As gestures go there was nothing small or insignificant about the decision taken this week by Dublin City Council to fly the Palestinian flag above City Hall for the rest of the month of May. There were a few abstentions and a lot of protests — as you would expect — from Israel’s ambassador to Ireland Ze’ev Boker, but it was clear that there was a great deal of solidarity and support in the Irish capital for this move.
People Before Profit Councillor John Lyons was the proposer of the motion to fly the flag, which he said was to show solidarity with Palestinians and mark 50 years of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It also illustrates the wider support of the international community for the people of Palestine. Like so many politicians before him, Lyons drew parallels with “Apartheid”; indeed, he said that the situation for the Palestinians is “worse than South Africa.”
Ambassador Boker was having none of it, though, and wrote to every single city councillor saying that such a move would be “highly politically charged” and demonstrate a one-sided approach by the council to the conflict. What was also revealing about the contents of the ambassador’s letter was the admission that many Israelis who had travelled to the Irish capital for employment had decided to stay and make it their home.
“We must ask what kind of message such a gesture sends to these Israelis who are proud to now call Dublin their adopted home?” wrote Boker. Perhaps such Israelis have turned their backs on the so-called “Promised Land” because they prefer to live in a peaceful, civilised democracy where Apartheid does not exist.
Fine Gael Councillor Anne Feeney proposed a compromise, in which both the Palestinian and Israeli flags would be flown for a week in May to acknowledge the “extensive suffering experienced by civilians” on both sides of the conflict. The “extensive suffering” she refers to, however, is not reflected in the casualty figures.
Take the number of innocent Palestinian children killed by Israel’s brutal military occupation since last year alone, for example. The majority of the children were killed and injured while going about their normal daily activities, such as going to school, playing, shopping or simply being in their homes. Thirty-five Palestinian children were killed by Israeli soldiers, police and armed civilians in the West Bank and Gaza in 2016; they accounted for a third of all Palestinians killed by Israel’s military and security forces. In 2014, 315 Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip were killed during Israel’s latest of many military offensives against civilians in the coastal enclave. Put another way, it was reported in mid-2014 that official statistics reveal that 1,518 Palestinian children were killed by Israelis from September 2000 to April 2013; that’s an average of one child killed every three days for 13 years.
Furthermore, Feeney’s attempt to make it look as if the conflict in the Holy Land is somehow fought out between equals — well-intentioned though it might have been — ignores the fact that Israel has one of the most well-equipped and active armed forces in the world, while the Palestinians are a largely civilian population living under occupation. It was unsurprising, therefore, that her motion was defeated with just 11 councillors in favour and 43 against. Councillor Lyons’ motion, however, was passed, with 42 councillors in favour, 11 against and seven abstentions.
A number of councillors voted against both motions, arguing that only the Irish and European Union flags should fly above City Hall, implying that the injustice meted out to the Palestinians was happening thousands of miles away and thus, it is assumed, not really Ireland’s, let alone Dublin’s, business. This is intriguing, since a quick look at the map shows that Gaza is very much part of the Mediterranean rim and could even be part of Europe one day. Israel, remember, has favourable EU trading and research agreements, plays its international football under UEFA, and takes part in the Eurovision Song Contest.
However, the message given out by Dublin City Councillors as the Palestinian flag was hoisted above their headquarters was clear: human rights belong to, and are for, everyone, regardless of where in the world they live or what their ethnicity is.
The question that the Israeli ambassador should really be asking, therefore, is why so many Israeli citizens are leaving Israel to live in Europe and North America. For a country which is built on the premise that immigrants will go there and live on occupied land, this is a disastrous state of affairs. Might I suggest that even they are beginning to understand that a colonial project such as Israel is not only unsustainable, but also morally and legally unacceptable in the 21st century?