Lessons from Eire

One of the most bitter and protracted conflicts in the latter half of the Twentieth-century finally appears to have run its course. The past five years in Northern Ireland have been a period of progress towards a peaceful and just resolution of the long, sordid history of anti-Catholic discrimination practiced by a Loyalist Protestant majority and its British overseer. But it has not been an easy path to peace, reconciliation, and justice. Northern Ireland’s peace process occasionally has been marred by episodic moments of sheer violent terror. Perhaps no two incidents stand out for their savage brutality than the Omagh car-bombing in August 1998 and the firebombing deaths of Richard, Mark and Jason Quinn — three boys born to a Catholic mother who were being raised as Protestants,

The British conduct in Northern Ireland was as ruthless as any colonial power. Checkpoints were used, and often IRA suspects were shot dead in staged shooting accidents that were later unveiled to have been SAS assassinations. Suspects often were shot in the back. Curfews were implemented. Collective punishment was practiced. The British used administrative detention, and IRA suspects were routinely tortured. The British set up the Protestant-Loyalist dominated Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) that had a relationship to the oppressed Catholic minority similar to the pre-Rodney King riot LAPD’s relationship to the African-American community. Recent declassified documents confirm long-standing IRA charges that the British operated death squads in the rural areas of Northern Ireland. British troops in the initial years of their deployment (1969-1972) often used live ammunition against Catholic demonstrators. And IRA suspects held in British prisons were subjected to appalling treatment. In other words, the British war against the IRA was an ugly affair.

Given this history, one would expect the British to cast blame on any and all Irish Republicans and Nationalists for any and all terrorist acts carried out by IRA splinter groups. Instead, we have witnessed a Britain that has demonstrated the political maturity and sophistication so sorely lacking in all the mainstream political sectors of Israeli society. We witness a British Army that displays professional discipline now so obviously eroding in the Israeli Army. And we witness a British polity patient enough to know that peace takes time, and that peace will have its enemies that will do all in their power to undermine progress. Perhaps the single greatest element in the case of Northern Ireland is that the British, the Loyalist Protestant leadership, and the Catholic Sinn Fein are sincerely committed to peace. There are no hidden agendas, i.e., settlements, “facts on the ground,” no “lobby” interjecting its paranoid worldview, no equivalent of Hollywood or American TV network studios and directors making endless movies about bygone persecutions (a new “Anne Frank” movie airs May 20 on ABC, oy vey!), and no sense of preferential status granted by the Great Realtor in the sky.

Pity the Palestinians that their occupiers today are not Cockney-accented Brits. A “Manchester Peace Accords” would have looked and felt like justice.

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