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What’s behind Ireland’s support for Palestine? | Israel-Palestine conflict News



After Abraham Aljamal Phelan moved to Dublin in the late 1980s, many customers at his grocery store, where the shelves were adorned with fresh figs and olives, were up to date with the latest news from his native Palestine.

During their exchanges about food, culture and history, his stories of home found sympathetic ears.

“They relate to what’s going on, for what we are going through, they relate to it in Ireland because of their history,” he told Al Jazeera.

Dublin may lie 4,000km (2,485 miles) from Jerusalem on the map, but in the Irish political imagination, Palestine feels much closer, with both perceived as sharing a history of struggle against colonialism and oppression.

Ireland’s Parliament voted unanimously last week to condemn Israel’s “de facto annexation” of Palestinian land in the occupied territories – the first European Union member state to do so.

The following day, the Irish flag was hoisted above Ramallah’s city hall, a video of which spread quickly on social media, shared by many of Aljamal Phelan’s loved ones in Jerusalem.

Coming soon after the worst outbreak of Israel-Hamas violence in years, in which at least 254 Palestinians in Gaza and 12 people in Israel were killed, it was a welcome sight to many.

“I think the Palestinians are delighted, absolutely delighted to see a friend like Ireland, somebody standing by them,” he said. “Because we are left out to dry by the whole world. Everybody is ignoring us.”

From the hillside village of Beit Surik, just north of Jerusalem, his family have witnessed first-hand how Israel has deepened its control over the occupied territories.

His elder brother was shot dead at 17 by the Israeli army while walking with his family during the 1967 war, and much of the family land has since been taken for settlement and its water source diverted.

Today a border wall ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice separates his family from their olive groves.

Another brother has been shot at by Israeli settlers and his nephew, who suffers from leukaemia, has faced gruelling delays at army checkpoints to visit a nearby hospital for treatment.

In September 2018, when Northern Ireland and Israel played a friendly football match, this Free Palestine #BDS message was displayed on a hill outside the stadium in Belfast [Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters]

John Boyne, foreign affairs speaker for the opposition, left-wing Sinn Fein party, who tabled the recent motion, told Al Jazeera that the move was a direct consequence of Israel’s actions and an expression of the common bonds between Irish and Palestinian sufferings.

But his party wants to go further.

Sinn Fein supports the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement, as well as expelling the Israeli ambassador, which the governing, conservative Fianna Fail and centre-right Fine Gael parties oppose.

“The time has gone for words of condemnation. Now is the time to take decisive action against a lawbreaker that presides over an apartheid system,” he said.

‘Deep understanding for what it means to be Palestinian’

The Irish Parliament captured international attention in 2018 when it passed the Occupied Territories Bill, which would have banned all goods and services originating in illegal settlements in the West Bank.

Though it had broad support across political parties and the general public, it was shot down during coalition negotiations between the two governing conservative parties.

For Amir Abualrob, a theatre artist, actor and LGBTQ activist, who came to Ireland from the West Bank town of Jenin three years ago, identification with the Palestinian cause has deep roots in Irish society.

“I see flags everywhere I go of my country, and I’m so proud walking in Ireland because I’m Palestinian, wherein another place it would be something else,” he told Al Jazeera.

“[There is] this huge and deep understanding for what it means to be Palestinian, and what it means to live under occupation and colonisation.”

In the late 19th and early 20th century, the picture was very different.

Irish republicans found common cause with Zionists, recognising each other as fellow persecuted and dispossessed peoples.

Returning from Russia on a trip to investigate a deadly pogrom in Kishinev, Irish republican leader Michael Davitt proclaimed in 1906 he was “a convinced believer in the remedy of Zionism”.

Decades later, during their fight against British rule in Mandatory Palestine, Zionist paramilitary and armed groups such as the Irgun and Lehi closely studied the guerrilla tactics used during the Irish war of independence.

Yitzhak Shamir, the Lehi leader who went on to become Israeli prime minister, was nicknamed Michael, after Irish independence leader Michael Collins.

But Irish sympathy ran dry when the Zionists accepted the 1937 British plan to partition Palestine and create a Jewish state.

