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Walls Never Work—in the Middle East or in Ireland

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Posted on Jan 3, 2010
AP / Muhammed Muheisen

A view of the West Bank city of Ramallah (left) is juxtaposed with a view of the Jewish settlement of Psagot (top right) reflected in the glass of a building.

By Robert Fisk

Editor’s note: This article was originally published by the Independent.

We were walking round Milltown Cemetery last week, me and David McKittrick – Our Man in Belfast and among my oldest friends – and the wind came biting down from Cave Hill.

"Cloaked in ice and snow," was how the Belfast Telegraph described Northern Ireland when I took the train back to Dublin the next day, but I think the bitterness of the Ardoyne, the Falls, the Shankill, the old Markets, made up for the exaggeration. "Peace" lines they may be, but just east of Andersonstown, that frozen, implacable wall of iron, stone and wire reminded me of an even more permanent "security fence" more than 3,000km away.

In Milltown Cemetery, in the Republican "plot" – yes, Bobby Sands lies there, also memorialised, of course, in the street next to the British embassy in Tehran – was the shared grave of Maire and Jimmy Drumm of Sinn Fein. Her picture showed a younger woman than I used to know, all smiles and curled hair rather than fury and cynicism (though she’d met me cheerfully when I went to say farewell more than 34 years ago, a whiskey bottle on the table and the commanders of the IRA’s Andersonstown Brigade on the sofas around her to say goodbye to the young "fella" setting off for Beirut).

"Murdered by pro-British elements" her gravestone said – that was the nearest an Irish Catholic Republican movement might come to saying "Protestants" – and I remembered how they’d shot Maire in her bed at the Mater Hospital in 1976, how she’d fallen from the bloody sheets and tried to crawl across the floor; where they shot her again.

They could not have known that Belfast would today be a Catholic majority city. Nor could the Protestant settlers of the 16th and 17th century – the Jacobean planters and the Cromwellian veterans – have known that their lands would almost all be Catholic 400 years later. The story of the Protestant "settlements" in Ireland provides a ghostly narrative of those modern-day "settlements" in the West Bank, where the Israelis insist on fighting the world’s last colonial war with the assistance of that great anti-colonial nation known as the United States.

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The differences, of course, are legion. Protestantism, in its various Irish forms, aimed to convert or ethnically cleanse the Catholic Gaels. Judaism does not attempt to proselytise – quite the contrary – and Israel’s illegal claim to West Bank Arab land is based on holy texts, not on a king’s fiat.

Robert Kee, still one of the finest popular expositors of 16th-17th Irish history, puts in concisely: "The four counties of Donegal, Tyrone, Derry and Armagh ... together with the two counties of Cavan and Fermanagh became subject to the most systematic attempt yet to plant or settle in Ireland strangers from England and Scotland. This was the so-called Plantation of Ulster, worked out on a government drawing board between 1608 and 1610."

There had been previous efforts to colonise barbarous Ireland, when Catholic sovereigns had settled families in Leix and Offaly (whose landowners found they now lived in King’s and Queen’s Counties, just as West Bank Palestinians are supposed to believe that, since 1967, they have lived in Judea and Samaria). "But all such previous plantations had in the end been failures," writes Kee. "Collapsing for lack of human support or capital, or else being physically wiped out by the rebellion of those who had been dispossesed to make room for them."

This remains Israel’s fear: that those Palestinians dispossesed in 1948 will return to take their former lands in what is now the State of Israel, or at least those lands stolen from them in the West Bank after 1967. The Catholic massacres of Protestants in 1641, a period of civil war vividly captured in the 20,000 pages of witness depositions now held by my own alma mater of Trinity College, Dublin, [are] a bleak precursor of the Hebron massacre of Jews during the Arab rebellion of 1929; albeit that up to 1,300 Protestants were hanged and put to the sword in 1641, 64 Jews in Hebron. William Baxter, a gentleman from Co. Fermanagh, "swore that Ross McArt McGuire seized his lands at Rathmoran ... on the grounds that they ‘belonged to his father before the said plantation,’ " Trinity’s modern history professor Jane Ohlmeyer recalled in a recent article.

But the Elizabethan settlers came as soldiers who settled. Later Scots Protestants came, like Israelis to the West Bank, as settlers prepared to be soldiers. "The idea of the settlement of underpopulated lands caught the imagination of men in both countries" – I am quoting Perceval-Maxwell’s work on Scottish migration, but "making the desert bloom" and "a land without people for a people without land" echoes in the future distance.

