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Report on Belfast demonstration against Israel’s attack on Gaza 

JM Thorn 

30 December 2008

A demonstration was held in Belfast on Monday (29th) to protest the Israeli attack on Gaza.  Organised at short notice by Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) it drew a respectable crowd of 130 people.  The biggest elements of the demonstration were trade unionists, followed by various republican groups and Palestinian exiles.  Socialist representation at the demo was very limited.

After a minute’s silence to mark the people who had been killed in the Israeli assault on Gaza, protesters were addressed by two speakers.   First up was veteran peace campaigner and Nobel Prize winner Mairead McGuire.  She said that she had recently been in Gaza, as part of the Free Gaza Boat campaign, to highlight the impact of the Israeli blockade.   Mairead said that the suffering she witnessed was unbelievable.   Gaza had been blockaded for two years, there was a shortage of food and medicines and infrastructure was being destroyed.  There was a humanitarian disaster in Gaza, which was a direct consequence of Israel’s policy of collective punishment of the Palestinians.  Such a policy was a breach of the Geneva Conviction and a war crime for which the government of Israel had to be called to account. 

Mairead said that Gaza had been cut off from the rest of the world.  She demanded that the international community break it silence and insist that the siege of Gaza be lifted.  She specifically called on the Irish Government to send food and medicines to Gaza.  Mairead said that Palestinians were the primary victims in the current conflict.  She said that when she met political leaders in Gaza in November they expressed a real desire for peace.  It was Israel not Hamas that broke the ceasefire.  Mairead concluded by calling on the Israeli and the Palestinians to move towards dialogue, citing the Irish peace process as an example to follow. 

The next speaker was Patricia McKeown of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.  She said that while a demonstration in Belfast may seemn ineffective in the face of Israel’s onslaught on Gaza it was important to show support for the Palestinian people.  She spoke about being a member of a trade union delegation that had visited Gaza earlier in the year and about making contact in the last few days with the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights in Gaza.  She said that there had been massive misreporting of what was going on - such as that Hamas was not the elected Government of Palestine, or that it was not in favour of a peace settlement.  Patricia said that Israel was pursing a policy of “siege, starvation and slaughter” in relation to the Palestinians.  She also noted the weak response of western Government to the current assault on Gaza - it was time for politicians to speak the truth.  She said that particular pressure should be put on the EU to end its trade agreements with Israel. Patricia also claimed that that the US had the power to end the Israeli attack on Gaza if it wished and establish the basis for a proper peace process.  She concluded by appealing for trade union members to join Trade Union Friends of Palestine and for people to support the broader IPSC boycott / disinvestment strategy.

The demonstration in Belfast illustrated the strengths and weaknesses of the solidarity campaign.  It demonstrates that there is still a strong anti-war sentiment that can be mobilised in reaction to particular events.  However, there are a number of serious political weaknesses with the campaign.  One of these is that it is appealing to the very states that are supporting Israel’s suppression of the Palestinians to bring about a just settlement.  There are no demands placed on the Irish government beyond making humanitarian, and there is the promotion of the Irish peace process as a model for Palestine.   The campaign is also still following the politics of Fatah and the PLO despite these factions unambiguously taking the side of imperialism to repress their own people.   A particularly disappointing aspect of the Belfast protest was the lack of a Palestinian perspective on the current situation. 


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