6 December 2016
Thinking about Palestine and meeting Hamas . . . on Brigid’s birthday
Two and a half thousand Palestinians were killed in the last Israeli war on Gaza, including 700 children, and 500 women – all were civilian non-combatants
THE United Nations’ designated ‘International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People’ occurred on 29 November.
A few days beforehand, I led a Sinn Féin delegation to meet with representatives from the Hamas leadership in Istanbul, Turkey.
The US State Department lists Hamas as a terrorist organisation.
On our return to Ireland, the Belfast Telegraph published a front-page story reporting that a political storm had erupted because of that meeting.
The ‘storm’ was an invention by the Democratic Unionist Party. It was a daft story and all the more stupid because DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson met a member of Hamas last August alongside Sinn Féin MLA Pat Sheehan!
I struggled to remember the last time the Belfast Telegraph ran a story about the wanton destruction of Palestinian homes or the killing of Palestinian children on the Gaza Strip.
As for the DUP, it has never issued any political condemnation of human rights violations against Palestinians by the Israeli state.
● DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson met a member of Hamas last August alongside Sinn Féin MLA Pat Sheehan
The fact is that Hamas has an electoral mandate. It is the government of Gaza. Tens of thousands of people have voted for Hamas both in Gaza and the West Bank.
Whatever about Western – or even Irish – ideological, political or theological views of Hamas, it exists as an integral part of Palestinian society and its diaspora.
Make no mistake: the failure to secure a democratic settlement over Palestine is bad for the Palestinian people and the Israeli people. The continuing conflict is causing death, injury and fear on all sides.
However, there is a relentless and disproportionate offensive of violence, destruction, human rights violations, and seizures of land being waged against Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank by the Israeli state.
Gaza is under permanent siege.
There have been four wars mounted by Israeli forces against Gaza in the last eight years.
During these incursions the Israeli state has inflicted indiscriminate destruction and violence against Palestinian communities, schools, hospitals and UNICEF aid facilities.
Two and a half thousand Palestinians were killed in the last Israeli war on Gaza, including 700 children, and 500 women – all were civilian non-combatants.
● Smoke rises from the power plant in Gaza hit by missile strikes on 29 July 2014 (UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan)
Gaza is an open-air prison with two million inmates. There is no free access in or out.
The Israeli state maintains a permanent blockade, denying the supply of humanitarian aid, medical and educational resources, and building materials.
A family or business in Gaza can only be sure of a maximum eight hours’ supply of electricity. The day before we met the Hamas leaders in Istanbul, the electricity supply was cut to the hospitals in the Gaza Strip.
Sixty-five percent of young people are unemployed.
Access to clean drinking water is deliberately restricted by the Israeli state.
● Palestinians search through the rubble of their home destroyed by Israeli strikes in Khuza’a, southern Gaza Strip, in 2014 (UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan)
There are almost seven thousand Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails. Some have been incarcerated for 35 years. One of the Hamas leadership’s delegation we met had served 20 years; another had been detained for five years.
Currently, the Israeli state is aggressively colonising land to create new settlements and expand others. Approximately 700,000 settlers have been relocated by Israel into the West Bank.
It was deeply alarming to receive first-hand accounts of the deteriorating situation in Jerusalem. The actions of the Israeli military and the Lehava anti-Arab racist group are having a seriously destabilising impact upon this highly symbolic and spiritual place.
● Sinn Féin’s Conor Keenan and Ted Howell with Dr Musa Abu Marzouk and Declan Kearney MLA
Throughout Sinn Féin’s meetings with the Hamas representatives, Ted Howell, Conor Keenan and I set out Sinn Féin’s experience of and approach to developing the Irish Peace Process. We explained the republican peace strategy and our commitment to peaceful, political and democratic methods to bring about an agreed, united Ireland.
We emphasised the absolute imperative of inclusive political negotiations to help end all armed actions, and develop the circumstances for durable political agreement. We also spoke about the role of compromise and accommodation.
We also underlined the need for Palestinian political unity and the importance of cohesion and mutual respect among the various Palestinian factions.
Properly constituted and inclusive negotiations are the only way to bring about peace and democracy in Palestine.
It is obvious there is no military solution. No side can win. The Israeli state will not militarily defeat the Palestinians, including Hamas; neither will the Palestinians militarily defeat the Israelis.
The US administration and other responsible Western and regional states should help to focus all sides on this indisputable reality.
A democratic two-state solution is required which respects the rights of all Palestinians and their diaspora, as well as Israeli citizens.
No Palestinian political faction or section of society should be demonised or excluded from the conflict resolution process.
In recent years, Tony Blair has met numerous times with Hamas, on behalf of the Middle East Quartet (the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and Russia) in implicit recognition of that position.
This much is clear: Hamas must be part of establishing a democratic political solution.
Sinn Féin has provided longstanding and significant solidarity to the Palestinian cause. We are committed to engaging on an even-handed basis with all Palestinian political factions and the wider diaspora. We remain willing to share our experience of conflict resolution and peace building.
We have done this on several occasions with Israeli representatives in Jerusalem, Belfast and elsewhere.
We will continue to take every opportunity to oppose the injustices being perpetrated by the Israeli state and try to influence a change in its policies towards Palestine.
We will seek to positively engage with all parties to the conflict in order to promote a lasting democratic political solution between Palestine and Israel.
I’m writing this blog on what would have been my Mammy’s 77th birthday.
She died 16 years ago and her name was Brigid.
She was the kindest person I’ve ever known. She was one of my ‘touchstone’ people and she always had a wise word about how I and others needed to take forward the struggle for equality, justice and a united Ireland.
Every Christmas Eve, she and my Daddy would traditionally light a candle in our front window at home to mark Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem – as a symbolic beacon for the ‘Three Wise Men’ en route to Jesus’s manger.
On Christmas Eve this year I plan to light a candle in my own front window in solidarity with all our Palestinian sisters and brothers in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, and the Arab people being oppressed in places such as Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
I know Brigid would have thought that was a good thing to do.
So I’m asking that you think about doing the same thing this Christmas Eve – light a candle in solidarity with Palestine.