Gaza: what lessons from Northern Ireland?

Pundits are swopping versions of how the lessons of Northern Ireland conflict resolution might be applied to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Steven King – one-time advisor to David Trimble – gives his analysis in the Irish Examiner, suggesting that the Palestinians blew their chance for peace back in 2005 and that IDF attacks may now be required "to inject some realism into Hamas, just as the British and Irish security forces did to the IRA".

Over at OurKingdom, Tom Griffin thinks King has missed some of the key lessons of Northern Ireland, the relative killing power (and willingness to kill indiscriminately) of the forces facing one another being just one of the differences:

"According to the authoritative Lost Lives, the British and Irish security forces killed 365 people in the course of the Troubles, 9.9 per cent of the total. The IRA and other republican groups killed 2158 people, 58. 3 per cent of the total. Loyalists were responsible for the other 29.7 per cent, killing 1099 people.

There will probably never be such detailed figures for the current conflict in Gaza, but the latest reports suggest that 715 Palestinians have been killed in Operation Cast Lead, many of them civilians. 11 Israelis have been killed, of whom three were civilians.

Prior to the latest fighting, the Guardian reports that 20 Israelis had been killed by Gazan rockets in the past eight years, while 22 Gazans were killed by Israel during last year's ceasefire alone.

Far from being comparable with the British and Irish security forces, the level of killings by the Israeli Defence Forces has been even more disproportionate than that of the IRA."

Griffin suggests that both sides are missing the chance for peace and draws parallels with the failed back channel contacts of 1978 in Northern Ireland.

These were recently revealed in state papers released in line with the thirty-year rule and, intriguingly, involved then-Secretary General of Amnesty International, Martin Ennals. At that time there was, it seems, an unwillingness to talk peace here and Northern Ireland staggered on under another 16 years of violence until the ceasefires of mid-1994 (and staggered even further after that). 

What is clear from Northern Ireland's recent history is that grave human rights violations creates a cycle of injustice not justice, insecurity not security, and it is only when parties to conflict are willing to place human rights and equality of treatment at the heart of a peace and security deal that longer-term solutions for all can be secured.

In Northern Ireland, despite our difficulties, we hope that we are firmly on that journey. For the long-suffering people of Gaza and their neighbours across the Israeli border, the ongoing bloodshed means few can even find the signs which might lead them to the beginning of the road.

For now, an immediate and comprehensive truce is an absolute necessity. Take action here to help.

And, if you're in Northern Ireland, join other Amnesty supporters this Saturday in Belfast for the Irish Congress of Trade Unions-organised march and rally for peace in Gaza. We're meeting between 12:30 -12:45pm outside St Anne's Cathedral.

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