At the League of Nations, Prime Minister Eamonn De Valera denounced the carve-up as cruel and unjust, a bitter repetition of Ireland’s own division by the British 15 years earlier.

“Irish political opinion saw the evolution of its attitude towards Zionism very much through the prism of the British. If the Zionists and the British are on the same side of partition then, ‘We can’t support the Zionists’,” said Rory Miller, professor of government at Georgetown University in Qatar.

There was still considerable support for Israel in Ireland by the time of the 1967 war, but growing awareness of the fate of Palestinian refugees, alongside the work of Irish charities, and civil rights groups in Palestine, began to shift public opinion.

“Organised, mobilised activism on behalf of the Palestinians is absolutely – relative in per capita terms – higher in Ireland than it is in Britain or Germany, or many, many EU countries,” said Miller.

Israel’s conduct during the Lebanese Civil War, where 30,000 Irish soldiers served as peacekeepers, soured attitudes even more.

The deaths of a number of Irish soldiers at the hands of Israel and its proxy forces were among the reasons Dublin did not open an Israeli embassy until 1993.

In October 2001, then-Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern listens as Palestinian President Yasser Arafat answers journalists’ questions at a news conference in Dublin [Paul McErlane/PM/ASA/AA]

Ireland was the first member of the European community to recognise the Palestinian Liberation Organization in 1980, with others following a few months later, and became a stalwart advocate for the two-state solution, hosting and meeting with Yasser Arafat on several occasions, sometimes to the ire of the Israeli government.

Like many Palestinians, Aljamal Phelan is critical of Arafat, but understood his power as a symbol.

“There was a great reception for him [in Dublin]. He was treated as a  freedom fighter,” he said.

Though Ireland has never broken with EU foreign policy and still officially supports the two-state solution set out in the Oslo Accords, leaders from across the Irish political spectrum have sharply criticised Israel’s settlement policy, breaches of human rights and undermining of the peace process.

Their criticism has only grown as the two-state solution appears increasingly doomed and as the EU has become preoccupied with other foreign policy issues.

The result has been an often fractious diplomatic relationship with Israel.

Its foreign ministry described last week’s motion as “one-sided”, and in 2018 blasted the Occupied Territories Bill as “the most extreme anti-Israel piece of legislation in Europe”.

Ireland is unlikely to be an important player on the international stage, but Sinn Fein’s Boyne believes that the Irish government can use its influence within the EU and the United Nations, where it currently sits on the Security Council, to convince other states that annexation is a reality and that Israel must face consequences for violating the rights of Palestinians.

“It is now time for the EU,” he said. “It’s time for other countries around the world to take that stand against the apartheid system that Israel perpetrates.

“We hope that we have set a course for other countries to follow suit.”

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Nic Dlamini is set to be first black South African at Tour de France




South African cyclist Nic Dlamini
Nic Dlamini is set to become the first black South African to ride the Tour de France

Nic Dlamini will make history at this year’s Tour de France by being the first black South African to compete in cycling’s most famous race.

The 25-year-old will be one of the eight riders for Africa’s only top-flight professional cycling team Qhubeka-Assos at the Tour, which runs from 26 June until 18 July.

He will be the only African on the team that will be jointly led by Australia’s Simon Clarke and Austrian Michael Gogl as well as including the Italian 2015 Vuelta a Espana winner Fabio Aru.

“Being selected to ride in my first Tour de France is an absolute dream come true for me,” Dlimani said.external-link

“It’s always been an childhood dream and now that I’m about to live it makes it feel surreal.

“I think it speaks to what the team is about, the Ubuntu spirit [I am because we are], and how we change people’s lives because it is honestly a very special moment: to come from a small township and then to go to the Tour de France.”

He becomes the latest rider to progress from the South African-registered team’s development squad and onto the UCI WorldTour.

Humble beginnings

South African cyclist Nic Dlamini

The 25-year-old, who grew up in an informal settlement in Cape Town, first caught the eye as a runner before moving into cycling where his talents saw him move to the UCI’s World Cycling Centre Africa in Potchefstroom, South Africa.

“Considering where I come from it would simply have been impossible for me to have the opportunity to ride at the Tour de France if it wasn’t for Team Qhubeka-Assos,” he explained.

