Previously Cian wrote about the Uyghur people in China’s north-western Xinjiang province, an area also known as East Turkestan. Cian focused on the Chinese government’s increasing efforts to exert control over Uyghurs, and the associated human rights abuses. Cian’s post, like an earlier guest post by Dane, reflected the view that pro-life people should treat with importance issues that fall under the broad human rights umbrella, and which, to greater or lesser extents, relate to the human right to life.
It is with that in mind that I want to reflect on the latest set of prolonged heavy violence in Israel/Palestine, which ensued on 6 May. By the time a ceasefire took hold on 21 May, 244 people (including an unborn child and his/her mother) had been killed and over 1,900 injured in Israeli airstrikes and artillery fire on the Gaza Strip. In Israel, 12 people had been killed by rockets fired from Gaza. In the West Bank, 26 Palestinians had been killed by Israeli forces. Additionally, thousands of people in Gaza have lost their homes to airstrikes and artillery fire.
The violence has been described by some as the latest ‘war’ between Israel and Palestinians, but such a term may give a false impression of a situation resembling, even remotely, a fair contest rather than convey the reality of its David and Goliath character. The undeniable power disparity at the crux of Israel/Palestine means that the events of May constitute just the latest pummelling by an advanced, nuclear-armed state of an impoverished, beleaguered people whose occasional, desperate recourse to (often homemade) arms is more a manifestation of ‘propaganda of the deed’, rather than anything in the way of a realistic military strategy to overcome their longstanding oppression.
Deadly Disparity in Power
It is important to be aware of one (perhaps the) key element for why such a power disparity exists, that is US involvement, particularly in the area of weapons provision. One week before the outbreak of the latest violence, the Biden Administration agreed to the sale of high-tech missiles made by the Boeing company, worth $735 million, to Israel. It would be a mistake to think that Biden and US Congress’ approval of this weapons deal is in any way remarkable. The US has long been committed to ensuring Israel possesses what the US calls a ‘Qualitative Military Edge’, and the US is not shy about advertising it.
Not only is Israel afforded the privilege of benefitting from an expedited approval process in US Congress when it comes to buying weapons, the US continues to provide weapons under the cover of military ‘aid’, worth over $104 billion as of 2020, to Israel. Needless to say, the US provides no funding to the Gaza authorities, for military or other purposes. Rather it is the people of Gaza and the West Bank who always pay the heaviest price for the US’s deals with, and ‘aid’ to, its ‘strategic partner’, and that price is paid all too often.
Indeed, simply the scale of weapons-transfers from the US to Israel and the broader military relationship between both states mean that it would be foolish, to put it mildly, to expect the US to be able to fulfil the role of fair-minded arbiter in any hypothetical future peace negotiations, or even seek meaningful, good-faith negotiations. Tragically, as history in general, and as Israeli/Palestinian history in particular, shows, negotiations for a just and lasting peace are not a realistic possibility as long one party can continue to depend on unwavering military and political superpower support, continue to increase its power on the ground, and continue to face no repercussions for breaching international law by ceaselessly expanding its illegal settlements and evict people in the process (i.e. employ ethnic cleansing).
Power disparity in weaponry, or in the suffering you can directly inflict on others, mirrors, and is related to, a power disparity in economics. Israel, with a population of 9 million, had a GDP of over $390 billion in 2019; The West Bank and Gaza combined, with a population of approximately 5 million, had a GDP of $16 billion in 2018. For context, Ireland’s GDP in 2019 was just under $389 billion (inflation of those figures by the revenue streams of multinational companies notwithstanding). Further, there is almost a ten-year gap in life expectancies between Israel and the West Bank and Gaza. Unemployment in Israel stands at just over 5%, Gaza’s unemployment rate in 2020 was 49%.
Such disparities in the relatively small space that once made-up historic Palestine tell us that there is nothing natural about the situation that exists there today. Disempowered, dispossessed and displaced people, dependent on UN aid agencies and separated by militarised walls and watch towers from western world living standards and wealth bears testimony to the planned, settler-colonial and apartheid context of violence in Israel/Palestine.
Lay of the land
While the latest violence began on foot of yet another attempt by Israel to forcibly evict Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem, which is internationally recognised Palestinian territory, the isolated Gaza Strip is where most of the past fortnight’s killings took place. Gaza is 41 kilometres in length and varies between 6 and 12 kilometres in width, amounting to 365 km2, an area smaller than half the size of Co. Louth, Ireland’s smallest county. Gaza’s population is 2 million people, half of whom are children. The western side of Gaza is flanked by the Mediterranean Sea, while an Israeli border barrier runs along Gaza’s northern and eastern boundaries and is accompanied by a recently completed underground wall, with an estimated cost of $833 million. Egypt is on Gaza’s southern border and the Egyptian government has constructed its own border barrier. Gaza city, in the north of the Strip, with 600,000 inhabitants, is among the most densely populated cities on earth.
