Saturday 18 August 2018

Irish 'human shields' must answer questions

Eilis O'Hanlon

Why have two Irish women supporting the Palestinians been dubbed peace activists by the Irish media, asks Eilis O'Hanlon

WHAT is the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) to which Caoimhe Butterly and Mary Kelly, the two Irish women under siege in the Palestinian territories right now, both belong?

According to RTE, they are "peace activists". Kitty Holland and Michael Jansen used the same phrase in the Irish Times. To the Irish Mirror Ms Butterly was a "human rights worker".

To Mary Robinson, in her statement as High Commissioner for Human Rights to the UN last week, Ms Butterly was one of a group grandly-named "human rights defenders", whilst the International Solidarity Movement itself was a "peace group".

Mrs Robinson actually went further still, referring to Caoimhe Butterly as "an Irish girl".

Surely only a feminist icon could get away these days with calling a 23-year-old Irish woman a "girl". And certainly not one who, far from being plunged against her will into a political situation, has worked previously in similar circumstances in Guatemala and Mexico from where she co-wrote a report for An Phoblacht in 2000 on a hunger strike by sympathisers of the Zapatista National Liberation Army.

Describing her as a "girl", is not only condescending; it provides cover for a cynical, disingenuous attempt to make what the IMS is about in the Palestinian territories seem entirely innocent.

Here is proof again that one need only describe oneself as a human rights or peace activist these days to have the designation accepted without demur. Just as in Northern Ireland, "human rights lawyer" is an accolade now given to any defence lawyer who ever worked to keep terrorists out of prison, so is "human rights activist" now a title given to anybody who takes stances on international issues which happen to agree with one's own.

For the record, the ISM is an organisation set up to show "international solidarity with the Palestinian people". Personally, its members are committed to non-violent means of protest against the Israeli forces, but they openly declare that "we recognise the Palestinian right to resist Israeli violence and occupation via armed struggle". Sounds familiar.

Whatever one thinks about that position, it is surely absurd to treat those who hold it as though they were somehow dispassionate observers or commentators of what is happening in the Middle East and yet that is what the Irish, and indeed British, media are doing every time they describe International Solidarity Movement members as mere "peace activists".

More accurate, both journalistically and ethically, would be to describe them as international supporters of the Palestinian cause.

Yet far from that, Kitty Holland of the Irish Times wrote last week of members of the International Solidarity Movement forming a "neutral physical barrier between the Israeli Defence Forces and the Palestinians".

A movement which accepts the right of the Palestinians to "engage in armed struggle" and which concentrates its resources solely on helping Palestinians, is hardly neutral.

The ISM do not form a human shield around Jewish cafes and bars in West Jerusalem to protect them from suicide bombers, after all. They do not champion the right of Israel to "engage in armed struggle" to protect its citizens against murderous attack.

Nor are supporters of the International Solidarity Movement and its ideological brethren ever likely to be found mounting protests outside the offices of the Palestinian Delegate General to Ireland, as they did outside the Israeli embassy last week.

Not even after an astonishing performance by the Delegate General, Ali Ahmed Halimeh, on Morning Ireland, when he declared that "indeed we have control" over militants who have been attacking Israel, and asked "why condemn somebody who feels he wants to kill himself in order to defend his own freedom?"

It ended with Mr Halimeh shrieking at the Israeli ambassador: "We shall fight you until we achieve our freedom!" It is strange "peace activists" who can feel comfortable with this rhetoric. And a strange UN High Commissioner for Human Rights who thinks that those whose website does not contain a single word about the 103 Israelis killed by Palestinians last month should qualify for the accolade "Human Rights Defenders".

All victims are equal, but some are obviously more equal than others and none are more equal in the eyes of the International Solidarity Movement than the victims of Israel.

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