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Irish Lawmaker: Recognizing Palestine as a State Is Rooted in Our History of Colonization & Famine

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Three European nations have announced plans to recognize the State of Palestine, joining 143 other countries around the world in formal recognition. Leaders in Ireland, Norway and Spain cited a desire to support a political solution to the ongoing conflict in Gaza as the driving force behind the announcements, while Israel responded by recalling its ambassadors from all three countries. Israel’s Ambassador to Ireland Dana Erlich called the move a “prize for terrorism.” Catherine Connolly, an independent member of the Irish parliament, rejects Erlich’s characterization, instead calling recognition “a step for peace” and a “direct result of people’s outrage and upset” over Israeli brutality in Palestine. She connects the Palestinian national struggle with Ireland’s own fight for recognition at the League of Nations just over a century ago and its history with famine and colonialism. “Our solidarity is with people who suffer in any way, but particularly from famine,” Connolly says. “Next Tuesday will be historical, when we raise the Palestinian flag on the grounds of our parliament.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: In an historic move, leaders from Ireland, Norway and Spain announced Wednesday they will formally recognize Palestine as an independent state May 28th. Israel responded by recalling its ambassadors from each of the countries. Norway’s Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre spoke in Oslo Tuesday.

PRIME MINISTER JONAS GAHR STØRE: [translated] There can be no peace in the Middle East without Palestinians and Israelis having their own states and that there is a two-state solution. There cannot be a two-state solution without a Palestinian state. And in other words, peace in the Middle East requires a Palestinian state.

AMY GOODMAN: Ireland’s new prime minister, Simon Harris, referenced Ireland’s own history of emerging from colonial rule as he announced recognition of a Palestinian state.

PRIME MINISTER SIMON HARRIS: This is an historic and important day for Ireland and for Palestine. … Taking our place on the world stage and being recognized by others as having the right to be there was a matter of the highest importance for the founders of our state.

AMY GOODMAN: Ireland, Norway and Spain will join 143 other nations recognizing Palestine as a state. While Israel denounced the three nations, Palestinians in Gaza welcomed the move. This is Mahmoud Majed al-Aswad, a displaced Palestinian, speaking in Rafah.

MAHMOUD MAJED AL-ASWAD: [translated] This is a great thing. We hope other countries will recognize the Palestinian state as Spain did recently and Norway and Ireland. We have the right to live like other countries, to have a state and to live in freedom like other countries in the world.

AMY GOODMAN: On the streets of Dublin, supporters of the move to recognize Palestine as a state spoke of Ireland’s long history of solidarity with Palestinians.

EVAN LANGRELL: Yeah, I think Palestine should be recognized as a state. I think Ireland and Palestine have a lot of, like, conjoined history, and we’ve been oppressed by similar groups and things in the past. And I think if Irish people can’t see the correlation there, then they either don’t know what it is to be Irish, they don’t understand enough about Irish history.

AMY GOODMAN: We go now to Dublin, where we’re joined by Catherine Connolly, independent member of the Irish parliament.

Welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. Can you start off by talking about the significance of this move? And was there any opposition?

CATHERINE CONNOLLY: Amy, thank you very much for having me. And congratulations on your work.

And I very much welcome the decision taken by our government, in our name, to recognize the State of Palestine, along with two other countries, Norway and Spain. And next Tuesday will be historical, when we raise the Palestinian flag on the Dáil, on the grounds of our parliament, known as the Dáil.

Was there any opposition to this? Absolutely not. In fact, a lot of us would feel frustrated that it has taken so long, but not to take from the momentousness of the decision. It’s a very good day for Ireland that we finally stopped the rhetoric and took the first step in a series of actions that I believe must be taken. And that first step is to recognize the State of Palestine.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about what those steps are that you think must follow this recognition that will happen officially on May 28th, next Tuesday?

CATHERINE CONNOLLY: Yes. Well, we have a Shannon Airport, an international airport, and for many years now, I and my colleagues have been highlighting the fact that American weapons and the American Army are freely going through this airport. And we have raised it consistently in the parliament, and we’ve been given reassurances by the government that there are no arms, and that we should get the evidence and bring it to the government, and then they’ll do something about it. That’s an impossibility. Many have tried, actually, many courageous people, and some have gone to prison for their efforts in their attempts to get evidence to show what’s happening. But the duty is on the government to inspect those planes. They don’t do that. And they’ve taken the reassurances of the American government that no weaponry is going through at Shannon. So, that’s one action.