Cromwell was to inject a new form of violence into Ireland, whose ultimate victims can still be found in Milltown Cemetery and, just down the Falls Road, in Belfast’s largely Protestant City Cemetery. The slaughter at Drogheda and Wexford acted as a catalyst of mass fear, much as the killings at Deir Yassin and many other Arab villages in 1948 led to the abandonment or capitulation of hundreds of other Arab towns in the land that was to become Israel. Most of the best land of Ireland, at least three-quarters of it, was confiscated from its Catholic owners, its original inhabitants expelled to the cold, wild lands of Connaught. By 1688, Catholics held only 22 per cent of the original Gaelic Ireland, precisely the same percentage of mandate Palestinian land – 22 per cent – for which Yassir Arafat was required to negotiate in the hopeless Oslo "agreement". Arab-owned land in "Palestine" is now smaller still, heading inexorably to the mere 14 per cent that the Catholics still clung on to in 1703.

Again, these are not parallel narratives; but unborn ghosts are there. English rulers in the 17th century suspected – quite rightly – that Spain was lending spiritual and material support to Irish insurgents, just as Israel today believes, correctly, that Iran is giving spiritual and material support to Hamas and, outside "Palestine", to Hizballah. For the Pope of Rome, read Pope Khamenei of Tehran. On many occasions, acts of "terrorism" against the Protestants emerged from landless Catholic tenants who were allowed to work for those who had seized their property. So, later Protestant "settlements" were surrounded by vast defensive walls, angled with watch-towers and ramparts and gun positions. The city of Derry has walls above the Catholic Bogside every bit as ferocious as the Israeli wall that now cuts into yet more Arab land.

And, of course, Irish Catholics fled abroad – just as the Israeli foreign minister would like to "transfer" Palestinians to the east. And where did the Irish Catholics go? As many as 100,000 fled to the continent, mostly to Spanish Hapsburg territories, in many cases to the Spanish lands from which the Moriscos – the Muslims of Spain and the remainder of the nation’s Jews – had just been "cleansed" by their Catholic Christian overlords. The final crushing of the Spanish Muslims (who had failed to convert) occurred in 1609, when Philip of Spain forced 300,000 souls to leave the Iberian peninsula for Ottoman north Africa. And the very Spanish "cleansers" who had "ethnocided" the Moriscos – Garcia Sarmiento de Sotomayor and Count Caracena were among them – now advocated resources for the Irish arriving in Galicia.

Irish Catholic publications of the time – according to research undertaken by Igor Pérez Tostado – compared Irish Catholics with Spanish Muslims; "both were presented not only as disloyal but as a mortal threat to the very survival of the political community." Both, in effect, were thrown into the sea.

But the English and Scots "settlements" failed in Ireland. Protestant hopes of eternal support from London eventually proved false. And so, what of Israeli hopes of eternal support from Washington? I still don’t believe in a one-state solution – which the Protestant minority will one day have to accept in Ireland, if they have not, subconsciously, already done so – but colonisation leads only to the graveyard. Walls don’t work. Nor "superior" religions. Nor ethnic cleansing. History, which should be studied as eternally as false hopes, is a great punisher.


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By ricard roe, January 6, 2010 at 5:03 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“that great anti-colonial nation known as the United States.”

Really now?  What are Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and every piece of a country the U.S. has military bases on called then, if not colonies, protectorates?  If anything, the USA is the greatest “coloniser” of them all up to and including it’s latest acquisitions known as Iraq and Afghanisatan. To claim otherwise is simply BS and turning a blind eye to a Manifest Destiny mentality that has been at the core of the US since it’s founding.

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By lichen, January 5, 2010 at 4:57 pm Link to this comment

No, actually, Global Warming meets the highest, widest scientific standards; the consensus is that man-made global warming does exist, and unlike arrogant Americans, many poor people in island nations and Africa are already suffering the consequences of 150+ years of developed countries pumping tons of black poisonous smoke into the atmosphere.  NZDoug is right; Israel is bleeding dry the water and fertility of the region that they stole.

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Arabian Sinbad's avatar

By Arabian Sinbad, January 5, 2010 at 9:54 am Link to this comment

History, justice and birth rates are on the side of the Palestinians.

I know for sure that I will not live to see my original homeland liberated from the marauders-occupiers that stole it, terrorized its population and dispossessed them.

