Two nations, one struggle

Mickey Brady, Sinn Fein MP for Newry & Armagh, extends solidarity to the Palestinian people.

As a Sinn Féin MP, I have always been proud of our party’s historic solidarity with the Palestinian people. As Irish republicans, internationalism is more than a buzzword. We know our history. We know the nefarious role British imperialism has played around the globe. That is the reason we hold the cause of Palestine close to our hearts.

The experience of the Irish people and Palestinian people have many commonalities. I can say, in full confidence, that the solidarity of the Irish people towards the people of Palestine runs deep and is resolute. In 1917, when Arthur Balfour signed the Balfour Declaration, in one fell swoop Britain signed away the Palestinian homeland, precipitating decades of persecution and displacement. The same Arthur Balfour wreaked havoc in Ireland. Indeed, those familiar with their Irish history would know him as: ‘Bloody Balfour’.

Balfour was a ruthless enforcer of British colonial policy in Ireland and, during our own ‘Land War’. He imprisoned thousands of land agitators and activists who were struggling for agrarian justice. Many were tried without juries, their cottages demolished, and civic society institutions banned and criminalised. An avid Tory Unionist, Balfour’s goal was the suppression of the rising Irish nationalist cultural consciousness and to maintain Britain’s colonial grip over the island of Ireland.

In both Ireland and Palestine the modus operandi of the British Government was the same. Balfour ultimately failed in Ireland, just as his spiritual successors will fail in Palestine. Sinn Féin unequivocally stands with the Palestinian people in their legitimate struggle for freedom, independence and statehood. As an organisation, our International Department has a dedicated Middle East desk to focus activist attention on the developing situation in Palestine. Before the current pandemic, Sinn Féin representatives regularly travelled to the region to show our support for the Palestinian people and for Palestinian political prisoners. Such visits also provide an opportunity to share our experience of the Irish peace process.

In 2018, perhaps ‘infamously’ (in the eyes of the Israeli authorities), one of our Dublin representatives, the then Mayor of Dublin, Mícheál Mac Donncha sparked a bit of a stir. In the run-up to his visit, Aryeh Deri, the Israeli interior minister, proclaimed: “The mayor of Dublin wants to enter Israel so that he can incite against us. He will not enter!”

Mícheál was not there to ‘incite’ against anyone. Sinn Féin is a party of dialogue and regularly engages in conflict resolution around the globe. But clearly someone in the Israeli state didn’t want a message of solidarity from the people of Dublin to reach Palestine. Mícheál replied a short while later to report that he had already entered and was stood in the Palestinian city of Ramallah! It turned out that the Israeli authorities had taken Ardmhéara (the Irish word for ‘Mayor’) to be Micheál’s first name, which had allowed him to pass through without issue.

I was fortunate, five years ago, to be part of a delegation to Jordan and met with the Jordanian King, members of the Jordanian Parliament – but most importantly – members of the Palestinian National Council in Amman and Palestinian refugees. I was glad to get the opportunity to raise concerns about Israeli violations directly with the Jordanian authorities and share our own experiences and lessons from the Irish Peace Process with members of their parliament. The displacement of Palestinians and the building of settlements on their land very clearly meets the definition of a war crime. And every time Israel creates another settlement it is committing a new crime.

I again call on the Dublin Government to respect the vote that was taken in the Irish parliament over four years ago to recognise the State of Palestine. I also call for an immediate end to the EU’s preferential trade agreement with Israel and full support for the international campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against the Israeli Occupation of Palestine.

Boycott is a noble tradition. Indeed, as a word it entered the English language during the ‘Land War’, when the Irish Land League led a campaign to ostracise a British landlord in Co. Mayo called Captain Boycott! We know from the experience of defeating apartheid in South Africa that strengthening the BDS campaign is the best means of bringing a just and lasting settlement for the Palestinian people. We cannot offer prescriptive solutions. It will ultimately be for the Palestinian people to plot their own path forward. For our part, Sinn Féin will continue to be an honest friend, committed to working in cooperation with all Palestinian political and civic leaders in pursuit of national reconciliation, and the achievement of Palestinian national and democratic objectives.

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