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Irish Reaction to Israel Flotilla Attack

The Irish reaction to Israels storming of the Mavi Marmara has been one of shock and anger. Michel Martin, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, quickly condemned Israels actions and, on 2 June 2010, he contributed a piece to the Irish Independent newspaper, in which he described the deployment of the Israeli military as completely disproportionate and unacceptable. The Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, has urged the Israeli government to exercise extreme restraint in relation to the MV Rachel Corrie, a 1,200-ton Irish-owned cargo ship with 11 activists on board, five of them Irish. The ship is currently en route to Gaza, having been prevented from departing with the Freedom Flotilla due to mechanical difficulties. Mr Cowen called for Israel to allow the MV Rachel Corrie to pass through the blockade, saying I want to make this point: if any harm comes to any of our citizens, it will have the most serious consequences.

The Irish government has long been critical of the Israeli blockade on Gaza but insists that this does not make Ireland an enemy of Israel. However, both the media and public reaction have been strongly critical of Israel, particularly as this incident has closely followed controversy over the use of forged Irish passports by Israeli suspects in the murder of a Hamas official in Dubai. The Deputy Ambassador of Israel to Ireland, Ruth Zakh, was jeered and laughed at by audience members of the current affairs television programme, The Frontline, which aired on 31 May 2010. In contrast, Dr Hikmat Ajjuri, the Palestinian Ambassador to Ireland, was clapped and cheered by the audience, which had not been specially selected for the programme.

The Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) expressed solidarity with the Freedom Flotilla prior to its departure and a number of IPSC members were participants. In a press release dated 21 May 2010, Dr Fintan Lane acknowledged the risks faced by the flotilla, but he insisted that members of the flotilla were determined to break Israel’s blockade and [would] not be intimidated. The IPSC has strongly condemned the actions of Israel and organised a protest in Dublin, which took place on 31 May 2010 and was attended by 1,700 people, receiving considerable press coverage. Speakers at the demonstration called for the Irish government to expel the Israeli diplomatic service from Dublin and advocated a policy of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). Further demonstrations have taken place in Kilkenny, Waterford, Cork, Galway, Sligo, Derry and Belfast.

In the aftermath of the incident, members of the IPSC have been immediately concerned with establishing the safety of its members and ensuring that they are released from detention. At least two IPSC members have refused deportation, on the grounds that they never intended to travel to Israel in the first place. The IPSC has described the IDF soldiers as Pirates of the Mediterranean who hijacked the unarmed Gaza-bound Freedom Flotilla in international waters, murdering up to 19 passengers and diverting the ships to Israel. Dr David Landy, IPSC Chairman, was quoted in the Irish Times as saying, The fact that Israel would allow its forces to kill and wound international human rights activists shows the world once again that Israeli is a rogue state that acts with impunity.

The Irish chapter of the Free Gaza Movement has also been active in preparing the Freedom Flotilla and five members remain onboard the MV Rachel Corrie. Denis Halliday, a former UN Humanitarian Coordinator, is a member of the convoy and has given several radio interviews by satellite phone, providing updates of the ships progress. He expressed shock that the Mavi Marmara had been raided in international waters but iterated the determination of the MV Rachel Corrie to continue on its course to Gaza. The other Irish people onboard are the Nobel laureate Mairead Corrigan-Maguire, filmmaker Fiona Thompson, and husband and wife, Derek and Jenny Graham.

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