Migration & Conflict

Shared Histories, Shared Voices: Ireland’s emphatic support for Palestine

April 29, 2024
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Palestine solidarity protest happening in Dublin city centre

Palestinian solidarity protest, Dublin. Photo: Albert White (albertw), Flickr

Ireland’s pro-Palestine stance is hard to escape from. Whether you’re scrolling through social media, watching the news, talking to friends or family, or simply out on the streets of Dublin, you will be confronted with Irish support against the War on Gaza. 

Amidst a changing tide of opinions about the war on Gaza, the Irish people have been steadfast in their support for the Palestinian state. Since the 1950s, the Irish state has recognised the Palestinian plight as a top priority issue and Pro-Palestine demonstrations have been taking place in Ireland long before October 7th 2023, with support only increasing since then. 

Why has a small island state over 4000km away taken an interest in the Palestinian struggle? Ireland’s closest neighbours and allies within the EU, as well as the United Kingdom and the United States of America, have failed to be vocal in their support for Palestine. What makes Ireland so different?

I travelled to Belfast early last year and was surprised to see several Palestinian flags and murals depicting Irish solidarity with Palestine. This was before the increase in violence that occurred after the events of October 7th. It was viewing these murals and flags in the context of the Northern Irish political landscape that made me consider the historical link between the Irish people and the Palestinian people. 

There are several similarities between the Irish struggle for freedom and the battle being fought in Palestine. This is not a new idea but an important one to remember. “We feel we have been victimised over the centuries. It’s part of our psyche – underneath it all we side with the underdog,” former Irish diplomat to Palestine Niall Holohan said in an interview with the Guardian. The Irish people understand what it’s like to live under occupation. They know the pains of sectarian conflict, civil rights abuses, and the erasure of culture and heritage, especially in the North and for those who lived through the Troubles. 

In the borders drawn around Gaza and the West Bank, we see the border drawn between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. In the food shortages and lack of aid in Gaza, we see our own famine during the 1840s and the ships full of food that were exported by our British coloniser. In an occupied Palestine we see an occupied Ireland.

Palestine solidarity protest happening in Dublin city centre, three men hold a banner that says "Resist Israeli's war of terror. Support Israeli Refuseniks. Organise for a just world"

Palestinian solidarity protest, Dublin. Photo: Albert White (albertw), Flickr

In the borders drawn around Gaza and the West Bank, we see the border drawn between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. In the food shortages and lack of aid in Gaza, we see our own famine [...] In an occupied Palestine we see an occupied Ireland.

Like any post-colonial country, Ireland clings tightly to its history and culture. We can see ourselves and our history in the news reports, videos and stories coming out of Gaza. Rather than a geopolitical alliance, the Irish people have formed an alliance of the heart and a historical understanding with the Palestinian people.

It shouldn’t take a historical link or understanding to denounce the actions of Israel in Gaza, not when renowned human rights organisations such as Amnesty International, Plan International and Save the Children have come out against the actions of the Israeli government. Accusations of genocide have been found to be plausible by the International Court of Justice in the case brought out against Israel by South Africa. There are plenty of reasons to support a ceasefire, to uplift the Palestinian people and to advocate against the atrocities occurring in Gaza. Ireland’s post-colonial understanding of conflict seems to have simply sped up the process of professing support for the cause.

The mention of South Africa prompts the recognition of a similar instance of support taken up by the Irish people. When we see Irish people engaging with the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement and marching in solidarity with the Palestinian people we are reminded of the Dunnes Stores boycott of 1984. Workers refused to handle imported goods from South Africa, opting to strike in protest against Ireland’s complicity in South African apartheid. The strikers were then deported from South Africa, after being invited to visit by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. This grew public support for the boycott and put pressure on the Irish government, eventually leading to the Irish government implementing a ban on the importation of apartheid goods into Ireland. 

Similar movements are being pursued now but in support of Palestine with aims to put similar pressure on the government and other institutions with regard to their ties with Israeli institutions complicit in genocide. For instance, recently all Irish artists intending to perform at the SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas have pulled out of the event. This is in protest against the festival’s ties to weapons manufacturers RTX, Collins Aerospace, and BAE Systems who have supplied the Israeli Defence Forces. Fundamentally, it seems that Irish people know what it’s like to be oppressed and simply act accordingly when presented with similar occurrences.

A vocal group within the Irish support for Palestine comes from university students. Trinity College Dublin (TCD) students have persistently organised and attended protests for Palestine. Notably, the Trinity BDS (TCD BDS), supported by the TCD Students’ Union recently blockaded the Book of Kells Experience in protest against the college’s ties to Israeli institutions at the end of February. 

Is this action an expression of historical understanding between Irish students and Palestine?  Though students become more and more removed from Irish occupation over time, ideas of nationalism and an understanding of Irish history continue to grow on the island. With talks of border polls becoming part of everyday discussion and general student engagement with Irish culture, it’s plausible that Irish students feel as connected with their Irish heritage as anyone else. 

It’s times like this when I’m proud to be Irish. Clinging too hard to the past can have dangerous consequences, none as pressing at the moment as the perceived historical claim Israel believes it has on Palestinian land. However, a shared historical understanding can open hearts and minds too. 

Ireland’s unwavering support for Palestine amidst the ongoing conflict in Gaza is a testament to the deep historical and empathetic ties between the Irish people and the Palestinian cause. Ireland has been pushing for Palestinian support for nearly three-quarters of a century. We can’t and we won’t stop now. It’s clear that from the streets of Dublin to the murals in Belfast, solidarity with Palestine resonates strongly within the Irish community and will continue this way for quite some time.