Thursday, June 21, 2012

Nicky Larkin - How I became an Irish Zionist

Nicky Larkin..
Ottawa Citizen..
18 June '12..

Summer 2012 — An Israeli flag proudly flies outside the front of a Dublin city centre pub. An insignificant event perhaps in other parts of the world — but not in Ireland. Six months previously Dublin city council allowed a day-long enactment of mock executions of “Israelis” by “Palestinians” on our main shopping thoroughfare, organized by the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

Being anti-Israel has somehow become part of our Irish national identity — the same way we are supposed to resent the English.

I was no different. My interest in the Israeli-Arab conflict had been sparked by Operation Cast Lead. I posed in the striped scarf of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation for an art show catalogue, in a gesture of solidarity. While I never had any notions of “Throwing The Jew Down The Well,” as Borat might have it, I had definite opinions on Israeli foreign policy. The Irish papers were full of stories of Israeli aggression every day that summer — between flotillas and bombings it didn’t look good. You can’t polish a turd.

But I wanted to go and see for myself. I wanted to see just how nasty these Israeli’s actually were. I wanted proof that I was right.

Several months later, I arrived in Ben Gurion Airport expecting all sorts of security checks. We were Irish, and we were filmmakers — therefore we were not to be trusted. Thankfully, we cleared security without the involvement of latex gloves or free prostate exams.

But suspicion followed us everywhere we went in that first week in Israel. Once we told people we were Irish it was harder to get interviews, and people were more reluctant to speak on camera. I understood why.

After that first week in Israel we crossed over into the West Bank. Being Irish wasn’t a problem on this side of the divide. Everyone was our friend. IRA graffiti adorned The Wall; tiny German flags affixed to car number-plates. Bethlehem was Las Vegas for Jesus-freaks, the neon crucifixes punctuated only by posters of martyrs.

I was confused by the constant Palestinian repetition of the mantra of “non-violent resistance.” Why put up all the posters of martyrs, if you advocate non-violent resistance? I was supposed to understand all this somehow because I’m Irish. But even the IRA didn’t blow themselves up ... at least not on purpose.

I was also frustrated by the unquestioning attitude of the foreign activists. Anything seemed acceptable in the name of the Palestinian cause. No questions asked. But would these war-tourists apply this same liberal attitude if it was happening at home in their own country? If buses were exploding in their own home cities? If they weren’t out here on holidays in their summer playground?

My opinions didn’t change overnight. I spent seven weeks in the area, the time divided equally between Israel and the West Bank. Then I spent several months trawling through hundreds of hours of the interviews we’d filmed. I’d spoken to everyone from Ultra-Orthodox Settlers to Marxist Palestinians. Everybody had an opinion, and everybody was sure that their opinion was right.

The problem began when I resolved to come back with a film that showed both sides of the coin. Actually there are many more than two. Which is why my film is called Forty Shades of Grey.

But only one side was wanted back in Dublin. My peers expected me to come back with an attack on Israel. No grey areas were acceptable.

Beginning in March I published a series of articles in The Sunday Independent, Ireland’s most widely circulated Sunday paper, detailing my political shift.

The fallout from the articles has been quite spectacular. I’ve been called everything from a Protestant to an agent of Mossad. Letters to the editor have been flying in every Sunday since, like rockets from the Strip.

But unlike the rockets from Gaza, not all the letters have been sent with spleen.

I expected hate mail. And I got it. But I didn’t expect the support from a largely silent group of people — Irish people. It seems there are true liberals out there. People prepared to listen to both sides of the story.

Since my initial article in March, a multitude of other Irish writers have been questioning our automatic anti-Israel bias in several national newspapers. For the first time ever Irish people are starting to think about the Israel issue in a rational light. There is a genuine sea-change taking place.

I opened a previously closed debate, and I would like to think that the Israeli flag now flying in Dublin city centre has more than a little bit to do with me.


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