Ireland, Israel and the Occupied Territories Bill

Published in The Irish Times, 4 February 2019 https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/deep-empathy-of-irish-for-palestinians-is-in-no-way-anti-semitic-1.3780678?fbclid=IwAR1iNQzMvahZIHAJUSwaMTOLVWViV52Iyzb_mMuV5D9bVdjBOJagyquBrJo

The published article is available through the link. I re-wrote the final paragraph, as it spoke of ‘human empathy’ which I do not find useful when speaking of political solidarity.

Israel’s response to the passing of the Occupied Territories Bill in the Dail last week entailed, on the one hand, threatening to impose severe economic-political measures against Ireland, including taxing Irish imports and suspending bilateral economic and commercial agreements with Dublin.  On the other hand, Israel accused Ireland of antisemitism, often weaponised against any criticism of the Israeli colonisation of Palestine and its ongoing infringements of international law.

There is no need for me to discuss the merits and effectiveness of the bill here. It’s worth noting, however, that the settlements, from which products would be banned if the bill becomes law, are considered illegal under international law. According to article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, ‘the occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own population into the territories it occupies,’ making Israel’s building and transfering of its population to the occupied Palestinian territory illegal. According to the Israelihuman rights NGO B’Telem, over 200 Israeli settlements have been established in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) since 1967. Their current population is almost 620,000. Settlements, built on Palestinian (often privately owned) lands, impinge on Palestinian human rights as checkpoints that limit Palestinian movement are erected based on where there are settlements. Palestinians are denied access to farmland near settlements, and settlers regularly attack Palestinian schoolchildren and farmers in full view of the Israeli military.

I am a Palestine-born Israeli Jew, indoctrinated with the dual message of Jewish victimhood and Jewish supremacy throughout my youth, and citizen of Ireland for the past fifty years. Like increasing numbers of American and European Jews, I am an active supporter of Palestinian rights. I wish to discuss two central questions relating to the implications of the Occupied Territories bill: first, is Ireland out of step with the rest of Europe as claimed by both Israel and the Fine Gael government? And second, is antisemitism the driving force behind the bill and the broad societal support for Palestinian rights?

Historian Rory Miller writes that there was reciprocal sympathy in Ireland for the establishment of the Zionist state as Israel hoped for Ireland’s “intuitive understanding of the Jewish-Israeli predicament” and support for what it saw as its struggle for survival and security. Miller argues there is no overt antisemitism in Ireland, though I wonder whether the fact that the Republic allowed only 60 Jewish refugees fleeing Nazism to settle in Ireland between 1933 and 1946 was due to Irish Catholic and state antisemitism.

That said, Ireland regarded Israel as an underdog under attack during the 1967 war, following which foreign minister Frank Aiken attempted to get the UN to consider Israeli concerns, leading Israel’s foreign minister Abba Eban to call on other UN member states to follow the example of his ‘friend’ Aiken. But overall, Miller argues that the Irish refused to translate the kinship between the Irish and the Jews into political support for Israel, as Ireland, and in particular the Republican movement, was increasingly supportive of Palestine, though the Irish government’s official statements about Israel were never explicitly abusive. Miller notes the influence of the Irish army’s UNIFIL role in southern Lebanon as a major source of conflict between Ireland and Israel, and the role of NGOs including Trocaire, Christian Aid and the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign – the latter now one of twenty NGOs banned from entering Israel and Palestine – in mobilising support for Palestinians under occupation and siege.

In relation to solidarity with Palestine, then, Irish society is not out of step with European civil societies. In fact, responding to public opinion and grassroots campaigning, the EU itself has recently introduced rules prohibiting itself from funding Israeli companies and bodies based in illegal Israeli settlements and has warned businesses about the risks of doing business with illegal Israeli settlements; this is only one of the many achievements of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Like in other EU states where governments uphold the Israeli state despite growing societal solidarity with the Palestinians, it is rather the Irish political leadership that is out of step with the public; it seems reluctant to give up the high level economic and research and development collaboration with Israel, including in the field of the arms trade. Furthermore, aspiring to play a role in the long discredited ‘peace process,’ Simon Coveney seems keen on Dublin becoming the new Oslo, despite the bankruptcy of the Oslo Accords after which the conditions of the Palestinians under occupation and siege have seriously worsened.

As a race scholar I have researched antisemitism and the instrumentalisation of the Holocaust by the Israeli state (see my books Israel and the Daughters of the Shoah: Reoccupying the Territories of Silence, 2000; and Racism and Antiracism in Ireland, 2002). As such I totally reject the accusation by Israel and its supporters that criticising Israel’s policies of colonisation and occupation is antisemitic.

According to the US group Jewish Voice for Peace, which has recently declared itself anti-Zionist, antisemitism, a term describing real experiences of Jewish people around the world, is often exploited to delegitimise the movement for the human rights of Palestinians. This manipulation has added to a flurry of unconstitutional pushes in the US and elsewhere to ban BDS campaigns.