Blockade on Gaza
Movement in and out of Gaza is strictly controlled by Israel and is generally not allowed, except for aid agencies and journalists. Israel, with cooperation from Egypt, has maintained a tight land, sea and air blockade of the Strip since 2007. Fishermen, for example, risk being killed by the Israeli navy if they venture beyond the arbitrary limit imposed on them. This limit has tightened from 11km to 5.6km, further seriously jeopardising fishermen’s livelihoods. Fourteen years after its instigation, the blockade remains, with the effect that the people of Gaza are not only permanent captives, but are deprived of basic opportunities and stripped of agency over their lives. That the blockade serves to make Gaza an open-air prison cannot be credibly denied. Between March and May 2018, a series of protests against the blockade by Gazans close to the Israeli border barrier was met with live ammunition firing and artillery bombardment by the Israeli military, resulting in the deaths of 183 protestors.
‘Operation Guardian of the Walls’ – more of the same systematic slaughter
The recent air and artillery strikes on Gaza were the centrepiece of an Israeli military onslaught termed ‘Operation Guardian of the Walls’. In time a fuller picture of the damage inflicted by this ‘operation’ will emerge. For the moment, it is worth noting among the outcomes of the ‘operation’ were the destruction of Gaza’s only Covid-19 testing centre in an airstrike and the killings of Dr. Mouin al-Aloul, Gaza’s leading neurologist, and Dr. Ayman Abu al-Ouf, the head of internal medicine in Gaza’s main hospital, and his family. As well as targeting apartments and Gaza’s health ministry, Israeli jets destroyed an apartment block that housed offices used by Al Jazeera and Associated Press.
‘Operation Guardian of the Walls’ was but one of several such onslaughts on Gaza in just over a decade. ‘Operation Cast Lead’ in 2008/2009 resulted in 1,419 Gazans being killed during a three-week period. ‘Operation Pillar of Defense’ took place in 2012, and that was followed by ‘Operation Protective Edge’ in 2014, which claimed the lives of over 2,000 Gazans.
MV Rachel Corrie and the Freedom Flotilla
In 2009, the devastation wrought by ‘Operation Cast Lead’ drove home to many people around the world the scale of inhumanity being inflicted on Gaza, resulting in increasing numbers of people willing to take steps to try to alleviate that suffering. In May 2010, MV Rachel Corrie sailed from Ireland as part of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza and break the Israeli blockade. The ship was named after a 23-year old US citizen who had been killed in Gaza in 2003 by an Israeli military-operated, US-supplied, Caterpillar D9 bulldozer being used in the all too common practice of demolishing Palestinian homes. The Rachel Corrie sailed from Dundalk with eleven crew members, including former UN Assistant Secretary General Denis Halliday.
In the early hours of 31 May 2010, the other six ships in the flotilla, in international waters, were raided by Israeli military who killed nine crew members on the Turkish ship MV Mavi Marmara. Mechanical failures had delayed the Rachel Corrie, preventing it from being with the rest of the ships when the violent raid took place. The Rachel Corrie eventually neared Gaza, but it too, while also in international waters, was raided by Israeli military and the crew was detained. Whether it is the illegal boarding of ships in international waters or the destruction of aid material, like tents and solar panels, provided to Palestinians by foreign governments, Israel commonly acts with blatant disregard towards all entities that have, in Israel’s view, the audacity to be in any way concerned with the systematic suffering Israel inflicts on Palestinians.
Ireland and Palestine: The blindspots of abortion, imperialist militarism and settler-colonialism
It is true that in Ireland there is much (but not universal) recognition of the long and deep suffering of the Palestinian people. On 17 May, as ‘Operation Guardian of the Walls’ began to claim its second week of victims, Irish Labour Party TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin tweeted: ‘Remarkable how the most vocal advocates for the unborn in Ireland can equivocate so much when it comes to the killing of children in Palestine.’
Firstly, notwithstanding Ó Ríordáin’s own tunnel vision which I will return to, it is this writer’s view that Ó Ríordáin made a point that carries a qualified degree of validity. There are some who are opposed to abortion, just as there are some who support the provision of abortion, who have positions on Israel/Palestine that are very much at odds with my own. Those who hold what might be best described as pro-Israel views, seem to me to be willing to, in effect, grant Israel a sort of blank cheque and believe that the plight of Palestinians is either something not to be concerned about or something which the Palestinians are primarily responsible for bringing upon themselves.
For instance, supporters of Israel do not typically acknowledge the very deep wrong that was the 1948 Nakba. The Nakba was the forced expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians from their homes by the new Israeli state, an ethnic cleansing event that is as central to understanding Israel/Palestine matters at least as much as An Górta Mór is to understanding Britain/Ireland matters. The legacy of the Nakba remains at the heart of the ongoing plight of the Palestinians, but the Nakba and the suffering it entailed and continues to entail goes largely unacknowledged. A longstanding Palestinian demand has been recognition of the right of the Palestinian people to return to the lands from which they were expelled in 1948, not an unreasonable demand, but one that no Israeli government has ever been prepared to engage with.
