Tom Kelly: As war rages in Gaza, it's time for politicians to take risks for peace

Tom Kelly

Tom Kelly

Tom Kelly is an Irish News columnist with a background in politics and public relations. He is also a former member of the Policing Board.

US President Bill Clinton presides over a handshake sealing the Oslo accords between Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO leader Yasser Arafat at the White House in 1993
US President Bill Clinton presides over a handshake sealing the Oslo accords between Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO leader Yasser Arafat at the White House in 1993

The late Cardinal Ó Fiaich was maligned by sections of the British and, indeed, Irish media. Unashamedly nationalist in outlook, 'Fr Tom' never gave succour to those who employed violence in pursuit of their political aims in Ireland.

Speaking after an atrocity which claimed innocent civilian lives, the Cardinal said: "The problems of our country cannot be solved by methods contrary to God's Law." These words could apply to most conflicts.

He then condemned paramilitaries over the targeting of civilians saying: "Let me therefore state in simple language, with all the authority I can command, that the participation in evil deeds, which includes murder, wounding, intimidation, kidnapping, destruction of property and other forms of violence, is a mortal sin and will one day have to be accounted for before God in judgement."

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Concluding, the late Cardinal said: "We all need an end to violent deeds before the population is engulfed in an orgy of death and destruction."

Listening recently to Dympna Kerr, sister of Columba McVeigh, one of the Disappeared, was heartbreaking. Forty-eight years on from his disappearance, the anguish is no less, the pain is still acute and yet, remarkably, hope perseveres.

Read more:The hope and sorrow of the search for the Disappeared of the Troubles

Those who robbed Columba's late mother of the ability to say goodbye are (if they are living) as callous and cold hearted now as they were when they spirited the 19-year-old away to a murderous end.

It's all too easy to forget the militant depravity of our recent past whilst pontificating on equally heinous acts in other parts of the world.

Cardinal Ó Fiaich's words still have resonance. He was a staunch critic of the British government throughout the 1980s, who had harsh words for the securocrats of the deep state, the RUC, Special Branch and the British Army. He proved it was possible with moral integrity to condemn both paramilitaries and the state for their violent and unlawful excesses.

The events unleashed in the Middle East seem to have polarised Irish and British opinions to the point were supporters of Palestinians and Israelis are blinkered to any perspective other than their own.

It's important to remember that Hamas doesn't speak for all Palestinians any more than Netanyahu and his right wing cronies speak for all Israelis.

No country could or would accept the wilful slaughter of 1,400 citizens or the abduction of 200 more as hostages. The right of defence is inalienable to every nation. That said, the circular nature of hostilities on this piece of contested scorched earth didn't happen in a vacuum.

Read more:Tom Kelly: Violence begets violence and grief in Middle East

Seventeen years of a blockade by Israel has done little to arrest the growth of Hamas. If anything, repressive measures by successive belligerent Israeli governments have only served to recruit more impressionable young Palestinians into the terrorist ranks.

Hamas is an intolerant fundamentalist organisation which brutally purged Gaza of the PLO once led by Yasser Arafat.

Israel is militarily much stronger than Palestine but terrorist organisations are more nimble and resilient. Hamas will worry little about the devastating impact on Palestinian citizens. They have said so in interviews.

Their bloody jihad is about obliterating Israel from the map. It's an unachievable objective – just as unachievable and unacceptable as is the Israeli objective to wipe out Hamas – even if this means destroying Gaza.

Israel is now pushing the boundaries of what is a proportionate response. There are nearly 10,000 dead Palestinians.

Before his assassination, prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who signed the Oslo peace accords, told a rally of 100,000 that he "always believed most people want peace and are prepared to take a risk for it".

Back then one of those who led a mock funeral accusing Rabin of being a traitor was a certain Benjamin Netanyahu. Spots and leopards come to mind.

In the pocket of the murdered politician was a blood stained copy of the Jewish melody Shir LaShalom – the song for peace. Israel and Palestine both need leaders willing to take risks for peace.