Saturday, November 28, 2020

Palestine’s Irish connection

By Marc Henry - August 27, 2018
Section: [Main News] [Features]

There is nearly 6,000 kilometres between Beit Sahour, east of Bethlehem and the town of Tralee in the Republic of Ireland, but the two towns have made a special connection. 

How do two midsize towns in two different parts of the world connect? In the case of Tralee and Beit Sahour, the idea came to Councillor Pa Daly of the Irish Sinn Fein political party after the killing of more than 60 Palestinians by Israeli occupation forces on Nakba Day. The next step was to get in contact with a Palestinian town. Here a local man in Tralee came to the rescue.
“He is in contact with some Palestinian groups, and he put us in touch with Nidal Abu Zuluf [Manager of the East Jerusalem YMCA] and the Mayor’s office in Beit Sahour,” Councillor Pa Daly told Palestine Monitor.
“Obviously, there are not a lot of Irish people living in Beit Sahour, but the population is 80 percent Christian, and it is a midsize town just like Tralee.”
More than just religion
Beit Sahour is known as the holy land, the place where the shepherds were the first to listen to the story of Jesus Christ’s birth. According to Nidal Abu Zuluf, manager of the Joint Advocacy Initiative of the East Jerusalem YMCA, which is based in Beit Sahour, the religious aspect might have played a role in the connection.
“Tralee looks at Beit Sahour as the little town of the Shepherds, and it might have some significance for them,” Abu Zuluf said.
But the twinning between the two towns is more than just religion. Mayor of Beit Sahour, Jihad Khair, sees great potential in the Irish connection.
“We are looking to build a strategic relationship between Beit Sahour and Tralee, and it will be a good possibility for us,” Mayor Khair told Palestine Monitor.
“We can exchange experiences regarding management, leadership and also experience between universities and health sectors. There is also the economic aspect of exchanging tourism so Irish people can come here, and we can send people to Tralee.”
And the mayor’s view is shared by Tralee Councillor Pa Daly, who looks forward to acknowledging the twinning between the two towns officially.
“We have been put in touch with each other, and we are preparing a memorandum of understanding and agreeing on our shared values. We are still in the early stages, but it should be completed by the end of the month,” Daly said.
According to mayor Jihad Khair, the twinning with Tralee is not only important for the leaders of the municipality, but also for the people of Beit Sahour.
“It has a lot of meaning because when you have many relations worldwide you are open to any cooperation and it can help our town to develop. It will open doors for the people to have relations with the Irish people,” he said.
A history of occupation
It is not only the prospect of close cooperation that Beit Sahour and Tralee have in common. As earlier mentioned, religion plays a significant role as well. However, Nidal Abu Zuluf explained that human issues come before the religious issues, but at the same time, it is important to look after the Christianity that is under pressure given the political conditions in Palestine.
“We as Christians [are] a part of the Palestinians, so who supports us is also supporting the Palestinian people,” Abu Zuluf said.
But Beit Sahour has more in common. While Beit Sahour suffers from the Israeli occupation, Tralee in the past has been under British occupation.
“100 years ago Tralee was under martial law and shut down. People were killed by British forces, so we recognise the suffering that Palestinians go through,” Councillor Pa Daly told Palestine Monitor.
Asked whether the twinning with Tralee is a signal of Irish acknowledgement of Palestine as a state, Pa Daly replied that it was not the primary motivation.
“But if you are asking me, I do support the recognition of a Palestinian state, and if this contributes to that, well then good.”
And the Irish connection to Palestine is something that touches the heart of Nidal Abu Zuluf. The YMCA manager explained that the support goes both ways, as Palestine has supported the Irish cause as well. According to Abu Zuluf, the Palestinians feel empowered by the Irish people and what they do for Palestine.
“They are one of the only countries that have done something for us. We need clear engagement and solidarity, and that is what Ireland gives us. We are fed up with countries promising beautiful things but never fulfil them,” he said.
While both mayor Jihad Khair and YMCA manager Nidal Abu Zuluf appreciate the twinning with Tralee, they hope it is only the first of many for Palestinian towns. Twinning with more Irish and European towns will add more attention to the conditions Palestinians live under, Abu Zuluf explained.

“The people in Palestine need to be free and live a dignified life in peace, with justice.”

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