A background to Ireland’s strong support for the Palestinian people, by Aysu Bicer (for Anadolu Agency).
While one might assume the deafening chorus of unconditional support Israel enjoys stretches across all Western nations, there is one country that stands out as a bastion for Palestinian rights: Ireland.
The country’s steadfast support for the Palestinian cause from the grassroots to the highest echelons of power exemplifies a profound sense of empathy and shared history.
While many European countries have been offering Israel “unwavering” support, Ireland opted to show its solidarity with Palestine.
Irish President Michael Higgins criticised remarks by European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen since the conflict broke out on Oct. 7, saying she was “not speaking for Ireland and she wasn’t speaking for the opinions that they hold.”
Ireland’s perception of Israel underwent a significant transformation as the country grappled with its own anti-British rebellion and a painful civil war that left northern Ireland under British control.
To many in Ireland, Israel is more akin to a colonial entity forcibly established by British influence, determined to assert itself over an indigenous population.
This view was further cemented by Israel’s actions after 1967, particularly its occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. The seizure of Palestinian land and imposition of military rule evoked memories of Ireland’s own history of repression at the hands of the British.
This has forged a strong connection between the two nations, separated by geography but united by their yearning for justice and freedom, and continues to shape international discourse and advocacy for Palestinian rights.
In 1980, Ireland made history by becoming the first EU member to officially call for the establishment of a Palestinian state.
This was a pivotal moment in the country’s commitment to advancing the rights of Palestinians.
It had refused, meanwhile, to open an Israeli residential Embassy in Dublin until 1993, becoming the last EU member to do so, clearly opposing Tel Aviv’s treatment of Palestinians, and reinforcing the Irish dedication to standing in solidarity with Palestine.
Today in the midst of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, Ireland is once again at the forefront of opposing Israel in the EU.
The Irish perspective on the Palestinian struggle is rooted in their own historical struggles, fostering a deep empathy for the Palestinian cause.
This extends from ordinary Irish citizens to government officials and members of the Dáil, Ireland’s parliament.
James Quigley, a representative of the Belfast Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC), drew parallels between Ireland’s own history of colonial struggle and the plight of the Palestinians.
“The people of Ireland have a proud history of the colonial struggle … So we know what it’s like to struggle against an occupation, struggle against that oppression.”
“But at the same time, what we suffered is nowhere comparable to what the Palestinians have suffered for the past 75 years with apartheid occupation, ethnic cleansing, murder,” he underlined.
“The Irish love the people of Palestine. I think for us, and even for me, personally, I see their struggle as a fight for humanity. It’s like the defining issue of our time.
“It was apartheid in South Africa and we beat that. It’s apartheid in Israel and with the strength of Palestinians and our solidarity, we’ll beat that as well,” he explained.
Gerry Carroll, a People Before Profit politician from Belfast, northern Ireland, echoed this sentiment, highlighting the widespread pro-Palestinian feeling in Ireland.
He emphasised the need to speak out against the violence in Palestine, particularly given the attempts in other European countries to criminalise pro-Palestinian protests.
“We’ve got an important opportunity in Ireland to voice up against this violence as we haven’t seen attempts (in Ireland) to criminalise Palestinian protests where we’ve seen this in other European countries in France and parts of Germany.”
“We have a population that by and large is pro-Palestinian,” he added, underlining that people in Ireland “are saying that what was happening in Palestine is state a terror, genocide.”
“So, I think our job as Ireland is to build as big a solidarity movement as possible to hopefully draw connections with people in other European and global countries.”
Sue Pentel, representing Jews for Palestine in Ireland, emphasised the significant role that Ireland could play in defending Palestine on the international stage.
“The EU is complicit. This last week, the EU questioned aid to Palestinians who don’t have the right to move from Gaza to the West Bank to Jerusalem, whose rights have been trampled on by this racist government. And they question the aid because Israel portrays itself as the victim,” she explained.
“The violence against Palestinians has been going on since the creation of Israel but to be very, very clear about this, as a Jewish person with family in the region, I do not believe that our comfort and any security that the Israeli government is talking about should exist at the expense of the Palestinian people,” added Pentel.
“The siege on Gaza, the occupation, the violence in the West Bank, makes me angry. It makes me ashamed. How can I be proud of a government that says it’s doing this in my name.”
Bobby, an employee at a pub in Belfast, also showed his support for Palestine by raising aid by selling T-shirts.
Their efforts are part of a nationwide movement in Ireland, with the whole country rallying behind the Palestinian cause, he emphasised.
“We’re not the only people helping them. The whole country is supporting the Palestinian cause. We are doing as much as we could do for them.”
Ireland’s stance in support of Palestine is not only a display of unity within the country but also a call for a broader international coalition against the injustices faced by the Palestinian people.
The voices from Ireland emphasise that this is not just a political issue but a matter of humanity, echoing the sentiments that this is indeed the defining issue of our time.