The Ireland / Middle East Parallel

Back from the Slate retreat at Mohonk House, readaz. It was a good time: lots of smart-writer conversation, lake swimming and board games. Why is it that every time someone proposes board or parlor games, I think, “This is mad lame,” only to end up having mad fun instead?

At least this stereotype is enjoyable

Anyway, my friend Steve and I were getting our IM on today and talking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as we seem to often do. A number of people see things over there and compare them to what’s happened in Northern Ireland. (In fact, there’s allegorical evidence that the PLO and the IRA have worked together in the past.) I think people who make that analogy aren’t going far enough back in their comparison, because the Palestinian situation today is a lot more relatable to that of the Irish directly after World War I.

Back then, you had a similar situation to what’s going on in the occupied territories today: there was a general consensus among rational people on both sides that the British shouldn’t be occupying land where they were a tiny minority, and that required a system which discriminated against the ethnically-different majority. Despite this, the charged atmosphere and radicals on both sides made a negotiated settlement essentially impossible. There was a serious attempt by the British to give Home Rule to the Irish in 1913-14, but the Protestant British settlers in Ulster were so fanatical that they were openly threatening violence against their countrymen if forced to relinquish control over the land they had “settled”. If not for WWI, this could very well have happened: The population back home in Britain was split on whether to give a state to the Irish and undercut their more violent countrymen, or to crack down harder on those savage and stupid Irish, who only understood force and demagoguery.

After WWI, the negotiations were essentially dead. The IRA, knowing it couldn’t stand up directly to Britain’s military, started a guerrilla war against the established order. The British sent in tough veterans (the Black and Tans) to put down the guerrillas, but the Tans’ constant interference in the community and their discriminatory tactics only succeeded in turning more and more of the population against the British and in favor of the IRA. After a few years of this, the British finally reached for an end to the long headache of occupying Ireland and offered the Irish a deal: a Free State for the 26 counties of the south, but six Protestant-dominated counties of Ulster would remain part of the UK.

Michael Collins
He does kinda look like Liam Neeson

Many Irish were furious that the British would carve up their ancestral homeland to protect the interests of a fanatical, religiously paranoid settler minority, and these Irish demanded the continuation of anti-British violence: all 32 counties or none at all. (I’m sensing a historical pattern here.) Clearly this ignored the mighty British military reality, and more practical elements of the Irish nation thought differently: taking the deal would be a path to full independence and a potential chance to gain the other six counties through later diplomacy and governmental negotiation, instead of violence. Leading the Free Staters was Michael Collins, an IRA commander from extra-rebellious western Ireland who led the guerrilla campaign. Ultimately the conflict led to a civil war between the Republicans and the Free Staters, with the Free Staters eventually victorious. Michael Collins, however, was assassinated by Republican snipers, perhaps the war’s most prominent victim. (For a good movie, check out the obviously named Michael Collins sometime, even if Julia Roberts’ Irish accent is worse than that of the Lucky Charms spokesprechaun.)

The Collins dude is where the parallel has its biggest hole: who’s the Palestinian equivalent? I guess the closest they’ve had is Arafat, but dude was more than willing to keep up the violence to score political points, rather than making the tough choices to give his people a shot at their own rule. With him gone, though, forget it. In the past few days we’ve seen 1922 Irish-style civil-war action between the Palestinian Free-Staters (Fatah) and Republicans (Hamas), but this time the “keep up the struggle” Republicans are winning and are in control of the government, while the Free Stater not-equivalents in Gaza and the West Bank are corrupt, weak and hardly viewed by their people as a worthy leadership. Also, you can’t ignore the fact that it took another 75 years and many deaths before the North of Ireland calmed down. Not encouraging for the Israeli settlement areas, even in the nigh-impossible scenario that everything else does play out similar to Ireland.

Still, while it likely will never happen, at least the Irish experience offers the Palestinians a model with some hope for the future. It may have taken 800 years for the Irish to reach a settlement, and the Palestinians have been in their predicament since 1948, but if recent history repeats itself, maybe we’ll be lucky enough to see a sensible reduction of violence sometime soon.

Probably not, though.

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3 Responses to “The Ireland / Middle East Parallel”

  1. Mohonk in New Paltz, NY? Damn. The lady and I looked into getting married there for about half a second (she went to school in town). Yeah, not so much.

  2. I am always amazed at the level of hate that can be achieved. As always it is more of a matter of money and power than religion and ethnicity. Power corrupts and fundamentalism just gets people killed.

    Posted by Craig | June 14th, 2007 at 3:55 pm
  3. Leave it to me, in such an erudite post, to focus on your very clever “spokesprechaun”!

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