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Shared History, Shared Struggle

The Unbreakable Bond between Ireland and Palestine

By HE Ambassador
Jilan Wahba Abdalmajid

Ireland and Palestine share common principles, deep connections, and a shared history of colonization and oppression. Both nations have a deep understanding of the importance of self-determination and the basic right to live in peace and security in an independent state, one that guarantees religious, cultural, and civil liberty, with equal rights for all its citizens. Ireland has always been one of the most vocal nations, outside of the Middle East, in support of Palestine. It is a strong voice of solidarity for the Palestinian people, both on a national level (its government and the Irish general population) and within the European Union and international platforms. Undoubtedly, this is grounded in a common historical experience of colonialism and occupation.This has been reflected in a number of significant foreign policy decisions and initiatives of successive Irish governments. In February 1980, Ireland became the first member of the then EEC (now EU) to formally recognize the PLO and publicly call for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. In 1999, Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern made a two-day visit to Gaza where he held talks with former President Yasser Arafat and visited Jabaliya Refugee Camp. In a significant symbolic move, the Taoiseach departed from Gaza airport on a flight to Dublin, becoming the first foreign leader to fly from the Palestinian territory directly to his home country.

Irish solidarity groups with Palestine and Palestinians include Sadaka–The Ireland-Palestine Alliance, Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Trade Union Friends of Palestine, Kairos Ireland, Gaza Action Ireland that grew out of the Irish Ship to Gaza initiative, Academics for Palestine, and Irish Anti-Apartheid Coalition for Palestine.

The former Irish Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, also met the late Arafat during his visit to the region in June 2003, despite Israel’s policy of refusing to meet foreign dignitaries who called on the Palestinian president. Nevertheless, the former Irish Taoiseach described Arafat as “the symbol of the hope, of the self-determination of the Palestinian people,” praising him for his “outstanding work-tenacity and persistence.”In February 2010, Foreign Minister Micheál Martin became the first Western foreign minister to visit Gaza after Hamas took control in 2007. He made his first visit there on February 25, 2010, on a one-day humanitarian mission, entering through the Egyptian border.To build on this unwavering support over many years, Ireland accorded the Palestinian delegation in Dublin full diplomatic status in 2011. For the first time, the then ambassador, Ahmed Abdalrazak, presented his credentials to the President of Ireland. A few years later, Simon Coveney, Minister for Foreign Affairs, stated that Ireland would “lead the change” in recognizing Palestinian statehood, but with the caveat that it would not materialize until the PNA had full and sole control over its territories.In 2014, both Houses of the Irish Parliament (Oireachtas) unanimously passed motions calling on the government to recognize the State of Palestine. However, although the motions have the mandate of the Irish Parliament, the government’s position is that Palestinian state recognition needs to be part of a wider EU initiative.
In 2018, arguably the most high-profile Irish initiative to date was presented to the Houses of Parliament. The Occupied Territories Bill was introduced by Independent Senator, Frances Black. This legislation, if and when enacted into Irish law, will ban and criminalize “trade with and economic support for illegal settlements in territories deemed occupied under international law.” Violators would face fines of up to €250,000 and up to five years in prison. The bill has already passed through the Upper House of the Irish Parliament and made global history by doing so. It has also passed the first crucial stage in the Lower House of Parliament. The bill is currently on hold, but its supporters are confident that it will be enacted in the not-too-distant future. The Occupied Territories Bill gained wide international attention with a number of countries actively considering the development of similar legislation.
A subsequent bill, also targeting economic activity in illegal Israeli settlements, has recently been introduced to the Dáil (Upper House of the Parliament) by John Brady, Sinn Féin. If enacted, it would compel the Irish Strategic Investment Fundi to divest shareholdings in companies listed on the UN database of businesses operating within illegal Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories.In introducing the bill, John Brady TD (member of Parliament) stated that this is the starting point, and the focus should shift to holding Israel accountable for its “illegal actions under international law.” He asserted, “There now need to be consequences … on Israel to ensure that they cannot continue to act with perceived impunity for the human rights abuses on the Palestinian people.” The second reading of the bill is set to be discussed and held for voting in mid-May 2023.

In the intervening period, in 2021, Ireland became the first European country to declare that Israel’s actions amount to an unlawful de facto annexation of Palestinian territory. The motion had the full backing of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, and was supported by political parties across the entire political spectrum. The motivation behind the motion was the fact that in international law terms, de facto annexation has the same consequences as de jure annexation, a recognition of which paves the way for the introduction of sanctions and other measures commensurate with those applied in situations where de jure annexation has taken place.

Our call to the Irish people is to continue to lead the way in Europe by initiating fresh approaches to support the creation of a viable, sovereign Palestinian state that guarantees equal rights for all its citizens. Ní neart go cur le chéile!ii

Practical actions and developmental aid have been other concrete expressions of the Irish people’s steadfast solidarity with the cause of Palestine and their support of the Palestinian struggle for freedom and justice. In 2000, the Irish government opened a representative office in Palestine, which enables a close working relationship between the Irish government and the Palestinian people as well as the implementation of a number of aid and development initiatives.

In 2022, the total Irish assistance to the Palestinian people was €17.5 million. An annual contribution of €6 million is allocated to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. Furthermore, the Irish government has consistently invested in supporting capacity-building initiatives in the areas of health and education.

