If Ireland was treated like Palestine - An alternate history

 For the size of its population Ireland has seen very large Gaza solidarity demonstrations. It is also one of the few places in the world outside the USA where there has been public displays of support for the Israeli military assault. Internationally there are many variations of this map where activists present to their population what the expulsion of the Palestinians from much of the land they once occupied would look like in a local context. One of our members prepared this but we soon realised its an impossible image to post without some reflection on our own settler colonialist past.


A version of this map could have been produced based around a historical ‘what if’ alternate development of Irish history. The obvious parallel is the partition of Ireland, what if the 1968 Civil Rights movement in the north and the war that followed had led to a hyper aggressive military response from an overwhelmingly powerful unionist state. In that history the burning of the British embassy in Dublin in the aftermath of Blood Sunday along with the supply of arms across the border is used as an excused by a northern statelet with overwhelming military superiority to launch a full scale invasion. The southern states armed force’s are quickly crushed and much of the south is occupied down to Dublin, and across to the Shannon. Dublin is partitioned just as Jerusalem is today, and the vast majority of the nationalist / catholic population flee in the face of a terror campaign against them. Many leave Ireland altogether together and generations later their children still remain trapped as stateless refuges in camps across Europe.

A settlement program comes into being where anyone who can demonstrate a historic link to Presbyterian migrants from the north (huge numbers left for the America’s in the 1770’s) is encouraged to return to their ‘homeland’. On arrival at the airport they are given full citizenship and through formal and informal mechanisms encourage to establish themselves in rapidly expanding fortified settlements in the south and west of the Shannon. Any form of resistance to this is ruthlessly crushed and used as an excuse for further fortification and partition.

As the years pass the nationalists in the west find that most of the economically viable land is taken off them and they are left with the bogs, but even these are cut into small segments separated by ‘settler only’ roads. It’s much worse in the south where all the fertile land is taken except for a tiny strip of West Cork where the entire nationalist population is herded. A wall is built and this becomes a vast outdoor prison where even fishing boats are regularly attacked if they venture out from the coastal strip.

Anyone familiar with Irish history will know that something like this was actually attempted in the 16th and 17th century by the British crown. It led to a period of resistance, massacre and viscous warfare, with each side being armed at times by powerful external forces engaged in wider European conflict. That very crude parallels probably account for why some Ulster loyalists have been flying Israeli flags and ‘Bomb Gaza’ signs appeared in some parts of Belfast.

There was what is termed a ‘settler colonialist’ model in Ireland. Indeed the Irish experiment in the 1600’s was not only used as the basis for the similar process that was used in the America’s many of the same characters (like Sir Francis Drake) first tested methods here before using them in the US. But in Ireland their experiment failed and one of the reasons it failed should give us hope as it failed because of a real movement for radical democracy.

The 1790s in Ireland saw a key part of the settler population reject the cycle of sectarian feuding and instead initiate a project of radical democracy aimed “To unite the whole people of Ireland, to abolish the memory of all past dissentions, and to substitute the common name of Irishman, in the place of the denominations of Protestant, Catholic, and Dissenter” No longer did people seek alliances with whatever European kings happened to favour their religion but rather they reached out to movements that shared their radical democratic agenda, including movement in Britain.

Later on at the key moment of the ‘War of Independence’ Britain did have overwhelming military force but the British ruling class were fearful of revolution at home, so fearful that at the end of World War One they had battleships in London and on the Clydeside ready to put down revolt. The radical democratic movement of the United Irishmen and later the Irish Citizens Army did not win their program but they were very much part of the story as to why, although our history might parallel the history of Palestine, it is also very different.

So if this map suggests the potential grimness of a imaginary parallel ‘Palestinian solution’ imposed on Ireland the reasons why that is not how things turned out should be a cause for hope. And for understanding why both international solidarity and resistance from Israeli’s is key to the process of creating a hope that can destroy the rotten settler colonialist project of the Israeli state and its sectarian program.

WORDS Andrew Flood (Follow Andrew on Twitter ) Image: Brian


Follow up piece on WSM FB

This page run by WSM volunteers aims to promote debate and discussion as well as providing news & analysis. And sometimes that means people saying harsh things to us and perhaps not surprisingly that has included accusations of anti-Semitism in relation to our coverage of the Israeli state's murderous assault on the population of Gaza.

