- Lifestyle & Sports
- 18 May 21
Hot Press' Palestinian Voices series aims to platform activists, lawyers, politicians and members of the general public with links to Gaza and Palestine. Dr Asad Abushark is an international spokesperson of the Great March of Return, and an academic who has written a book alongside Danny Morrison on the shared struggle of Ireland and Palestine against colonial oppressors.
“I’ve been in Ireland for almost two-and-a-half years now, but I have witnessed three genocidal wars in Gaza: 2008, 2012 and 2014," the Palestinian ac ademic, Dr Asad Abushark, tells me over the phone. He is following the devastation of Gaza, that has taken place during the current siege, on social media. At the time of our conversation, the death toll after the most recent round of Israeli airstrikes rained down on what is in effect an open prison – stood at 200 people within a week, including 60 children.
"I was teaching in the university in Gaza at the time. During the 2014 war, they targeted the building where I lived, which housed 21 flats. The doors and windows were blown out, so we had to leave my home to find a safer place. I stayed in Gaza until 2018, but I had an Irish passport, so I decided to come to Ireland to give my son a good education. The journey to Egypt took about three days. It’s almost impossible for people to leave Gaza at all because of the occupation.
"Even with my Irish passport, I had to go to the Ministry of the Interior. I had to wait for four months, and the Israeli Government wouldn’t allow me to leave through Tel Aviv airport," Dr Abushark adds. "Gaza is 365km and is bordered on the north by the sea and Israel. In the south, the only point of exit is through Egypt. The people there live as prisoners, and nobody cares. Nobody ever talks about that. The US, the UK and the European Union – most noticeably France, Austria and Germany – are supporting Israel, and the Palestinians are treated like animals in the same way that the Irish were treated by the British when they were colonised and massacred. 'To Connaught or to Hell', as Cromwell said. It’s about total ethnic cleansing. It happened to my grandfather during the Palestinian Nakba in 1948. It’s happening to me and to my loved ones now.
"They are targeting families, schools, refugee camps, publishing houses, hospitals, roads, fields of crops, media buildings. They get away with murder by pretending Hamas are hiding in these buildings with families as human shields, yet provide no evidence to support their claims. The world watches their war crimes and does nothing," the academic continues, emphasising the blatant inaction of the West in particular.
Does it hurt him to see the Western media portray Israel's airstrike campaign as a form of "self-defence" against Palestinian "terrorist organisations", such as Hamas?
“The Western media are on the side of Israel. Even RTÉ are totally against the Palestinian people," he argues. "Ever since 1948, the West refuses to talk about the root of the problem: ethnic cleansing. The British colonial planters in Ireland's history are the Israeli settlers in Palestine’s history. It’s a very similar story, but the Americans and European Union see us as sub-human. Israel has the fourth strongest army in the world, the Iron Dome, weapons from the US, and yet we Palestinians have nothing at all. We have the right to defend ourselves from ethnic cleansing and settler colonialism. We also have the right to self-determination and the right to Statehood and sovereignty, like every other nation under the sun.”
Over the past week, Israel has cynically targeted Gaza's infrastructure in an effort to halt any efforts at rebuilding the territory, following eight days of intense airstrikes. Already, 42,000 Palestinians in Gaza have been displaced by the current bombings. Among the 60 Gaza children killed in Israeli airstrikes this week were 11 children who were receiving trauma counselling from the Norwegian Refugee Council.
Israeli airstrikes wiped out Gaza's main COVID-19 testing center. Airstrikes have also hit at least 6 other hospitals and NGO trauma clinics — and others are running out of medicine due to the blockade.
At least 212 Palestinians have been killed including 61 children. pic.twitter.com/EF9cJeHbNE
— AJ+ (@ajplus) May 18, 2021
“People are still trying to dig survivors out from under the destroyed buildings," Dr Abushark says, the pain in his voice palpable.
"They also hit the sanitation and sewage stations. We have no clean water or electricity, and they have also destroyed the only COVID test processing centre in Gaza. It’s as if they’re living in the dark ages. The Israeli airforce also hit crops to cause a food shortage in the coming months. In war, this is called 'scorched land' policy. Settler colonialism bears two logics: dehumanisation and elimination. They want to bring all the Jewish people to the land to take over Palestine. They do not care that people were there. The Zionist movement has been supported by the West because they want to keep the Middle East under the control of military allies. The US did this in Vietnam as well: it's a brand of white supremacy."
