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Caterpillar Free Zones, Murals, and Flags: Palestinian Solidarity in Ireland

Matt Bowles
Date Published: 
August 01, 2005
    1969. The Bogside. Occupied County Derry, Ireland. Barricades are erected by the Bogside residents around their community to defend against violent police raids, loyalist attacks, and recently re-deployed British occupation forces. The area inside the barricades is declared “Free Derry,” a no-go area for police and British troops and a direct affront to the authority of the Stormont Parliament.

Free Derry challenged the sovereignty claims of the British government and their ability to occupy and control the six counties. Graffiti was scrawled on the gable wall of a House that read, “You Are Now Entering Free Derry.” That defining sign was later turned into a monument that would remain forever at the entrance to the Bogside. Other no-go areas would be created later on, and Free Derry would become one of the most significant icons of political resistance in the centuries old struggle against British colonialism. In 2005 the Free Derry sign was dedicated to Palestine, turning the community’s resistance monument into the Palestinian flag. Since the second intifada erupted, there has been a corresponding upsurge of visible solidarity in Ireland, particularly in the occupied six counties. This included the launch of the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) which has been organizing boycotts of Israeli goods, Israeli universities, and working to pressure the Irish Soccer Team to “Show Israeli Apartheid the Red Card” by boycotting matches against Israel. Caterpillar They have also been prominent participants in the international campaign against the Caterpillar Corporation, which supplies bulldozers to the Israeli government that are used to build illegal settlements and demolish civilian homes in Palestine. IPSC has been pressuring local city councils, starting with Limerick, to pass resolutions that make the local municipalities “Caterpillar Free Zones.” And in 2004, there was a hunger strike against Cement Roadstone Holdings, an Irish company that helps supply cement to Israel for the construction of the Apartheid Wall. There has also been a steady stream of Irish activists traveling to Palestine to participate in nonviolent direct action against Israeli Occupation Forces. Earlier this year crowds in the six counties cheered, and some even cried, when a Palestinian hip hop group from the Gaza Strip was able to get into Ireland to perform in Belfast and Derry in conjunction with a Palestinian art exhibit. West Belfast has been declaring an annual Palestine Day during their community festival – an entire day each year dedicated to Palestinian resistance and struggle. In Belfast, communities have historically marked their territory by political wall murals, painted curbstones, and the flying of their respective flags. The tricolor flag is traditionally flown in republican communities and the Union Jack flag in loyalist communities. But today Palestinian flags demarcate the entrance to the Falls Road – a historical stronghold for the republican movement – and Palestinian flags fly on lampposts all the way down the street, often waving right next to the Irish tricolor. One Struggle While the Palestinian flags on The Falls were put up in the aftermath of the Jenin massacre and other Israeli incursions into Palestinian territory, Irish solidarity with the Palestinian struggle goes back decades. The PLO helped to train Irish resistance fighters in their camps in Lebanon, and helped provide support for their struggle against the British Occupation. Irish solidarity murals back in the early 1980s showed an IRA fighter and a PLO fighter standing in front of their respective flags, holding one hand up clinching the same weapon, with the caption “One Struggle.” In the north of Ireland respect, admiration, and support for the Palestinian struggle is among the strongest anywhere in the world. But the logical solidarity between these two struggles, which is needed now more than ever, has been lost in much of the Diaspora population. Many Irish-Americans support the Irish struggle for self-determination but then buy into the dominant ideologies of Zionism and anti-Arab racism. American “whiteness” (ironically developed in the British and European colonial processes) has been a primary factor obfuscating the lines of political solidarity, disconnecting a colonized Irish people from a cohesive anti-colonial politic. As the “terrorism” label is expanded and the criminalization campaign against the republican movement in Ireland intensifies, these contradictions become even more visible. If there is anything positive to be gained from the sweeping viciousness of the global “war on terror,” it is the space being created to attempt a rekindling of solidarity among Irish and Palestinian Diaspora communities.