No further, and never again

Ian Curran

News Editor

We should all be angry at the Irish government’s failures in the Savita Halappanavar case and its inaction in the face of Israeli aggression against Gaza, says Ian Curran; we need to do something about it.

It has been a very busy week for Irish people who are outraged by injustice.

It seems that people of conscience have not had enough hours in the day to be appalled at both the Israeli attacks on Gaza and the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar in Galway. In the coming days and weeks, both in the media and in their lobbying of the government, both pro-choice and Palestinian solidarity activists will be vying for attention.

It seems that, in Ireland, there is a very small pool of individuals who are willing to take to the streets or engage in campaigns for any cause. This can be difficult and confusing for people who find themselves frightened and abraded by both of these situations. For people whose hearts are in both issues, there is the question of how someone can engage with both of these tragedies without diminishing either’s importance. There is no simple answer to this. Suffice it to say that the answer is not to rationalise one of these events as being more important, to the detriment of the other.  The death count in both Ireland and Gaza will continue to rise unless individuals are willing to raise their voices and hold our politicians to account. In Ireland the ticker will be slower, yes, but it will not be less of an injustice.

Even on a superficial level there is common ground between these two camps of activists. On the abortion front, it seems to me that activists are angry for three reasons. Firstly, we are angry at historical failures of this state to legislate effectively for the rights, lives and health of Irish women. Secondly, we are devastated by the current government’s inaction on the issue despite several red flags that have been raised during their tenure. Thirdly, we are frightened by the prospect that what happened to Halappanavar could happen again today, tomorrow or next week to another woman or women because of the legislative void in which citizens of this country exist regarding the issue of abortion. In general, we are annoyed at broken promises and broken politics, and we want the Labour party to stand up to its coalition partner to get something done that will, in reality, ensure that this never happens again.

On the issue of Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, we are similarly frustrated by broken promises and fearful for the future of an already injured people. We are furious about the inaction of the international community in the past and present, considering the regularity with which these attacks occur and the backdrop of dispossession, occupation, segregation and the siege on Gaza. We are fearful because of the threat that the deployment of ground forces in Gaza will probably lead to a situation like the invasion of 2008-09, when 1,417 Gazans were killed, over 65% of whom were civilians.

There is even common ground from an Irish governmental perspective on both of these problems. It is quite clear how this government has failed women. It failed to vote for Clare Daly’s bill which would have prevented Halappanavar’s death. It has refused at point blank to legislate on the X case, and it has been only too content to mire the potential for legislation in the bureaucratic nightmare that is the expert group on abortion.

It is probably less clear how the government has failed the people of Palestine, but this is the case nevertheless.

For all his talk of recognizing Palestinian statehood, Eamon Gilmore has been a shocking disappointment as minister for foreign affairs and trade. He offered the caveat that as soon as the Palestinian authority has absolute control over its territories the Irish state would recognize a Palestinian one. This is currently a political impossibility for the Palestinian people, and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. There has been virtually no solidarity with Palestinians from the Irish government. While the tánaiste said that the government “may have to look” at the possibility of a boycott of Israeli goods, he described the attempted cultural boycott of Israel as “harassment”. His reaction to the sabotage of the MV Saoirse during the second flotilla campaign amounted to encouraging the Israelis to “act with restraint”.

Gilmore’s reaction to the recent spate of attacks on Gaza has been decidedly feeble and he has been decidedly feeble. Saying that the mobilization of 75,000 ground troops and the deaths of 46, many of whom are civilians, “was triggered by sustained rocket attacks on towns in Israel” as Gilmore has is patently absurd. The people of Gaza have had their land stolen, they’ve been locked into an open-air prison and have been persecuted by a rogue state that counts the calories that they need to survive the day and allows only that amount of food to pass through its borders.

For a party that stated in its election manifesto that “Europe must insist that as a first step that Israeli settlements be stopped, the siege on Gaza lifted, and house demolitions in East Jerusalem and elsewhere by Israel must cease”, Gilmore and his party have done very little to deviate from the European Union’s course of action on the issue. It seems that the Labour party has a lot of positions on paper that do not seem to have any bearing on their governmental policies.

At the heart of activists’ senses of both ire and upset is what amount to a feeling of betrayal by our politicians. It seems that both of these groups, the pro-choice activists and the Palestinian solidarity activists, have been warning Irish and international politicians for years that this could happen to Palestinian people and Irish women. On both counts, there is a sense of exhaustion from the last week; those predictions were correct, and that we really wish they had not been.

Both of these issues had a time limit. The die is cast in Israel. The Israeli government has decided that civilians in Gaza will die. It knows that its sally into Gaza and, potentially, the West Bank too will be unopposed by the international community, as has been the case in the past. The time limit is up for this particular act of aggression.

But there are two things that we can do for the harassed Palestinians: one short-term, and one constant. Firstly, we can write to our TDs, we can rally at the Israeli embassy and we can show our general solidarity with the people of Gaza in the simplest of ways, like keeping our social networks informed of developments in the area. Secondly, we can make our everyday lives an act of resistance against Israeli aggression by supporting things like the Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions campaign against the Israeli state and the Irish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign (IPSC). We cannot stop the deaths of the people who will be murdered by the IDF in the coming days and weeks. This is truly tragic and disheartening. We can only prove that their deaths were not unnoticed in the present, and that they will not be for nothing in the future.

But the time limit is not up for the women of Ireland. What happened to Halappanavar should have never happened in the first place, but it will continue unless our representatives pull their heads out of the clouds, pull their hands out of their pockets and get down to work. We can really save women’s lives in the present tense, but it requires us to do what we are not used to doing anymore in Ireland: actually take to the streets, which we can do today in our thousands. (The Never Again protest meets at 4pm at the Garden of Remembrance.)

On the question of how to divide your time between the two issues, there is no simple answer. For me, it means making sure that I have the time to both stay informed of events in Gaza and, in turn, to inform as many people as I can, while also taking the time to do something tangible for the protection of women in Ireland. If the last week has proved anything it is this: now is the time to say “no further” to Israeli aggression and “never again” to the Irish state.