Today I had an opportunity to speak in the Dáil on the outcome of last weeks European Council meeting. Much of the debate was around the EU/IMF/ECB bailout of €45 billion to the Irish government, its social consequences and the debt repayments that must be met by the state.
But it was also an opportunity to raise the issue of the flotilla of ships which are planning to bring much needed aid to the besieged people of Gaza. One of the ships is the MV Saoirse, an Irish boat. Among its crew of Irish activists are a number of shinners from west Belfast, Waterford and Derry.
If you want some idea of what they are up against then read the words of the Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Israeli radio on Tuesday morning. He accused those taking part in the flotilla of being ‘terror activists, seeking to create provocation and looking for blood.’
Minister Lieberman then sought to dismiss the flotilla as irrelevant and to claim that a number of those planning to join it had declined because they had been convinced ‘by our explanations regarding the humanitarian situation in Gaza.’
In reality what people will be more concerned about is the safety of those brave human rights activists who have refused to be intimidated by Israeli threats and are determined to bring aid to the besieged citizens of Gaza.
Last May nine unarmed aid workers were killed by heavily armed Israeli naval commandos who dropped from helicopters onto the deck of the Mavi Marmara.
And already the Israeli state is getting its defence in first with off the record briefings to the media claiming there ‘may’ be Hamas members in the flotilla ‘who means Israelis harm.’
The siege of Gaza by Israel is an international disgrace. The settlements on the west Bank are a breach of international law and the result of the theft of Palestinian land. The separation wall, which runs for hundreds of miles stripping the Palestinian people of land and water, is a weapon in the arsenal of an Israeli government determined to strengthen its apartheid system against the Palestinian people.
Last week the Israeli government imposed a new and harsh regime on the thousands of Palestinian political prisoners it holds. Education courses have been withdrawn; visits curtailed and telephone contact with families several restricted or withdrawn entirely.
We have seen it all before in our own situation. And repression didn’t work here and it won’t work there. It will only exacerbate a bad situation.
Imagine all the people of the north crowded into an area roughly the size of County Antrim. Imagine that 80% of those living there are entirely dependent on aid that has to come from outside the area, through hostile military blockades. Imagine that sanitation is terrible, food scarce, and that many homes destroyed several years ago in a military strike by your powerful neighbour, have not been rebuilt because they won’t let the building materials in.
Imagine that medicine are difficult to acquire and that essential and life saving hospital equipment can’t work because those who besiege your territory won’t let it in.
Imagine you have a huge number of children growing up in this, living in frightening conditions and with little hope for the future.
The treatment of the Palestinian people by Israel has been shameful.
To our credit Irish people have been very active over many years working in solidarity with the Palestinian people. There are Irish people today living and working on the west Bank and in Gaza. They do so knowing that there is a real risk to their lives.
This blog strongly supports the right of the humanitarian aid workers and others to deliver very necessary humanitarian aid to the people of that region which they are being illegally denied by the Israeli authorities.
I welcome the efforts by those engaged in this flotilla. I know some of those on board the MV Saoirse and I want to commend them and their colleagues for their courage in standing up for the rights of the people of Gaza to live free of oppression.
The Flotilla should be allowed safe passage to Gaza to bring its much needed aid to the besieged Palestinian people there.
And the Irish Government should be speaking to the Israeli authorities to ensure that they get it.
The government should also support the unity efforts of all the Palestinian groups and their demand for recognition for statehood when it comes up in the UN later this year.