I am willing to die in a state of forgiving the Zionist Jews for what they have done to me and my people; for after all, they are a bunch of psychopaths who were the victims in some other lands before they came to victimize the Palestinians.

However, I am not willing to forgive or forget the role of the British and American politico-military establishments for enabling the victimization of my people by the Zionists. 

In the Court of Final Justice, I will stand firm on insisting that the British and American politico-military establishments are my real enemies and victimizers and I will insist on demanding just retribution.

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drbhelthi's avatar

By drbhelthi, January 5, 2010 at 3:31 am Link to this comment

The wall comes down in Germany, and goes up in Israel ???

Some of us think that the current distress of the USofA and
the entire western world was instituted largely via the
efforts marionnettes of NAZI-ism, and its “cohorts.”  One
group of “cohorts” might improve their insight by stepping
outside the PR propaganda of their system, to become
acquainted with Schlomo Zand, teacher at Tel Aviv University,
who wrote a book, “When and How Was the Jewish People
Invented?”  Incorporating reality into ones behavior helps.

Who among US agents expects anything other than that which
was awarded to Lee Harvey Oswald, after many years of
faithful service to the CIA?  And who was benefitted by
sacrificing him, while murdering a genuine, born in the USA
American President who tried to improve the USofA and the
freedoms it offers? 
Defrauding Americans and the world with foreign-born
marrionettes “aint where its at,“ which will be shortly
revealed. Think of all the Americans whom your co-workers
have “quietened” because “handlers” said they either knew too
much, or feared they would become honest like Chip Tatum and
a few others. 

Does your behavior serve the interests of freedom, or the
NAZI satanism that destroys?  The same goes for all elected
representatives in the congress of the USofA.  It is time for
you to serve the folk you represent, not the stooges who
intimidate you to do their bidding, who bribe you and do
illegal favors for you. 

When the spirit departs the body, it departs without earthly
power and wealth.

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By JohnMcD, January 4, 2010 at 7:27 pm Link to this comment

Dayahka, I don’t want to downplay the atrocities committed against either group so I’m not sure if analyzing relative violence to the detail is going to make the big picture clear.  The big picture I see is this:  superior military begins to treat ‘others’ as sub-human and justifies all manner of violence, social repression, and forced hunger.  Right now, at this minute, the Irish don’t have to worry too much about tanks rolling down the street and shooting them out of their homes:  Palestinians do. 

So we can take the empathy we learn from history, especially those of us descended from Irish & Scottish Catholics, and apply it to a more immediate humanitarian crisis.  If we do something now and ensure things don’t get as bad as they could have otherwise been, that would be a big victory IMO.  If they keep fighting it out, well, that’s the kind of conflict that will simmer and occasionally boil over for hundreds of years to come.

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By don, January 4, 2010 at 6:09 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Actually there are quite a few US religious idiots that will care a great deal about
our parasitical 51st theocracy, even after the oil runs out in the Middle East…after
all it’s the ‘land of the bible’, etc. etc.

Getting rid of religion would solve a great many of the above mentioned conflicts,
too bad we’ll never see it happen. I feel sorry for my friends that have kids; the
fundies are handily out-breeding us.

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By felicity, January 4, 2010 at 12:23 pm Link to this comment

Call me a bleeding heart liberal, a tag I wear with humility, until we humans learn - because it’s not an inborn quality - to empathize with our fellow human beings we will continue to inflict others with pain and suffering.

Defined, empathy allows us to identify with the feelings, situations and motives of others.

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DieDaily's avatar

By DieDaily, January 3, 2010 at 11:52 pm Link to this comment

NZDoug, the scientific consensus is that Global Warming does not exist. So I’m not sure what you mean. Under 6% of qualified scientists feel that the theory has scientific merit. http://www.petitionproject.org/ (sorry!)

Dayahka, exactly. I have to hand it to Fisk this time for ALMOST resisting the temptation to write in a sneaky subtext on Iran. I was reading this with my son and I was saying “holy cow! he hasn’t mentioned Iran!” when low and behold, there it was. You’re absolutely right. If you take out half of the stuff on Palestine (and the absolutely false statement about Iran) what’s left is a pretty good article.

As it stands, more sneaky Fisk propaganda against Muslims, hiding beneath a thin veneer of political correctness. Man, the guy is just incorrigible. But then most operatives are.