“The platform that they’ve provided me, and other riders from Africa, to compete at the highest level in cycling has been critical.

“I really hope that this will serve as a reference of hope and inspiration to many young South Africans, and people around the world, who have been working really hard to reach their dreams. My hope is that they take from this that anything is possible.

“I want to race the Tour to inspire more kids on Qhubeka bikes to follow in my footsteps and to experience the world like I have, for more kids in communities to put their hands up for bikes to work hard like I did, to dream big.”

According to the team “Dlamini’s style of racing will likely see his talents deployed in the offensive strategy the team will look to pursue during the race, while also playing a key supporting role in the flatter stages.”

The team is completed by Belgium’s Victor Campenaerts, Max Walscheid of Germany, debutant Sean Bennett of the USA and Colombian Sergio Henao.

Qhubeka-Assos’ team principal Douglas Ryder also hopes that Dlamini’s inclusion is a special moment.

“For Nic, what a moment though; his story is simply an incredible one and for him to have earned this opportunity shows that dreams really do come true, and for the team to have provided that opportunity makes me incredibly proud,” he said.

“He’s always been an individual that has stepped up and taken the opportunities that he’s fought for; and he does so again as he lines up at the startline in Brest on the sport’s biggest stage in front of the world.

“This will culminate in an incredible moment for him, South Africa and especially for our team.

“His selection speaks to everything about what we’ve created and built with this team through providing hope, an opportunity and then ultimately the platform to be on the biggest stage of all, the Tour de France.”

The only African rider to have worn the Tour de France leader’s famous ‘yellow jersey’ is Dlamini’s compatriot Darryl Impey, who wore it for two stages in 2013.

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In COVID hit Asia, mixed messages on refugee vaccinations | Coronavirus pandemic News




Medan, Indonesia – Earlier this month, dozens of Rohingya refugees landed on a deserted island off the coast of Indonesia’s Aceh Province.

The refugees had been at sea for more than 100 days, having left Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh in a rickety wooden fishing boat, and were spotted huddling on uninhabited Idaman Island by local fishermen who used the island as a rest stop between fishing trips.

By June 5, just a day after their arrival, all 81 refugees, including children, had been vaccinated against COVID-19.

“The refugees were vaccinated in conjunction with the local government,” Nasruddin, the humanitarian coordinator of Geutanyoe Foundation, an NGO which provides education and psychosocial support to refugees in Indonesia and Malaysia, told Al Jazeera.

“When we found them, they were in a crisis situation on the island with no food, water or electricity, so local residents brought them food and we also brought them 50 tanks of water,” he added. “The feeling on the ground was that we needed to share our vaccines with the refugees in order to protect them as well. No one complained that the vaccines were being given to refugees.”

Aceh Province has been widely praised by humanitarian groups, NGOs and the general public for vaccinating Rohingya refugees, but elsewhere in Southeast Asia, asylum seekers, refugees and migrant workers have not been so lucky.

Hard line

When Nasruddin assessed the 81 refugees on Idaman Island, they told him that they had wanted to go to Malaysia. Some had family members who were already living there, while others were under the impression that the country had a more liberal policy towards refugees than its neighbours.

Some of the Rohingya refugees who arrived in Aceh earlier this month. They told NGOs that they had wanted to go to Malaysia because they had family there or thought it would be more welcoming to refugees than other countries in Southeast Asia [Cek Mad/AFP]

But like most countries in Southeast Asia, Malaysia is not a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention and while the government has said it will vaccinate everyone living in the country, it has also taken a hard line on undocumented migrants and refugees, including Rohingya.

“In February, the cabinet decided that in the interest of pandemic recovery all foreigners would receive vaccination free of charge, including refugees and undocumented migrants,” Lilianne Fan, the co-founder and international director of Geutanyoe Foundation who is based in Kuala Lumpur, told Al Jazeera.

“The COVID-19 Immunisation Task Force and Science Minister Khairy Jamaluddin as coordinator of the vaccination programme, have been vocal advocates of this approach.

“However, the recent statement of the minister of home affairs that those without valid documents should not be vaccinated, combined with renewed crackdown on undocumented migrants, contradicts the government’s earlier position and will simply drive more people into hiding and slow down Malaysia’s pandemic recovery.”