Dr Abushark and the former Sinn Féin publicity director, Danny Morrison, have written a book about the hunger strikers in British jails, titled The Shared Struggle. The project also focuses on Palestinian freedom fighters in Israeli prisoners. The academic has a wealth of knowledge regarding the deep historical connection between Ireland and Palestine, and the stark similarities in our past.
“Palestine is practicing a shared struggle with Ireland, fighting against a shared coloniser. Our history is bloody, too. British General John Grenfell Maxwell also played a role in Palestine, butchering our people when he was stationed there. As military governor in Ireland, he ordered the execution of the leaders of the 1916 Rising. The Black and Tans were also sent to Palestine. This is why the Irish people are very sympathetic towards our people. The Irish people understand," the activist reflects, the passionate coursing through his words.
"The Americans and the British only have experience of being colonisers. They have never been colonised. That’s why most of the West dehumanises us. The US give Israel lethal weapons every year to kill Palestinians again and again. Yet we don’t have the right to defend ourselves? To live in our own homes? We are not against the Jewish people. We accept every religion or ethnicity, but Zionism is a colonialist movement in alignment with British colonialism and American imperialism."
Many had hoped that, with the changeover in the US administration from Trump to Biden, relations between Palestine and the States would improve. This week has shown otherwise, with repeated blocking of any UN Security Council attempts at creating a ceasefire between Israel and Palestine, and the continued approval of both the sale of weapons and of military aid (which does not hinge on the usual clause of abiding by human rights).
“The President that welcomed the creation of the State of Israel after the expulsion of the Palestinians was a Democrat, Harry Truman. Obama was a Democrat. It doesn’t matter if the US President is a Republican or Democrat, they will always support Israel at the expense of the Palestinian people. We have the right to return to our villages and homes after we were evicted in 1948. We have the right to use every possible means of resistance, according to a UN resolution in 1975. The US will continue to turn Gaza into hell."
Does Dr Abushark possess any hope at all for the future of Gaza and Palestine?
“This is the fourth genocidal war in Gaza. Israel use their military might, but the Palestinian people will never give up, just like the Irish. Millions of your people were killed in cold blood, and then millions more left because of famine and war. Yet Ireland managed to survive and to campaign for unity of North and South. Similarly to us, we continue to hope for a better future and peace, justice and equality for everybody in Palestine. That includes Jews, Muslims, Christians, non-believers.”
Both the Irish Government and the general public here can take positive action to change the course of the crisis: by participating in the BDS Movement to boycott Israeli companies and goods; and by calling for the expulsion of the Israeli Ambassador. However, the proposed Occupied Territories Bill is perhaps the most powerful tool in Ireland's arsenal against Israel's apartheid state. The Bill would ban and criminalise "trade with and economic support for illegal settlements in territories deemed occupied under international law."
The view of the Irish Government – based on the Attorney General’s advice – is that it is unconstitutional as a trade competence, which is an EU matter. However, Senator Frances Black, Solidarity TD Mick Barry and People Before Profit dispute this claim, and have called on the Attorney General to provide evidence for his statements. Fine Gael has been the dominant party who have failed to show support, ultimately halting the Bill's progress alongside its fellow Government parties Fianna Fáil and the Green Party.
Ireland can & must do more on human rights in Palestine & Israel. If Gov won’t publish AG advice being used to justify blocking our #OccupiedTerritoriesBill then he should come to debate tonight ready to explain it AND outline specific national, EU & UN actions Ireland will take pic.twitter.com/tqVqWkHlmS
— Alice-Mary Higgins (@aliceeire) May 17, 2021
"You can adopt families, you can use social media in your favour, you can write to your TDs and Senators to (a) condemn Israel in the United Nations Security Council and (b) to implement the Occupied Territories Bill. Protest, enlighten fellow Irish people about the struggle, send money to families who need to rebuild their lives," Dr Abushark pleads. "Ask your Government to help lift the siege. Send volunteers, doctors, nurses, medical equipment. Ireland previously did that during the war in Lebanon. Write to RTÉ and complain about their bias, ask them why they ignore the cries of Palestinian people buried under the buildings.
"There are many ways to seek accountability for the crimes committed against Palestinian people."
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