22nd Oct 2020

Dublin at forefront of EU-Israel tension, as lone Irish ship sails for Gaza

  • Nobel laureate Mairead Maguire aboard the MV Rachel Corrie. Picture taken 29 October (Photo:

As an Irish ship carrying humanitarian aid continues to sail for Gaza, Ireland has found itself hurled to the forefront of tensions between Israel and the European Union.

On Wednesday (2 June), the Irish government warned Israel for a second time to let the boat, whose passengers count among their number five Irish nationals, including a former UN deputy secretary general and a Northern Irish Nobel peace prize laureate, carry on to its destination and deliver its cargo without hindrance.

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The Irish Taoiseach, or prime minister, Brian Cowen said that the ship, which he described as Irish-owned, should be allowed to complete its mission, telling the country's parliament that Dublin has been in close contact with the boat, the MV Rachel Corrie, named after an American university student and peace activist who was killed by an Israeli army bulldozer while attempting to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian home in 2003.

The boat, carrying cement, teaching materials and toys, had intended to take part in the flotilla that was attacked earlier this week but had been delayed by technical problems. It is due to arrive at Israel's exclusion zone sometime late Friday or early Saturday morning.

Foreign minister Micheal Martin told the Israeli ambassador to Ireland that the government expects the ship not to be touched so long as it is in international waters, saying Dublin would take diplomatic steps if Israel does not comply.

"We have continued to make it clear to the Israeli government ... that we want maximum restraint and we do not want any interception in international waters," he said. "It has been a terrible week in terms of the loss of life and there is now an obligation on all involved to reduce tensions."

"It is extremely important that we do not have a repeat of what happened earlier this week," he added.

Meanwhile, an Irish government minister attacked what he called the "incoherence" of the European Union's policy towards Israel.

John Gormley, the environment minister and leader of the Greens, the minority party in coalition with the governing centre-right Fianna Fail, said: "We don't have that coherent response at a foreign policy level. That's what's required and if we had that I think Israel would listen."

"But at the moment they can act with virtual impunity because of the incoherence at European level and because they continue to get not just outright support but tacit support as well from the US."

Speaking from the ship, the former UN senior official, Denis Halliday, also suggested the EU could go further, saying he would like to see the EU and the US support Dublin's demand that Israel allow the Rachel Corrie unmolested passage.

"We feel that, like the UN, the EU has failed the Palestinians and we feel that the EU could exert more pressure in terms of trade links, which the Israelis are very dependent on," he said.

Illustrating the division at the EU level, on the same day in New York, European states were on opposite sides of a decision to send a UN inquiry committee to the region.

The UN Human Rights Council, which has been attacked in the past by Israel for the membership of UN member countries with poor human rights records, passed a resolution dispatching an international committee of inquiry to investigate the attack on the Gaza flotilla. A total of 32 countries voted in favour of the inquiry, but Italy, which supports Israeli membership of the EU, and the Netherlands voted against. The sole EU member state to support the move was Slovenia, alongside non-EU European countries Norway and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Belgium, France, Hungary, Slovakia and the UK abstained, as did non-EU state Ukraine.

Also on Wednesday, members of the Irish parliament's foreign affairs committee criticised the Israeli ambassador to the country for a last-minute cancelling of an appearance before the body.

The chairman of the committee, Michael Woods, described the truancy as "almost without precedent" and "most disappointing."

Separately, according to Irish media reports, Mr Martin is planning to expel an Israeli diplomat from the country in relation to the fake passport scandal from earlier this year in which a mysterious death squad, widely believed to be composed of Israeli Mossad agents, employed fake Irish and other EU passports while on a mission to assassinate a Hamas leader in Dubai.

Mr Martin will hold off on the move for a few weeks however, waiting until the current dispute over the Gaza flotilla subsides.

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