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Mike Murphy: I witnessed first-hand the daily humiliation of Palestinians - we cannot remain silent

The broadcaster says Ireland’s words of support for Palestinians are welcome but must now be backed up by action.

Mike Murphy

I KNOW THAT many Irish people are outraged, as I am, by the bombardment and killing of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and West Bank by Israeli forces.

The deaths, now numbering over 200, including more than 60 children, lie on the conscience of the International community.

The inaction of our leaders has given Israel the green light to continue the massacre of these trapped and besieged people. I find this inaction infuriating, and heartbreaking.

The problems for the Palestinian people did not begin 10 days ago. I was shocked to see how they are treated when I visited Palestine two years ago.

The restriction of movement for a start. Palestinians cannot move freely in their own land. Those who work inside Israel but live in Gaza or the West Bank have to queue for hours in the sun to be “processed” to reach their jobs just a few kilometres up the road. And if the Israeli conscripts who man the checkpoints decide it’s time for a coffee break, well, tough, you’ll just have to stand and wait!

The same applies to worshippers whether trying to pray in their historic mosque of Al Aqsa or in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. There is no freedom of movement, and a permit must be sought, even for hospital visits.

Young teenagers are constantly taunted by Israeli forces, and I saw small schoolchildren routinely have their school bags emptied out on the side of the road. It is the humiliating oppression of an occupation that Palestinians did nothing to deserve.

Add to this the economic deprivations visited upon them. The way you know it’s a Palestinian house in the West Bank is that it has a tank on the roof to collect rainwater, while Israelis in the illegal settlements have free-flowing water, even sprinklers for their ornamental gardens. And, no way can a Palestinian get a permit to build a home or even to extend a house.

Oppression of a people

That’s not even to speak of the horrors of Gaza, where people have electricity for sometimes only four hours a day, and the entry of food, water, medical and building supplies is strictly controlled by the Israeli government.

Gaza’s fishermen are constantly harassed and kept to a very limited coastal zone, which is severely depleted of fish. If they try to catch a bit beyond this, they are shot at by military vessels.

The hugely respected human rights organisations Human Rights Watch, Al Haq, B’Tselem and Yesh Din – the latter two both Israeli groups – have all recently stated that Israel is guilty of imposing Apartheid, a crime against humanity, upon the Palestinian people.

I’ve seen a Palestinian university professor being frogmarched from a street in Hebron, his home town because Palestinians are not permitted to walk on certain streets.
Within minutes I saw an Israeli settler strolling along carrying a rifle over his shoulder. I asked him why he was carrying a gun. He was American.
“To protect my kids from terrorists,” he said. “ You mean Palestinians?“, I asked. He nodded. He was less than six months in the country and had moved with his family into one of the illegal settlements.

All of this is what is seen as “normal life” in Palestine. The deprivation, the oppressive restrictions on daily life and freedoms, the routine humiliation – yes, even the Apartheid – all of this is the “quiet” that the Israeli government would like to return to.

The crisis that has come to a head in Palestine today is the result of 73 years of dispossession, something we, as Irish people, can empathise with. From 1948, when over 750,000 refugees were driven from their homes and forced into exile, to the systemic land grabs, house demolitions and insertion of illegal settlers today, Palestinian life in their homeland has been precarious.

Cycle of violence

The current onslaught started when people began resisting their eviction from Sheikh Jarrah and other Palestinian areas of East Jerusalem, where they face being replaced with illegal Israeli settlers in a crude attempt to further alter the demographics of that significant city.

Nearby, as Palestinians tried to celebrate the Islamic holy month of Ramadan at their sacred Al Aqsa Mosque, they repeatedly faced harassment and attack by Israeli forces outside and inside the mosque. Israeli soldiers and police fired rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas in atrocious attacks on worshippers.

Since then, the barbarity of the attacks on Gaza has left the world stunned. To see dead children carried from the rubble, and witness the grief of parents and family is unconscionable. I know many people find it hard to even look at these images on social media. But we have to see them, and we have to share them. Because despite the huge demonstrations of solidarity, in Ireland and around the world, Israeli policymakers will interpret our silence as acquiescence to their ongoing war crimes.

I, along with many others who have criticised the Israeli oppressors, have been accused by their apologists of being Anti-Semitic. This is a smokescreen to divert attention away from their crimes against humanity. I am not Anti-Semitic. Were the same outrages being committed by the Palestinians against the Israelis, I’d be firmly on the side of the latter.

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It’s high time that Ireland, as a small but significant voice on the world stage, added to our fine words with real and meaningful action. We could pass the Occupied Territories Bill, which the majority of parties in the Dáil had previously indicated they would support.

We could support Palestinians as they call for the United Nations to investigate Apartheid. We could listen to Human Rights Watch, and impose targeted sanctions on those involved in Israel’s crimes of apartheid and persecution.

We could do all of these things. We should do all of these things. We must do all of these things, and more, because the time for pleading and platitudes has passed.

Palestinians have had enough of dispossession, oppression and repression. This time around, it must be different.

Let’s do something real for the people of Palestine.

Mike Murphy is a broadcaster and former RTÉ presenter. 

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