Ireland’s bloody history could help other countries emerge from conflict
IRISH people feel a sense of empathy with Palestinians. We understand what it feels like to be dispossessed.
We also have a tendency to side with the underdog because it wasn’t so long ago that we were in that position ourselves.
When I visited Belfast late last year, a local told me a story about the impact the 2008 war between Israel and Gaza had on the people of the city.
The nationalist community of Belfast hung Palestinian flags along their streets and the following day, in response to this show of solidarity, Belfast’s unionists started to fly the Israeli flag. In this small way, our own home-grown conflict echoes one of the longest-running conflicts in the Middle East.
There is another echo of that conflict to be heard in the way that I feel unable to speak out about the war in Gaza with a loud voice and strong opinions.
I remember when the conflict was still raging in Northern Ireland (and before anyone says otherwise: I know it hasn’t come to an end entirely but nobody can deny that the peace process has made huge progress to date), there was a lot of misunderstanding about it.
A great many people felt they had the right to opinions when they actually had no real insight into what the conflict was all about.
I count myself as one of those people. The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland may share the one island but Dingle is very far from Belfast and I knew little about what was happening in the north when I was growing up. All I could really be sure about was that it was complicated and that there were at least two sides to the story.
This is why I don’t condemn Israel. I know that the formation of that state came about for the darkest of reasons and that the people of Israel have very real reasons to feel frightened and defensive.
But on the other hand, this does not mean I condone the way they are treating Palestinians. Above all of the terrible things happening in the world at the moment, it’s my firmly-held opinion that everyone ought to be doing more to help these people and to put an end to this lethal conflict.
I would love to see Ireland taking a proactive role in this. Our country has a long and bloody history of its own. We are not in any way perfect but we are finally travelling along a path of peace and we could be of help to others who are trying to find their way onto that same path.
I know that countries such as Britain and America try to mediate in international conflicts but few people believe politicians from these countries.
Why should they when everyone knows that they have arms industries of their own which supply guns and bombs to the various groups that are fighting in conflicts and wars all over the world?
Ireland is far removed from all of this and this is why people might trust us. It’s why they might believe that we have no ulterior motives. And because we have come through a complicated conflict of our own, they might also think that we could be capable of understanding the various contradictory sides of the story.
Our history is long, violent and blood soaked. We are still coming to terms with it and the impact it is still having on our present-day political realities. But we have made a choice. The people of Ireland, north and south, chose peace and a life free from the threat of bombs and guns.
How wonderful would it be if we could mark that past and celebrate our new future by working with other countries and people who are trying to find their own ways towards peace?
It would certainly be better than standing silently by as there is more heart-breaking suffering and death in Israel and Gaza.