- 22 May 21
Yara Alagha is a parliamentary researcher in Seanad Éireann for the Civil Engagement Group. Alagha is also a board member for Women for Election and Amal Association, an all female-led Muslim civil society NGO that aims to improve conditions for Muslim women in Ireland. Having worked closely with Arabic-speaking asylum seekers in Ireland, Yara has previously highlighted the genocide of the Uighur Muslims in Northwestern China.
Hot Press' Palestinian Voices series aims to platform activists, human rights lawyers, academics and members of the general public with emotional ties to Gaza and Palestine, which has now been under Israeli occupation for decades.
Despite a ceasefire being negotiated yesterday between Israeli forces and Gaza's Hamas group following weeks of deadly airstrikes which left 230 Palestinian people dead, the apartheid state sadly lives on. Human rights organisations have continuously expressed concerns at living conditions in the open-air prison of Gaza, which sees its electricity supply and water controlled by Israel. As well as possessing less rights as Palestinians than Israeli people, home demolitions to further expand illegal Israeli settlements in the territory have quashed claims that the country wants to create a "two-state solution".
Yara Alagha tells Hot Press about her experience of growing up Muslim in Ireland, while trying to grapple with her Palestinian roots.
I was born and raised in Dublin. Both parents are Palestinian, my mother from the West Bank and my father, Gaza. I have not visited or seen my family in Gaza since 1998. My dad left Gaza at 17 due to lack of employment and academic prospects and came to Ireland post-qualification to pursue a career in medicine in Ireland. The last time he visited his homeland and family was also 1998.
Based on your work within the Oireachtas, do you think that the Irish Government can do anything to help Palestinians, and do they have the political will to do so?
Ireland can start reflecting the transnational solidarity that exists between Ireland and Palestine by passing the Occupied Territories Bill that will stop rewarding Israel for their illegal annexation of land. It will also set precedence in Europe for other member states to follow suit and begin to place sanctions and pressure on the Israeli state and no longer remain idle and stand by their war crimes and violations of human rights. Ireland’s seat on the UN Security Council is also an important diplomatic channel to hold Israel to account. Simon Coveney has to be stronger and firmer in his stance and not rely solely on words of condemnation. Also, if Ireland is serious about a two-state solution (arguably impossible at this stage due to Israeli illegal settlement expansion and annexation), it must formally and officially recognise the state of Palestine as a sovereign state. We should also recognise that the Palestinian people as a whole are subjected to an apartheid regime. We should hold the Israeli ambassador to account for representing an a state that engages in war crimes; including the crime against humanity of apartheid.
How traumatic has it been for you to witness the events of the last few weeks?
I have always been acutely aware of my privilege as someone who is Palestinian but has never had to experience the brutal reality of an illegal occupation. I’m not subjugated to oppression and discrimination like my family and counterparts in Palestine experience. I can continue to enjoy and embrace my Palestinian identity and roots, but I will never fully understand nor live the burden that this carries. I believe at this stage I’m probably experiencing survivor’s guilt. The only reason I’m not fearing for my life and awaiting my fate at the hand’s of a merciless apartheid regime, is fate.
Can you describe Israel's creation of an apartheid state?
In 2021, the Israeli illegal occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza strip will have lasted 54 years. After all these decades, the “occupation” becomes erroneous and irrelevant. Colonisation is not a term we often hear used to describe state of affairs and political structures in the present day, it is more often associated with past events. Which is why scholars and academics have frequently used another term when writing on Israel: settler colonialism. Historically, it is described and seen as the movement of Europeans creating new “white” nations where indigenous people once had their own land. These newly established nations can only be created if settlers applied two tactics: elimination and dehumanisation (creating a system whereby the indigenous are seen and treated as inferior and not afforded the same rights as the settlers). In South Africa, this was seen as Apartheid. In the year 1948, the Zionist movement, sponsored and supported by the UK, implemented the same tactics and logic in the establishment of the Israeli state. The state of Palestine and the Palestinians would then be subjugated to an apartheid regime and an operation of ethnic cleansing.
How hurtful is it to see how the media portray Israel's war crimes as 'self defence'?
