MEP Grace O’Sullivan calls for a total shift in the EU’s approach to the violence in Gaza.
Few conflicts beyond European shores have the ability to grip international attention quite like the regular explosions of violence in Israel and Palestine. The most recent events even more so following the horrific attacks by Hamas and the ensuing Israeli bombing campaign against largely defenceless Gazans.
As the airstrikes continue unabated, Palestinians in Ireland are now struggling to get through the days, knowing that at any moment they could receive devastating news from their families trapped in Gaza. We have heard from young Gazans like Habib Al Ostaz who lives and studies in Cork. Habib only gets about two minutes a day to hear from his family due to power cuts and disabled internet within Gaza. In my office, we happened to be in the process of preparing a photo exhibition on the relationship between Gazans and the sea, when the bloodshed suddenly shook the world like an earthquake. At least one of the photographers I had contacted has since been killed in the bombing. Many of the others don’t know if they will be next, as the airstrikes continue indiscriminately in what is one of the most densely populated places on earth.
As an MEP, it has been hard to hear these testimonies and reconcile them with the complete lack of leadership and action from the European Union and its institutions. I have strongly criticised President of the Commission Ursula von der Leyen for her one-sided and unconditional support for Israel, even as that country openly admits to committing war crimes like cutting off water and food supplies to civilians. Meanwhile, towns which I recently visited in the West Bank have seen violence against them skyrocket, as Israeli settlers are emboldened by their ultra-nationalist government to go out and seize Palestinian land by any means necessary.
We must mourn with the Israeli victims of Hamas terrorism without succumbing to the cries for blood for blood. The EU’s role should be one of peacemaker and mediator, instead I have been saddened to see its leaders instead have stood by in tacit approval of the heavy handed response from Israel’s far-right government.
While the UN is rarely cited for its effectiveness in crises, the institution has steadfastly supported Palestinians in Gaza throughout decades of siege. The UN agency UNRWA provides schools, hospitals and immediate aid to Gazans, funded by countries like Ireland. I was glad to support an increase in Irish funding to UNRWA by some €13 million in the immediate aftermath of the airstrike campaign on Gaza’s civilian areas. In direct contrast to the EU, the UN’s leader Antonio Guterres instead has led calls for an immediate ceasefire and an end to the vicious attacks that have killed over 5,000 people - more than 10 times the number of people killed in Hamas’ violence. The EU should be echoing this call loud and clear.
Irish towns and communities meanwhile have a role to play. Earlier this year I called for a massive campaign of twinning with Palestinian towns in a show of solidarity that could build close relations between our communities and bring lasting benefits too. Tralee has twinned with the village of Beit Sahour, the small town outside Bethlehem where it is said the birth of Jesus was announced to local shepherds. Waterford City meanwhile has started the process of twinning with Palestine’s economic capital Ramallah. There are many opportunities for West Cork to join this twinning campaign. Just this summer, local artist Pat Fraser held an exhibition in Baltimore to raise funds for Palestinian causes. Perhaps this could be a good starting point for towns like Baltimore and Skibbereen to reach out to Palestine in its time of need?
**This blog was originally published in The West Cork People**