a gross injustice but it is also a major stumbling block to a long term settlement. There are nearly half a million Israelis in the area of the West Bank fully controlled by Israel, all of this illegal in international law. Palestinians need all the land that is designated theirs to have a viable state. Some religious Jews insist that because their ancestors controlled land a couple of thousand years ago that it is ‘theirs’; if we were to use the same measurement then Ireland could claim a significant part of western Scotland, which is a nonsense. Palestinians have been there a very long time too, some of their origins go back to time immemorial in the area, but searching online for ‘land ownership map Palestine Israel’ shows just some of the injustice at their loss of territory since the end of the Second World War.
Possibly because of Ireland’s history of being colonised and controlled, Ireland is seen as the EU country most supportive of the Palestinians but pro-Palestinian action has been limited. On the other hand, ‘the West’, to a considerable degree because of guilt about the Nazi genocide of Jews – and lack of support for them from others – bends over backwards to support Israel (just look at statements by Biden, Sunak or von der Leyen). Of course the West should have a guilty conscience over the treatment of Jews – and not just because of the Holocaust/Shoah, as well as being active in preventing antisemitism today. But that should not prevent people looking at what is or would be justice in Israel-Palestine, and taking into account the Nakba the Palestinians suffered.
There is an old Wizard of Id cartoon where the the prisoner, ’the spook’, says how long he has to be in prison before being released. His jailer reveals that this is exactly the same time as he retires; prisoner and jailer are bound together in a mutual time trap. It is a bit like that for Israel and Palestine. And Israel is Gaza’s jailer, and the inflicter of an apartheid system on the Palestinians of the West Bank. As the placard held by a Jewish person said, “Jews will not be free until Palestine is free”.
There are different ways of dealing with ‘enemies’. You can try and kill them all, genocide (of which the Nazi extermination of Jews is one terrible example), or you can try to disempower them and control them, but this will make them more angry, and more your enemy. The positive alternative is to turn them into friends. Israel and Palestine is a small space but if it is not shared equitably then there can be no peace. Israel has not seriously tried, in a sustained way, to turn Palestinians into friends, It can be done but violence from both sides makes rapprochement extremely difficult. And uncritical support (financial and military) from the USA and others in ‘the West’ makes Israel feel it can continue to pursue the path of control of Palestinians (and currently the destruction of Gaza) which it has been engaged in. It should also be noted that Israel’s sophisticated military and intelligence system did not prevent the Hamas attack; it was a failed defence.
Many different people and organisations have spoken out on the conflict. The statement of the War Resisters’ International (WRI) can be found at https://wri-irg.org/en/story/2023/war-crime-against-humanity-stop-violence-immediately-israel-palestine and it includes the following: “War is sometimes fought with bombs and bullets. Sometimes it is fought by restricting access to the resources that allow people to meet their basic needs, and for humanity to flourish. As antimilitarists, we can and will always reject and condemn both the immediate, deliberate and organised violence that grabs headlines and shocks the world, and simultaneously recognise that the violence that has occurred in Israel-Palestine since Saturday 7th October is rooted in a decades long, asymmetrical, grinding conflict.”
Israel may well, if it kills enough Palestinians and destroys most of Gaza, ‘kill’ Hamas. But it will have stirred up sufficient further hatred to create Hamas Mark 2, and created a vacuum for the people of Gaza. The desire to eradicate Hamas is thus totally false thinking on the part of Israel. The pattern of violence and cycles of violence will almost certainly continue. Hamas soldiers or fighters may be getting killed; so are an inordinate number of children and ordinary Palestinians.
Peace in Israel and Palestine cannot come without an adequate two state or secular one state solution. While either option remains pie in the sky then peace will be similarly placed. Stating this is not anti-Israeli or anti-Jewish; it is to speak the truth and advocate a situation where all the Israeli and Palestinian people can live in peace, which they very much deserve to do. They, both sides, have suffered too much.
The nearer your destination, the more you’re slip sliding away……
The words of Simon and Garfunkel’s classic song seem to be apposite regarding the possibility of the restoration of power-sharing government at Stormont. While both the Northern Secretary of State, Chris Heaton-Harris, and the DUP leader, Jeffrey Donaldson, have been making encouraging sounds about their talks (which no one else is party to), there is the very real possibility that things will go sliding away – again.
There are numerous problems involved. One issue is simply that the talks only involve the DUP in talking to the British government and others are excluded; this exclusiveness could lead to a deal which is unacceptable, wholly or partly, to others. But secondly, there is extremely little room for manoeuvre given that a) the current British government is not going to enter substantial further negotiations with the EU about either Northern Ireland or its overall trading relationship and b) The Good Friday Agreement, and the impartiality which it prescribes, prohibits many possible actions which the DUP might wish for to copperfasten ‘the Union’.
Donaldson did emphasise the importance of a devolved government at Stormont in his party’s annual conference and subsequently. While he might be willing to move, given the opportunity, there is the question of whether all his party colleagues would do so also, and whether DUP voters would follow suit. This is where the problem came in for the DUP before; potential voter defection to hardline unionist TUV meant the DUP did a quick about face to oppose the NI Protocol.
The promise of money (not all of which necessarily appeared) has been an important sweetener in getting Stormont back and running (or at least crawling) in the past. The equivalent of the ‘Welsh deal’ whereby Wales gets a substantial sum based on need, in addition to the ‘Barnett formula’ funding which metes out funding on a per capita basis within the constituent parts of the UK, could be part of what is offered or it might have to await Stormont negotiation after the restoration of government at Stormont – which would have Michelle O’Neill as First Minister. The funding, or prospect of funding, could be used by the DUP to try to show how much Northern Ireland is valued as part of the United Kingdom.
