Category Archives: Ireland

Olive Reincarnations and Elvis on Mars: Boris Johnson Becomes British PM

The BBC World Service took its listeners to the English cathedral town of Ely, set in picturesque Cambridgeshire, during the course of a hot July 23 in an effort to take the pulse of the country.  Well, at least that particular, erratic pulse. It found, for the most part, a certain enthusiasm for Boris Johnson, the fop-haired, bumbling wonder of the Conservatives, a quite literally inventive journalist, former magazine editor and Mayor of London who has become the new prime minister of Britain.

One word kept cropping up in discussions like an endangered species searching for a bullet: enthusiasm.  Plain, sprightly, delightful winged enthusiasm. “We need to be enthusiastic; Boris (because, of course, he is Boris to them) is enthusiastic.”  Be gone pessimists and Cassandras; farewell such tactical and strategic realities of being in or out of the European common market; in or out of European regulations; ease of access or difficulty on the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

With the Conservatives voting on who to replace Theresa May as leader of the Conservative Party, and, it followed, Prime Minister, Johnson won through against Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.  The margin of victory – 66 to 34 percent of the party membership – was nearly two to one, and came from a system Johnson derided as a “gigantic fraud” when employed by the British Labour Party in 2007.

His victory speech had much of what has come before.  It spoke of instincts – the acquisitive standing out (“the instincts to own your own house, to earn and spend your own money”).  These were “noble”, “proper” and “good”.  Nor should the needy be forgotten, the poor abandoned, in realising them.  Words were given like those of a motivational speaker.  “Do you feel daunted?  I don’t think you look remotely daunted to me. And I think we know we can do it, and that the people of this country are trusting in us to do it, and we know that we will do it.”  While he conceded that the campaign of deliver, united and defeat – spelled DUD – did not augur well, detractors had forgotten the E: “E for energise”.  “I say to all doubters, dude, we are going to energise the country.”

The October 31st deadline for Britain’s exit from the European Union would not change.  The “new spirit of can-do” would prevail.  Britain, “like some slumbering giant” would “rise and ping off the guy ropes of self-doubt and negativity.”  Metaphors of growth and movement abounded: “fantastic full-fibre broadband sprouting in every household”; “more police”.

The Johnson-watchers verged between being worried and thrilled.  Comments seem pitched to a sporting register: How will BJ perform on the field?  Will he restrain himself, or be unduly foolish on the world stage?  As if describing an unusual species, Lloyd Evans remarked that, even at Oxford as a first-year student, he was “weirdly conspicuous – the ruddy jowls, the stooped bullish stances, the booming Duke of Wellington voice, and the freakish white bob crowning his head like a heavenly spotlight.”

James Forsyth, writing in The Spectator, is hopeful the real Boris is partially caged, leaving another version to do get his hands dirty.  “This is a risk; will his approach sound flippant when discussing serious issues?”  On balance, however, Forsyth felt that there was something to be said about the man being let loose.  “When he tried to be a different kind of figure, it didn’t work.  It felt forced rather than natural.”

Finance commentator and regular forecaster of economic apocalypse Robert Peston stated the cold, mad justice of it all.  As Johnson had been instrumental in creating Brexit, it was only fitting that he now try to own it.

Navigating the gong tormented sea of narratives on Johnson, a few career standouts remain, making his attempt to be Big, Bold and British, unconvincing.  The new British PM and Tory leader is a piece of truly befuddled work, one who still manages to play the card of the electable clown.

As a journalist, he fabricated and teased records.  In 1987, when employed by The Times courtesy of family connections, he was fired for a story on the discovery of the Rose Palace, built by Edward II.  His godfather, Oxford historian Colin Lucas, featured.  “The trouble,” he recalled, “was that somewhere in my copy I managed to attribute to Colin the view that Edward II and Piers Gaveston would have been cavorting together in the Rose Palace.”  Pity, then, that Gaveston was murdered by the time the Rose Palace was built.

After the sack, he ventured over to The Telegraph, and became a shock trooper for anti-EU sentiment in Brussels, feeding Eurosceptic fanaticism back in Britain and beyond with such choice titled pieces as “Snails are fish, says EU”, “Brussels recruits sniffers to ensure that EU-manure smells the same” and “Threat to British pink sausages”.  Johnson’s feeling about it all?  A “rather weird sense of power” that his copy had “this amazing, explosive effect on the Tory party”.

His casually racist remarks on foreign powers and peoples have given him an enormous inventory of the insulted over the years, producing degrees of consternation and rib-stitching hilarity.  He has deemed Africa a country, its people “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”, compared women who wear burqas to “bank robbers” and “letterboxes” and appraised the chaos within his own conservative party as akin to “Papua New Guinea-style orgies of cannibalism and chief killing.”

Other comments have caused less consternation, not least of all his views of the current US president, Donald Trump, whom Johnson deemed “unfit to hold the office of the United States” on account of his “stupefying ignorance”.  This, from a man who himself said that becoming UK prime minister was “about as good as the chances of finding Elvis on Mars, or my being reincarnated as an olive.”  We live in jaw-droppingly interesting times.

Britain is in a mess, and the Boris Broom is unlikely to be able to make its bristles more effective beyond tinkering with the May-EU Brexit plan as it stands.  The EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has expressed the view that some room is open on reworking “the agreed declaration on the new partnership” but that the “withdrawal agreement” would be more or less ratified in its current form.

On the diplomatic front, Johnson is bound to be confused, if his various stances on the Northern Ireland-Ireland border, or non-border, are anything to go by.  Having scolded his predecessor for taking the view that having no firm border between the two would not be in the UK’s interests, he subsequently veered, telling the House of Commons that “there can be no return to a hard border.”  BJ’s slumbering giant may well continue to do a bit more slumbering.  Over to you, dude!

NATO and the Culture of War: Ireland’s History of Resistance

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of NATO with the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty on 4 April 1949. Established as a peacetime alliance between the United States and Europe to prevent expansion of the Soviet Union, NATO has grown in size and and changed from a defensive force to an aggressive force implementing Western policies of expansion and control.

NATO now has 29 members ranging geographically east to west from the United Kingdom to countries of the former Soviet Union and north to south from Norway to Greece. NATO’s intervention in the Bosnian war in 1994 signaled the beginning of a new role for a force effectively made redundant by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Since then NATO has escalated its presence on the international scene taking on various roles in Afghanistan in 2003, Iraq in 2004, the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean in 2009 and culminated in the bombing of Libya in 2011 with ‘9,500 strike sorties against pro-Gaddafi targets.’

The main argument for the existence of NATO was for it to be a system of collective defence in response to external attack from the Soviet Union. Although during the Cold War NATO did not carry out military operations as a defence force, its changing role has now implicated its members in a culture of aggressive war which they had not originally signed up for.

