Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Gaza isn't Orange vs Green: The reality is that the tragedy does not break down into neat black and white

Palestinian relatives of Islamic Jihad militant Shaaban Al-Dahdouh, which was found under the rubble, during funeral in Gaza City, Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
Israeli reserve solders gather in a staging area near the Israel-Gaza border, Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)
Israeli reserve solders gather in a staging area near the Israel-Gaza border, Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)
Palestinian supporters of Hamas clash with Israeli security forces on July 25, 2014 near Ramallah, West Bank.   (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Palestinian supporters of Hamas clash with Israeli security forces on July 25, 2014 near Ramallah, West Bank. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Gaza is many things but it's not Orange vs Green. If you want a painful example of how Orange vs Green politics is failing Northern Ireland, look at how our political parties have responded to the crisis in Gaza.

For the two unionist parties, support for Israel is unconditional, irrespective of the loss of innocent life. For nationalists, support for the Palestinians is unconditional, irrespective of Hamas intransigence.

We shouldn't be surprised at loyalist areas displaying Israeli flags and republican areas displaying Palestinian flags. It is a reflection of Stormont politics.

John Taylor's recent comments critiquing Israel's approach to Gaza are welcome and refreshing. But he is the exception. Have you heard a nationalist politician voicing cautious support for Israel?

The reality is that the tragedy in Gaza does not break down into neat black and white – never mind Orange and Green – categories. Hamas is not the only voice among Palestinians, and it has significant opposition in the Arab world. And Islamist Hamas is a strange bedfellow for secular left-wing Europeans. As for Israel's blatant disregard for innocent Palestinian life, do Israel's supporters believe that hundreds of dead Palestinian children will make Israel safer?

When we force the Palestinian-Israeli conflict into an Orange vs Green straitjacket, we fail both Palestinians and Israelis, and also fail the Muslim and Jewish communities of our society in Northern Ireland.

The first thing that happens is that old-fashioned sectarianism takes on a new face – Muslim families face intimidation because 'we' stand with Israel; a synagogue is attacked because 'they' stand with Palestinians.

Secondly, Stormont politics is confirmed as irrelevant, stuck in its old tribal mode.

Thirdly, our politics is again seen as profoundly out-of-step with those in the rest of the UK.

If we in Northern Ireland are ever going to have politics that encourages meaningful debate on international affairs, we have to break with the endless cycle of Orange vs Green.

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