Opinion: Ireland’s past provides clues for today’s troubles

Elaina Sauber

Elaina Sauber

Elaina Sauber is a senior English major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. She can be reached at [email protected].

As the 12th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, Washington D.C. holds its breath as President Obama and U.S Secretary of State John Kerry make their case for striking Syria. And Israel, bordering the south, is facing its own perpetual crisis as Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are planning to hold direct talks in attempts to complete a peace process. A poll conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University, released last month, showed that 55.7 percent of Israelis said they “favored the negotiations.”

However, 55.5 percent of Israelis also said “they would oppose withdrawal to the borders that were recognized before the 1967 war, even if only some remote settlements were evacuated and if the larger settlements along the border were retained in exchange for other, similarly sized tracts of land offered to Palestinians.” In the same poll, 66 percent “opposed even a symbolic recognition of the Palestinian right of return, with only a small number of refugees allowed to physically return to their homes in Israel proper.”

When I lived in Northern Ireland, I had the opportunity to visit Belfast and Derry — cities historically wrought with ethno-nationalistic violence and are still segregated by Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods. One thing that always struck me was the presence of a pro-Palestine mural somewhere along Falls Road or tucked away in Free Derry. It had never occurred to me that a population of Catholics living on the North Atlantic could empathize with a population of Muslims in the Middle East, nor can I deny the most obvious differences between Northern Ireland, namely the historical and geographic. However, there are some similarities between the sectarian violence that took place during the Troubles and the current tension between Israelis and Palestinians — those living in Northern Ireland, who identify as Irish Catholics in support of a united Ireland, feel they can identify with Palestinian refugees who have been denied both human and civil rights.

If mutual peace talks and agreements are required to formally end a country’s domestic conflicts, as Northern Ireland did for two years followed by the 1998 Belfast Agreement, the outlook appears bleak for Palestinian refugees. The Belfast Agreement marked the end of the Troubles, and although random violent acts have occurred occasionally since then — usually during festival season in mid-summer — Northern Ireland has been able to move forward with equal legitimacy for both of its cultural populations. The agreement acknowledges both the majority in Northern Ireland that wishes to remain part of the United Kingdom as well as the “substantial section” of Northern Ireland that, with the Republic of Ireland, wishes to bring about unification with the latter. After a compromise on both sides, it was agreed that Northern Ireland would remain part of the United Kingdom until a majority of people in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland wished otherwise. Furthermore, the agreement affirmed the significance of “the mutual respect, the civil rights and the religious liberties of everyone in the community” as well as the “importance of respect, understanding and tolerance in relation to linguistic diversity,” particularly in relation to the Irish language. Statutory obligations for public authorities in Northern Ireland to create equal opportunity for employment were also made a priority.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflicts may not appear similar to the Troubles, but to a group of people who lived in 20th century Northern Ireland, they share more in common than we think — unless there is a compromise from all political groups in Israel, a long-term peace cannot exist.