For former colonial powers the NATO culture of war on a global scale is nothing new. The geopolitical agendas of expansionism for Western elites that NATO serves is the modern form of the colonial adventures of the past which have long passed their sell-by date. The culture of war which passes for ‘the white man’s burden’, ‘bringing freedom to other countries’ or ‘saving them from communism’ legitimizes aggressive action abroad while giving a sense of pride at home of a worthwhile military doing a great job.

War as a means to an end and war as culture

The culture of war then is different from culture wars (e.g. competing forms of culture like religion). Since the Enlightenment, war has been described as a means to an end, serving essentially rational interests. The benefits of war at home like ending the feudal system, repelling invaders, etc. were seen to apply abroad too by helping others through systems of alliances; for example, the Second World War alliance to end Hitlerite fascism.

However, there are those who see war as an end in itself, as part of the human condition. Writers like Martin Van Creveld have argued that:

War exercises a powerful fascination in its own right — one that has its greatest impact on participants but is by no means limited to them. Fighting itself can be a source of joy, perhaps even the greatest joy of all. Out of this fascination grew an entire culture that surrounds it and in which, in fact, it is immersed.

However, not all cultures of war are the same. Van Creveld conflates the culture of war of imperial nations with the culture of war of resistance to colonialism and imperialism. Britain’s wars were fought for the benefit of British elites. But Ireland, for example, has a long history of opposition to British colonialism and Ireland’s culture of war has similar symbols and traditions to Britain yet very different content. Over the centuries generation after generation of Irish men and women have taken part in wars of resistance to colonial domination. While the British culture of war may have been a proud culture of successful militarism, in Ireland it was a desperate fight for independence from an all-powerful enemy always willing to throw its vast armory into the fight against ‘treachery to the King’.

In other words, the culture of war was imposed on a people as a way to survive military, economic and political domination. Which brings up the question of whether war really is a part of the human condition.

War and ‘primitive tribes’

It has been a Romantic trope to look back to the ‘primitive tribes’ as a way of understanding our own society and how they may have looked before feudalism and the burgeoning capitalism’s ‘satanic mills’ were set in motion. Yet, it is interesting to see the descriptions of ‘primitive people’ from our history books, as Zinn writes:

When Columbus and his sailors came ashore, carrying swords, speaking oddly, the Arawaks ran to greet them, brought them food, water, gifts. […] These Arawaks of the Bahama Islands were much like Indians on the mainland, who were remarkable (European observers were to say again and again) for their hospitality, their belief in sharing.”

Bartolome de las Casas, who, as a young priest, participated in the conquest of Cuba, wrote:.

They are not completely peaceful, because they do battle from time to time with other tribes, but their casualties seem small, and they fight when they are individually moved to do so because of some grievance, not on the orders of captains or kings.

Their resorting to violence and killing was a form of defence which ultimately failed:

On Haiti, they found that the sailors left behind at Fort Navidad had been killed in a battle with the Indians, after they had roamed the island in gangs looking for gold, taking women and children as slaves for sex and labor.[…] Total control led to total cruelty. The Spaniards “thought nothing of knifing Indians by tens and twenties and of cutting slices off them to test the sharpness of their blades.” Las Casas tells how “two of these so-called Christians met two Indian boys one day, each carrying a parrot; they took the parrots and for fun beheaded the boys.” The Indians’ attempts to defend themselves failed. And when they ran off into the hills they were found and killed.

Thus, we can see that while there was occasional violence against other tribes these tribes lived in peace until faced with the extreme violence of their invaders.

Development of warrior societies

Recent research in archeology seems to suggest now that we don’t need to look to ‘primitive tribes’ abroad anymore but can see similar experiences in research on our own ancestors here in Europe and nearby regions.

In an article by John Horgan, “Survey of Earliest Human Settlements Undermines Claim that War Has Deep Evolutionary Roots“, he looks at the recent work of anthropologist Brian Ferguson, an authority on the origins of warfare:

Ferguson closely examines excavations of early human settlements in Europe and the Near East in the Neolithic era, when our ancestors started abandoning their nomadic ways and domesticating plants and animals. Ferguson shows that evidence of war in this era is quite variable. In many regions of Europe, Neolithic settlements existed for 500-1,000 years without leaving signs of warfare. “As time goes on, more war signs are fixed in all potential lines of evidence—skeletons, settlements, weapons and sometimes art,” Ferguson writes. “But there is no simple line of increase.” By the time Europeans started supplementing stone tools with metal ones roughly 5,500 years ago, “a culture of war was in place across all of Europe,” Ferguson writes. “After that,” Ferguson told me by email, “you see the growth of cultural militarism, culminating in the warrior societies of the Bronze Age.”

It seems then that the history of the development of warrior societies and their enslavement of peaceful peoples is the basis for our cultures of war: the wars of those imposing slavery on people and the wars of those resisting.

The idea of a inherent human condition of war promoted by Van Creveld may be covering up for the felt need or desire for a culture of war to dissuade those who may be thinking of imposing slavery or dominance on a people, as a form of defence in an aggressive, militarized world, for example, the Jews in Nazi Germany .

The Irish people have a long history of resistance to British forces and Ireland’s long experience of foreign aggression has led it to be wary of foreign military associations. Thus, today Ireland is still not a fully paid up member of NATO. In the nineteenth century the British used every form of simianism and Frankensteinism to depict the Irish people who had the gall to combine against them.

Ridiculing resistance: “The Irish Frankenstein” (1882) and “Mr. G O’Rilla, the Young Ireland Party” (1861)

This all changed during the First World War when Britain desperately needed new recruits and issued posters now depicting a proud Irishman as a country squire. Guilt was the weapon of choice in these posters as Britain declared to be fighting for the rights of small nations like Ireland, who was not participating.

WWI British Army Recruitment Posters: “Ireland “I’ll go too – the Real Irish Spirit”” and “Ireland “For the Glory of Ireland””

Of course, after the war was over and the main nationalist party, Sinn Fein, won 80% of the national vote, the British government’s reaction was to send in soldiers and criminals to put down the rebellion instead. This strategy failed, leading to negotiation and the signing of a treaty which led to the creation of Northern Ireland.

Ireland’s culture of resistance: the Wexford Pikeman by Oliver Sheppard and IRA Memorial, Athlone

Ireland and NATO

In 1949 Ireland had been willing  to negotiate a bilateral defence pact with the United States, but opposed joining NATO until the question of Northern Ireland was resolved with the United Kingdom. However, Ireland became a signatory to NATO’s Partnership for Peace programme and the alliance’s Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council in 1999.

In December 1996, the Peace & Neutrality Alliance (PANA) was established in Dublin. According to their website, ‘PANA seeks to advocate an Independent Irish Foreign Policy, defend Irish Neutrality and to promote a reformed United Nations as the Institution through which Ireland should pursue its security concerns.’A wide range of groups and a growing number of individual are affiliated to PANA. This wide anti-NATO sentiment was reflected in the attack on US military planes in 2003. In February 2003 the Irish Times reported:

The Army has been called in to provide security around Shannon Airport after five peace activists broke into a hangar and damaged a US military aircraft early this morning. It is the third embarrassing security breach at the airport where US military planes are refuelling en route to the looming war with Iraq.