The second action is to enact the Occupied Territories bill, which would ban any Israeli produce from the Occupied Territories. That bill is in being since 2018, brought by a courageous senator, Senator Frances Black. And that was 2018. And six years later, we still haven’t enacted that.

Then there’s also the European trade agreement, which contains a relatively strong human rights clause, and we should be forcing the EU to act on that clause and stop trading with Israel.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to play for you the Israeli foreign affairs minister recalling Israel’s ambassador to Ireland, Dana Erlich. Speaking to Newstalk, Ambassador Erlich said Ireland’s recognition of a Palestinian state is a “prize for terrorism.”

DANA ERLICH: How does this help the people of Gaza? Today, waking up to this news, how does this help them under the Hamas regime, brutal, cynical regime, that they have been dealing with? The fact that about a half an hour after this announcement, a Hamas official has welcomed and congratulated the statement, saying that these recognitions are the direct result of the brave so-called resistance, they call it, the October 7th massacre, and the war that they launched since. So, the fact that Hamas is welcoming this step, the fact that Iran is welcoming this step, is a clear sign that this is seen as a prize for terrorism.

AMY GOODMAN: Catherine Connolly, can you respond to the Israeli ambassador calling this a “prize for terrorism”?

CATHERINE CONNOLLY: I’d prefer not to respond to the Israeli ambassador, because she’s had access to our airwaves for a very long time, and she’s failed to learn anything. But what I would say is, this is not a prize for terrorism. This is a step for peace. And we can’t have peace without recognizing that Palestine has a right to exist. So has Israel. I’m on record for condemning outright the attack by Hamas on the 7th of October. But history did not start on the 7th of October.

And if I may — I’m not sure how much time I have — but I know you’ve interviewed Daniel Levy. And something he said resonated with me — and I have it here — that it’s possible to hold onto three truths simultaneously. One, the militant attack on Israeli civilians was unconscionable, inhumane and in violation of international law. Truth number two, Israel’s collective punishment against Palestinian civilians and its actions in Gaza are unconscionable, inhumane and in violation of international law. And truth number three, one must address the context of the occupation and apartheid in which this is unfolding, if one is to maintain integrity and be able to plot a strategy, going forward, in which both Palestinians and Israelis can live in freedom and security.

So, what we have done here is not a reward for terrorism. We know, we have lived with violence in this country, and certainly the people in Northern Ireland. We know what that does to social cohesion and to creating hatred and long-term, intergenerational trauma. We have experience in that. We also have experience as a colonized country. And, in fact, just over a hundred years ago, last year a hundred years ago, we fought our way onto the international stage to join the League of Nations at the time, such was the importance of the recognition of Ireland as a state. We were a free state, while still part of the British dominion.

So, what we have done here, finally, is stop the rhetoric and recognize the State of Palestine. And we should continue now as a country to use our unique position as one of the few neutral countries left in the world to be a voice for peace, so that Israelis and Palestinians can live and let each other live. But the conditions have to be created for that, to be created for peace. And that hasn’t happened. And I don’t think it’s going to happen with America and other European countries giving unlimited supplies of arms for carrying out a genocide in Palestine as we speak. The figures, you’ve quoted them earlier on, almost 27,000 people dead, 70% of those women and children. I mean, these figures are just horrific. And if I, as a woman and an independent TD, choose not to use my voice, that would be unconscionable for me. And I’m not alone. This decision by the government in Ireland to recognize the State of Palestine is a direct result of people’s outrage and upset on the ground. And finally, the government have bridged the gap in Ireland between what the people want and what the government is actually doing.

AMY GOODMAN: You spoke of the U.S. I want to turn to the U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan criticizing your country, Ireland, Norway and Spain’s decisions to recognize Palestine as an independent state.

JAKE SULLIVAN: President Biden, as I just said, has been on the record supporting a two-state solution. He has been equally emphatic on the record that that two-state solution should be brought about through direct negotiations through the parties, not through unilateral recognition.

AMY GOODMAN: TD Connolly — “TD” is like MP, member of parliament — your response?

