Israel, Ireland and the Irish Girl

(Originally Published on in August 2010)

For some of you outside of Cork, you may have been missing out on some of the most interesting discussions regarding Israel, Palestine and Ireland in recent months. Positions have been taken, so-called facts disproven and insults traded, as per the usual type of thing that goes on whenever the issue of Israel and Palestine is brought up. What makes this most recent development all the more interesting is that it has all been caused by a female native of Cork, Cliona Campbell.

What makes her so special, and the ensuing discussions more interesting than usual, is the fact that during 2 months of the summer just passed, she volunteered for the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) through an organisation called Sar-El. All of this has only become public knowledge in the last 3 weeks when an article written by Miss Campbell, regarding her time in Israel with the IDF, was published in a local paper. Along with this main piece, another side piece was written by her in which she described her reaction and the reaction her colleagues in the IDF to the flotilla massacre on June 1st. Since the publication of the article much has been said and some valid criticisms have been made. On the other hand, not so valid criticisms have been made and downright insulting someone for the actions they have chosen to take is no way to engage in discussion with someone. Ad hominem attacks on someone are unjustified no matter what the actions of the person in question are.

However, attacking someone on the points they have made, academically, is valid. This is the format I shall be taking over the following paragraphs. Most, if not all, of the facts contained within Miss Campbell’s article were either completely wrong or skewed in such a way as to obfuscate the truth of the matter. I will hereby dissect the claims made in Miss Campbell’s article in order to actually provide some truth regarding the situation of the Israel and Palestine conflict.

Claim 1

“I had seen the Israelis suffer incessant rocket attacks from terrorists and, when they eventually retaliated, be castigated when the same terrorists placed their own civilian people in the line of fire as ‘human shields’.”

Rockets are indeed fired into Israel on a regular basis. For example, during 2008, just over 3,000 rockets were fired from the Gaza strip into Israel. Most of these rockets, however, are rather crude and/or completely obsolete with most of them doing little or no damage at all. Unfortunately there are civilian casualties from time to time with 8 civilians being killed by these rocket attacks in 2008. By comparison, when Israel began its illegal incursion into Gaza on December 27th of the same year, which was dubbed Operation Cast Lead by Israel and is generally known as The Gaza War, somewhere between 1,166 and 1,417 Palestinians were killed from then up until January 18th of the following year. Any civilian death is contemptible but the actions of a well funded, well armed and well oiled military power far outweigh the actions of a group of Palestinians whom are victimised on a daily basis.

As for the accusation of using human shields, it is worth noting that Miss Campbell brushed over the documented fact that the IDF regularly uses Palestinians civilians as human shields. This has been well documented with Amnesty International issuing a report in the wake of Operation Cast lead in which they stated that “Israeli troops forced Palestinians to stay in one room of their home while turning the rest of the house into a base and sniper position, effectively using the families, both adults and children, as human shields and putting them at risk.” In the same report Hamas was also criticised for its various violations of human rights but they “found no evidence Palestinian fighters directed civilians to shield military objectives from attacks, forced them to stay in buildings used by militants, or prevented them from leaving commandeered buildings.” To add further weight to the above, the Goldstone Report, which was also commissioned in the wake of the aforementioned Gaza War, also came to the same conclusions. It reported that there was no evidence “that Palestinian combatants mingled with the civilian population with the intention of shielding themselves from attack.”

Claim 2

“Israeli commandos came bearing mere paintball guns and handguns to control the mob. The Turks responded by setting upon them with metal pipes, knives and stun grenades, beating the soldiers.”

Firstly, this is not an entirely accurate depiction of the events that took place on board the humanitarian ship, the MV Mavi Marmara, during the flotilla raid massacre that took place in June of this year. To begin with, the commandos did not come “bearing mere paintball guns and handguns”. Live ammunition had been used before they boarded the ship with at least one of the victims having been shot from the air according to eye witness accounts. This was confirmed by a forensics report which was released after the bodies had been examined in which it stated that “some of the bodies were found to have wounds consistent with a bullet entering through the head from a high angle.” Having seen some of their shipmates and friends wounded or killed by Israeli gun fire, even before the Israelis had boarded, the humanitarians armed themselves with whatever they could find i.e. metal rods, knives and sticks which there would be plenty of on board a ship. Once the commandos boarded they were met with resistance, yes, but this does not justify their actions which resulted in the murder of 9 innocent people and the wounding of a further 48. It is worth noting, albeit rather morbidly, that of those killed, 5 were shot in the head with one of the victims being shot 5 times from a distance of no greater than 45 cm.