One anti-war activist Mary Kelly was convicted of causing $1.5m in damage to a United States navy plane at Shannon airport. She attacked the plane with a hatchet causing damage to the nose wheel and electric systems at the front of the plane.

In 2018 the First International Conference Against NATO was held in Dublin. The conference was organised by the Global Campaign Against US/NATO Military Bases which itself is a coalition of peace organisations from around the world.

However, there are still forces in Ireland pushing for full membership of NATO. A recent article in an Irish national newspaper stated that ‘Ireland has been free-riding on transatlantic security structures paid for by American and European taxpayers since 1949’ and that ‘very few politicians think much about Ireland’s security in any depth and even fewer believe we should join NATO. None is likely to provide grown-up leadership on national security.’ A combination of realism and guilt that has been tried on the Irish people many times before and rejected. The writer recognises that ‘few people advocate such a course and most are quite attached to the State’s long-held position of military neutrality.’

Conference on the 70th Anniversary of NATO

Getting other nations to develop a similar attitude and leave NATO was the objective of the recent International Conference on the 70th Anniversary of NATO held in Florence, Italy, on 7 April 2019. During the conference Prof. Michel Chossudovsky (Director of the Centre for Research on Globalization) presented the The Florence Declaration which was adopted by more than 600 participants. The Florence Declaration was drafted by Italy’s Comitato and the CRG and calls for members “To exit the war system which is causing more and more damage and exposing us to increasing dangers, we must leave NATO, affirming our rights as sovereign and neutral States.

In this way, it becomes possible to contribute to the dismantling of NATO and all other military alliances, to the reconfiguration of the structures of the whole European region, to the formation of a multi-polar world where the aspirations of the People for liberty and social justice may be realised.”

International Conference Against US/NATO Bases Addresses Militarism

For the first time in the history of humanity, the technical means are at hand to eliminate poverty if resources were not diverted to making war. World hunger could be abolished with only a small diversion from military budgets. The only luxuries that so-called middle-class Americans would have to forego would be the Blue Angels air show and drone-bombing wedding parties in the Middle East. Yet, military spending is expanding, and with it global poverty.

On November 16-18, some 300 peace activists representing over 35 countries gathered in Dublin, Ireland for the first International Conference Against US/NATO Military Bases to address this tragic paradox of the technical ability to serve humanity and the political proclivity by the ruling circles in the West to do the opposite. Roger Cole of the Irish peace organization PANA identified the twin threats to humankind of global warming and global war, both driven by accelerating militarization.

Ajamu Baraka of the US-based Black Alliance for Peace highlighted the reactionary role of the US and its allies, which have by far the largest military expenditures in the world. The material basis for the absence of peace and the accelerating proliferation of military bases, in his words, is US imperialism.

Guantánamo was the first of the world network of US foreign military bases, according to keynote speaker Dr. Aleida Guevara from Cuba, daughter of Che. Cuba opposes this violation of national sovereignty. Today the US possesses some 1000 foreign military bases with troops stationed in over 170 countries.

Australian Annette Brownlie of IPAN warned of a new Cold War. The recent US National Security Strategy document, focusing on “great power confrontation,” signals open preparations for direct military confrontation with nuclear-armed Russia and China.

David Webb of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the UK explained that the US is the only nation with nuclear weapons based outside its soil. US policy is to develop “usable” nuclear weapons in an enhanced first-strike capacity. Missile defense, he reproved, is the shield for the sword of nuclear weapons. The purpose of missile defense is to protect the aggressor against the inevitable retaliation after a first nuclear strike.

Margaret Flowers of Popular Resistance reported that the recent US midterm elections brought in more Congressional representatives with military or security state backgrounds. The duopoly of the two US “war parties” is united in supporting an accelerated arms race. Well over half of the US government’s discretionary budget now goes to the military.

Unlike so much liberal and progressive political discourse in the US, which is obsessed with the personality of President Trump, the international perspective of this conference penetrated that distracting fog and concentrated on the continuity of US militarism regardless of who sits in the Oval Office.

The session on the environmental and health impacts featured testimony on the toxic effects of military bases in Okinawa, Czech Republic, and Turkey. The US Department of Defense is the world’s largest polluter.

National Coordinator of the Irish Trade Union Federation and Secretary of the People’s Movement, Frank Keoghan, described the transformation of the European Union (EU) into a war project with the recent rush to create a single EU army. Ilda Figueiredo from the Portuguese Council for Peace and Cooperation and another activist from France warned that the drive for an EU army would transform all national military bases into NATO bases and would in effect allow “nuclear bomb sharing.”

Margaret Kimberley of the Black Agenda Report chaired the Africa session. South African Chris Matlhako and Kenyan Ann Atambo discussed the dependency of African states on foreign aid, which is used as a tool to facilitate the occupation of Africa by foreign militaries.

Paul Pumphrey of Friends of the Congo described the development of US strategy in Africa, which has used African proxies to allow domination and extraction of valuable resources such as coltan from the Congo. Now the strategy also includes direct occupation by the US military. George W. Bush established AFRICOM in 2008 with just a single acknowledged US military base on the continent, followed by an explosion to some 50 bases and a military presence in practically every African nation under Obama.

The session on Latin America and the Caribbean outlined the immediate threat of military intervention in Venezuela, caught in the crosshairs of US imperialism. Veteran Cuban peace activist Silvio Platero of MOVPAZ condemned the continuing US blockade of Cuba and the colonial status of Puerto Rico. Speakers from Colombia (now a NATO partner), Argentina, and Brazil reported that their right-wing governments are cooperating militarily with the US.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Maguire from Ireland made an impassioned plea for all-out support of WikiLeaks whistleblower Julian Assange, “our hero of truth,” lest he die in a US prison.

The conference concluded on a high note of unity among the international peace forces. Conference coordinator Bahman Azad of the World Peace Council closed with a call to first educate and then mobilize.

Actions are being planned in Washington, D.C., around the 70th anniversary of NATO on April 4th. Coincidentally that is the date of the assassination of Martin Luther King and of his famous speech a year before when he presciently admonished, “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today is my own government.”

Irish Seanad votes in Favour of Occupied Territories Bill

Frances Black

Yesterday the Irish Seanad voted in favour of the Occupied Territories Bill which will prohibit the importation of goods or services from illegal settlements in occupied territories, including Israel’s settlements in Palestine which violate the Geneva Conventions. The Bill was introduced by the well-known Irish singer Frances Black whose albums feature both Irish ballads and traditional music. She was elected to Seanad Éireann as an independent Senator on her first attempt in 2016.

The Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign welcomed the Seanad vote (25 in favour, 20 against) in support of Senator Frances Black’s ‘Control of Economic Activities (Occupied Territories) Bill. According to the IPSC Chairperson, Ms. Fatin Al Tamimi (a Palestinian-Irish citizen):

We in the IPSC, and Palestinians around the world, warmly welcome this historic vote, the first its kind in any Western country. Once again, Ireland is making history and leading the way in its solidarity with the Palestinian people. We thank and salute all those Senators and parties who have pledged to support the Bill, and we will be asking the Irish people to ensure that these politicians support its passage at all stages of the lawmaking process.

Black has been campaigning for some time now for the rights of the Palestinian people. She states:

I have long been passionate about the struggle of the Palestinian people, which shows clearly how trade in settlement goods sustains injustice. In the occupied territories, people are forcibly kicked out of their homes, fertile farming land is seized, and the fruit and vegetables produced are then sold on Irish shelves to pay for it all. We condemn the settlements as illegal but support them economically. As international law is absolutely clear that the settlements are illegal, then the goods they produce are the proceeds of crime. We must face up to this – we cannot keep supporting breaches of international law and violations of human rights.

Frances Black discusses the Bill that would support banning goods from Israel’s settlements.

According to an explanatory note on the bill’s main provisions:

Under international criminal law, the transfer by a State of its civilian population into a territory it has militarily occupied is a ‘war crime’, as well as a ‘grave breach’ of international humanitarian law. Importantly, it is also a crime under Irish law, no matter where in the world it is committed. Ireland has a duty to ensure these laws are respected and to uphold the humanitarian principles outlined in them. To this end, the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018 seeks to prohibit trade with and economic support for illegal settlements in territories deemed occupied under international law. It would restrict the import and sale of goods produced in such settlements, Irish involvement in the provision of services in such settlements, and the extraction of resources from occupied territories without the consent of the legitimate authority of that territory. This economic support underpins the long-term continuation of illegal settlements, established in clear violation of international law. In tabling this bill we are stating that Ireland should not provide economic or political support for them, wherever they arise.

The Bill, inter alia, specifically covers the importation and sale of settlement goods:

6. Importation of settlement goods

(1) It shall be an offence for a person to import or attempt to import settlement goods.
(2) It shall be an offence for a person to assist another person to import or attempt to import settlement goods.
(3) For the purpose of the Customs Act 2015, the import of settlement goods is hereby prohibited.

7. Sale of settlement goods

(1) It shall be an offence for a person to sell or attempt to sell settlement goods.
(2) It shall be an offence for a person to assist another person to sell or attempt to sell settlement goods.

Many Irish politicians believe that the passing of the Occupied Territories Bill will send a strong message that the issue of illegal settlements is being taken seriously and needs to be addressed.

The Israeli Embassy in Ireland has been highly critical of the Bill and commented that:

The absurdity in the Seanad Éireann initiative is that it will harm the livelihoods of many Palestinians who work in the Israeli industrial zones affected by the boycott.

However, the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) is a Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice and equality. BDS upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity. It was Palestinian Civil Society that called for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel as a form of non-violent pressure on Israel until it complies with international law and universal principles of human rights in 2005.

​(Image credit Trocaire)

Earlier this month former Pink Floyd star Roger Waters urged people to support the Occupied Territories Bill 2018 at a concert in Dublin.

Ms. Fatin Al Tamimi also commented that:

These have been great months for Palestine in Ireland, a country which punches well above its weight when it comes to solidarity. At least seven local councils have voted to support the Palestinian-led global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, including Dublin, the first EU capital to take this stand, and most recently Mid-Ulster Council and Fermanagh & Omagh District Council. She said that last month saw the launch of a campaign for an Irish boycott of Eurovision 2019 and noted that barely a week goes by without solidarity vigils or protests outside shops selling Israeli products in Ireland.

As the activist for Palestinian human rights, Professor Mazin Qumsiyeh says:

I find that ingenuity in resistance, the ability to persevere — what we call sumud — to be tremendously inspiring. Our people are able to continue their lives despite the incredible odds arrayed against them and not only to persist but also to find some measure of success. As the graffiti on the wall says, ‘to live is to resist’.

Inside the Irish Prison System

Michael Inside is a new Irish movie which looks at the prison system in Ireland and the people who serve their time in it. The film is about a young man who is sent to prison for the first time after being caught with drugs he had stashed in his grandfather’s house with whom he shares. In prison he is taken under the wing of an older experienced prisoner who helps him to stand up for himself but also ensnares him in a cycle of violence in the prison itself. We see the emotional and psychological growth and strengthening of Michael with these harrowing experiences. The big question of the film is then: will he become like his father, also in jail, or learn from his grandfather’s advice?

The most important aspect of this new Irish film is its cinematic approach to telling the story. Ireland has a long history of theatre and successful drama which spilled over into its film-making too. Irish films in the past have been worthy and wordy with directors more comfortable with theatrical styles than cinematic imagery. It was also difficult to achieve cinematic lift-off with the gravity of so many winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature. Ireland won four times in the 20th century: W. B. Yeats (1923), George Bernard Shaw (1925), Samuel Beckett (1969) and Séamus Heaney (1995), all of whom wrote plays. Not forgetting, of course, Lady Gregory, John Millington Synge, George Moore, Oscar Wilde and Seán O’Casey. The developing language of cinema filtered slowly into Irish film-making either for reasons of fear of audience reaction (more used to theatre) or a lack of an appreciation of the idea that sometimes less is more.

Michael Inside has at times an almost documentary feel to it in the way the prison and the prison officers are portrayed. They come across as empathetic and generally respectful of the prisoners. The director of Michael Inside, Frank Berry, stated the story-line was “researched with former prisoners” and authenticity was desired even to the point of using former prisoners as extras.

The use of the camera has a Tarkovskian feel with long takes, blurring and choreography before the camera. Some scenes like in the grandfather’s house are performed in front of a stationary camera with minimal lighting and wonderful blocking as actors move in and out of shot during the dialogue. Michael’s life outside of prison seems almost as oppressive as inside. Sparse dialogue, sparse rooms and ennui add to this feeling. The tyranny of montage is felt, though, when Michael goes into his cell for the first time and sits down on the bottom bunk. This would have been a perfect moment to let the camera linger and linger to illustrate the timelessness of prison life. Steve McQueen, the British director, does this brilliantly in Hunger (2008) (also a great prison movie) when he has a fixed camera on one end of a long prison corridor pointed at a person washing the floor and stays on him until he finally gets to the other end. A similar very long take is used in the Irish Traveler film, Pavee Lackeen (2005) to illustrate the difficulty of such basic things as making a cup of tea as we see the young girl go outside and walk to a hose behind a metal fence, fill the bucket and walk back to the mobile home. However, in Michael Inside, it cuts all too soon in the prison cell to the next shot.

