Belfast Telegraph

Breaking silence over plight of the Palestinian people

By Eamonn McCann

'It was probably one of the most shocking experiences of my life and I saw things I wish I'd never seen, heard things I don't think I'll ever forget. It's important to try and impart some of that - the shame that the international community should feel at what is happening and what is being allowed to happen. That's all I can do, but it's something."

Thus Eimear McBride in last Saturday's Irish Times. She had just returned from a seven-day visit to the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

"Living in the West Bank is like being trapped in a cage," she continued. "The walls of the cage are being wound ever tighter around the Palestinian people. It's hard to see that kind of suffering and believe there is an end in sight."

McBride is author of the brilliant A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing, published in 2013, winner of the Goldsmiths Prize that year and, the following year, of the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction. She had travelled with photojournalist Taiye Selasi, the Indian novelist Hari Kunzru and Israeli writer Ala Hlehel.

They were among a group of more than 30 writers invited by Breaking The Silence to visit the region and to contribute a chapter each to a book to be published in 2017 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War and the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, the Golan Heights and east Jerusalem. Others taking part will include the Irish writer Colm Toibin and Nobel prizewinner Mario Vargas Llosa.

Breaking the Silence comprises Israeli soldiers who have served in the Occupied Territories. They gather and publish testimonies from fellow soldiers so as to reveal the truth of life under occupation.

Spokespersons for Breaking the Silence have visited the north in recent years to describe their aims and activities to audiences of mainly pro-Palestinian activists and Christian groups.

Meanwhile, back in the USA, presidential candidates are striving to outdo one another in their pledges, if elected, to do everything in their power to defend the occupation, increase arms supplies to the Israeli defence forces and generally put the weight of the US behind Israel's maintenance of the oppression of Palestinians.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) held its annual gathering in Washington last week, attended by presidential hopefuls and a concatenation of Congresspersons anxious to avoid the appearance of being insufficiently supportive of whatever it is Israel happens to be doing to suppress Palestinian rights.

The current leader in the Republican race, Donald Trump, reportedly drew wild applause with his promise to bow to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and tear up the nuclear deal with Iran, negotiated last year by Barack Obama. He condemned the knife murders of Israeli civilians by Palestinians while offering not a word of disapproval of Israel's use of artillery, missiles and planes to murder Palestinians.

Coming to the podium after Trump, Ted Cruz had to go one better. He declared that there was no such place as Palestine and, therefore, no need for restraint in taking it over.

Hillary Clinton's most popular promise was to use the power of the presidency to combat the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS). She, too, undertook to increase arms supplies to Israel and announced that the first leader she would invite to the White House would be Netanyahu - a direct repudiation of Obama's refusal to invite Netanyahu when the Israeli prime minister turned up in the US to campaign against Obama's Iran deal.

Interestingly enough, Bernie Sanders, the only Jewish candidate still standing, was the only one who dared skip the convention. His offer to appear by video-link was dismissed by an affronted Aipac leadership: how dare he not come when called?

In a letter to the convention, Sanders declared backing for an (eventual) end to the occupation but was careful to speak of the safety of Palestinians, rather than of a safe Palestinian homeland.

Still, against a background of the violent rhetoric of his rivals, Sanders was relatively progressive.

The soldiers of Breaking The Silence have joined with the writers to try and break through obdurate resistance to observable truth and to encourage a no-holds-barred dialogue on the future of Palestine/Israel.

They have the goodwill of organisations such as Jewish Voice for Peace, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, the human rights group B'Tselem and many others - including the BDS campaign - who earnestly desire a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

Eimear McBride is wonderful writer and rooted here in the north. She has never been associated with taking a political stance. Perhaps some of those who continue to ignore the case for the Palestinians will think on what she has to say - and think again.

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