A recent example of this was the establishment of the Ireland-Palestine Scholarship Program (IPSP). In 2019, this program was developed by former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, a minister with a deep commitment to Palestine evidenced by the fact that he visited Palestine five times during his tenure as Minister for Foreign Affairs. This program reflects Ireland’s long-standing commitment to the development of a viable, sovereign Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution. Development of the education sector in Palestine has been a long-standing focus for Ireland. The scholarships awarded under the IPSP cover tuition fees, flights, accommodation, and living expenses. The Mission of Palestine in Ireland has been a key partner in the success of this initiative, having worked closely with Irish Aid and every university in Ireland since 2013 to ensure the program’s success. Since 2019, 25 full scholarships have been offered for one-year master’s-level programs in Ireland for prominent Palestinian students.

Ireland’s history of solidarity with the Palestinian people is reflected in the existence of many nongovernmental organizations that are dedicated exclusively to supporting the achievement of Palestinian human and democratic rights. These organizations include Sadaka–The Ireland-Palestine Alliance, The Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Amnesty International Ireland, Kairos Ireland, Gaza Action Ireland, Academics for Palestine, Trade Union Friends of Palestine, and many others.

Sadaka–The Ireland-Palestine Alliance was formed in 2009 to influence Irish government and EU foreign policy in support of the national, democratic, and human rights of the Palestinian people. The alliance played a leading role in the development of the Occupied Territories Bill, helped secure cross-party support for the annexation motion, and has run multiple campaigns to advocate for Palestinian state recognition. It organizes regular speaking tours for Palestinian and other high-profile international speakers dedicated to the achievement of Palestinian rights, providing direct access to the highest political offices in Ireland, including the President of Ireland, Minister for Foreign Affairs, leaders of political parties, and many others.

Ireland is one of the few countries that is ready to uphold human rights with concrete action in response to Israeli violations.

In partnership with the Curriculum Development Unit, Sadaka produced an education resource on Palestine and Israel, framed in the context of international law, which has formally been approved for use within the Irish education curriculum. It has held high-level international conferences on the Israeli occupation and apartheid, run numerous campaigns on Palestinian children (latterly, in partnership with DCI Palestine), and initiated public awareness initiatives that use high-profile sites such as bus sides, railway stations, bus shelters, and locations in the city center of Dublin.

The Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) has been active in response to Israeli actions in Palestine since its foundation. It was formed to mobilize people in Ireland to support the political, civil, and human rights of all Palestinians and work for their national and democratic rights, including the right of return for Palestinian refugees and their descendants. It organizes street demonstrations and rallies and has a weekly presence in Dublin city center to raise the profile of the Palestinian cause. IPSC is a non-party political and nonsectarian organization, secular in outlook, and broadly based. It also supports the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign and works in coordination with Palestinian organizations on this campaign.

Other groups are also active in the Palestinian cause. The Trade Union Friends of Palestine has been a constant ally of the Palestinian people and ensures that the trade union movement, at its annual conferences and other events, is reminded of the importance of solidarity with Palestine. It has also been generous with practical aid.

Kairos Ireland is an ecumenical group whose members have visited Palestine and witnessed the Israeli occupation firsthand. Its mission statement states that Kairos longs for the day when justice and peace will embrace and all the people of Palestine and Israel will enjoy equality, dignity, and respect regardless of their religion or ethnicity. Kairos calls on Christians and all people of goodwill in Ireland to join them in this quest.

Another important organization is Gaza Action Ireland that grew out of the Irish Ship to Gaza initiative. This solidarity group organizes civil-society contacts between Ireland and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. It was responsible for the Windows into Gaza art exhibition that is currently touring Ireland and has brought teams of young footballers from Gaza to play in Ireland, an initiative that has generated high-profile media coverage and raised the profile of the Palestinian cause throughout the country.

In another act of solidarity, about 400 academics from Ireland have since 2014 signed a pledge, organized by Academics for Palestine, to support an academic boycott of Israeli institutions until Palestinian rights are respected.

The recently established Irish Anti-Apartheid Coalition for Palestine has not only called on Ireland and the international community to publicly recognize that the State of Israel is committing the crime of apartheid against the Palestinian people but also urged them to take concrete measures to end this crime against humanity. The coalition was formed in 2022 and now has a membership of over 20 organizations, representing a significant segment of Irish society. Through shared actions, campaigns, and advocacy initiatives, the group will engage members of the Irish public and political representatives on the situation of the Palestinian people and will build political support for effective measures by Ireland and the international community to condemn Israel’s actions and end the crime of apartheid against Palestinians.

In conclusion, it is clear that the Palestinian issue has long occupied a place in the Irish consciousness that is far greater than geographic, economic, or political considerations would appear to merit. Their shared history has inspired an emotional connection with Palestine that has stimulated Irish activism for the achievement of Palestinian rights from decades ago up to the present day. The outpouring of support from the Irish people, particularly young people, is seen everywhere on social media, which is inundated with Palestinian flags, appeals for civil action, and messages of support and outrage on a daily basis. The new generations of Irish young people have inherited a sense of solidarity and fondness for Palestine.

Palestinians highly value the support of Irish people and all free nations that stand in support of the struggle to end the illegal Israeli occupation. The Irish people will always have a special place in the hearts of Palestinians.

i The Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, managed and controlled by the National Treasury Management Agency, is a sovereign development fund with a unique mandate to invest on a commercial basis to support economic activity and employment in Ireland.

ii “There is no strength without unity.” This expression also implies that we are stronger when we stand together.

  • Ambassador Dr. Jilan Wahba Abdalmajid has a long career in the Palestinian diplomatic service. She began her diplomatic service at the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1995 as Assistant Chief of Protocol. She was then posted in Cyprus, where she completed her doctorate in political marketing. She went to Ireland as deputy to the former ambassador, and in January 2020 she presented her credentials as Ambassador of the State of Palestine to Ireland to President Higgins.

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