Cinema fans who liked A Prophet (French: Un prophète), the 2009 French prison drama-crime film directed by Jacques Audiard will also enjoy Michael Inside. Unlike A Prophet, the protagonist of Michael Inside is exposed to alternative paths for his future as a former prisoner who has studied for an MA and is progressing towards a PhD gives the inmates a talk on the importance of education. This is an important moment in the film as it demonstrates one way with which to break the cycle of violence and transgenerational incarceration. Indeed Michael plans to further his education despite the bias against former prisoners.

Michael Inside is a wonderful film about the Irish penal system, the sparseness of some working class lives and the potential for positive change. The irony of this depiction of working class poverty and hopelessness is the fact that the film is conceived, researched, and acted using the imagination, talents and experience of Irish working class people. It points to a new self-awareness and education happening in sections of Irish society that augur well for the future.

Remembering Ireland’s Great Famine

Weary men, what reap ye?—Golden corn for the stranger.
What sow ye?— human corpses that wait for the avenger.
Fainting forms, hunger–stricken, what see you in the offing?
Stately ships to bear our food away, amid the stranger’s scoffing.
There’s a proud array of soldiers — what do they round your door?
They guard our masters’ granaries from the thin hands of the poor.
Pale mothers, wherefore weeping— would to God that we were dead;
Our children swoon before us, and we cannot give them bread.”
— “Speranza” (Jane Wilde, mother of Oscar Wilde)

Last Wednesday I attended a preview for a forthcoming Irish film, Black 47 (Director Lance Daly), about the worst year of the catastrophic Irish famine and is set in the west of Ireland in 1847.

The story centers around an Irish soldier, Feeney (James Frecheville), returning from serving the British Army in Afghanistan only to find most of his family have perished in the Famine or An Gorta Mor (the Great Hunger) as it is known in Gaelic.

The English and Irish terms for Ireland’s greatest tragedy are infused with different ideological approaches to the disaster. By emphasising the failure of the potato crop only, the impression is given that there was no food to be had on the island when the opposite was true – there were many other crops which did not fail but were not accessible to the vast majority of the people – hence, the Great Hunger.

Feeney (James Frecheville), Black 47 (Director Lance Daly)

In Black 47, the colonised fight back as Feeney puts the skills he has learned abroad with the British army to effective use in Ireland. He kills or executes the various people involved in the British colonial system he blames for the starvation and death of his family: from the bailiff to the judge to the colonial landlord. Moreover, Feeney goes a step further as he refuses to speak English to those in power before he kills them, reflecting back to them an immediate understanding of the powerlessness of those without the linguistic tools to negotiate compromises (as was seen in the film when a monolingual Irish speaker gets tough justice for ‘refusing’ to speak English in court).

Back in the late 1980s a book entitled ‘The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literatures‘ [1989] showed how the language and literature of the empire, English, was used by colonised peoples in the creation of a radical culture to aid their resistance to the hegemony of imperial power. However, now with many of his family dead, Feeney has ceased to be a Caliban profiting on the language of his masters and becomes a powerfully drawn hero who is uncompromising in his insistence that the Irish language and culture will be a respected equal to the imposed English language and culture of the colonists.

In the film the ruling class and their hierarchy of supporters are flush with food and the army is used to transport harvested crops to the coast and exportation. This fact is displayed symbolically when one of Feeney’s victims is literally ‘drowned’ in food, as he is found head first in a sack of wheat.

The international aspect of the Black 47 narrative hints at the geopolitics of the day with Feeney’s return from Afghanistan and the concurrent mass emigration to the United States from Ireland. Feeney’s indignation at finding out how his masters have treated his own family and compatriots as he risked his life for them abroad is similar to the treatment of the African-American soldiers of the Vietnam war on their return to the United States.

But this is not a black and white, Irish versus the Brits, movie. There is complexity as some of the British show empathy for the desperate Irish and pay the ultimate price or go on the run.

Revenge is a kind of wild justice, which the more a man’s nature runs to, the more ought law to weed it out.

— Francis Bacon

Black 47 is a revenge movie which is cathartic for an audience feeling the utter helplessness of the victims living in a brutal system without real justice, where what should have been their protectors (the law, the state, the army, etc.) became their attackers and betrayed them. In previous food crises, according to Christine Kenealy:

The closure of ports was a traditional, short-term response to food shortages. It had been used to great effect during the subsistence crisis of 1782-4 when, despite the opposition of the grain merchants, ports had been closed and bounties offered to merchants who imported food to the country. During the subsistence crisis of 1799-1800, the government had placed a temporary embargo on the export of potatoes from Ireland. In 1816 and 1821, the British government had organised the shipment of grain into areas in the west of Ireland where there were food shortages. The grain was then sold on at low prices. Similar intervention and market regulation occurred in Britain.

Unfortunately for Ireland, Sir Charles Edward Trevelyan (2 April 1807 – 19 June 1886), a British civil servant and colonial administrator, was put in charge of administering famine relief. Trevelyan was a student of the economist Thomas Malthus and a believer in laissez faire economics and the free hand of the market. Trevelyan described the famine as an “effective mechanism for reducing surplus population” as well as “the judgement of God”.

Famine Memorial in Dublin by artist Rowan Gillespie

With this change in attitude on the part of the British government towards food shortages, the crisis was doomed from the beginning. Kinealy states:

In 1847 alone, the worst year of the Famine, almost 4,000 vessels carried food from Ireland to the major ports of Britain, that is, Bristol, Glasgow, Liverpool and London. Over half of these ships went to Liverpool, the main port both for emigration and for cargo.

Ultimately, one million people starved to death and one million emigrated reducing the population by about 20% – 25%.

Black 47 is an uncompromising film that depicts the harrowing results of a crop failure combined with an ultra exploitative system that knew no moral or legal boundaries. Sure, attempts were made by well-meaning people to alleviate the crisis but the failure of the state to end the crisis on a macro level resulted in an unprecedented disaster for the Irish people. It will go on general release in September.

Further research:

For those interested in finding out more about the Great Hunger, here is a select list of material covering different aspects.

Art
The preview showing of Black 47 was to complement a concurrent exhibtion of art in Dublin Castle showing at the Coach House Gallery until June 30. The exhibition, titled ‘Coming Home: Art and the Great Hunger‘, is an exhibition of the world’s largest collection of Famine-related art.

​Belfast mural

Music:
Sinéad O’Connor – ‘Famine
Damien Dempsey – ‘Colony
Christy Moore – ‘On a Single Day

Books:
The Great Hunger by Cecil Woodham-Smith
The Famine Plot: England’s Role in Ireland’s Greatest Tragedy by Tim Pat Coogan
The Graves are Walking by John Kelly
Atlas of the Great Irish Famine edited by J. Crowley, W. J. Smith and M.Murphy.
(Massive hardback volume covering almost all aspects of the famine throughout Ireland, lavishly illustrated.)