Malaysia went into its second strict lockdown at the beginning of June after cases of coronavirus surged – stretching hospitals and intensive care units to the limit. The health ministry announced 6,440 new cases on Friday.

The government has indicated that it will ease the lockdown as more people are vaccinated, and Khairy has consistently stressed that the programme will include everyone living in the country.

But as it did during last year’s first lockdown, Malaysia has once again stepped up operations against undocumented migrants.

Malaysia’s Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin has declared that PATI – the acronym for undocumented people in the Malay language – will be detained and sent to immigration detention centres.

This month, he stressed that undocumented migrants had to “surrender” before they would be vaccinated.

In early June, a video from state news agency Bernama showed 156 undocumented migrants from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar being sprayed with disinfectant in Cyberjaya, near Malaysia’s international airport, after they had been detained.

Last week the immigration department shared a post on its Facebook page – styled like a poster for an action movie – with the headline “Ethnic Rohingya migrants are not welcome”. After an outcry, but not before it had been widely shared among refugee communities, it was deleted.

The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia on Monday expressed concern at “recent statements portraying migrants, undocumented or irregular migrants, refugees and asylum seekers as a threat to the safety and security of the country and a risk to the health of Malaysians” and urged the government to rethink its approach.

“Instilling fear through threats of arrests and detention of undocumented foreigners is counterproductive in light of ongoing efforts to overcome the pandemic and achieve herd immunity,” it said, stressing the clear differences in the situations of migrant workers, and refugees and asylum seekers.

Malaysia closed its borders during the first strict lockdown last year when immigration officers carried out a number of raids on areas under ‘enhanced’ lockdown. Rights groups fear more raids will deter people from coming forward for the vaccine that is crucial to Malaysia ending the COVID pandemic [File: Lim Huey Teng/Reuters]

Rohingya made up about 57 percent of the 179,570 refugees registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Malaysia at the end of May.

Unofficial estimates suggest the country may have as many as three million undocumented migrants, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Widespread problem

The mixed messaging on vaccinations for refugees is not exclusive to Malaysia.

In a statement released in early June, the UN refugee agency warned that a shortage of vaccines in the Asia Pacific region was putting the lives of refugees and asylum seekers at risk.

“Refugees remain especially vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19. Overcrowded settings, coupled with limited water and sanitation facilities, can contribute to increased infection rates and an exponential spread of the virus,” UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic said in the statement.

There are almost 900,000 Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, making it the single largest and most densely populated cluster of refugee camps in the world. According to Mahecic, the number of COVID-19 cases in the camps has increased dramatically in the last two months.

As of 31 May, there had been more than 1,188 confirmed cases among the refugee population, with more than half of these cases recorded in May alone.

None of the refugees in Cox’s Bazar has yet been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Mahecic added that, in many countries in the Asia Pacific region, there were not enough vaccines to go around, leading to groups such as migrant workers and asylum seekers being sidelined.

The UNHCR had observed a “worrying increase” in the number of coronavirus cases among refugees and asylum seekers in countries including Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, he said.

Indonesia, at least, appears to be starting to do more to address the problem.

The UNHCR says COVID-19 has begun to accelerate in the crowded refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar, but no Rohingya living there have been vaccinated [File: Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters]

Other parts of the country have started to follow Aceh’s lead, according to the IOM, which vaccinated more than 900 refugees in the Indonesian city of Pekanbaru in Riau Province in early June in collaboration with the local government.

“IOM applauds the response of the City Government of Pekanbaru for making vaccines available to the refugee community in the city,” Ariani Hasanah Soejoeti, the national media and communications officer of IOM Indonesia told Al Jazeera, adding that all refugees in the city over the age of 18 have now received vaccines.

“Vaccines are one of our most critical and cost-effective tools to prevent outbreaks and keep individuals and therefore entire communities safe and healthy,” she said.

“The virus knows no borders or nationality; and neither should our solidarity.”

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Why Ethiopia’s 'alphabet generation' feel betrayed by Abiy




PM Abiy Ahmed swept to power after mass protests, but his Oromo community still feel like outsiders.

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