There has been no evidence that the humanitarians and those killed were terrorists or affiliated with terrorism in any way. The only thing that has come out thus far is hearsay and sheer propaganda. No firearms belonging to the humanitarians were found on board. The only way that the Israeli government can account for this massive hole in their official story is that “the “mercenaries” threw their weapons overboard after the commandos took control of the vessel”. More so called evidence is the fact that those on board the ship used metal bars and sticks because according to the Israeli government, those on board “preferred to use bats, metal bars and knives, since opening fire would have made it blatantly clear they were terrorists and not peace activists”. No weapons were found on board the ship other than the aforementioned metal rods, sticks and knives, all of which one would expect to find on a sea faring vessel.

Claim 3

“The Gazans are far from needy. During the last 18 months, more than one million tons of humanitarian supplies entered Gaza from Israel, equalling nearly one ton of aid for every man, woman and child.”

This is a complete and utter misrepresentation of the facts, even more so than the other claims Miss Campbell makes in her article. According to the U.N and various other international academics and politicians, including our own Mary Robinson and Micheál Martin, there is a massive humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the occupied territories. The U.N has reported that the amount of aid and goods currently sent into Gaza is “less than a quarter of what is needed”. The U.N also reports that “more than 80% of Palestinians in Gaza rely on humanitarian assistance, with U.N food aid going to about 1.1 million people – three quarters of the population, travel in and out of Gaza is all but impossible and supplies of food and water, as well as sewage treatment and basic healthcare can no longer be taken for granted. There is a 20% shortfall in electricity with implications for hospitals, sewage works, water supply and other public institutions and between 25-30% of the population of the Gaza Strip does not receive running water at home because electricity is not available for pumping. About 30-40 million litres of sewage flows untreated into the sea every day, hospitals experience power cuts for 8-12 hours a day and depend on generators to run basic facilities, although there is a shortage of diesel and on top of this, spare parts for generators are almost impossible to obtain”.

This leads on to another major aspect of the occupation. Israel also places massive restrictions on what is allowed into Gaza. Although since the flotilla massacre the blockade has been somewhat eased, the list of forbidden items includes such things as concrete and other building materials. The reason for this is that the Israeli government claims that any building materials will only be used by Hamas to construct bomb shelters for themselves. The simple fact though is that without basic building materials, the Palestinian people cannot begin to literally rebuild their lives and as a result they are forced to live in perpetual squalor which has been inflicted upon them by the Israeli government.

On a slight side note, it appears that the above claim that Miss Campbell makes was plagiarised. Whether it was intentional or not, this writer does not know, but it is worth noting that the above claim is a direct quote, verbatim, from the website of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Since Miss Campbell was formerly a Law student in University College Cork, she should know that the above quote/claim should have been placed within quotation marks, which obviously, it was not. I leave it up to the reader to come to their own conclusions regarding this matter.

The above are three of the main claims made within Miss Campbell’s article that I have chosen to focus on. As you have hopefully read for yourself, it is clear that she either intentionally misrepresented the facts or, and I hope this is the more legitimate reason, she is completely and utterly ignorant of the facts on the ground so to speak. However as I have already mentioned at the beginning of this article, an ad hominem attack is not something that I am aiming for. I have aimed to correct some glaringly obvious misrepresentations and downright obfuscations that Miss Campbell included in her piece. This is the main reason for much of the criticisms of her over recent days and weeks. It is not racist, ignorant or any other litany of ridiculous claims to question someone’s representation of what they see as the facts. While I find the fact that Miss Campbell protested outside the Turkish embassy in Israel in the direct aftermath of the flotilla massacre , whilst holding a placard emblazoned with “Well Done, Israel”, utterly repulsive, that is not relevant. What is relevant are the facts. She acts on the courage of her beliefs and whether that is good or bad, is something else altogether.