Pro-Palestinian feeling in Ireland has deep roots

<span>Peacekeepers of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil) patrol near the southern border with Israel, 2023.</span><span>Photograph: Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Peacekeepers of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil) patrol near the southern border with Israel, 2023.Photograph: Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images

Re your article (How Spain and Ireland became the EU’s sharpest critics of Israel, 5 April), I fear you may have omitted one of the principal reasons why not only Ireland, but also the Netherlands, have come to have such sympathy for the Palestinians: the presence of the Irish and Dutch battalions in Unifil, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon. In the late 1970s, at a time when public opinion in both Ireland and the Netherlands was overwhelmingly pro-Israeli, the direct exposure of both Irish and Dutch troops on the ground in south Lebanon to Israeli actions and attitudes prompted the soldiers to have very different views regarding Israel.

I estimate that close to 30,000 individuals have now served with Irishbatt (Ireland’s blue berets) in south Lebanon, with many of them directly experiencing varying degrees of difficulty regarding Israeli actions. In the days when Irishbatt’s principal concern was tension between Israeli forces to the south of the Irishbatt positions in and around Tibnin and Palestinian fighters to the north (whereas now it is helping cool tensions between Israel and Hezbollah), I well remember when I was reporting from south Lebanon, one battalion commandant telling me: “We came here to face north, but we find ourselves facing south.”

That was in 1978. At the time, an Israeli official, after spotting some soldiers digging a military emplacement in the sweltering heat, dismissed the Irish troops as “half-naked savages”. Perhaps the Irish troops, their families, their friends and also their political masters have not forgotten the insult.
John Roberts
Jedburgh, Scottish Borders