Northern Ireland

Palestinian campaigner urges Sinn Féin to change its mind about White House St Patrick’s Day celebrations

Gaza-born Saeb Shaath likens Palestinian Authority to Vichy regime

Saeb Shaath  (left) pictured with Khalid El-Astal (right) at a Palestine Rally in Belfast 
Saeb Shaath speaks at the Gaels Against Genocide march in Belfast on Saturday. PICTURE MAL MCCANN (Mal McCann)

A long-standing Palestinian activist who has lost 42 members of his extended family during Israel’s recent indiscriminate bombardment of Gaza has urged Sinn Féin not to join the St Patrick’s Day celebrations at the White House.

Gaza City-born Saeb Shaath, who now lives with his family in Belfast, said Irish politicians who accept President Joe Biden’s invitation to Washington DC were “no friends of Palestine”.

The former head of the Palestine General Delegation to Ireland said the US administration was “complicit in genocide” and should be spurned.

“I call on my brothers and sisters in Sinn Féin not to entertain Joe Biden as I believe this would reflect badly on the party and the people of Ireland,” he told The Irish News.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, right, presents US President Joe Biden with a bowl of Shamrock during a St Patrick’s Day Celebration reception in 2023
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, right, presents US President Joe Biden with a bowl of Shamrock during a St Patrick’s Day Celebration reception in 2023 (Niall Carson/PA)

Mr Shaath, who first came to Ireland to in the 1990s to study, was also critical of the Palestinian Authority, which partially controls the West Bank.

He likened the Fatah-controlled administration to the Vichy regime, which collaborated with the Nazis in wartime France.

Palestinian ambassador to Ireland, Dr Jilan Wahba Abdalmajid, addressed a Sinn Féin event at Belfast’s Europa Hotel last week.

The Palestinian Authority representative’s speech was interrupted by protestors calling for a boycott of the St Patrick’s Day celebrations at the White House.

Sinn Féin leaders Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill have said they will travel to Washington next month “in pursuit of peace”.

“We will also advocate for an end to the Israeli genocidal war and occupation in Gaza and the West Bank,” a statement from the party said.

But SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has said he “cannot in good conscience” attend the White House’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations because of the US response to the Israel-Gaza war.

The party will instead send a delegation to Washington “to make the case for an end to violence”.

Mr Shaath said he remained hopeful that Sinn Féin would change its mind.

“By going to the White House you are just legitimising Joe Biden,” he said.

“The USA is complicit in genocide and it could stop it tomorrow if it wanted but as we saw with its veto of the UN resolution in December calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, it does not care about the people of Gaza.”

The father-of-three said he had lost some 42 members of his extended family since early October when Israel began its latest offensive in Gaza.

The dead include his father, who Mr Shaath said had died as a result of exposure to white phosphorus.

“My brothers and sisters have had to move at least three times since October and now they are in Rafah, where they are living at least 20 to a room,” he said.

“Even before Israel began bombing this so-called safe zone conditions there were horrendous, with no access to food or clean water.”

Mr Shaath, who addressed Saturday’s Gaels Against Genocide march in Belfast, said the Palestinian Authority “does not speak for a majority of Palestinians”.

“Israelis like the Palestinian Authority, which is just a tool of repression,” he said.

“Perhaps the Irish people don’t understand but the Palestinian Authority is like the Vichy regime in France that collaborated with the Nazis – Ireland didn’t support the Nazis so they should not the Palestinian Authority.”

Sinn Féin has been approached for comment.