Nicky Larkin filming me in East Jerusalem making a speech at Sheikh Jarrah
I love both Israel and Palestine or rather more specifically I love the people of both places for numerous reasons. One thing that always reminds me of both peoples humanity is that the vast majority of both people groups can easily be described as every day folk like yourself or myself.
This is just one of the reasons why in the Easter period of 2011 I was excited to meet a gentleman by the name Nicky Larkin and his colleague Gary Hoctor. I first came in contact with them whilst in the West Bank town of Beit Jala, where I live during my usual 3 month stints in the occupied West Bank that I have been doing for 3 years now.
The reason for my excitement was firstly because he is from Ireland which just so happened to be the place where I had just taken up University at Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland studying Zoology. Another reason came swiftly afterwards when they began telling me about a documentary style film they were in the process of filming entitled “Forty Shades of Grey” a film which I have been told features myself speaking at a Nonviolent protest in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
Given my enthusiasm for people all over the world to fully understand the complex viewpoints of the every day people in Palestine and Israel it was a really heart warming experience listening to how Nicky Larkin wished to gather interviews from different “shades” of the society on both sides so as to create his film.
From that moment I pledged my full support for his project specifically because I realised how important if done properly such an initiative would be in showing the human side to both Palestinians and Israeli’s of which both get regularly demonized by radicals amongst their respective support bases in the International community.
After our encounter which happened strangely at the bar owned by the cousins of the family I live with in the West Bank I was so impressed that I even spent two weeks showing Nicky around areas with which I am familiar, I spent a lot of time helping him even going as far as to secure interviews for him with close friends of mine at the Holy Land Trust when he requested he needed more female Palestinian voices.
I specifically remember Nicky telling me that his project was designed to show the realities for average Israeli’s and Palestinians so people don’t just see the black and white. This is why I was astounded and dismayed when I read his article that flagrantly ignores in its entirerty the experiences and lengthy conversations I remember sharing with Nicky in the West Bank.
His new found opinions from the offset attack the Left as if they are the ones with monopoly on Palestine Solidarity, immediately turning readers to look at this as a left vs right wing issue when it simply isn’t. I have been the President of a Palestine Solidarity Society at Queen’s for over two years now in an area of the world where Palestine & Israel are even more polarized than usual and I can state quite openly that we have a mixture of people involved who are of the left and right wing ranging from far left socialists all the way to Conservative futures students.
Let us be honest in stating that it is perfectly reasonable for people to loathe Palestinian terrorists, however I find that this is a direct contradiction of what Nicky claimed he was hoping to achieve.
Do not get me wrong I fully condemn terrorism in all its forms as disgusting acts that hurt mostly innocent civilians. I have friends in the Israeli Defence Forces who could have lost their lives this summer if they had of still been based in Eilat when the rocket attacks were launched. Fortunately my friends were reassigned the week before and thus were safe, yet that doesn’t mean those other people deserve less sympathy and understanding from me.
Having said that I always try and make a differentiation between condemning the action of terrorism as well as the activities of genuine terrorists that target Israeli civilians and that of the vulnerable and usually young Palestinians who get coerced or tricked into becoming a suicide bomber.
Most of these vulnerable Palestinians are refugees living in squalid conditions having been constantly harrassed by the Israeli military and thus are far easier to coerce into taking a role in terror attacks against Israel.
You see if people actually bother to read into the context and look at the stories of the Palestinians who are relegated to the status of terrorists then we can see an entirely different side to the conflict completely, a side that shows us how desperate some people are because of Israeli occupation and oppression. I do not want to see a debate that tries to justify Palestinian terrorism as if it is “freedom fighting” as this again does not excuse or justify such vile and reprehensible violence, however it does provide us with an insight into the narrative of say an 18 year old girl who has lost both her parents to Israeli Military brutality who spends the next two years in a mental state of depression with suicidal tendancies who is then approached by militants offering her a way out that for her is appealing as it allows her to fulfill an act that is for her revenge whilst also ending her own suffering by blowing up amongst innocent Israeli’s in a cafe someplace in Jerusalem.
That is a story you will never read about because such discussions are usually said to be apologism for terrorism which is not the case at all, merely a look into the physcology of terrorism in terms of Palestinians.
