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‘Watching Gaza from West Cork is extremely painful’

April 15th, 2024 2:30 PM

By Southern Star Team

‘Watching Gaza from West Cork is extremely painful’ Image
Protestors taking part in one of the weekly marches for Gaza which are held every weekend in Skibbereen, and in other towns in West Cork.(Photos: Andy Gibson)

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With West Cork’s protests against the war in Gaza gaining momentum every week, PEADAR KING meets one participant, German-born Jew Annie de Bhal, and asks her why these shows of support are so important

AMIDST all the flags and banners that now make up the weekly pro-Palestine demonstration that culminates at Skibbereen’s Maid of Erin, one stands out.

‘Never again, for anyone, anywhere’ hosted by the Jews for Palestine, Ireland. Standing proudly behind the banner is Annie de Bhal, a German-born Jewish woman now living in Skibbereen.

Curious as to how and why a now domiciled West Cork woman has come to be one of the leading figures of the weekly protest, we met one Monday morning over ‘flat white’ coffees and almond croissants (me only) in one of Skibbereen’s many eateries.

Curious as to what brought Annie to Ireland. Curious, too, as to her forthright views on the war on Gaza that has so enraged her and so many others.

First, West Cork.

A chance reading of Irisches Tagebuch or Irish Journal, described as ‘an eccentric tour of Ireland in the 1950s’ according to one reviewer, by German travel writer Heinrich Ball, caught her teenage imagination. Years later it brought her to Ireland. ‘I’ve never felt at home as I do here,’ Annie tells me.

Another chance teenage encounter, aged just thirteen, was with a history teacher in a German High School.

‘I had an exceptional history teacher who taught us about repressive regimes and social justice,’ she recalls.

Jasmine and Caitlin Brier from Bantry at the protest.


Her schooling stood in stark contrast to the values of her parents. ‘My family are very Zionist.’

Zionism, which she defines as a ‘colonialist settler ideology’ that dates back to the late 19th century. The brainchild of Theodore Herzl.

His dream (that long pre-dated the Holocaust) was a for Jewish state for a Jewish people, originally envisaged for Argentina, but he eventually settled on Israel, Palestinian land.

His plan was not at all dissimilar to Unionist James Craig’s dream of a Protestant state for a Protestant people in the North of Ireland.

De Bhal’s alignment with the Palestinian cause has fractured, beyond repair, her relationship with her birth family – for now at least.

‘Israel’s a racist, fascist state,’ she now believes. ‘One that mirrors 1930s Germany. I can say that because I am German and a Jew.’

It’s quite a claim, but she holds her ground.

Her argument is that Israel is currently engaged in ethnic cleansing. Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu wants to rid the country of all Palestinians. His far-right defence minister Yoav Galant, a staunch defender of illegal settlements, and finance minister Bezalel Smotrich, himself an illegal settler, are egging him on.

The desire to rid Palestine of all Palestinians dates back to 1948, with the establishment of the State of Israel.

The year Palestinians refer to as ‘the Nakba’ or ‘the Catastrophe’ when an estimated half of the 750,000 Palestinian population were violently driven from their homes and villages, now in exile in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. 

Over 500 Arab-majority towns and villages were depopulated and subsequently renamed reminiscent of the age-old plantation of Munster and – from the settler’s point of view – the more successful plantation of Ulster.

For Annie de Bhal, watching what’s unfolding in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, from the safety of West Cork is enormously painful.

‘That they (the Israelis) are doing this in my name is sickening. That’s what brings me and others out onto the streets of Skibbereen and brings tens of thousands of people across Ireland out onto the streets every week,’ she says.

De Bhal feels she has the support of the people of Skibbereen. Not all, of course. Some look on in puzzlement. ‘I’ve been marching since I was 13. I’m used to it.’

There are also many examples of support. People wave. Cars honk. And she is grateful for the support.

Acknowledging the small gestures the Irish government has taken, she wants to see a much more assertive approach, including the expulsion of Israeli ambassador Dana Erlich. On what the Irish people can do, she is equally clear. Speak out for the Palestinian people. Join the marches. Boycott Israeli goods. Support the BDS (boycott, disinvestment, and sanctions) campaign.

And on what is likely to happen?

‘We are witnessing another Nakba unfold. We are watching evil in action. It’s the 1930s all over again but this time it’s the Palestinians, Arabs and not the Jewish people who are in the firing line.’

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