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Hunger strikes show the history of Irish-Palestinian solidarity

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03.12.2021

During the 11-day Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip in May, which claimed the lives of 254 Palestinians, including 66 children, acts of solidarity were staged around the world. But, perhaps, none was as significant as that which took place in Ireland. On May 26, the Irish parliament passed a resolution condemning Israel’s “de facto annexation” of Palestine.

It was significant, but it was not surprising, for the history of Irish-Palestinian solidarity is long and mutual.

It was on display again when the best-selling and award-winning Irish author, Sally Rooney, declined an offer to translate her novel, Beautiful World, Where Are You, into Hebrew, citing support for the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

The BDS movement, which calls for global civil society to engage in a comprehensive campaign of boycott against Israel until it allows Palestinian refugees to return to their homes, ends its military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, dismantles settlements and the separation wall and treats Palestinians with Israeli passports on an equal footing with Israeli Jews, is particularly popular in Ireland. But, again, this should come as no surprise – for the very term “to boycott” originated there.

Charles Cunningham Boycott (1832-1897) was an English land agent who worked for Lord Erne, who owned 40,000 acres (16,000 hectares) of land in Ireland. At the time, during British rule, 750 – often absentee – landlords owned half of the country. Many of them paid agents to manage their estates, as Boycott did for Erne in County Mayo. His job involved collecting rent from the tenant farmers who worked the land.

In 1880, the Land League, which had been formed the year before to work for the reform of the landlord system, which left poor tenant farmers vulnerable to excessive rents and eviction if they could not pay, demanded that Boycott reduce rents by 25 percent. Harvests had been bad and the prospect of famine loomed. But Erne – and Boycott – refused and obtained eviction notices for those tenants who could not pay.

Charles Stewart Parnell, an Irish nationalist leader and president of the Land League, urged Boycott’s neighbours to shun or ostracise him in response. Shops in the area refused to serve him and when labourers refused to work the land, he was forced to bring in workers from Ulster at a cost far greater than the value of the crops they harvested.

But Father John O’Malley, a local leader of the Land League, reportedly felt the word ostracise was too complicated for the tenants – and so the term ‘to boycott’ was born.

But that word – and concept – is not the only thread connecting Irish and Palestinian history.

Not long after the 1916 Easter Rising – when, from April 24 to April 29, Irish nationalists rebelled against British rule until the British military brutally quashed the rebellion and executed........

© Al Jazeera


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