National Famine Commemoration Committee
The National Famine Commemoration Committee was first established in 2008 following a Government decision to commemorate the Great Irish Famine with an annual national famine memorial day.

Film
Ireland 1848 – ‘An experimental documentary of the Great Irish Famine. Shot as a film might have been shot in 1848 fifty years before the cinema was invented.’

The British Government’s Approach To Brexit Is Slovenly, Chaotic And Delusional

The rallying cry of the Brexiteers prior to the European Union membership referendum was “take back control”. This slogan resonated with those who felt ignored, not listened to and struggling to pay for the necessities of life. They wanted to deliver a slap in the face to the country’s elite who were urging them to vote remain. The leave campaigners managed to convince enough people that being in the EU is the reason for their misery.

With that, plus the promise of £350 million a week for the NHS if we left the EU, the Brexiteers won. However, the latest twists and turns in the Brexit negotiations have shown that the EU is in the driving seat and in control of events with Britain having to make concession after concession even before moving to trade talks. Britain is losing control. Extra money for the NHS, forget it; it is not going to happen.

And what about the thorny Irish problem? Britain has to find a solution that satisfies the Republic of Ireland and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). The Republic wants the status quo to continue, namely a frictionless border with the north and freedom of movement across the whole of Ireland. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) will not accept special treatment for Ireland; it wants whatever applies to Northern Ireland to apply to the whole of the United Kingdom. Let us not forget that the DUP is keeping the government in power following a bribe of £1billion.

The Republic of Ireland is strongly supported by the rest of the EU which will not accept any compromise that is not acceptable to Ireland. The Brexit Secretary, David Davis (he of the phantom Brexit impact assessments) assured the house of commons that Northern Ireland would not be treated as a special case and whatever arrangement agreed for Northern Ireland would apply to the whole of the UK. Does that mean the whole of the UK must stay in the customs union and the single market? Theresa May, however, has ruled that out in an attempt to placate the hard Brexiteers,

As I write this (8 December 2017) it seems that an agreement has been reached with the EU that no hard border should exist between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland; however, the devil is in the details. How that translates on the ground will be the subject of intense negotiations, spanning the British government, the EU, the DUP, and the Republic of Ireland. Good luck with that! What a mess!

What about the divorce bill? Remember Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, told European leaders to “go whistle” if they expected Britain to pay. Now it seems the UK has agreed to pay a figure between £35bn and £39bn and with that the European negotiators agreed to move to phase two, namely, trade, which may take years. So on what basis did Mr. Johnson made his whistling remark? Did he not know that there are legal commitments binding on the UK to pay a substantial divorce bill? It is all indicative of the lack of foresight and the cavalier delusional mindset of the Brexiteers.

An objective observer will be at a loss to see what advantages Britain will be gaining on leaving the EU. Britain in the EU has had its cake and eating too, having all the privileges of membership and avoiding the two negatives by (a) not being in the Eurozone and thus in control of its currency and (b) in control of its borders by not being in the Schengen area.

It is now becoming blindingly obvious that another referendum on EU membership is necessary as the complexities and the negative consequences of leaving are mounting up. The Labour Party should now join forces with the Greens and the Liberal Democrats and demand another referendum prior to Brexit. Not to do so is a dereliction of duty towards the people of Britain.

Britain outside the EU will be losing control rather than taking it back. The misery that drove people to vote Brexit was not caused by the EU but by free-market economics and Tory-imposed austerity. This combination has seen wealth being siphoned upwards from the many to the very few at the top.

Is Brexit going to rekindle war in Ireland?

Since 8 November 2017, the Brexit negotiations have reached a stumbling block. The bone of contention: the Irish border. A solution was found to the Irish issue in 1998. This involved, notably, free movement between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland (a region in the United Kingdom). At the time, both countries (the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland) belonged to the European Union. Those negotiating Brexit on behalf of the United Kingdom are envisaging re-establishing the (...)

Great Hunger

Earlier this year, the Sisters of St. Brigid invited me to speak at their Feile Bride celebration in Kildare, Ireland. The theme of the gathering was: “Allow the Voice of the Suffering to Speak.”

The Sisters have embraced numerous projects to protect the environment, welcome refugees and nonviolently resist wars. I felt grateful to reconnect with people who so vigorously opposed any Irish support for U.S. military wars in Iraq. They had also campaigned to end the economic sanctions against Iraq, knowing that hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children suffered and died for lack of food, medicine and clean water. This year, the Sisters asked me to first meet with local teenagers who would commemorate another time of starvation imposed by an imperial power.

Joe Murray, who heads Action from Ireland (Afri), arranged for a class from Dublin’s Beneavin De La Salle College to join an Irish historian in a field adjacent to the Dunshaughlin work house on the outskirts of Dublin.

Such workhouses dot the landscape of Ireland and England. In the mid-19th century, during the famine years, they were dreaded places. People who went there knew they were near the brink of death due to hunger, disease, and dire poverty. Ominously, behind the workhouse lay the graveyard.

The young men couldn’t help poking a bit of fun, at first; what in the world were they doing out in a field next to an imposing building, their feet already soaked in the wet grass as a light rain fell? They soon became quite attentive.

We learned that the Dunshaughlin workhouse had opened in May of 1841. It could accommodate 400 inmates. During the famine years, many hundreds of people were crowded in the stone building in dreadful conditions. An estimated one million people died during a famine that began because of blighted potato crops but became an “artificial famine” because Ireland’s British occupiers lacked the political will to justly distribute resources and food. Approximately one million Irish people who could no longer feed themselves and subsist on the land emigrated to places like the U.S. But seeking refuge wasn’t an option for those who couldn’t afford the passage. Evicted by landowners, desperate people arrived at workhouses like the one we were visiting. Our guide read us the names of people from the surrounding area who had been buried in a mass grave behind the workhouse, their bodies unidentified. They were victims of what the Irish call “Greta Mor”—”The Great Hunger.”

It was recently, as I tried to better understand the migration of desperate and starving people now crossing from East Africa into Yemen, that I began to realize how great the hunger was.  During that same period, in the latter half of the 19th century, there were 30 million people, possibly fifty million, dying of famine in northern China, India, Brazil and the Maghreb. The terrible suffering of these unknown people, whose plight never made it into the history books, was a sharp reminder to me of Western exceptionalism. As researched and described in Mike Davis’s book, The Late Victorian Holocaust, El Nino and La Nina climate changes caused massive crop failures. What food could be harvested was often sent abroad. Railroad infrastructure could have been used to send food to people dying of hunger, but wealthier people chose to ignore the plight of the starving. The Great Hunger, fueled by bigotry and greed, had been greater than any of its victims knew. And now, few in the prosperous West are aware of the terror faced by people in South Sudan, Somalia, northeast Nigeria, northern Kenya and Yemen. Millions of people cannot feed themselves or find potable water.

