Mutton Island at dawn

Mutton Island at dawn

Monday, September 25, 2017

Deported - for trying to bear witness to degradation

Have a look at this picture of four Irish people arriving back to Dublin after being deported from an international airport. Do they look like terrorists, subversives, or a threat to the State?
Four Irish people arrive  back in Dublin Airport
after beingdeported from Israel

Their “crime” was to attempt to pay a visit to one of the most troubled regions on the planet, in order to bear witness to the terrible reality of daily life for ordinary people on the ground.

They didn’t travel with hatred in their hearts or violent intentions, but to listen to ordinary people and the charities who work among them, show solidarity, and learn from those living and working in a conflict zone.

There was a time when Northern Ireland was a “no-go area” for tourists. If you went to Belfast, according to the prevailing wisdom of the time, you probably needed your head examined.

Nobody ever went there unless they had family or business reasons.

In the early 1990s, I was among a small group of journalists who spent a few days exploring the delights of the beautiful Co Antrim coastline as the area was finally, after so many years of turmoil, beginning to open up to tourism.

Our guide, with typical Northern Irish humour, used to take pleasure from telling us that we were going back to the “most bombed hotel in Europe” every night.

We felt so bad for the staff and management at the Europa Hotel, which had suffered 36 bomb attacks during The Troubles, when another explosion just a few days after our stay greatly hampered the huge strides which were being taken in promoting this wonderful region.

They told us that journalists like us were the only people who ever stayed there, apart from the occasional businessman from the UK or Dublin. They felt we had an important role, to tell their story and the story of their city as it emerged from three decades of conflict.

A journalist colleague told me recently that her mother rang her one day around 1996, to marvel at the fact that she had just seen a couple of Japanese tourists outside City Hall. In its own small way, that was a sign of progress in a divided city

Belfast back then was completely different from the thriving metropolis it is today. The look-out towers, military bases, and armoured tanks ensured that its mean streets were off-limits for all but the bravest of tourists.

Northern Ireland during the Troubles was not quite the equivalent of modern-day Palestine and, even during the worst of the violence, the British authorities did not take measures to prevent international observers or journalists from seeing what was going on.

In Belfast, people on all sides were welcoming towards journalists and international observers in general, happy that we were able to tell the truth we had seen with our own eyes.

International activists at the 'Apartheid Wall' in the
West Bank, 2017. Photo: Ian O Daliagh
But in Palestine, in 2017, it seems that more and more people are being prevented from seeing what’s really happening to those who have been living under an illegal occupation since 1967.

Earlier this month, four Irish people found that they were not welcome at the start of an eight day fact-finding tour.

On their way to meet Israeli and Palestinian NGOs in the West Bank, they never made it to their destination. They were seized by the Israeli Authorities at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, questioned, and deported.

It’s amazing this issue did not receive more coverage in the Irish media.

To look at the photo of the four of them arriving back at Dublin Airport, it’s hard to believe that they were considered such a threat to the Israeli State. Not that we should ever judge anyone by his or her appearance, but Elaine Daly, Fidelma Bonass, Joan Nolan, and Stephen McCloskey hardly fit the profile of “terrorist sympathisers”.

One of them, Elaine, has brought 451 people, mostly Irish citizens, to the West Bank on fact-finding missions over the past 11 years. Her only aim is to show people the reality of life under occupation for Palestinians and to let the visitors speak to NGOs and peace-makers on the ground, including organisations from Israel.

Elaine doesn’t preach. She lets her groups make up their own minds about the kind of conditions Palestinians in the West Bank have been living under for the past 50 years.

Elaine was particularly singled out this month because of her history of bringing Irish groups to Palestine. She was deported on the basis of public safety, public security, or public order considerations.

She has since asked the Israeli Embassy in Dublin for clarification, given her record of bringing almost 20 tour groups to the region on fact-finding missions since 2006.

They only intended to be in the West Bank for eight days. All four were travelling with valid Irish passports and they didn’t kick up a fuss upon their return out of concern for the welfare of the 27 other members of their travelling party who were allowed through to the West Bank.

What did they not want them to see? Was it the humiliation of daily checkpoints or the way in which Israelis and Palestinians have different coloured licence plates on their cars?
A Palestinian family home which has been seized
by Israeli settleers, Hebron 2017

Was it the way in which “settlements” (illegal under international law) are encroaching more and more onto Palestinian land, beyond the 1967 borders?

Was it the daily humiliation of strip-searches, checkpoints, and attacks on farmers trying to tend to their olive trees?

Was it the consequences of living beside a huge wall, which in some cases cuts the West Bank farmers off from their own land?

Veteran broadcaster Mike Murphy was one of the 27 who was allowed through after being questioned at Ben Gurion Airport. He was genuinely shocked by the conditions he saw Palestinians living under over the following week.

“The only resistance open to the Palestinian people in the face of their daily degradation and humiliation is simply to remain. The Israelis patently wish them gone,” he wrote in a moving piece in The Irish Times.

At the airport, he had asked Israeli immigration police why his colleagues had been deported.

He was shown a video of a demonstration which showed a couple of Irish people waving a Tricolour and throwing stones at a huge wall. All four had denied attending the regular demonstrations in the village of Bili’in.

On a visit to a small village in the West Bank last month, Galway activist Ian O Dalaigh was told of the intimidation faced by a Palestinian man, Omar Hajajla, whose house happens to be near an illiegal Israeli settlement on occupied land.

There have been repeated attempts to force Omar off the land and he refuses to leave after taking care of it for more than 40 years. It is hard to imagine how much more difficult his life would be if international observers were unable to visit him and bear witness to the pressures he is subjected to at regular intervals.

In Hebron, international visitors to a refugee camp visited a Palestinian house which had been seized by Israeli settlers. Draped in an Israeli flag, it was clear that the original inhabitants were no longer welcome in their own home. There has been a systemic campaign to remove families from similar homes across the region.

One suspects that, deep down, even the Israeli authorities themselves must feel there is something wrong with the daily humiliations Palestinians are subjected to as a result of the 50 year occupation of their land.

Why else would they prevent four peace activists from Ireland from visiting in order to bear witness to the reality of life on the ground in Palestine?

Millions of people have been abused and humiliated on a daily basis for five decades and the cost of a never-ending conflict has taken a terrible toll on everyone involved.

It’s harder to show solidarity with the oppressed, people who are abused and discriminated against every day, when you are not allowed to even visit them to see the stranglehold the occupiers hold over their daily lives.

* If you wish to protest the unjust deportations of four Irish people from Israel this month, you can contact the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, at minister@dfa.ie.

Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, based in Galway, Ireland. Check out his Facebook page here

Find Ciaran on Twitter, @ciarantierney

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