I grew up in Ireland during the seventies and eighties, a turbulent and tragic time for the island when different factions on both sides of the political divide in the north were committing the most cruel and vicious acts of violence. Although the troubles barely affected us where we lived, there was rarely an evening when news of another shooting or another public bombing was not occupying our television screen.
I still remember the shame and anger I felt from the fact that the vast majority of these acts of brutality were committed by those who claimed allegiance to my national flag. Furthermore, any sort of political resolution seemed totally impossible and it looked like there would never be an end to it.
However, the recent events in the Middle East have given me thought about how the situation could have been made much worse and pushed beyond a point of no return.
….imagine if every time the provisional IRA or the INLA committed an atrocity, the British military had bombarded Dublin, Cork and Galway in retaliation.
….imagine if they had called it their right to legitimately defend their nation and that they were doing their very best to only target terrorists.
….imagine if those terrorist targets included hospitals, schools, family homes and kids playing football.
….imagine if they added insult to injury by claiming that these targets were human shields and complained that the terrorists should really be standing out in the open and wearing bright colors so they could be killed more easily.
….imagine if all those people in the south who had been vehemently opposed the terrorism in the north, were to have members of their families blown to pieces in their own homes.
….imagine if, instead of condemning these bombardments, the rest of the world condoned them and justified the right of the United Kingdom to defend itself.
….imagine how much all of that would work as an anti-British recruitment campaign and would have swollen the ranks of paramilitary organizations in the south.
…. and imagine how it would all have fed the vicious and never-ending cycle of violence.
We’d probably still be at it today.
Fortunately, although not perfect, our neighbors happened to be a relatively civilized lot. They also had a lot of recent experience in the painful act of letting go of (or not letting go of) historical colonies and knew that the only possible solutions to the Irish situation were (a) apartheid (b) genocide or (c) patience, arbitration and negotiation.
Had it been another century, they probably would have opted for (a) or (b) but because of all those damn twentieth-century meddlers like Ghandi and Martin Luther King and a rabble of bloody humanists in their own parliament, the Brits made a play for peace by consensus. It took years of multilateral bickering, trust building, multiple setbacks but thanks to the hard work of neutral negotiators and the courage of the Northern Irish voting public, a tenuous ceasefire was established. So far so good.
Although I suppose the Irish situation is not really comparable to Israel/Palestine. Both sides up in Belfast gained a lot from the ceasefire but Israel would get nothing from giving concessions to the Palestinians that it doesn’t have already. It’s happily continuing with its long-term "unofficial" plan to push the Arabs out of the West Bank, most of its enemies are stuck in an open-air prison and its economy is booming. The world’s apathy and the growth of the religious right at home mean that its military can do what it likes without consequences. So the Israelis have nothing to gain by a negotiated peace and the Palestinians have nothing to lose by continuing the war.
And so it goes.