15 January 2009 Edition
Major protests against slaughter in Gaza
MAJOR protests against the Israeli military onslaught in Gaza took place in Dublin and Belfast last Saturday.
Over 1,000 demonstrators assembled at Dublin’s Central Bank on Dame Street to hear speakers criticise Israel’s actions in the current conflict.
Richard Boyd Barrett of the Irish Anti-War Movement called on the Government to expel the Israeli ambassador to Ireland.
Marie Crowley of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC), pointing out that 800 Palestinians have been killed, one third of them children, since the beginning of the recent Israeli offensive, said:
“The entire population of the Gaza Strip is forced to live in what is essentially a concentration camp.”
She said Palestinians in Gaza are being bombarded by air, sea and land. She called Israel’s campaign a “holocaust” which amounted to the “ethnic-cleansing” of Palestinian people.
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams demanded that the international community match hard words with strong action.
“Two years ago, I visited the Palestinian refugee camp at Kalandia in the West Bank. The camp was established in 1949, the year after I was born. In the intervening years, thousands of Palestinian families have endured the horror of living in the most unimaginable and terrible of conditions in that camp.
“Their plight is replicated right across that region by millions of Palestinians. Is cúis náire agus cúis brón é sin don domhain ar fad. This is an indictment of the international community who have failed to provide the leadership necessary to bring an end to this crisis decades ago.
“Each day we have watched in growing outrage as the people of Gaza are subjected to a brutal military assault and occupation that has left almost a thousand dead – hundreds of them children.
“The haunting images of homes wrecked, of terrified families existing among rubble in shock and despair, and of endless funerals, has rightly outraged people across the world. Caithfidh deireadh a theacht le seo anois.
“It is time all of this was brought to an end. The slaughter of people in Gaza must end.
“There must be an end to all hostilities; an end to the attack on Gaza; an end to the blockades and sanctions; an end to the obscenity of the wall which steals Palestinian land and divides families and communities; an end to the refugee camps; and an end to the denial of the Palestinian people of their right to self-determination.
“The international community must match strong words with strong action. War is not the only option. Peace is the only option and that means in the first instance engaging in dialogue. All democratic mandates must be respected.
“And this means the Israeli Government must be prepared to talk directly with Hamas.
“It is the only way to agree a negotiated peace settlement – it is the only realistic way to end the decades of war and injustice. But unless the international community – and that includes the Irish Government, the EU and the US Government – exercises its considerable influence and authority, any temporary relaxation of the current assault on Gaza will only bring a short respite for citizens there.
“What is needed is a real and sustained international effort to construct a durable peace settlement which provides for two states, including a Palestinian state that is sustainable and viable.
“We must commit ourselves, no matter what happens in the short-term, to working for a peace settlement, to working for a Palestinian state which is sustainable and viable. We must commit to doing all we can to help make that a reality.”
Speakers at the Dublin rally also called on the international community not to sell or buy goods from Israel. Prior to the march, one man was arrested at a Marks & Spencers store in the centre of the city. The arrested man was one of a group of people handing out leaflets calling for the boycott of Israeli goods being sold in the shop. The leafleters criticised the actions of gardaí and of security staff at Marks and Spencers which they said was “heavy handed” and “over the top”. The arrested man was charged with reckless damage to the Marks & Spencers store.
The demonstration passed the Dáil before it continued on to the Israeli Embassy.
Speaking at an Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign press conference on the same day, Sinn Féin National Chairperson and Dublin MEP Mary Lou McDonald described Israel’s deepening military offensive as morally reprehensible.
The Dublin MEP said:
“Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people has historically been unacceptable. However, since this current military offensive against the region began two weeks ago, the world has witnessed an attack against humanity unlike one we have seen for many, many years.
“There are simply no words to describe just how wrong the military actions of Israel are. Their daily justification of the atrocities against the civilian population of Gaza is sickening and morally reprehensible. The slaughter of Palestinian families under the guise of security concerns no longer washes with people and the world looks on in horror.
