Category: Palestine

Irish artists commemorate the destruction of Gaza

mads-gilbertThe two-hour lecture by the Norwegian emergency doctor Mads Gilbert about Israel’s 2014 air, ground and sea assault of the besieged Gaza enclave, was for me the highlight of Palfest, a four-day artistic commemoration of the destruction of Gaza in July 2014. Dr Gilbert, who engages in the political act of solidarity medicine, mesmerised a capacity audience at the O’Reilly Theatre on July 11, emphasising the impunity with which Israel continues to occupy, blockade, attack and kill the people of Palestine. He also highlighted the role of the real heroes – the medics and paramedics working in Gaza’s Al Shifa Hospital, where he has served several terms as an accidents and emergency doctor, as well as the ordinary Gazans whose losses are unfathomable. He played the noise of the air bombardment, that together with his photographs of dead and wounded children, women and men brought the atrocities home to his audience. This made a Dublin-based Lebanese woman sitting next to me collapse in tears, remembering the 2006 Israeli attack on Beirut. And as she was sobbing I recalled a member of my Israeli family, a jet pilot who took an active part in the bombardment, and we hugged and cried together – victim and perpetrator united in opposing Israeli aggression.

palfest-326x235Palfest was an incredibly effective and well attended volunteer-run initiative by Irish artists – actors, musicians, visual artists, film makers, and poets – aiming to commemorate the anniversary of the Gaza assault, support Palestine and demonstrate the solidarity of the Irish arts community with the people of Palestine.

There were many highlights during Palfest’s action packed four days, including theatre productions, poetry readings, lectures and film screenings. The ‘Sumud / Steadfastedness’ photography exhibition brought together three photographic projects about Gaza. In ‘Gaza seen by its children’ Belgian photographer Asmaa Seba showed the result of working with six children who witnessed the massacre during Israel’s previous bombardment in 2008. Anne Paq’s photographs showed the consequences for Gaza’s ‘obliterated families’, and Dublin-based Fatin Al Tamimi exhibited photos of acts of solidarity with Palestine in Ireland.

beach-palfestAnother incredibly moving event was the ‘No more: Dublin remembers the children of Gaza’ installation on Sandymount strand, where 551 children’s vests represented the 551 children murdered by Israel during the 2014 massacre.

It is hard to be optimistic about the possibility of Gaza recovering from Israel’s most recent 51-day attack, leaving 2,251 Palestinians dead, the majority (1,462) civilians, and thousands injured, many of whom will remain disabled for life. The destruction of the tiny enclave, one of the most densely populated areas in the world with the highest (43%) unemployment rate, has been unprecedented. With Israel blocking the importation of building materials, some 100,000 Gazans remain homeless and many have been living in the ruins of their homes through the harsh winter and the current relentless heat. Despite UN reports and civil society pressure, Israel seems determined to continue the siege.

Even though optimism seems remote, Palfest’s commitment to freedom and justice for Gaza and Palestine reminded us that pessimism is a luxury none of us can afford. Many of us shed tears and felt the pain, but it was the determination of Ireland’s amazing artists, culminating on the final night in an energising concert at Liberty Hall, that strengthened our resolve to continue to struggle for an end to the Israeli occupation and siege, and for freedom and justice for all Palestinians, those in 1948 Palestine (the state of Israel), those occupied in the West Bank and the Golan Heights, those under siege in Gaza and those in the diaspora, waiting to return.

Is non violence always the only way? Judith Butler in Trinity College

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Trinity College Dublin was abuzz with people queuing up to hear the renowned US feminist political philosopher Judith Butler Gender and Women’s Studies talk. The following night Butler spoke at the inaugural meeting of the 245th session of Trinity’s Historical Society. The title of the session was ‘The need for radical approaches to politics and oppression’, and Butler’s topic was non-violent resistance. I watched her talk online, being an admirer of Butler’s work on gender, frames of war and precarious life. I also admire her unstinting, brave support for the boycott of Israel, for which she has been vilified in the US and Germany.

Butler’s argument was that non-violent resistance – strikes, hunger strikes, demonstrations, protests, boycotts – occurs in a violent environment. She was asking why non violent civil disobedience is often interpreted as destructive acts of violence. Why – I might add in brackets – was the imprisonment of Tanaiste Joan Burton in her car in Jobstown considered a violent offence by the Irish state, which used political policing against the demonstrators? The answer, of course, is that non violence aims to find alternatives to the status quo, and is therefore a threat, particularly in the current era of militarised policing.

War, Butler reminded her audience, stems from an interdiction to defend one’s own group, and asked if there any exceptions to non violence. In other words, would I resort to violence when I, my children, my family or my nation, are attacked?

For Butler, war is ‘framed’ in the media so as to prevent us from recognising the people who are to be killed as living fully ‘grievable’ lives, like ours. Thus, she insisted, all exceptions to non violence are problematic because ‘our’ lives are not more precious than the lives of others. Butler was praising Syriza’s decision to remove police presence from demonstrations and remove police riot gear. Non violence, for her, is both ethical and tactical as a way of looking for ethical alternatives to violence and war.

When I first listened to the lecture, I admired Butler’s affirmation of life, all life, and her insistence we need to rethink non violence as an alternative to the hegemony of the state. But then I began thinking of the implications of her ideas for people under occupation or direct oppression.

Can we honestly say to the people of Gaza, say, that the only way forward is non violent resistance in the face of the Israeli assaults, the ongoing siege and low grade attacks by Israel, ten years after it pulled its settlers and troops from the Gaza strip, which is kept under siege? Can we honestly ask demonstrators against the ongoing occupation of the West Bank not to throw stones, an act considered violent by the Israeli military courts? Can we honestly say to demonstrators against police brutality against African Americans that they should remain ‘non violent’?

Butler’s stance against war and violence is admirable, but may I respectfully suggest that it’s easy to deplore all violent resistance when you are a privileged, white – albeit radical anti- war feminist activist – American? You may castigate me for it, but I believe that oppressed people and people under occupation have full rights to exercise an ‘insurrection of subjugated knowledges’ which includes, among other things, the right to violent resistance to colonial and racial oppression.