Moving on I would say a persons opinion based on their own experiences is very difficult to challenge outright. This is due to the fact in a way it sometimes appears that you are saying a persons viewpoint is invalid or worthless which immediately turns off three quarters of the public you are trying to address.
This is not the case with what I write here simply because if we actually read Nicky Larkin’s article further I find a great deal of factual inaccuracies as well as many omissions on his part. Also as it is partially on facts that our opinions are based I can go as far as to say the depiction given by Nicky neglects to tell us of his experiences he had here in the West Bank and East Jerusalem thus it is not only factually inaccurate but also incomplete.
The mentioned Palestinian Keffiyeh for instance is not a symbol of the PLO it is in fact the cultural symbol of all Palestinians and their very existence thus it is treated as such by Palestinians and the international community.
The description given of Bethlehem is superfluous as it ignores the grey areas inbetween the tourist spots where of course there indeed are some neon crucifixes and displays put up to encourage the religious punters.
I note there is not even a single mention of the refugee camp Al Aida where I know Nicky spent a lot of time, nor any description of the putrid conditions in Al-Azzeh camp where just under 2400 people live in a space that is 750 metres by 750 metres.
He is of course correct in that around some areas you can find posters of martyred Palestinians most of them having died in or around the refugee camps during the second intifada. We see not one clarification by Nicky of the situation in Bethlehem or other parts of the West Bank to discuss why so much emphasis is put on those who have died.
There is no display of empathy for say a family in Bethlehem who lost their father on his way back from church to the bullets of an Israeli gun, Not all those attributed to martyrdome were combatants.
What completely disgraces me is the insult paid to the nonviolence movement by someone I personally took to at least two nonviolent demonstrations. Interviewing Hind Khoury doesn’t change the countless other interviews he did where the people displayed their support for nonviolence as the only just way to resist occupation and the abuse of human rights.
I too have had conversations with countless Israeli’s along with current and ex-IDF soldiers which has really opened my eyes to the narratives of both sides in a way that gives me greater clarity & understanding when I come to my position on the conflict.
My empathy is given for example when I visit Sderot a place that really is at risk of rocket fire on a daily basis. Just as my empathy is given when a friend of mine called Deborah in the IDF tells me she is ashamed to wear the same uniform as most of the racists and thugs who hurt Palestinians on a daily basis.
A telling quote from another friend Hannah who is very strongly Pro-Israel messaged me the other week after making Aliyah in January to tell me her Kibbutz is “full of racists who hate Arabs and Blacks”.
We simply cannot ignore the realities on the ground just as we cannot ignore the narratives of people living in Tel Aviv or Bethlehem on other sides of the Concrete separation Wall.
Claiming Israel is under siege however is a propaganda line that used to come out of the Israeli MFA quite regularly along with the misconception that rockets “rain death” down upon Israeli civilians when actually the only death from a rocket recently has been a single migrant worker a few years ago. This does not mean we shouldn’t recognize the genuine fear & trauma of Israeli civilians who have to flee every time they hear an alarm siren however where is the recognition of Palestinian trauma from Israeli attacks on areas of civilian concentration or the midnight raids against Palestinians who nonviolently protest the occupation?
As if that wasn’t enough Nicky even gives us a reference to the Nazi Holocaust thrown in there without a thought in the world as to how the use of such will effect people reading the article or how it will once again bring out the radicals on all sides some who even deny the holocaust in their expression of genuine anti-semitic ideology which is representative of no decent human being out there today.
Whilst we again must understand that some Israeli’s genuinely feel like they are at risk of another Holocaust we simply can’t allow such rhetoric to be used to justify, hide or excuse human rights abuses committed against the Palestinian people it is misleading at best to link the Holocaust or anything from the 1930′s and 40′s germany with what is happening today including the disgusting Nazi comparisons that some attempt to make.
Yes some very foolish palestinian individuals have painted some swastikas in Hebron which is really disgusting, just as the price tag attacks done by the Israeli settlers where scrawlings such as “Gas the Arabs” appear are a disgrace.
We further see Nicky completely forget to mention his interviews in East Jerusalem involving left wing Israeli Jews who support Palestinian human rights. All the while claiming that he rejects the idea that being anti-Israel is part of his Irish identity and it is a shame that anti-Israel sentiments appear to be a major part of Irish Identity for so many others.