We published the map (insert in graphic) and accompanying text (see link in comments) 4 days ago as a commentary on Israeli expansionism in Palestine. It's proved massively popular, some 400,000 people have now seen it. There are also many comments and in one of those a WSM supporter said "I do think that you've very lazily reproduced an image that is borderline anti-semitic by back dating the problem of israeli expansionism to before Israel existed when the "problem" was not Israel, but Jews"

We take the issue of continuing to oppose anti-semitism while opposing the Israeli state's massacre in Gaza very seriously. That has involved deleting blatantly anti-Semitic comments and banning repeat offenders (and the same with Islamophobes) and debting with and educating those making softer versions of such comments. So this criticism coming from a supporter concerned us, had we, albeit accidentally, stepped over the line?

Another supporter (David Landy) responded to that accusation and we found that response so educational we asked if he might write it up in more detail.

Below David discusses the difficult question of the nature of Zionist colonisation prior to the creation of the state of Israel.


The words of that famous boycott-breaker, Leonard Cohen has been going around in my mind the last few days: ‘there is no decent place to stand/in a massacre’. These days, everything one does seems false, inappropriate. There simply is no ‘proper’ response to the massacre in Gaza.

So it might not be right to use the massacre to talk about the history of European Jewish colonisation and Palestinian dispossession in Israel/Palestine – it may be that the better response is simply to support the BDS campaign, to pressure Israel in any way possible to end this massacre that has claimed over 1400 lives so far.

Nevertheless historical context can help us understand why this massacre is taking place. The WSM has come under some flak (and some praise) for trying to provide this context and for publishing the below image, which transposes Palestinian loss of land to an Irish context. In this article I want to defend this image as a true reflection of the history of Israeli colonisation and Palestinian dispossession, arguing that it is both important to understand the history as well as to avoid getting trapped in this history and mirroring Zionist racism and exclusion.

What this image does is to portray in stark simple terms the main experience of the Palestinian people since the onset of European Jewish colonisation - the loss of land, the loss of living space, and the experience of ethnic cleansing.

This ethnic cleansing is not something that happened in 1948 and ended then; as the succession of pictures show, this is an ongoing experience for Palestinians – not only in Gaza where the new buffer zone has meant the loss of 40% of the land of Gaza to Israel, but also in the West Bank where settlers and the Israeli state are continually taking Palestinian land, taking away their freedom to move, and seeking to expel them or contain them into tiny ghettos. This image shows that process, making it real for Irish people by transposing it to a domestic setting.

I don’t think anyone would mind the last three maps, showing how the Israeli state and the UN took Palestinian land. However what about the first map which transposes the areas of European Jewish settlement before the establishment of the state of Israel, dividing Palestine into clearly demarcated Jewish and non-Jewish areas? Does this image not just reproduce the sectarian divisions of Zionism, whereas anarchists need to move beyond such racist categories? Worse, does this image suggest there was something wrong with Jewish settlement, that Jews were some sort of cancer infecting the ‘pure’ Palestinian nation?

In the first place, the transition from map one to two indicates most of all the unjustness of the UN partition plan. A minority of recently arrived immigrants (in the last 50 years) who were intent on expelling or subjugating the locals under their control, were going to be given most of the land. Palestinians have been characterised as being unreasonable for rejecting the UN partition plan; the first two maps indicates the reasonableness of this position.

In addition, we need to acknowledge that there was indeed something wrong – not with a Jewish presence in Palestine – but rather with the nature of European Jewish settlement before the establishment of the state of Israel. Palestinian Jews, Muslims and Christians had lived in relative amity before the advent of Zionism a hundred years ago. Palestine was no paradise, but it was at least in the happy state of being a peaceful backwater. What changed that was a European colonisation process – Zionism – and it is important to understand that there was nothing neutral about the process of European Jewish emigration to Palestine.

Jews around the turn of the century were migrating from Eastern Europe and then from Germany because of the growing antisemitism of these places; the vast majority went to the New World, England and France, a very small number of them went to Palestine. When they went to places like the US, England and Ireland, they went as immigrants - when they went to Palestine they went, explicitly, as colonists, they went specifically in order to found a Jewish state on someone else’s land. This wasn’t some utopian project of theirs to live in peace and self-govern. The project was to conquer and rule. Everywhere else that Jewish emigrants went they didn’t establish stockades, build their own militia, wage economic war on the local population, and seek in various ways to drive them from their land. In Palestine this is precisely what they did.

