Friday, September 03, 2010

"The men behind the wire": Comparing Belfast & Gaza

Someone I know just pointed out to me that there are many similarities between the brutal assault on Palestine and Gaza last year and the brutal assault on Guernica during the Spanish Civil War -- but I think that if comparisons are going to be made, then the Gaza tragedy would probably be more similar to what happened in Belfast back in 1980.

I've seen Pablo Picasso's famous painting of Guernica and, sure, that could have been a painting of Gaza -- as bombs were repeatedly dropped on its civilian population. But the analogy between what happened in Belfast and what is happening in Palestine and Gaza is even more applicable.

As one Belfast resistance ballad put it, "Armoured cars and tanks and guns came to take away our sons. But every man must stand behind the men behind the wire." Like the heroic Belfast hunger-strikers who languished in The Maze prison back in 1981 in protest of the loss of their civil rights solely because of their religious preferences, how many Palestinians are languishing behind the wire in the occupied West Bank and Gaza today? Just listen to this haunting melody and try not to think of Gaza.

"Being Irish means they're guilty."

If you listen to the words of "The Fighting Men of Crossmaglen," you can practically imagine Palestinians singing this song to themselves as they bury the dead children of Gaza and try to deal with "The Troubles" in Palestine. "I'd sing a song of the bravest men...the patriotic flame will never die."

When I was visiting Belfast's Falls Road a few years after "The Troubles" there ended, I saw people trying to put their lives back together again and working together to rebuild their community after being brutally assaulted by the British year after year after year. The people of the Falls Road were trying to send their sons and daughters to college, trying to sooth their children's fears -- and trying to do whatever they could to make sure they would never again experience the horror of being under the British thumb.

That sounds like Palestine and Gaza to me.

When I was in Bethlehem several years ago, I saw students at the university there diligently attempting to get an education despite the fact that the University of Bethlehem's library had been shelled. Who the freak in their right mind shells a university library? "We just covered the holes with plexiglass and turned them into windows."

The people of Belfast identify strongly with the people of Palestine. They know exactly what Palestinians are going through now. "Been there. Done that."

PS: Speaking of "Been there, done that," Scottish journalist and Middle East expert David Pratt has just filed a report on the current batch of Israel-Palestine peace talks.
"Like most people, I feel a real sense of deja vu. How many times have we been here before?" Is he referring to Oslo and Camp David? Or is he referring to Guernica and Belfast?

Pratt then suggests a three-point plan for finally conducting real, functional, successful peace talks regarding "The Troubles" in Israel-Palestine.

According to Pratt, "
Whether Washington or anyone else likes it or not, three things are urgently needed if any toe-hold is to be gained in establishing the basis for a continuing peace process. First, bring Hamas into the diplomatic dynamic and negotiations. Secondly, encourage change within the Palestinian leadership" [and within the Israeli leadership too!] "to bring forth leaders with a genuine strategy for the future, rather than their own self-interests. And, thirdly, the international community must pile pressure on Israel to halt its illegal settlement expansion and hold it accountable for its failure to respect Palestinian rights....

"As Palestinian-American journalist Ali Abunimah put it recently: 'No serious analyst believes that peace can be made between Palestinians and Israelis without Hamas on board, any more than could have been the case in Northern Ireland without Sinn Fein and the IRA.'”