From Socialist Voice, November 2006

First-hand experience of Israeli terrorism

I will say one thing for the Israeli soldiers: they were completely and utterly indiscriminate. They launched the blast grenades against men, women, and children. The first grenades were launched into an area that contained some of the international media and some Irish observers.
    At 8:30 a.m. and again at 9:30 on 13 October the Israelis, using blast grenades and a jeep, attacked groups of Muslim pilgrims and other Palestinian civilians who were attempting to cross the wall through an Israeli checkpoint between Bethlehem and Jerusalem.
    They repeated the exercise at 11 a.m. Among the crowds, which numbered not more than a few hundred at any time, was a group of about fifteen Irish people who were in Palestine on a study tour.
    I captured the entire episode on video, and as soon as I got home I gave it to RTE television news (16 October) . I also contacted the Middle East Section of the Department of Foreign Affairs.
    At this point we have to forget about the Muslim pilgrims and the other Palestinian civilians who were attacked. In an e-mail message (23 October) Cathy Milner of the RTE Foreign Desk stated: “While your footage was very dramatic, it’s not news in that we know it goes on,” while the Department of Foreign Affairs refused to even view the video, on the grounds that they “know what goes on out there” (16 October). The similarity of the argument was quite shocking, and revealing.
    However, having lowered my expectations to the lowest possible point, and concentrating on the fate of the Irish, I implored t he official in the Department of Foreign Affairs to check with a supervisor whether or not the department wanted to view the film for the purpose of using it to seek an explanation from the Israeli Embassy as to why a group of Irish observers were attacked and endangered in this way. No. They did not want to see it, and there would be no letter to the Israeli Embassy, though she was in the middle of writing a letter to me (18 October). Still waiting for that letter.
    I have to admit that I was frustrated at my lack of progress. I wondered what would happen if I had some interesting video footage from Cuba. On 19 October I contacted the Americas Section of the Department of Foreign Affairs and told them that I had just returned from Cuba and that I had video “of the Cuban security forces ma handling some Cubans and manhandling myself.” Would they like to see it? Yes!
    I asked that this person also check with a supervisor that they actually wanted to view it. I gave my name as “John Williams.” She phoned me back inside fifteen minutes, stating that they wanted me to send in the film, along with some written information on the lead-up to the “incident,” the outcome, and any other information.
    The Irish Times columnist Eddie Holt was doing a piece on the study tour while all this was going on, and he included these facts in a feature article. The Department of Foreign Affairs immediately responded.
    “We are aware of difficulties at the Qualandia checkpoint (between Jerusalem and Ramallah) on Friday, October 13. We did not however know of any Irish involvement at checkpoints. We will be pleased to meet any representatives of the group next week and raise their issues with the Israelis.” Wrong check-point (a deliberate error); no knowledge of Irish involvement (a lie); pleased to meet us (they made no attempt to contact us); will raise the issue with the Israelis (a complete U-turn).
    The department collapsed under the weight of one phone call from the Irish Times. Do we need to imagine how they react when the boys from the Israeli and US embassies call round for a chat?
■ Declan McKenna was part of a group of twenty-six Irish participants on a study tour in Palestine from 7 to 14 October.

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