There was, it is true, differences and discussions on what to do with the native population – should they all be expelled? should only part of them be expelled?, how should the expulsion happen? – these were openly discussed in the Zionist newspapers of the day. Thus while Jewish emigrants elsewhere behaved more or less like any other emigrant group, to suggest that the yishuv (the pre-state European Jewish colony) was just another instance of Jewish emigration is false. It was radically different. They saw themselves as colonists and acted that way.

Put simply, my immigrant ancestors in Portobello in Dublin did not draw up detailed maps of land use in Rathmines, Ranelagh, and Rialto in order to distribute the houses once they had ethnically cleansed the locals – this is precisely what Jewish colonists in Palestine did. And they did this before the establishment of the state of Israel. The ethnic cleansing of Palestine did not stem from nowhere, it stemmed from the nature of European Jewish immigration.

Thus we need to understand the problematic nature of this emigration – not because the immigrants were Jews, but because they were colonists. There was no originary innocent Zionism from which the state of Israel deviated. It is for this reason that left-Zionists find it difficult to build a coherent argument against the settlements in the West Bank. These settlers are after all merely emulating the ‘heroic nation building’ activities of the yishuv. Just as one can say that Jewish settlement in the present day West Bank is wrong, so was the explicitly colonial settlement in the pre-state days.

However while it is important to understand the history of the area, it’s equally important not to get caught up within it. While criticism of European Jewish colonisation of Israel/Palestine is justified, this criticism should never lead to a rejection of present-day Israeli presence in Israel/Palestine.

Anti-colonial struggles, as we well know in Ireland, often get trapped into reproducing the binary logic of the coloniser – the ‘us’ and ‘them’ are merely reversed. Just as Zionism offers nothing to non-Jews besides – at best – a barely tolerated existence, so too can anti-Zionism often lead to the point of view that Israelis don’t have a right to be in Israel/Palestine, or aren’t ‘really’ present, or alternatively it doesn’t allow them anything other than a residual status in Israel/Palestine. This needs to be countered – even though in the depths of a massacre that is supported by the vast majority of Israelis it is easy to lose hope and simply deny political subjectivity to Jewish Israelis. Yet any future worth aiming towards needs to have within it a vision where all in Israel/Palestine – whatever their origins – can live in equality with each other.

Follow up reply

In reply to "I think there's a big difference between the situation in the US or Canada and Israel. Native peoples in North America have been ethnically cleansed to the extent that reclaiming stolen land and resources on a large is impossible. Palestinians outnumber Israelis, afaik. If they return to all of Palestine then they'll be a majority so that doesn't leave much room for "Israel". Plus, anyone who thinks that West Bank settlers should "leave" surely has to explain why that doesn't apply to settlers in Tel Aviv etc."

 Quite large areas of Canada are on unceded 1st Nation land including entire cities, the 1st Nations north of the border were not exterminated at anything like the same level as south of it for various reasons. But in any case there are still native amercian peoples across the US so there is nothing impossible - it would just leave a rather sparsely populated American continent and a rather crowed European one.

But when you talk of Tel Aviv you are talking of large numbers of people who parents and grandparents lived in the region (and yes some who have moved there more recently). They don't have a Europe to return to and the point those relations left Europe was dreadful to say the least. Certainly dreadful enough to make such a demand entirely unreasonable and if implemented simply another reversal of the current situation.

That sort of attitude is in fact what will keep them fighting and hostile to any suggestion of compromise. Given the military imbalance its thus tactically stupid as well as immoral. Which is why talk has been around One State v Two state solutions and how exactly the refugees dispersed throughout the region would be accommodated in either.

From an anarchist point of view a No State solution is preferable where the nation states throughout the region are dissolved. All of them are pretty artificial recent creations of the post Ottoman imperialist carve up.

Uh, I would say this map misses the more real comparison

Uh, this map leaves off something rather important. Northern Ireland...hello, it is Israel....

 thats what the text with the

 thats what the text with the map is about - didn't you read it?


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