Why does Northern Ireland support Palestine? Expert explains

A day after Hamas launched its surprise assault on Israel, a giant Palestinian flag appeared on a mountain in Northern Ireland, 4000km away.

The flag was erected on Black Mountain, in Belfast, by Republican activist group Gael Force Art on Sunday, after the Palestinian militant group stormed Israeli towns in an assault which has left more than 1200 Israelis dead with more than 100 people kidnapped.

Israel has retaliated by raining air and artillery strikes on Hamas targets in Gaza for six days, claiming more than 1400 lives.

“Gael Force Art stands in solidarity with the Palestinian people who launched their biggest operation in fifty years against the rogue state of Israel,” they wrote in a statement on Facebook, alongside a photo of the flag.

“Gael Force Art calls on everyone to fly the Palestinian flag in support of the Palestinian people.”

The group added “Palestinian brothers and sisters” continue to face “a murderous bombardment from the Zionist Israel state”.

“The Zionist Israel State has murdered thousands of Palestinian men, women and over 3000 Palestinian children since the year 2000.”

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, about 6400 Palestinians and 300 Israelis have been killed in the ongoing conflict since 2008, not counting recent casualties.

Gerry Adams, the former president of Ogra Sinn Fein, the youth wing of Irish nationalists Sinn Fein, also expressed his support, sharing a photo of the flag on social media.

“The Mountain Speaks! Free Palestine,” he captioned the post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The demonstration comes as the Irish government rejected an early suggestion by the European Commission on Monday that they would suspend all financial aid to Palestine.

“Our understanding is that there is no legal basis for a unilateral decision of this kind by an individual commissioner and we do not support a suspension of aid,” a spokesman for Ireland’s foreign ministry said.

Spain, Portugal and Luxembourg also expressed their alarm over the move.

However, hours later, the commission walked back the decision, confirming “there will be no suspension of payments”.

Decades-long support for Palestine

Dr Martin Kear, a lecturer in international relations at the University of Sydney, said there’s been a “long affinity” between the struggles of Palestinians, and Catholics in Northern Ireland.

“There’s a lot of similarities [when it comes to] colonial domination and treatment as second class citizens,” he told news.com.au.

In Northern Ireland, where Roman Catholic nationalists perceived themselves to be occupied by Britain, the Irish Republican Army fought against British rule until a peace deal was stuck in 1998.

Sharing in a similar struggle, the Palestinians, believe their land in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, including East Jerusalem, to be occupied by Israel.

“[Northern Ireland] stand in solidarity with Palestine because they know what it’s like to be under colonial subjugation,” Dr Kear explained.

He said the support for Palestinian cause – which is “more rhetoric” than material – began during Northern Ireland’s three-decade conflict known as ‘The Troubles’, where 3,600 people lost their lives.

During the period – spanning from the 1960s to the mid 1990s – various murals cropped up in Catholic areas of Belfast as a public sign of solidarity with Palestine.

One mural painted on the corner of Falls Road by the Republican Youth Movement in 1982, showed a Palestinian Officer and a member of the IRA under the slogan: “IRA-PLO (Palestine Liberation Organisation) one struggle”.

“Palestinians have long struggled to get their message out that they are under occupation.” said Dr Kear,

“[The murals] are a visual representation of resistance and their affinity with the plight of the Palestinians.”

More recently, support for Palestine was on full display when residents of Derry and the Palestinian Return Centre held a rally last year to commemorate the 46th anniversary of Land Day – when Palestinians protested Israel’s expropriation of their lands – and the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday – when British paratroopers open fired at Catholic civil right supporters.

During the rally, a symbolic olive tree was planted in the infamous Free Derry corner and in the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh to commemorate the occasion.

Recent demonstrations

As the conflict with Israel continues to escalate, Northern Irelanders took to the streets this week to express their support for Palestine.

“The People of Derry stood at the historic Free Derry Corner and made their voices heard,” fringe Irish republican group, Lasair Dhearg, wrote on social media.

The group also broadcasted the message ‘smash the Zionists!’ onto Belfast City Hall.

Others have also rallied behind Palestine online, sharing photos of a 2018 demonstration when the country’s flag was displayed on Belfast’s Black Mountain alongside a sign reading ‘Free Palestine’.

The sign, which included the hashtag ‘BDS’, to signify ‘boycott, divestment, sanctions’, was erected to protest Israel’s soccer match against Northern Ireland.

In Ireland, some Sinn Fein politicians have also taken to social media in recent days to condemn Israel as well as Hamas.

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald said on Monday that “the targeting of civilians and the taking of hostages is to be condemned outright”.

“Looking at scenes at where a lot of young people were out enjoying themselves to meet with such a violent and traumatic death is just truly horrific,” she said.

McDonald added “the bombardment now of Gaza is equally to be condemned”.

“The truth is that for decades the Israeli state has breached international law with collective punishment, confiscation of lands, imposing an apartheid regime, denying the Palestinian people their absolute legitimate right to self-determination.”

– with AFP

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