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By Dayahka, January 3, 2010 at 8:45 pm Link to this comment

I don’t think there is justification for the comparison you make here. While acknowledging that the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians is cruel and sadistic, it does not compare to the genocidal treatment of the Irish by the British.

The Irish Holocaust (run by and for the benefit of the British) killed off a full 50% of the Irish population, millions of whom starved to death even as their food was being shipped to England by the capitalists of the day; the Irish were not treated just as believers in an inferior religion, they were treated as sub-human, and the many who were turned into slaves during the slave trade were treated as inferior to the more pliant blacks.

Sorry, but as bad as the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians may be, the British treatment of the Irish was far, far worse. Cromwell was as bad as any of Hitler’s murderers, a genocidal maniac; and Queen Victoria was no better. Sorry, but the Palestinians and Israelis still talk to each other, but for the Irish who remember the holocaust, the British are vermin.

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By jack, January 3, 2010 at 7:04 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I was raised pro-Brit, anti-IRA Irish.  It wasn’t until I learned of the ends-justify-the-means tactics, such as civilians forced to be “human bombs,” of the British that my opinion changed.  There is absolute proof of UK state sponsored terrorism in their fight against the IRA.  Incontrovertible evidence of false flag terrorism—the Stevens Inquiries.

“Will Ulster’s dirty war claim one of Britain’s most senior soldiers?”  http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/will-ulsters-dirty-war-claim-one-of-britains-most-senior-soldiers-594740.html

“UK agents ‘did have role in IRA bomb atrocities’” http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2006/sep/10/uk.northernireland1

Stevens recommended that Gordon Kerr, the head of FRU, Force Research Unit, the organization responsible, be brought up on charges.  However he was promoted instead, to the best of my knowledge.  FRU changed their name to Joint Support Group (JSG) and ended up in Iraq—where the SAS had to break out JSG false flag terrorists (i.e., British soldiers dressed as Iraqis) from the Basra jail.

I haven’t even touched Britain’s false flag terrorism in Africa, the Mau Mau uprising and the Sealous Scouts.

But it’s quite apparent both what we are dealing with and where the real power lies in Britain.

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By NZDoug, January 3, 2010 at 3:59 pm Link to this comment

If global warming proceeds as predicted, Israel can have the land, as it will be
uninhabitable. Once the oils gone in the Middle East, America wont care what
happens.  If I was a Palestinian, Id buy up in Canada or similar, while its still cheap.
Check out real estate listings in Swift Current , Alberta, thats my advice.
Let the Israel military help out in Afghanistan.
They have PURITY of weapons…....
And heaps of them, all freebies from USA.
They can fight the war on terror, as they are the reason it exists.

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By bozhidar, January 3, 2010 at 3:20 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Croat-serb conflict also bears some similarities with UK-irish conflict. Serbs in 1600s have settled in croatia.
After serbia’s emancipation from ottoman empire early 1800s, serbs began to propagate the idea to gather all serbs in one country.

Serb propaganda did work among many serbs of croatia and bosnia.
In ‘14 in sarajevo archduke ferdinand had been assassinated by europe’s oldest terrorist org, the Black Hand.

Austria had demanded that serbia disband the org and insisted it be included in destroying the black hand.

Unfortunately, for all euros, serbia, UK, and russia refused austro-hungarian demand.
Austria, which two yrs before annexed bosnia-hercegovina, declared war on serbia.

Curiuso appears, that US, france, UK are waging wars against iraq and afpak, on the same grounds as austria did; on the grounds of a terrorist act against US; and which, btw, never ever even happened.
go figure.

Btw, way nikola tesla, a serb from a small twn of gospich in croatia, had declared that he was a serb but that his counry was croatia.

Other serb leaders have also warned serb royalists of croatia not to engage croats in a war for separation; especially, since serbs were living in all parts of croatia and in all of its cities and towns.

Finally, in aug ‘95 serbs were once for all defeated. Acccording to a serb witness, UNPROFOR began just before croat attack to assist those serbs who wanted to leave for serbia.

He had urged also the folk from his tiny village to leave. But they refused. All six of the villagers, mostly very old, were slain by croat militia.
He’s now going to den hague to testify about it.

Many serb men had a good reason to leave croatia before croat offensive of ‘95.They have commited numerous crimes against croats.

I was not able to date to find out how many serbs remained in croatia after ‘95. Some are allowed to return.
Mesich,the croatian president, had just recently invited them to return to their lands which, according to him, stand desolate. tnx

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