This is a disgraceful use of loaded language as if to suggest that people like myself who support both Israeli and Palestinian Human rights equally are against Israel’s existence completely just because we criticise the policies of the State in their actions and activities towards the Palestinians.
I follow human rights reports relentlessly on a daily basis most of them coming from B’tselem an Israeli human rights group. I always ask the public key questions when discussing this conflict such as whether they think the demolition of Palestinian homes and even entire villages can be classed as “Self-Defense” or whether the forced relocation of Bedouin can possibly have anything to do with the rockets fired from Gaza?
The fact of the matter is that Nicky Larkin seems to be misleading us on many fronts and the only reason I know this for a fact is that I have spent time with him in person within the West Bank. He seems to have changed quite a bit and gained a particular proclivity for Israeli MFA style propaganda which would have us believe Israel is the one that is suffering and that the West Bank isn’t occupied at all but merely “Disputed territory” which is a complete reversal of reality itself.
Let us start shifting the narrative away from this “we want to destroy eachother” approach that gets so much air time in the media. Why can we not start addressing the countless peace initiatives and reconciliatory approaches being taken to try and end the occupation and implement international law so that we can have a just peace for all. I no longer wish to take part in nor be witness to the dialogue that always ends in the conclusion of destroying the “other” and removing their rights, it has gone on far enough to the Palestinians and when a just peace is found I do not want it to happen to the Israeli’s either.
What is very interesting is that I too regularly recieve labels such as that of being a closet zionist or a traitor to the Palestinian cause because I have very moderate but strong views and stances on the situation in Israel – Palestine. Thus I understand how Nicky feels when he gets shouted down for sticking up for Israel.
Yet I can’t help but feel when he comes out with damning opinion pieces like the one I am responding to now that he deserves the criticism he recieves because he is doing the same in his attempts to shoot down every area of activism done on behalf of the Palestinian people.
He is actually rather cunningly dressing up propaganda as an informed viewpoint which is intellectually dishonest and morally reprehensible.
On the issue of boycotts – I think that people take a great deal of it out of context given that everyone either swiftly jumps on the BDS bandwagon without looking at the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions or that people instantly demonise the movement without a second thought thus leaving masses of people with a huge lack of understanding as regards to the aims and objectives of BDS. If we look at it the way its supposed to be viewed we can see BDS is as much about implementing the facets of it as it is about educating the public especially the Israeli public to the injustices that are perpetuated against the Palestinian people. Most utterly ignore this educational aspect to the movement which is why many radicals often take BDS too far which really does damage the movement.
Nicky’s lack of research is evident in a quote from Kevin Squires of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign which refutes some of the points made while shedding some light for all of us:
“Aosdana has not signed the IPSC cultural boycott pledge.
- No Irish supermarket chain has removed Israeli goods from their shelves, unfortunately.
- The Palestinian farmers union supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign.”
I would like to take the opportunity to say to Nicky that it is exceptionally foolish of him to publish an article accusing people of being “armchair sermonisers” and that I will happily challenge him to a public debate where I will reveal exactly what I know about Israel including all of the good and the bad.
Looking further into this article it comes as no surprise given connections Nicky has with certain groups that advocate for Israel along with friendships he holds with individuals that have progressively harrassed anyone who supports Palstinian human rights. We can conclude that he is not giving as unbias an account as he first claims which I really believe should be taken into account when reviewing his work.
Looking at all of my experiences I feel that I can say with absolute honesty that I am perfectly qualified to keep my scarf where it is rather than binning it in an insulting manner and going back to what I said earlier about taking different shades from the society, it would have been inspirational had Nicky really taken views from a wide variety in the Israeli society but it seems he only bothered to interview those who supported what their country was doing and had the preconditioned narratives already clear in their minds aptly waiting for a stranger to come asking questions.
It would be a bit like me running around in the West Bank using my connections to interview only people that I know will give the responses I want to get thus the documentary would be bias from the very outset.
I will look forward to challenging Nicky at the premier of his film in Dublin in May. If he truly respects freedom of speech as much as he claims to then I am sure he will have no problem welcoming me as a friend to his event.