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Opinion: A vote for change in Ireland, a welcome vote for Palestinians

Palestinians are heartened by the stance of most Irish parties on the occupied territories, writes Mona Sabella.

A Palestinian boy stands in front of a fence in the northern Gaza Strip. (Photo by Mahmoud Issa / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
A Palestinian boy stands in front of a fence in the northern Gaza Strip. (Photo by Mahmoud Issa / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

PALESTINIANS ARE RESILIENT people. We love our homeland. We want to live peacefully, as a sovereign, equal, self-determining State but Trump’s so-called peace plan ignores that entirely.

As a Palestinian woman following Irish elections from my Dublin home, it was heartening to know that a key issue on the agenda of change included stronger action in support of a sovereign and free Palestine.

Most of the Irish political parties committed in their manifestos to progressing the Occupied Territories Bill that would ban Israeli settlement goods from Ireland.

This, to me, was a huge testament that political parties in Ireland respond, at least in written promises, to the demands of their people.

With efforts to form a coalition government ongoing, one could only hope that demands for change are met – especially with regards to housing, health, foreign policy, and the environment.

At a time when democracies are failing their people around the world, Ireland is perhaps one of the few countries with the potential to deliver a truly democratic society. Much hinges on the kind of government formed and on whether political parties deliver on the promises in their manifestos. 

mona home Mona’s ancestry home before the family was forcibly removed in 1948. Her aunt Hilda still has the keys and papers to prove it belongs to them.

A personal account

My family was forcibly displaced from their home in Jerusalem during the “catastrophe” or “Nakba” of 1948 when Israeli occupation began. During this event, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians like my family fled or were forced from their homes during the war surrounding Israel’s establishment.

After the murder of close family friends in the Semiramis Hotel bombing by the Hagana – a Jewish underground militia which later formed the core of today’s Israeli army – my grandfather decided that it was far too big a threat for the family to stay in the home they had bought in 1936. 

My family was one of the lucky ones to be able to return to Jerusalem nine months after being forcibly displaced, but they were not allowed to go back to their old home. The home was demolished by the Israeli army and the area in which it was located subsequently became one of the most prestigious Israeli occupied areas in the western part of Jerusalem.

Instead, my family was forced to settle in the Old City of Jerusalem – or what is East Jerusalem – which was under Jordanian rule at the time.  

And so began the next chapter in our struggle as a Palestinian family and a Palestinian people for the right to self-determination and independence. 

israeli-arab-war-1948 In the ruins of a house destroyed by shells near Tel Aviv is a collection point of the Jewish self-protection organisation Hagana (taken on May 26, 1948). On May 31, 1948, the Hagana was declared an army of the State of Israel. After the end of the British UN mandate for Palestine, the National Council of Jews had called the state of Israel in Tel Aviv City Museum on 14 May 1948, and the first Israeli-Arab war began one day later. Source: dpa

I always acknowledge the privilege of having been born and raised in Jerusalem even though it meant living under an Israeli system where democracy is very far out of sight. In fact, the UN released a report in 2017 which deemed the Israeli state to be an apartheid state.

Israel would have everyone believe that “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East.” As far as I know, democracy does not mean that you strategically select who can and cannot vote in your elections – this is what happens during Israeli elections.

In July 2018, Israel passed the Jewish Nation-State Law, which defines the country as the nation-state of the Jewish people and states that only Jewish people have a right to self-determination. 

Last year, Israel’s Central Election Committee (CEC), which oversees elections, banned two Arab parties from participating in Israel’s elections, a move that was later overturned by the Supreme Court.

The occupation of my youth

The Israeli occupation was the ominous shadow in my daily life growing up. I, and many others like me, watched as the Israeli army suppressed all attempts to gain freedom.

Killings, torture, arrest, forcible displacement, the annexation of land by the Israeli army all became the background noise of my childhood and teenage years.

Still, I felt lucky in comparison to the situation of what is now over seven million Palestinian refugees worldwide – not allowed to return to their homes in Palestine. 

trump netanyahu Israel's Netanyahu and President Trump launch the US plan for solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in January. Source: Source: Gripas Yuri/ABACA

Trump’s deal will not work

To no surprise, Trump’s “deal of the century” as in many others, utterly disregards the right of refugees to return to Palestine as enshrined in international law.

Under Trump’s proposal, Israel is widely expected to be the beneficiary, given its input into the plans, which were devised without any Palestinian input. The plans veer far from previous US administrations’ commitment to the formation of a Palestinian state.

Instead, Trump agrees to a West Bank littered with Israeli settlements, which are regarded by the international community as illegal, and surrounded by Palestinian lands, a contentious and difficult subject. I believe that all refugees must have a right to return to homes they were forcibly displaced from, but under Trump’s proposal, Palestinians are expected to behave and bow down to the occupiers.  

In the year 2020, not much has changed. Instead of Britain drawing on a map to divide nations, we now have Trump in leadership with his 181-page plan of “peace” on the one side, endorsed by Israeli leaders on the other.  

It’s little wonder Boris Johnson has commended the plan, while sensible leaders, like those part of the Irish government, have raised concerns about it.

Palestinians watching the support

In Palestine, there is huge support and hope for the Occupied Territories Bill, currently before the Dáil. We consider this part of the serious actions we need at an international level.

It is encouraging to see the great potential of its enactment – particularly after Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and the Green Party included their written support for it in their manifestos. Expectations are high that a change in Ireland will bode for a change in Palestine. 

This optimism around the Irish elections comes in response to a recent rise in conservative right, imperialist and racist governance around the world.

Just across the Atlantic, Donald Trump sits as “commander in chief” demonstrating how to act unilaterally when in charge and in my view, to the betterment of the 1%. Trump and other strongmen in power like Israel’s Netanyahu, Russia’s Putin and Turkey’s Erdoğan should have no place in democracies of the 2020s.

For Palestine, decades of US or international blueprints and plans – such as Trump’s recent Middle East “deal of the century” – have only suggested we give in to occupation and accept discrimination and systemic apartheid. It seems this notion has become normalised and is now sadly an expected outcome of the proposed plans.

For this reason, many Palestinians are sceptical of peace processes. The alternative to empty “peace plans” is serious action by international States, like Ireland, to ensure that the Israeli government ends its seemingly endless cycle of violations of human rights.

In Ireland, this would mean enacting the Irish Occupied Territories Bill. Only after such action then we might have space to work on a realistic plan for just and long-lasting peace with a sovereign and independent Palestine. 

Hope is a common word thrown around but listening to how people think in Ireland, it feels as though this place is more likely to produce change than anywhere else in the world right now.

For this, I wish only the best outcome in the Irish government negotiations. For a better Ireland, a better Palestine and a better world. 

Mona Sabella is a Palestinian human rights advocate living in Dublin – born and raised in Jerusalem. Mona is a consultant on corporate accountability and formerly worked with Al-Haq, an independent Palestinian human rights organisation.  She is a board member of Sadaka, the Irish Palestine Alliance.  

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