Countries in Africa which the U.S. has helped destabilize, such as Somalia, are convulsed in fighting which exacerbates effects of drought and drives helpless civilians toward points of hoped for refuge. Many have chosen a path of escape through the famine-torn country of Yemen. The U.S. has been helping a Saudi-led coalition to blockade and bomb Yemen since March of 2015. Sudanese fighters aligned with Saudi Arabia have been taking over cities along the Yemeni coast, heading northward. People trying to escape famine find themselves trapped amid vicious air and ground attacks.

In March, 2017, Stephen O’Brien, head of the UN’s Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, traveled to Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and Northern Kenya. Since that trip, he has repeatedly begged the UN Security Council to help end the fighting and prevent conflict-driven famine conditions. Regarding Yemen, he wrote, in a July 12, 2017 statement to the UN Security Council that:

Seven million people, including 2.3 million malnourished (500,000 severely malnourished) children under the age of five, are on the cusp of famine, vulnerable to disease and ultimately at risk of a slow and painful death. Nearly 16 million people do not have access to adequate water, sanitation and hygiene, and more than 320,000 suspected cholera cases have been reported in all of the country’s governorates bar one.

This number has since risen to 850,000.

Ben Ehrenreich describes famine conditions along what the Israeli theorist Eyal Weizman calls the ‘conflict shoreline’, an expanding band of climate change-induced desertification that stretches through the Sahel and across the African continent before leaping the Gulf of Aden to Yemen. He notes that this vast territory, once the site of fierce resistance to colonial incursions, is now paying the heaviest price, in disastrous climate conditions, for the wealth of the industrialized north. As the deserts spread south, ever more dire conflicts can be expected to erupt, causing more people to flee.

Of a drought-stricken area of Somaliland, Ehrenreich writes: “People were calling this drought sima, ‘the leveller,’ because it affected all of the clans stretching across Somaliland and into Ethiopia to the west and Kenya to the south.”

“The women’s stories were almost all the same,” writes Ehrenreich, “differing only in the age and number of children sick, the number of animals they had lost and the number that survived. Hodan Ismail had lost everything. She left her husband’s village to bring her children here, where her mother lived, ‘to save them,’ she said. ‘When I got there, I saw that she had nothing either.’ The river and streams, their usual source of drinking water, had gone dry and they had no option but to drink from a shallow well at the edge of town. The water was making all the children sick.”

In 1993, at the Rio de Janeiro “Earth Summit,” delegates conveying the views of then-President George Bush Sr., voiced a refrain of the statement, “the American lifestyle is not up for negotiation.” U.S. demands of the summit incalculably restricted the changes to which it might have led. Representing President Bill Clinton six years later, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright defended planned bombardment of Iraq, saying “If we have to use force, it is because we are America; we are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future, and we see the danger here to all of us.”

There is danger that must be recognized.  The danger is real and the danger is spreading.  Violence spreads the famine, and the famine will spread violence.

I find myself repulsed by assertions voicing U.S. exceptionalism, yet my own study and focus often omits histories and present realities which simply must be understood if we are to recognize the traumas our world faces. In relation to conflict-driven famines, it becomes even more imperative to resist the U.S. government’s allocation of 700 billion dollars to the Department of Defense. In the U.S., our violence, and our delusions of being indispensable stem from accepting a belief that our “way of life” is non-negotiable. Growing inequality, protected by menacing arsenals, paves a path to the graveyard: It is not a “way of life.” We still could acquire a great hunger: a transforming hunger to share justice with our planetary neighbors. We could shed familiar privileges and search for communal tools to preserve us from indifferent wealth and voracious imperial power. We could embrace the theme of the Irish sisters at their Feile Bride gathering: “Allow the Voice of the Suffering to Speak” and then choose action-based initiatives to share our abundance and lay aside, forever, the futility of war.

Deportations and Harassment of Irish Group Traveling to West Bank

A trip to Palestine resulted in deportations and harassment by security as the Israel authorities step up attempts to intimidate or frighten future travelers to the area. During our trip we experienced CS gas, checkpoints, apartheid in action and military harassment of Palestinians.

Departure

I joined the group in Dublin airport on the morning of September 8th and we flew out to Istanbul where we waited in a transit area cafe for a couple of hours. As it turned out our flight departure lounge for Tel Aviv was next to the cafe where we were sitting and we noticed that an extra layer of security was being prepared by ground staff for the Tel Aviv flight. After boarding, and a smooth Turkish Airlines flight to Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, we disembarked and queued up for passport control. I was on my own and after 2 or 3 questions (what was the purpose of my trip, had I been to Israel before, etc). I was given a one month visa and waved through. Meanwhile, however, trouble was brewing as I could hear the two Irish girls at the kiosk next to me being asked to bring the group leader over. I went directly through to the arrivals hall as I had not checked in any bags. Then began a long wait as myself and the few who got through unhindered discovered that security had rounded up as many of the group as they could find including those who had decided to wait in the luggage hall rather than in the arrivals hall. In all 21 were detained and 6 questioned, and of those 4 were deported (Elaine Daly, Fidelma Bonass, Joan Nolan and Stephen McCloskey) a few hours later. The four who were detained were informed that they were being deported to prevent ‘illegal immigration’ even though they had valid passports and return tickets. Around 4am the others were released and we finally boarded the bus and made the journey to our hotel in Bethlehem.

​West Bank wall and turnstiles

Fact Finding Program

Our tour, though coordinated in Dublin, was organised by the Siraj Centre, a non-profit organization licensed by the Ministry of Tourism and based in Palestine. Our Fact Finding Program included meetings with prominent peace activists, political officials, human rights organizations, settlers and Jewish tour guides. This makes the deportation of our group leader, Elaine Daly, even stranger as she has been organising trips with the Siraj Centre every year from Ireland since 2006.

Saturday 9th September: Day 1 Bethlehem

On our first morning we attended a talk by Prof. Mazin Qumsiyeh, a local university professor and activist, at the Natural History institute who emphasised the strong link between biodiversity, political struggle for the land and its safeguarding for future generations. It was interesting to note that it had been his son who had first drawn the infamous ‘shrinking’ map of the Palestinian territories showing their loss of land from 1946, 1947, 1967 to the 2000s.

Entrance to Aida refugee camp

CS gas

Afterwards we headed over to the Lajee Center, a cultural centre beside the main Palestinian refugee camp in Bethlehem for a talk and a traditional dance display from the local children. Soon, however, they switched off the air-conditioning and when we asked why we were told that tear gas was coming through the system. Directly outside the window local youth were throwing stones at the Israeli army at the far end of the road. Soon more and more tear gas came into the building and the windows and doors were shut. For most on the tour it was their first experience of the burning effects of CS gas yet for the members of the Lajee Center it had become merely a nuisance. After about a half hour we were able to leave and go for a short tour of the area. We passed under the arch of Aida camp with a giant key symbolising the principle that Palestinian refugees, both first-generation refugees and their descendants, have a right to return. On our left were simple concrete buildings while on the right the street is cut off from Jerusalem by the Israeli West Bank wall and covered in murals and graffiti.

