The Blanket

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No man has a right to fix the boundary of the march of a nation;
no man has a right to say to his country, 'Thus far shalt thou go and no further.' .
- Charles Stewart Parnell



Slaughter of the Innocent


Anthony McIntyre


In March Khader Shkirat, a director of LAW - The Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment made the following comment:

Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are currently experiencing a huge military offensive by Israel. We are a largely unarmed and defenceless civilian population facing the force of a major military power. The human rights abuses committed by Israel in the towns, villages and refugee camps of the occupied Palestinian territories are breathtaking in both their scale and their brutality, yet the states that call themselves the international community are leaving us to the mercy of the Israeli army.

This had occurred in a context set by the Israeli war mongering prime minister Ariel Sharon who said in early March 'the Palestinians must be hit and it must be very painful: we must cause them losses, victims, so that they can feel the price'. Much experienced in the dark art of murdering civilians Sharon presumably knows what he wants and how to achieve it. To underline the point he had in a two-week period oversaw the murders of 113 Palestinians in an assault that saw a further 368 injured. Nazi-like mass round ups of the civilian Palestinian population were taking place. Even more sinister was the Nazi-style stamping of numbers on the arms of detainees. Children as young as 14 have not been spared. Indeed at the time of Shkirat's comments, one quarter of those butchered by Israel since the Intifada were under the age of 18, despite the stipulation contained in the fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, which is binding on the state of Israel, that attacks on women, children and refugees, medical staff and humanitarian agencies are prohibited.

While the 'international community' is prepared to sit and twiddle its thumbs in the face of this - did they learn nothing from having done likewise in relation to Rwanda? - it is essential that others without any institutional power bang their shoe until notice is taken. And so on a bright Saturday morning as the IDF was on its murder mission in Jenin refugee camp we set out for the day. The first day of our weekends was fast becoming, for many of us, 'Palestine Day' - that one portion of the week when we could be certain that our time would be handed over to helping those victims of Israeli aggression in another part of the world most of us had never visited.

But to empathize we need never have set foot outside of West Belfast. The pits of the stomachs of the people of this impoverished locality know well enough the icy terror that can grip so tightly and burrow as deeply within when unarmed civilians are compelled to face a marauding band of armed and uniformed men, legitimized by their criminal state and accountable to no one. And so it was hardly a coincidence that it was West Belfast I walked through on my journey down to the Falls Road-Whiterock Road junction carrying flags, placards and posters. Sean was already there and was busy bedecking the traffic isles with posters highlighting the horror of Israeli policy in occupied Palestine. It was just 9 o'clock and we were ready to begin our white line picket. If its impact equaled our previous one at the very same spot two months earlier we would be well pleased.

Then we realised we had no buckets in which to collect items of support from passing motorists. Tommy Gorman took me up to the house in his car and we quickly converted three waste paper baskets into buckets by plastering a notice calling for support for the Palestinians onto their exteriors. When we arrived back minutes later, David asked where the flagpoles were. We had none and he hastily departed to the nearest hardware shop to buy some. Davy, meanwhile, was standing with Sean waiting on us to supply leaflets. The Ireland Palestine Solidarity Committee to which we all belonged had failed to get its leaflets ready on time so the Socialist Workers Party - to which Davy and Sean belong - pulled us out of a spot by supplying a few thousand of theirs. They were initially reluctant for fear of facing accusations (only by those revolutionaries who preferred the pub to the picket and who, by the time our day's activity ended, would think Palestine was a French brandy) that they were using the opportunity to push their own agenda. It wasn't true. Sean had the leaflets in his car to be handed out later in the day at the weekly SWP stall. We insisted on them being made use of. We didn't care where they came from - the message was the same. Stop the genocide in Palestine.

And that's the way it was. No big machine, no party agendas, no corporate authority, no grand strategic plan to be implemented by teams of paid workers. It was ad hoc, worked out as we went along. For somebody who didn't turn up or arrived late, there was always someone else to be called upon to pull things together. Mobile phones were in frequent use throughout the day as calls were made to get more leaflets, sandwiches or coffee. At one point late in the day John pulled out his lunch box and shared chicken and rice with the rest of us. The week before in Dublin, outside the Israeli embassy, we partook of his chicken and potatoes.

Throughout the day people came and went as we sustained the picket until 5.30 in the evening. Whether it was John on the morning shift - who had lived and worked in the Middle East - standing catching traffic coming out of Ballymurphy, Shane with his polite voice, Rita rushing out of work on her lunch break to give us half an hour of her time, Aine with her devil-may-care approach, Finn with his earthy contempt for state authority, Feilim who chairs the IPSC, or Lucy and Marion who have went to many protests over the decades to oppose British repression - everybody that could made the effort. In all we collected many items of support and distributed around ten thousand leaflets. A leaflet taken or something given amounted to the same thing. Palestine was in the consciousness of thousands of motorists that day.

A friend later asked me if it was not all a pointless exercise. I told him that neither those who stood there nor the people passing who responded so generously felt that way. That didn't answer his question. His counter - America with all its financial might will not be moved by a few leaflets and flags on the Falls Road and until you move the Americans, the situation in the Middle East will stay as it is. Looked at in strictly economic terms it is a difficult argument to refute. Without US support the Israeli onslaught against the Palestinians could not continue. At the level of shaping a new moral climate, however, which may change the way the public perceives the Middle East conflict, our endeavours have more chance of success. Besides, it is much easier and safer than having to fight to avoid being crushed under the wheel of an Israeli panzer tank. The alternative was to do nothing, which is useful only if nothing effective can be done otherwise. And it seemed much less pointless to be rallying to the call of destitute Palestinians than all those who, over the years, ran out of trenches in a suicidal surge towards the enemy trenches at the command of some Colonel Blimp type officer who inhabited a different world, hailed from a different social class, and drank from the well of a different moral universe. And if more people can be brought into a campaign of ethical resistance to US and Israeli policy it is another piece of ground taken in the seemingly endless war of position that invariably precedes fundamental change. The Palestinians involved in working with us urged us on with their support coupled with the latest updates from Jenin refugee camp. That alone made it worth it.

There were some who passed us that day, as happens all the time, and made it quite clear they were opposed to our position. They wanted to know if we supported suicide bombers or the killing of Israeli civilians. We most certainly do not. One child murderer is as bad as the next. We wanted all the violence stopped in the Middle East. Israel perpetrates the lion's share of the violence. It is not a violence inflicted because the Israelis are by nature sadists addicted to violent behaviour. It is a violence predicated on a belief that it is fine for one country to violate and subvert the statehood of another. We felt Israeli violation of Palestinian statehood was by far the biggest contributory factor to the conflagration in the region. If we can prioritize and isolate that while never losing sight of the others atrocities in the region not committed by Israel, then we shall have covered some distance on the road to achieving peace.

There is no one that I know of in our work on behalf of the Palestinians who would demur from the view of Khader Shkirat who sought not the shelter of ambiguity in outlining his view that 'suicide bombings inside Israel which target innocent civilians are outrages'. But ending suicide bombings alone will not end killings in the Middle East. By bringing Israeli occupation and repression to a close peace has a much better chance of taking root.

At 5.30, we packed away our gear. Sean ran Aine and myself to our homes. He was tireless and after depositing us in the comfort of our homes was on his way to arrange something else. Meanwhile, back at the bar, the 'vanguard of the pubetariat' had established socialism in another four countries that day.


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