Supporters of Israel do not view as anathema the settler-colonialism embedded in that state’s outlook and they appear to have no substantive difficulty with Israel’s hyper-militarisation and keenness to use routine and systematic violence in pursuit of political aims, an approach when taken by other actors is typically described as terrorism. It also struck me that certain voices which, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic in Ireland, have been loud in support of the right of people to practice their faith and worship (a position I support), did not express opposition to the blatantly provocative act of the Israeli police’s heavy-handed incursion into Islam’s third holiest site, the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, in the days preceding Eid al-Fitr. The hostile behaviour of Israeli police in the grounds of the mosque, including the cutting of the cables of the minaret’s loudspeakers and the use of stun grenades, was central to the subsequent serious escalation in violence. Those who profess to support the right to freedom of religious worship should be consistent in their support of that right.
Putting aside the matter of support for Israel, by either anti-abortion or pro-choice people, after reading Aodhán Ó Ríordáin’s tweet, I was left somewhat numb. Moments before I saw the tweet, I was thinking about the victims of the Dublin-Monaghan bombings on their 47th anniversary. One of the thirty-four victims killed in the Talbot Street bomb was a baby due to be born two days later. That baby is known as Baby Doherty. Among the names listed on the memorial to the bombings on Talbot Street are Baby Doherty and his/her young mother Colette.
I wonder if Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, given his very public role in the 2018 campaign to strip the right to life of unborn humans from the Irish Constitution, would equivocate, even for a moment, on whether it is right that Baby Doherty merits recognition as a victim of Dublin-Monaghan? Or is he so confident in his position that he would not hesitate to determine that Baby Doherty indeed had no right to life when his/her life was brutally snuffed out?
Two days after Ó Ríordáin had tweeted, a journalist called Reema Saad, her five-year old son Zaid and her unborn child were killed by an Israeli airstrike on their apartment in Tal al-Hawa, Gaza city, at 1.50 a.m. Reema’s husband Mohammad was critically injured in the attack and the family’s two-year-old daughter Mariam remains missing. Hearing that news, I was reminded of Colette and Baby Doherty and Ó Ríordáin’s tweet. I could not but conclude that the logic of Ó Ríordáin’s pro-choice position means that in the case of Dublin-Monaghan, where I (and the coroner) saw thirty-four victims, Ó Ríordáin was willing to only see thirty-three, and in the airstrike on Tal al-Hawa, where I saw a family of five victims, Ó Ríodáin was willing to see only four. The dehumanisation of victims because of their unborn status is a colossal moral issue that our society has unnecessarily brought upon itself and rather than pretending that that dilemma does not exist, we owe it to humanity that we confront the issue and resolve it as it should be resolved, that is, by recognising the humanity of all human lives.
In addition to highlighting the tunnel vision that seeks to deprive the unborn of human and victim status, it should not be forgotten that Ó Ríordáin as a TD supported the 2011–16 Fine Gael-Labour government, and indeed served that government as a Minister of State from 2014 to 2016. That government refused to recognise the state of Palestine, a minority position among UN member states and one continued by the current Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael-Green government. Further, during Ó Ríordáin’s first year as a Minister of State, the Fine Gael-Labour government granted permission to the US to land 321 planes carrying war munitions at Shannon Airport. Not once that year did the government of which he was a member refuse a US request to land such planes at Shannon. Shannon, to the state’s shame, has long played a central role as a stopover and refuelling point for the US military in the transport of its soldiers and war material. In that context, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin’s recently professed concern for the killing of children in the Middle East by US-supplied weapons rings very hollow.
As outlined in a previous blog post, Labour Party founder and socialist republican James Connolly was unequivocal about the humanity of the unborn in his 1915 article ‘Can Warfare be Civilised?’ Connolly contended that unborn humans whose lives are ended by imperial firepower are victims as much as anyone else who perishes in artillery bombardment. In setting out his position, Connolly admirably stood against the type of blindspots that both characterise and undermine perspectives today. It is appalling and inexcusable that over 100 years since his article, powerful states remain undeterred in their use of devastating violence to enforce collective punishment on the most defenceless, including the unborn.
This writer believes that it is right to unequivocally both defend the unborn’s right to life and oppose imperialist-militarism and settler-colonialism. The pro-life message is strengthened by it being articulated holistically and by its proponents opposing clear-cut oppression and injustice. I can think of no case more clear-cut than that of Israel/Palestine. If it was right to oppose apartheid in South Africa, it is undoubtedly right to oppose settler-colonialism in Israel/Palestine.
A just and lasting peace in Israel/Palestine is necessary for human freedom and flourishing in that land and to save lives that otherwise will continue to be lost to violence.