While as an Irish-Israeli citizen and a Jewish activist for Palestinian rights I do not believe that support for Palestine, in Ireland or elsewhere, is motivated by antisemitism, I know full well that within the Palestine solidarity movement some antisemitism does exist. The Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign is however extremely careful to root out any displays of antisemitism among supporters, which is why I continue to work with the group comfortably. Irish antisemitism has existedand does occasionally raise its ugly head, but historically many members of the Irish Jewish community have tcastigated me for naming Irish antisemitism, prefering to deny it, choosing instead to stress their integration in Irish society.

Support for Palestinians’ rights and for freedom for Palestine derives instead from political solidarity. As attacks on US academics and politicians, most recently public representative Ilham Omar, have demonstrated, Israel and its Zionist supporters prefer to cry antisemitism whenever criticism of Israel’s policies of coloniality, occupation, siege and of the daily oppression of Palestinian citizens, occupies and besieged subjects is voiced.

Like countless other critics of the state of Israel, Jews and non-Jews alike, I will continue to sound my criticism and denounce Israel as the racial colony that it is, and no name calling – often describing me as a self hating Jew and ‘terrorist lover,’ will stop me.

 

 

Time to close the Direct Provision system

To be published in Metro Eireann

arn-stop-dpOn Saturday 18 November a rally organised by United against Racism heard moving speeches by several asylum seekers living the Direct Provision for-profit incarceration system where men, women and children are held often for up to ten years. The Irish Times reported Mavis who has lived in Direct Provision with her three children for fifteen months, as saying: “For me every day is a struggle, to watch my children suffering and getting sick. I wish one day somebody, an Irish citizen would go into my life for one week and they would know what a hell it is. I don’t even have words. Waiting and waiting for a decision is one of the hardest things a mother can do. What can we do? We have to pray and hope.”

The rally was part of the campaign to close the Direct Provision system, end deportations and grant asylum seekers the right to work, as per the Supreme Court recent ruling. According to Lucky Khambule of the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI), the restrictions imposed by the government on asylum seekers’ right to work, including not working while appealing their applications for refugee status, amount to a total denial of asylum seekers’ right to work.

Beside bed and board – including inappropriate, out of date and insufficient food – asylum seekers are forced to exist on a weekly “comfort allowance” of €21.60, and their lives are decided by for-profit managements that dictate who shares their rooms, what and when they eat, who can visit them, when they can do their washing and what facilities their children enjoy.

As I have written many times before, Ireland must close the Direct Provision system that racializes, dehumanizes and segregates asylum seekers, whose plight Irish society “manages not to know.” This continues decades of disavowal, as Una Mullally has recently written in The Irish Times, “The Mother and Baby Homes and Magdalene Laundries were hiding in plain sight for years. We knew they existed, we knew – in broad brushstrokes – what went on there. Direct Provision centres hide more successfully in our communities, towns and cities. Many of us are not aware of their locations. That makes their presence even more insidious. But we know that they’re there. We know this system exists. We can’t keep repeating the process of unjustly hiding people away. They are not less than. They are people just like us, with families and aspirations.”

Together with the current rise of racism and Islamophobia, asylum seekers are being targeted by many racial states. In Australia’s inhuman off shore concentration camps asylum seekers are deprived of water and food and are beginning to be infected by cholera, as the camps are being closed. Israel too is beginning to close its concentration camps in the south of the country, forcing asylum seekers to either be willingly deported to Rwanda (which is being paid $5,000 dollars for each person it admits) or face indefinite jail. Ireland’s Direct Provision system, while not quite so deadly, condemns asylum seekers to a frozen existence in DP centres where private for-profit operators such as the international catering company Aramark are paid millions of euro to maintain Ireland’s version of what the African American activist Angela Davis terms ‘the prison industrial complex.’

Besides the obvious benefits to the Irish economy of allowing asylum seekers to work, pay taxes and spend money, and beside the obvious human benefits to Irish society of their talents and enterprise, there is also the moral imperative of Ireland’s choice to close the dehumanizing Direct Provision system, end all deportations, and use Ireland’s new wealth to include asylum seekers in solving our appalling housing crisis. The time to act is now.

Incarceration, disavowal and Ireland’s prison industrial complex

Incarceration, disavowal and Ireland’s prison industrial complex

Paper presented at the ‘Irish Prisons: incarceration, repression and control’ conference, Crumlin Road Gaol, Belfast 26-27 October 2017.

