Monday, June 18, 2012

Israel's Irish Reputation

Now there's an interesting story that raises the possibility that die-hard Israel-bashers may be capable, after all, if they have been endowed with a healthy ration of intelligence, to experience an epiphany as Irish film maker Nicky Larkin obviously has done.  The result of his decision to embark on a trip to the Middle East to spend investigative, open-minded time both in Israel and the West Bank, was the production of a film, Forty Shades of Grey.

It is well enough known that the Irish have opted in to the general support of Palestinian rights, as opposing Israel in view of the accepted wisdom of the brutal Israeli occupation.  In the past, members of the Palestine Liberation Organization had training from the Irish Republican Army in guerrilla-type warfare.  And now, in Ireland, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign represents a more generalized support for the welfare and human rights entitlements of the Palestinians.

Israel recognized as a brutal, repressive foreign element in the geography.  So much so that only six months ago Dublin city council gave its agreement to the enactment of mock executions of "Israelis" at the hands of "Palestinians" in the city's main thoroughfare.  This was a public event organized by the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign.  Surely a country could hardly be more maligned and held to a standard that bears no relation to reality than the indignities visited upon the reputation of the State of Israel.

As Mr. Larkin writes: "Being anti-Israel has somehow become part of our Irish national identity - the same way we are supposed to resent the English."  And resent the English they do, spitting out the very words in derisive disgust, considering themselves to have been occupied and ill done by, just, as a matter of fact, as have been the Palestinians.  The detestation of the English has primary place in the opinion of the Irish, and it seemed a natural enough progression that Israel would be recognized as a like abusive power.

Resentment, anger and hatred all go hand in hand in a nation that considers itself to have been historically oppressed.  The Irish wallow in their victimization.  Memories are long and unforgiving.  The Troubles take a pre-eminent role in the teaching of modern Irish history, alongside the dreadful potato famine.  Attitudes do not change lightly, people cling to their beliefs determined not to forget nor forgive their perspective of their history, for it is theirs and they clasp it fiercely.

Somewhat like the Palestinians who also treasure their status as refugees whom justice has overlooked, victims of an interloper who took their land by stealth and by force.  That version of history is enshrined in the bitter memory of Palestinians who recognize no other history than that.  And the Palestinians savour the friendship and support given them by the Irish.  Mr. Larkin speaks of his activism as a Palestinian supporter having been spurred by Operation Cast Lead, Israel's response to continued rocket attacks from Gaza.

"I had definite opinions on Israeli foreign policy.  The Irish papers were full of stories of Israeli aggression every day that summer - between flotillas and bombings it didn't look good.  You can't polish a turd", he commented dryly.  Still, he wanted definitive proof, to see for himself how "nasty" Israelis were; proof that his attitude mirroring the prevailing Irish opinion on the matter was a true reflection of the situation. 

In Israel, the Irish filmmaker and his crew were understandably viewed with suspicion.  Israelis are well versed on the hostile attitudes of the Irish against them.  On the West Bank, they were welcomed with open arms.  And there his eyes were opened; not only to the IRA graffiti he saw on the wall of separation, putting a welcome halt to martyr-inflicted mass butchery of Israelis, but neon crucifixes and posters of martyrs.  Martyrs, of course, are suicide bombers, and they were being glorified.
"I was confused by the constant Palestinian repetition of the mantra of "non-violent resistance".  Why put up all the posters of martyrs, if you advocate non-violent resistance?  I was supposed to understand all this somehow because I'm Irish.  But even the IRA didn't below themselves up ... at least not on purpose.  I was also frustrated by the unquestioning attitude of the foreign activists.

"Anything seemed acceptable in the name of the Palestinian cause.  No questions asked.  But would these war-tourists apply this same liberal attitude if it was happening at home in their own country?  If buses were exploding in their own home cities?  If they weren't out here on holidays in their summer playground?"
He pondered these questions and more; introspection his purpose to reveal the truth in all those curious details.  Spent several months interviewing all kinds of people in the geography: "...everyone from Ultra-Orthodox settlers to Marxist Palestinians.  Everybody had an opinion, and everybody was sure that their opinion was right."  He discovered there were no black-and-white issues; there were, instead many shades of grey and many issues involved, a completely complex situation.

Back in Ireland when he published a series of articles in Ireland's most widely circulated Sunday paper, his political shift was obvious and the reaction was swift and mostly condemning.  Descriptive epithets painted him variously, a "Protestant", and a "Mossad agent".  But, he claims, he also was made aware that in the background there existed a hitherto silent group of people who supported his change of perspective.

And he says he is proud that the Irish are beginning to consider the issue of Israel versus the Palestinians in an entirely new light.  He claims that a sea-change in opinion is gradually taking place.  Of course, seeing is believing, and that shift is yet to be seen beyond what Mr. Larkin has experienced.  He takes pride, he says, that outside the front of a Dublin city centre pub, an Israeli flag now flies.

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