|Pádraig MacLochlainn TD speaking in Ramallah|
“THE IRISH PEOPLE stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Palestinian people and we will not rest until the Palestinian people are living in peace and prosperity in their own State. Long live Palestine!”
These were the closing remarks of Sinn Féin Justice spokesperson Pádraig Mac Lochlainn TD at the international conference of local authorities in solidarity with the Palestinian people which took place in Ramallah in the West Bank at the end of November.
While in Palestine, Pádraig visited various parts of the West Bank and Jerusalem to see the situation on the ground for himself. Driving to the birthplace of Jesus Christ, the Palestinian City of Bethlehem, required him to take a route dubbed ‘The Devil’s Elbow’, which skirts the illegal separation barrier. This circuitous route is mainly used by Palestinians; other roads, more direct routes, are only for settlers. “I call them apartheid roads,” Pádraig tells An Phoblacht.
“A human rights defender showed me the scale of the blatant apartheid system in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.
“Illegal Jewish settlements have superb infrastructure, clean streets and a modern tram system connecting them to west Jerusalem. It’s like a modern European city. Then, in the Palestinian areas – and these are not poor areas, rents here are upwards of €800 per month and people living there all pay their taxes – their roads, streets and services are appalling.
“The Israeli Government uses draconian legal and infrastructural tactics to push the Palestinian people out of Jerusalem.”
Throughout Jerusalem are the remnants of demolished Palestinian homes. The illegal policy of home demolitions is used to make way for Jewish settlements and Israeli tourism. Meanwhile, Palestinians are stonewalled in their attempts to build new homes.
“They actually charge the Palestininans to have their homes demolished, or they can pay a fine to delay the demolition,” Pádraig says incredulously.
The continuous carve-up and fragmentation of the West Bank into Palesitnian islands surrounded by Israeli settlements is putting the two-state solution in real danger, he says.
“It’s desperate. My fear is a third intifada (uprising).”
On the streets of Jerusalem the situation is tense.
“The Palestinian people I met are deeply concerned. They don’t want to see a return to violence but there’s a sense that they are running out of options. The international community has utterly failed to stop the settlements.
“There is a clear Israeli strategy to talk about a two-state solution but every single day they seek to destroy and undermine it.”
Following Israel’s blitz on Gaza in the summer of 2014 and attacks by Israeli settlers, there has been a surge of violence in Jerusalem, including the killing of five Jews in a gun and knife attack on a synagogue which came days after a Palestinian bus driver was found hanged in his vehicle. Other attacks have followed.
“There is a sense of hopelessness,” Pádraig tells me. “Obviously we condemn the recent Palestinian attacks in Jerusalem and the Israeli war crimes in Gaza and the West Bank but if we do not urgently deal with the situation now, then a third intifada will be hard to avoid. The two-state solution is in peril.”
The Palestinian leadership under Mahmoud Abbas has been repeatedly undermined as their concessions are constantly derided as not going far enough for Israel, despite their willingness to accept just 22% of historical Palestine. This has also served to bolster Abbas’s rivals in Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
“Unless there is urgent intervention and the Israeli state is confronted, conflict is inevitable,” the Irish member of parliament says.
The USA’s backing for Israel and its constant vetoing of United Nations Security Council resolutions on Palestine and Israel has contributed to the deterioration in the Middle East peace process. Pádraig says it’s time the Irish and European parliaments challenged the USA.
“The USA has been a comfort blanket for Israel that has allowed the situation to get to where it is.
“The vast majority of people and states across the world want Palestinians to have their freedom.
Those of us who want that also want the security of the Israeli people to be guaranteed – and the two-state agreement provides for that.
“The Palestinians are a lovely, decent, welcoming and honourable community. I felt so sorry that political leaders in the international community have failed these people who have such a rich history and culture.
“They just want to have a life, have freedom, have a job and have the right to walk through their own cities and towns.
“It’s up to our political leaders to step up to the mark for the people of Palestine and peace with justice.”
- This article first appeared in the January 2015 edition of An Phoblacht