CATHERINE CONNOLLY: You see, we were similarly using that argument, because the program for government, for this government, started in 2020. And we gave a commitment, or the government gave a commitment to recognize the State of Palestine. And, in fact, we’ve been discussing it in the Dáil since 1980. But no time was the right time. Similar logic, similar type of language being used by Biden. And finally, we have stopped it, and we’ve shown leadership, because if we wait for Biden to decide when the time is right — well, first of all, we’re an independent, sovereign state, and we’re entitled to make our own decisions. Secondly, if we wait any longer, there will be no Palestine left. It’s been bombed out of existence as we continue with this interview. So, we must have an immediate ceasefire. And that has to happen. And then we must have a peace plan.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you about famine, certainly known so well by people of Ireland. You have the head of the World Food Programme, the widow of the well-known Senator John McCain, a fierce proponent of Israel — you have Cindy McCain saying what’s happening in the north of Gaza is a full-blown famine. Talk about that in the context of Irish history.

CATHERINE CONNOLLY: Yeah, I must say, it’s very upsetting for Irish people to see that. And we’ve had this feeling with famines in Africa, as well. Our solidarity is immediately with those who suffer in any way, but particularly from famine.

And just last Saturday, indeed, I took part — can you imagine, 170 years, approximately, after the famine, I’m taking part in an annual famine walk up in Mayo to commemorate the millions that died or were forced to leave or died in coffin ships as they went over to America, Canada and other countries? So live is the memory for us. It has come down through the generations. And, of course, we had two guest speakers, and one of them was from Palestine. And we were actually all reduced to tears as we listened to her tell factually what was happening in Gaza as she spoke. And she talked about losing her 5-year-old niece and her grandfather dying both of starvation and a broken heart.

So, our history of being colonized, our history — we know how to speak truth to power. At least I would like to think that we have learned that lesson, and that we are gradually freeing our own minds from being colonized and realize that our role in the world is to speak truth to power, to call out injustice when we see it happening and to call out what’s happening in Palestine as genocide. That’s not the same thing as being antisemitic. Absolutely, they’re worlds apart. Israel has a right — the Israeli people have a right to exist, just as much as the Palestinians. And to starve, to use famine as a weapon of war and genocide is just — I have no words to describe that.

AMY GOODMAN: And your final comments to President Biden, who prides himself on his Irish lineage, his great-great-great-grandfather, Edward Blewitt, born around 1803 in Ireland? In his book, Promise Me, Dad, Biden states, “We Irish are the only people in the world who are actually nostalgic about the future.” Your final words, Catherine Connolly?

CATHERINE CONNOLLY: I don’t know if President Biden is ever going to listen to me, but he might reflect. And I think the difficulty is who’s advising him. I think the difficulty behind that is the power of the arms industry and the money and the billions in [inaudible]. I would hope that the Irish Americans in America might force him in a certain direction.

And I can just — I think, rather than focusing on him, I think we have to focus on what we can do. And even though we’re only a small country with just over 5 million people, I think we have earned respect in the world for our neutrality — which doesn’t mean standing idly by. But we have earned respect as people that can be trusted, and we’ve sent our troops abroad on peacekeeping missions. And I think that’s what we need to focus on, and certainly I, as a member of the opposition, to force action, following this momentous decision to recognize Palestine, as I said, to stop troops and weapons going through Shannon, to make sure that we enact the Occupied Territories bill, to force the EU or push them in the direction of stopping trade with the Israel. And there are many, many more. Going back, we had a report from Amnesty, which the government here chose to ignore, which said that Israel was operating an apartheid regime.

And I’d just like to finish, perhaps — I know I’m in the last few seconds — and I recall the death of Rachel Corrie 21 years ago. And that young woman had the courage to stand up to the bulldozer that was flattening Israeli [sic] houses. And she stood up and was killed by the soldier driving that bulldozer. That’s —

AMY GOODMAN: Palestinian houses.

CATHERINE CONNOLLY: Palestinian — I beg your pardon. Thank you. That’s 21 years ago, nobody held to account for that. And that’s well before the Hamas attack. And one could pick many other examples. But at some stage, we, outside of that conflict, have to bring sense to prevail and use our experience in this country as best we can to bring peace and a resolution to the war that’s going on.

AMY GOODMAN: Catherine Connolly, we want to thank you so much for joining us, independent member of the Irish parliament, speaking to us from Dublin.

Next up, we go to Dr. Adam Hamawy. He just left Gaza after being trapped at the European Hospital in Khan Younis with other American doctors. He is credited by Senator Tammy Duckworth in saving her life when she was in the military in Iraq. Stay with us.

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Dr. Adam Hamawy Describes Desperate Conditions at Gaza Hospitals Amid Attacks & Lack of Supplies

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