As regular readers of An Sionnach Fionn know, I am generally sympathetic to Israel and tend to see its history and present circumstances through Irish eyes. However that background also means that I have great empathy for the position of the Palestinian people, both inside and outside the borders of the former United Kingdom Mandate. In Ireland we know and understand military occupation, both historically and more recently in relation to the conflict in the north-east of the country. Since the 1980s the people of Palestine have lived with the expanding presence of Israeli “settlements” in the Occupied Territories of the West Bank, Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, exacerbating the suffocating weight of the occupation.
Of course, colonialism and displacement is another thing we have experienced on this island nation, to our great misfortune. The coalition government led by Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, composed of nationalist and religious parties like Likud, United Torah Judaism, Shas, Kulanu and the Jewish Home, seems set on making the Jewish State a pariah among the countries of the world, with only a future Trump-led United States ready to countenance the establishment of a “Greater Israel” in the Middle East. The international community is clearly in no mood to further tolerate a nation claiming “Western values” while acting like a Third World dictatorship, defying expected global norms in a manner that long-ago brought the apartheid-era South Africa to heel.
This brings me to the video recording below, where Muamen Shteiwi, a seven year old Palestinian boy, is held by Israeli Forces following protests at the village of Kafr Qadum, in the West Bank. Residents of the area have been cut off from the nearby Palestinian city of Nablus since the military blocked the road to protect the expansion of the Jewish settlement of Kedumim in 2003. Demonstrations in the region have become a regular affair, except that this time masked soldiers were hidden under camouflaged tarpaulins, waiting to ambush the protesters.
Some readers – especially in the US – might see Shteiwi’s detention as a perfectly reasonable response, given the violent circumstances. A child throwing rocks at heavily armed military and paramilitary personnel in armoured jeeps is a danger to himself, if not to others. However, that hardly seems the intent of the thug-like Israelis who hold the child in front of them, for protection or as a dangling bait, while jeering at the Palestinian protesters behind the camera.
I – like many, many others – remember the early days of the Long War in the UK-administered Six Counties, the so-called Irish-British Troubles, and the “Saturday morning matinees” in the strife-torn city of Derry. Children free from school at the weekend would head down to the barricades and waste-grounds to confront the British Occupation Forces, despite the wishes and best attempts of their parents to keep them safe. Here, in the bloody remnant of Greater England’s colony on the island of Ireland, boys as young as seven would jeer at the soldiers, who would respond with curses or with speeding armoured vehicles. Sometimes the regular clashes would escalate, stones and bottles replacing catcalls, rubber bullets and CS gas replacing curses, until the “older lads” would come down in the afternoon and evening, carrying crates of petrol bombs, their faces obscured with scarves and beanie hats.
This resistance to occupation by civilian youths of all ages – and later genders – was as routine as going to school or to work, a part of daily life, a fixed time or date in the yearly schedule. Both sides were settled into a decades-old Long War until eventually Britain, pressured from within and without, blinked first and the slow torturous years of secret and not-so-secret negotiations could begin. Peace eventually came to Ireland because the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army and Sinn Féin were in a position of strength, able to endure indefinably, while the United Kingdom was in a position of weakness, perennially trapped between defeat and victory: unable to accept the former, incapable of achieving the latter. Compromise on all sides was and is the chief characteristic of the Dublin-Belfast-London-Washington peace process of the late 1980s to early 2000s. The main participants were given no option but to reach an agreement, Downing Street, Stormont Castle and the Palace of Westminster in the UK harried and pushed into an accommodation by the White House, State Department and Congress in the US.
Unfortunately no such pressure exists in the United States when it comes to Israel. Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a political rogue and mountebank, is praised by Republican and Democrat alike, from the US capital to individual state capitals. An avowedly racist and sectarian extremist like Ayelet Shaked, the minister of justice, is paraded around like a supermodel for rich Jewish-Americans and fundamentalist Christians in country clubs to oooh and awww over, while filling the coffers of her Jewish Home party with millions of dollars. Meanwhile the US secretary of state, John Kerry, can make this extraordinary admission in a speech given a few days ago, one that is not even seen as the most important part:
“If the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic, it cannot be both, and it won’t ever really be at peace.”
Which, of course, is an implicit acknowledgment that contemporary Israel is not like the secular nation-states of the West that we know but instead bears a closer resemblance to the multitude of “Arab Republics” and “Islamic Republics” which neighbour it. It is not a democracy as we in Europe or North America would understand it, but is rather an ethnocracy, one based on the ethno-religious identity of its ruling community. That is both its short-term strength and long-term weakness. As with the former one-party unionist state of “Northern Ireland”, established by Britain’s democracy-thwarting partition of the island of Ireland in the early 1920s, an anti-democratic minority surrounded by a democratic majority will eventually succumb to the latter. Given the Irish example, not even the unfailing enthusiasm or partisan sentiment of Donald J. Trump and company can change the terminal fate some Israelis are dooming their country to.