It was Malcolm X who once said “If you're not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” The media, at this stage, in my opinion, has become less an observer of the events than an actor in it: playing a huge role in how people receive and comprehend the current events. Israel has long enjoyed support from Western countries, its public and media with media attention being grossly driven by ideological considerations rather than journalistic ones.
During this time, I think it’s absolutely crucial that we call out the problematic language and semantics that’s used to describe the apartheid practices and brutal violence against the Palestinians. It is not a “conflict” nor a “clash”. There was no “property dispute” or “eviction”. The implication of these terms is a ‘conflict’ between two parties, implying a degree of equality in the use of violence and that both sides are equally to blame. The use of “clashes” obscures the nature of the violence taking place and the narrative turns into the “both side-ism” narrative that ultimately transfers blame onto Palestinians, despite their subjugation to systematic human rights abuses, severe discrimination and a deadly military force. A number of Irish media outlets have referred to the planned expulsion of 40 Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah as a “property dispute” and this gravely underplays the underlying context of apartheid. This instead implies that what is happening in Sheikh Jarrah is no more significant or disreputable than a dispute between a landlord or tenant in Dublin.
Discussing it in such ahistoric and apolitical terms implies that it is only little more than a regular legal issue, rather than a product of a settler-colonial apartheid regime that forcibly confiscated Palestinian land and transfers Jewish settlers with the ultimate aim of erasing Palestinian peoplehood.
Dictating, correct and fact-checking the narrative is vital in understanding the oppression of the Palestinians and achieving justice.
What is your hope for the future of Gaza and Palestine?
Currently, there’s not a single inch between the river and the sea where Palestinians and Israelis are equal. In other words, there has not been a time or place since 1948 where Palestinians have lived with full freedom and dignity in their homeland. Even for Palestinians who remained on their land after 1948 despite eventually being granted Israeli citizenship it was clearly subordinate to the status of Jewish Israelis, with Palestinians being subjected to discriminatory practices and widespread prejudice.
I hope to see a full, sovereign and free Palestine. Where children in Gaza could meet and play with their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem. Where Gaza is no longer enclaved by a land, air and sea blockade and can finally breathe after 15 years of a crippling besiegement. Where the West Bank is no longer segregated by an apartheid wall. Where motorways connect the land of Palestine undisrupted without Palestinians being denied mobility. Without the checkpoints. Without the watch towers.
What can Ireland/outside countries do to help?
Attempts by the Israeli state to lobby the international community to criminalise the BDS proves that this form of nonviolent resistance threatens Israel and Israeli companies involved in violating the rights of Palestinians.
Do you think the West struggles to empathise because of its Eurocentric colonial mindset?
There’s a very specific and unique transnational solidarity that exists between the Irish and Palestinians. Palestine has long occupied a place in Irish consciousness. Also, parallels feature explicitly in the establishment of the Israeli state. When the British empire sponsored and prompted the Zionist movement in Palestine, the British governor of Jerusalem under the mandate described the creation of Israel as being “a little loyal Jewish Ulster” in the Middle East. The powerful political narrative binding the Irish and Palestinians derives from a direct correlation in the occupations and colonial projects both nations were subjected to.
One reason people show hesitance in showing solidarity and supporting the Palestinian cause is due to successful attempts by the Israeli state and Zionists to conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism where being critical of the state of Israel, a political structure, makes you hostile towards the Jewish people. This cynical narrative employed by the Israeli state and Zionists is not only wholly untrue, but also consequently erodes the ability for us to fight real accusations of anti-semitism. Supporters of Israel have been waging a coordinated, well-resourced counteroffensive to discredit the Palestine movement.
Ultimately, the fight against antisemitism has to be linked to the wider fight against oppression. For that reason, the fight against Palestinian oppression has far more in common with the struggle against antisemitism than Zionism does.
It has been exhausting and at times demoralising trying to gain the support and solidarity from the international community on the situation in Palestine. It’s not fair that we have to share undignified photos of civilians under rubble, or lifeless bodies mounted on another for people to care, to feel horrified, to side with human rights. And if i’m not sharing graphic photos and videos, I’m trying to compare the situation there to what it could look like here. I am ashamed to be part of an international community that watches idly as bodies are buried and cities are destroyed. Words of condemnation will not prevent the deaths. We need action.
For more information on how to show support for Palestinian people campaigning within Ireland, visit ipsc.ie.