In Northern Ireland now there is hardly anyone who is not affected in some way by the absence of a government. To take just one example from recent times, who is going to sort out the pollution of Lough Neagh? It might not happen fast with a Stormont government but without one then it is rather unlikely, despite the proven need. Education, health, community services and any forward planning on anything, including on economic advancement, are badly affected.
Unionism of the DUP variety is caught on the horns of a dilemma; to continue the boycott of Stormont and allow things to crumble further – and thus be an advertisement for a united Ireland, or to return, this time with the DUP having the post of Deputy First Minister, without a clear victory and risk electoral armageddon. Most unionists want the NI Protocol/Windsor Agreement sorted to their satisfaction before a return to Stormont.
Whichever way the DUP turns it is on slippery ground and it is possible that a return to power sharing will continue to slip slide away. One tiny light at the end of the tunnel is that a Labour government, likely to appear in a year’s time in Britain, could do a deal with the EU which would make checks on goods coming to Northern Ireland redundant. The problem with this chink of light is that it would indicate a very long tunnel, perhaps a couple of years to get through. Let us hope that solid, open ground is reached before then.
Department of Foreign Affairs report
The expected on neutrality and ‘triple lock’
There are no surprises in Louise Richardson’s report as chair of the Consultative Forum on International Security Policy which took place in June; the report came out in mid-October. It is cleverly written, knowing that (valid) criticism of the Forum meant the report could not push too far but still allowing Micheál Martin to claim that it justified ditching the ‘triple lock’ on deployment of Irish troops overseas. However, as the Swords to Ploughshares Ireland (StoP) report on the Forum (see news section) shows, the debate on the triple lock justified no such thing, despite her assertion in the report that “the preponderance of views, especially among the experts and practitioners, is that it is time for a reconsideration of the Triple Lock as it is no longer fit for purpose.”
There are a number of tendentious or incorrect assumptions or statements in the report. One is that public submissions made – yet to be published and not really part of the Forum process (as opposed to any further discussion) – may be biased as made by people committed in this area – of course they may but so might the chosen speakers be biased. She states “the submissions were not a random or representative sample of the population, rather the views of citizens engaged in these issues; therefore, it would be unwise to extrapolate from these views to the population-at-large.” However she makes no such assumptions about those presenting at the Forum (the ‘experts’) even though they were chosen by the Minister including a number of academics who have their posts paid for by the EU, and others had NATO links. This is basically someone on one side saying others, not on the same side, are ‘biased’. She may have read the submissions but there is no detail whatsoever in her report as to worthwhile ideas suggested (she does cover that most of these favoured the retention of neutrality).
In her introduction she says “The proceedings of the four days of meetings and 835 submissions are briefly summarized, synthesized, and analyzed.” She does no such thing and in 15 pages it would be impossible in any case. She does very briefly summarise the contributions made from the chosen speakers in the different panels but in this section there is no mention of contributions from the floor. Given the fact contributors were chosen by the Minister, this is a serious omission. She does refer subsequently, and inadequately, to some contributions by the public, in talking further on the particular issues dealt with – but to say this covers those comments fairly would be untrue. Given the bias in selection of speakers (look at the list online) it is untrue to say it was an “admirably open and transparent debate where unfettered debate was encouraged” – and in some cases issues raised from the floor were not even addressed by the panel.
She makes all sorts of assumptions and statements based on inadequate discussion and exploration in the Forum; only a few of these are explored here. One is that Ireland is falling behind “its peers” in military expenditure, with NATO setting 2% of GDP as a target, and that this needs to be addressed. But if Ireland is taking a different approach as a neutral country, as it should, then perhaps much more money, time and effort needs to be put into conflict resolution and mediation, not the military. And who says that the NATO advocated 2% is a reasonable benchmark?
Her grasp of recent Irish history is also lacking when she states that ”In recent years Irish governments have drawn a distinction between military and political neutrality and between military nonalignment and political nonalignment. This appears to be a uniquely Irish approach, but it is a fair description of the policies consistently followed since the outbreak of the last world war.” While the first part of this may be true, the last statement certainly does not apply to Frank Aiken and Fianna Fáil’s policies of fearless non-alignment in the ‘fifties and into the ‘sixties.
The basis of the Forum was that Irish security policies need reviewed particularly in the light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. That has certainly altered things. But Irish neutrality has weathered many storms, including the cataclysmic events and invasions of the Second World War. There are new threats, including cybersecurity and related undersea cabling, but is the appropriate response necessarily a military one? And it is probably simplistic to state baldly that “our geographic location no longer provides the protection it once did” without extensive further exploration.
A concluding statement that the Forum was “not designed to make policy prescriptions” is not quite true in that a significant part of it being set up was to provide the Minister with a rationale for ditching the ‘triple lock’ – and anything else that could go. If you look at the sequence of events and the evolution from the Minister thinking about a possible citizens’ assembly to a hand-picked so-called Forum (‘so-called’ because it was not open), his thinking is clear. Micheál Martin may be satisfied that Louise Richardson’s report takes things as far as she can in the direction he wanted – popular protest and opinion set limits – but in a wider context it is all very unsatisfactory and inadequate.