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The Grass is Not Always Greener on the Other Side

By Harriet Straughen

1-1palestinian-children-.jpg

April 1, 2011

The other day I was checking through the morning headlines and came across a particular story that both saddened and disturbed me. A young girl of 12 had been walking through the sun, on her way to pray with her friends. As had become routine for the people in her village, she and her friends had to walk past an army patrol set up by the occupying forces. Nearby her father was cutting the grass and tidying up. Moments later, he heard shots ringing out. As he ran round the corner, the soldiers at the checkpoint had shouted abuse, jibing: "What do you think you are doing? You're only the grass-cutter." At the tragic scene, he found his daughter dying on the ground having been shot twice in the back.

In the trial that followed, the soldier who pulled the trigger was eventually acquitted due to his story that he had been reacting to a sniper attack. There was no independent evidence to support this.

The little girl who died was Majella O’Hare and the year was 1976. The story comes from Northern Ireland and the soldier who shot her was a young British private. It is only now, 35 years later, that the British government has issued an apology to her mother.

An uncomfortable realization occurred after reading this story. Even though I was aware of the history of the Northern Ireland conflict and the unacceptable behavior of the British military during their occupation of the area, it had never really penetrated my consciousness. Such was my ignorance that up until now I had been unaware that the British had established checkpoints in Northern Ireland. It is perhaps significant that I read this story while in the West Bank. The similarities between the two situations and the connection that I made may never have occurred to me had I not been witness to the other side of the conflict. While British, and particularly English, history tells the story from the perspective of the occupier, here I am privy to the life of the occupied.

It is a tough pill to swallow to acknowledge that those in my parents’ generation may have felt similarly towards Northern Ireland and the threat of "terrorism" as many Israelis feel towards Palestinians today. My mother and father lived in London at the time of the IRA bombs and I’m sure it is safe to say that the majority of the British public felt it was justifiable and even necessary to maintain a military presence in Northern Ireland without really knowing what that meant for the civilians.

This has got me to think about how the British people, particularly the older generations, feel towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is not hard to imagine that those who witnessed armed attacks by the IRA and who, at the time, were concerned for their safety and security, may feel somewhat sympathetic to the Israeli point of view. After all, many in Britain have only been on the occupier side of the fence. As with all people, you are more likely to understand and agree with something to which you can relate.

From what I can tell, the general British public was not, and is not, aware of the full horror of occupation in Northern Ireland and, in the same token, Palestine. It is only through shocking stories such as that of Majella O’Hare that people are awoken to what is really going on 'on the other side’ of the fence. It is Majella’s story that, for the first time, has brought the reality of the Northern Irish conflict home to me.

Through this uncomfortable realization, the determination to ensure such stories are told is intensified. As more and more people become aware of the terrible and often tragic circumstances that arise from military occupation, the more likely they are to see it from all sides, not just the one they personally relate to. It is not only about Northern Ireland or Palestine but about children and innocent civilians suffering for the 'security’ of a powerful nation. Whether it is Majella’s story from over 30 years ago, or the equally disturbing stories coming out of Palestine today, it is only through information and understanding that people can start to change perceptions and begin to influence those who make the decisions and put an end to such tragedy.

Harriet Straughen is a Writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at mid@miftah.org.


:: Article nr. 76461 sent on 02-apr-2011 13:49 ECT

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