Former UN Assistant Secretary General Denis Halliday said it was imperative that the Obama administration supported Ireland’s call on the Israeli authorities to ensure safe passage for the Irish-flagged Rachel Corrie to carry humanitarian aid to Gaza, the Irish Times reports. Speaking by satellite phone from on board the Rachel Corrie, Halliday called on Irish-Americans to lobby the Obama Administration: “We also feel there is a role for the Irish diaspora here, in the US and elsewhere to lobby politicians over this continued illegal blockade of Gaza, which is causing such hardship to the Palestinian people.”
Halliday has some experience with this issue, having resigned from his position as UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq in 1998 over the impact of UN/US sanctions on Iraqi civilians.
The issue of the Gaza blockade has tremendous resonance in Ireland, partly because of Ireland’s high degree of engagement in international humanitarian causes — John Ging, head of the UN Relief and Works Agency in Gaza, who had called on the international community to break the siege by sending ships loaded with aid, is also Irish — but also, of course, because the Irish people have some experience with the consequences for civilians of a colonial blockade.
Between 1845 and 1850, more than a million Irish people starved to death under British rule, while, as Sinéad O’Connor famously noted, food was shipped out of Ireland under armed guard. A million more fled Ireland to escape starvation, many to America, including Falmouth Kearney, President Obama’s great great great grandfather. Many Irish people — and Irish-Americans — take the responsibilities of this legacy very seriously.
Mary Robinson — former President of Ireland, and former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights — has said:
The best possible commemoration of the men and women who died in that Famine, who were cast up on other shores because of it, is to take their dispossession into the present with us, to help others who now suffer in a similar way.
That’s what Denis Halliday is trying to do. Doesn’t he deserve all our support?
Robert Naiman is National Coordinator of Just Foreign Policy. Naiman also edits the daily Just Foreign Policy news summary and blogs at the Web site of Just Foreign Policy. This article was first published in the Just Foreign Policy blog on 3 June 2010; it is reproduced here for non-profit educational purposes.