“International governments’ responses to the crisis have been inept. The UN and EU have failed to exert sufficient pressure on the Israeli Government. And the US, the real power brokers, have refused to step in and call a halt to the deepening atrocities being foisted upon the people of Gaza. Shame on all of them.
“The EU can and must voice the revulsion felt by member state citizens. To date, its language has been tough and its actions weak. A Council of Ministers meeting needs to be called immediately at which the suspension of the Israel-EU Association Agreement and Euro-Med Agreements must be agreed.
“A vote on increasing the EU’s preferential trade agreements with Israel will go before the European Parliament later this month. The vote was due to take place last month but was suspended following a motion put forward by Sinn Féin’s parliamentary group, GUE/NGL. I will be calling on all MEPs to vote against increasing the EU-Israel Association Agreement.
“The people of Gaza need action not words.”
Also on Saturday, Belfast saw several thousand people march through the city centre calling for an end to the slaughter in Gaza.
At Belfast City Hall, speakers from the Irish Congress of Trades Unions (ICTU), which planned the event, plus representatives of the four main Christian churches, addressed the peace rally as did Belfast Lord Mayor Tom Hartley of Sinn Féin.
Hartley called for an immediate ceasefire and withdrawal from Gaza by Israeli forces.
Catholic Bishop Donal McKeown told the crowd, which included families with children, that young people in Gaza were the victims of a wider conflict.
Church of Ireland representative Archdeacon Billy Dodds and Methodist Church representative Rev Derek Johnson called for an end to hostilities on both sides.
Rev Dr Mark Gray of the Presbyterian Church expressed concerns at the levels of violence and added: “We must work for the dignity of all people.”
The Democratic Unionist Party, however, condemned the march as anti-Israel and pro-Hamas.
Following his address at the Belfast rally, Mayor Tom Hartley said:
“The strong turn-out in Belfast, and in other cities around the world today highlights the strength of opinion surrounding the ongoing situation in Gaza.
“With over 800 people killed in the ongoing offensive, 270 of whom are children, the world cannot nor will not stand idly by and let this crisis continue unmarked.
“Israel are now dropping leaflets over Gaza warning its inhabitants of an intensification so it is never more important to let those with influence hear the calls of outrage against the massive death toll and humanitarian crisis in Gaza
“Sinn Féin supports the calls for an immediate end to attacks on all civilians; an immediate ceasefire and a withdrawal of Israeli forces. It is also essential that urgent aid be allowed into Gaza with unimpeded access throughout the Gaza Strip.”
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin Lisburn Councillor Charlene O’Hara criticised the PSNI for misreading the mood of Belfast march and rally. This followed complaints that deploying PSNI members dressed in riot gear was an overreaction to a peaceful protest.
Councillor O’Hara said:
“Thousands of people turned out today in Belfast and across the world to highlight their opposition to the ongoing situation in Gaza.
“To have the PSNI dressed in riot gear along Royal Avenue and Donegall Place but in particular outside firms such as Gap and Marks & Spencer, companies listed on the ‘Boycott Israeli Goods’ list, is a massive over-reaction to what was always a peaceful protest regarding the ongoing situation in Gaza.
“People from all sections of the community heard speeches from Sinn Féin’s Lord Mayor Tom Hartley, trade union representatives and church leaders. Is this the type of protest that justifies the PSNI to react in such a fashion? I think any sensible person would say definitely not.”
The Sinn Féin team in the North’s Assembly held a solidarity event for the people of Gaza on the steps of Stormont on Monday.
Speaking after the event, Sinn Féin Chief Whip Carál Ní Chuilín said:
“Today’s event was a small symbol of our solidarity with the besieged people in Gaza. As we return to the Assembly today, it is of vital importance that the calls for a ceasefire and for inclusive negotiations are echoed here at Stormont.
“Sinn Féin has submitted a motion on the issue of Gaza and we will continue to highlight the terrible events taking place there, as well as continuing to call for an end to the war and peace for all those people suffering at present.”
ADAMS: The international community must match words with action’ (video footage of Gerry Adams’s address to the Gaza solidarity rally is at www.sinnfein.ie)