Introduction

In September 2014 residents of several asylum centres in Ireland staged protests against their incarceration. Since April 2000 asylum seekers have been dispersed to ‘Direct Provision’ centres, managed by private for-profit companies under the supervision of the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA), an arm of the Department of Justice and Equality, costing the state around 50 million euro per annum. Residents, who get bed and board, are not allowed to work or access third level education, and until August 2017 were given a small weekly ‘residual income maintenance payment to cover personal requisites’ of €19.10 per adult and €9.60 per child, increased to €21.60 per adult and first to €15.60 and then to €21.60 per child per week (Bardon 2017). Steven Loyal (2011) describes the Direct Provision centres as Goffman’s (1991[1961]) ‘total institutions’, where residents are controlled as to what and when they eat, who they share rooms with, who can visit them, and what access they have to crèches, laundries, kitchen facilities and appliances, and argues that ‘the negatively socially valued category of “asylum-seeker” becomes their master status.’

Although the Direct Provision system was originally intended for no more than a six months stay, 19.5 per cent have stayed for over three years. The average length of stay was 38 months while 450 people had been living in Direct Provision for more than seven years, leading to people becoming de-skilled, bored, depressed, destitute, and institutionalised. By September 2017, there were 5,063 people in Direct Provision centres. Seven of the centres are State-owned, the others are operated by for profit companies (Gartland, 2016) – making the Direct Provision system part of what Angela Davis term the ‘prison industrial complex’.

Many asylum seekers live with deportation orders in a state of deportability (Lentin and Moreo 2015), arguably making them what the Italian political philosopher Giorgio Agamben (1995) calls ‘bare life’, at the mercy of the laws of the sovereign state, which exempts itself from these very laws. And as Eithne Luibhéid (2013: 91) argues, ‘Direct Provision institutionalized the construct of the “asylum-seeker” as a distinct, undesirable type of person who must be subjected to relations of governance that were intended to deter, control, and incapacitate’.

The Direct Provision protesters demanded that all asylum centres be closed, that all residents be given the right to remain and work in Ireland, and that all deportations end. These demands are articulated by MASI, the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland, a platform for asylum seekers to join together in unity and purpose.

In October 2014, apparently in response to these protests, the government appointed a working group ‘to report to Government on improvements to the protection process, including Direct Provision and supports to asylum seekers.’ The Working Group was made up of representatives of migrant-support NGOs but had no significant representation of asylum seekers themselves. While the then deputy Justice Minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin admitted that the Direct Provision system is ‘inhumane’, and that ‘the way we treat asylum seekers and people in the (Direct Provision) system says a lot about us as a country’, the Working Group was charged with reforming rather than closing the Direct Provision system (The Journal 2014).

The Working Group’s recommendations were largely not adopted by the government (although the Minister for Justice said in October at the Senead that 98 per cent were adopted), and the Direct Provision system remains in place. However, in 2016 the government increased the ‘comfort allowance’ paid to asylum seekers in Direct Provision centres by an insulting amount. In 2016 the government introduced the International Protection Act based on a Single Application Procedure. The new act raises serious concerns in relation to firstly, the erosion of refugee families’ reunification rights; secondly, the impact on the applicants already in the asylum process in relation to the availability of appropriate legal advice and sufficient time and resources to shorten the waiting time; and thirdly, the ease with which deportations could be effected. In May 2017 the Supreme Court unanimously agreed that the absolute ban on asylum seekers working was unconstitutional (Carolan 2017), and in October 2017 the Minister for Justice announced the intention to give asylum seekers in Ireland the right to work after six months in Direct Provision, a problematic announcement as very few details have been worked out. Lucky Khambule will elaborate on these developments.

Against this background, this paper makes three interlinked propositions. Firstly, I propose that as Irish state and society managed to ignore Ireland’s system of ‘coercive confinement’: workhouses, mental health asylums, mother and baby homes, Magdalene Laundries and industrial schools (O’Sullivan and O’Donnell 2012), they also ‘manage not to know’ about the plight of asylum seekers in Direct Provision. The Direct Provision system isolates asylum applicants, makes them dependent on state handouts and carceral rules, and makes it difficult for them to organize on a national level. ‘Managing not to know,’ or disavowing, erases the Direct Provision system from Ireland’s collective consciousness, but I suggest that asylum seekers signify the return of Ireland’s repressed, confronting Irish people, themselves e/migrants par excellence.

Secondly, I propose that we must not theorize residents of the Direct Provision system as passive victims at the mercy of sovereign power, to whom everything is done, but rather as active agents of resistance.

Thirdly, and more broadly, the incarceration of asylum seekers must be seen as continuing the tradition of administrative detention of political prisoners in the north of Ireland and of the widespread Irish practice of incarceration. I therefore theorize the Direct Provision system as the current embodiment of the island of Ireland as two parallel carceral states, where the prison industrial complex has historically incarcerated one in every hundred people in the Republic and administratively detained political prisoners in the north. I conclude, following Angela Davis, by calling for the total abolition of imprisonment and incarceration. Continue reading “Incarceration, disavowal and Ireland’s prison industrial complex”