Wall mural, Aida refugee camp

Sunday 10th September:  Day 2 Hebron

The next day on the way to Hebron we stopped off at a small park beside a main road containing the tomb of Baruch Goldstein, the religious extremist who carried out the 1994 Cave of the Patriarchs massacre in Hebron. Goldstein killed 29 Palestinian Muslim worshippers and wounded another 125. He was then overpowered and beaten to death by the survivors. Goldstein was not allowed to be buried in a Jewish cemetery but his current burial site still attracts Jewish extremists. We drove on to the Cave of Patriarchs or Ibrahimi Mosque where the Goldstein massacre took place. There are now two separate entrances, one for Muslims and one for Jews, both of which we were able to enter. This building, over 2,000 years old, is believed to be the oldest continuously used prayer structure in the world. However, it was outside the Mosque at the military checkpoints we witnessed Israeli apartheid for the first time. Palestinians are barred from using the street and our guide was apprehended by two soldiers. Our group complained to the soldiers but only our guide responded saying he would get a taxi and meet us elsewhere. In the end, the group spontaneously applauded our guide for his patience and perseverance as he was removed from the area. Our waiting bus had only been 50 metres around the corner…

Ibrahimi Mosque, Hebron

We walked through streets of Hebron going through different stages of clearance. In some places only a few Palestinians were left in the old stone buildings and Israeli street signs had been erected pointing to Jewish places of interest. In other streets nets had been used to stop settlers throwing objects on the shoppers below. Afterwards we were brought to meet with a settler where some asked questions about the settlements and their legality but this ended up with some storming out and others realising how it easy it was to become an Israeli citizen and participate in the land confiscations.

Monday 11th September: Day 3 Jerusalem

Our guides were Palestinian and Jewish and both were equally as good when it came to explanations and answering questions from our group. As we drove through East Jerusalem it was pointed out by our Jewish guide that Palestinians pay taxes yet their areas had bad roads and poor rubbish collection services.

Tuesday 12th September: Day 4 Nablus

In Nablus we visited Jacobs Well Church, and then to Balata Camp to meet with a representative from the Yafa cultural Center. The centre was set up in 1996 by the Committee for the Defence of Refugee Rights and offers a range of educational and creative programs to camp residents. We were brought around the closely-built neighbourhoods of the camp where some ‘streets’ were less than one metre wide. After lunch we had a tour in the old city of Nablus and visited the Samaritans Museum. The bustling old city gave us a feel for what many areas should have looked like and felt like without occupation.

​Yafa cultural Center, Nablus

Wednesday 13th September: Day 5 Ramalah

We began the day driving to Ramalah to meet with a speaker from Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS). BDS has become an extensive movement against Israeli apartheid and settler-colonialism. It is also a Palestinian-led movement made up of unions, academic associations, churches and grassroots movements across the world. We also met with a representative from Al Haq, an independent Palestinian non-governmental human rights organisation also based in Ramallah. According to their website: “Al-Haq documents violations of the individual and collective rights of Palestinians in the OPT, irrespective of the identity of the perpetrator, and seeks to end such breaches by way of advocacy before national and international mechanisms and by holding the violators accountable.” In the afternoon the group were brought on a sightseeing tour of Jerusalem which I did not participate in due to feeling unwell. Instead, I went with our Palestinian tour guide back to Bethlehem on the public bus. As the bus approached the wall we all had get off and pass through the many turnstiles and barricaded-off pathways to get to the other side of the wall. The queues moved quickly enough as the military generally do not carry out checks on Palestinians going home to the West Bank from Jerusalem in the evening. It is in the early morning that the long queues form as workers are stopped and permits scrutinised on the way to work in Jerusalem.

Old City, Nablus

Thursday 14th September: Day 5 Bethlehem

The next day I went back to Jerusalem from Bethlehem on public bus No. 231. At a major checkpoint a male and female soldier got on the bus while about a third of the bus got off to have their permits checked outside. They questioned a Palestinian woman with children for about ten minutes on the bus before suddenly leaving the bus again and letting the others back on. These checks, the roadworks and traffic jams into Jerusalem added up to about 30 minutes onto our journey, a journey which should have taken only around 20 minutes. In the centre I crossed the road and entered into the Old City through Herod’s Gate. I headed through the old city markets to the Al-Aqsa Mosque but at various Israeli military check points I was stopped and informed that the Mosque was only open in the mornings. There were 4 or 5 groups of about 20 Israeli soldiers each walking and singing down the narrow streets towards the Western Wall. The area was being prepared for a swearing-in ceremony for Paratrooper recruits taking place that evening. After walking the Via Dolorosa and around to the Damascus Gate I got the bus back to Bethlehem. Later, after dinner with the group in a Palestinian restaurant in Bethlehem, a few of us took a taxi to visit the Banksy’s Walled Off Hotel about ten minutes drive away. The ‘Walled Off’ sits beside the massive wall which is covered in graffiti executed in many styles by various artists. Boasting the ‘worst view in the world’ the lobby contains a collection of art and there is a museum upstairs. People sat outside on the veranda between the hotel and the wall having a quiet drink in this most incongruous of places.

​Mural near ‘Walled Off’ hotel

Friday 15th September: The Dead Sea

For our last day the group decided to visit the Dead Sea. After arriving at the resort, getting to the water’s edge meant walking down layer after layer of beaches as the Dead Sea evaporates. The recession of the water’s edge is believed to be about 1 m (3 ft) a year. The speed and breadth of the recession of the Dead Sea was a fitting symbol for the recession of the West Bank itself as more and more settlements and walls reduce further the size of the Palestinian territories.

Early the next morning we were back on the bus to Tel Aviv and Ben Gurion airport where there was some anxiety as the security checks were known to be more stringent in the departures area than in arrivals area. (Why? a form of damage limitation?) Once again our group was held up to the last minute for our flight to Istanbul. We had a much more pleasant time in Dublin airport where a welcoming committee was waiting for us with a Palestinian flag. Elaine and the other deportees had decided to hold off publicising the deportations so as not to create any unnecessary difficulties for the rest of the group’s departure from Tel Aviv. Of course, our problems were nothing compared to the daily experiences and hardships of the Palestinian people being forced through turnstiles, having to obtain multi-varied permits, losing land and dwellings, enduring constant military checks and an oppressive political/legal system (like the 17C Penal Laws in Ireland) all because of a particular nationality or religion. The trip left an indelible impression on us as individuals and as a group which would not be easily removed by the self-serving rhetoric of an all-powerful occupying force.

Since our return the issue of the deportations has been raised in various articles in the national newspapers. It has also been brought up during question time in the Dáil (the Irish parliament). Despite not being able to return to the West Bank again, Elaine is already planning to organise two trips to the West Bank from Dublin for 2018. All aboard!

• All photographs copyright Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin