What the ‘Irish famine’ genocide teaches us about Palestine

Tony Gosling tony at cultureshop.org.uk
Thu Jan 17 01:52:04 GMT 2019

What the ‘Irish famine’ genocide teaches us about Palestine


Abarbanel on January 15, 2019 


BLACK 47 Official Irish and UK Trailer (2018)

James Frecheville in Black 47 plays an Irishman 
who fought for the British in Afghanistan only to 
return home and find his family shattered by the colonizer there.

A few evenings ago I watched the 2018 film, Black 
47. It tells of the Irish Famine through the 
story of one traumatized Irish returned soldier. 
The main character, Martin Feeney (played by the 
young Australian actor James Frecheville), 
returns to Ireland from India (another British 
colony) after fighting for the Empire, only to 
find the devastation brought on Ireland by the 
British colonizers, enforced by the very same army he fought for.

This film is painfully well made in every way and 
is not easy to watch, but watching it honors the 
memory of the victims and ensures we do not 
forget crimes against humanity. The film’s main 
story is fictional and so are the characters. But 
the context in which the story unfolds, the time 
and events of the Irish Famine, are devastatingly real.

One of the most important messages from this film 
is that big historical events that affect a lot 
of people are not some abstract thing that 
happens ‘out there’ that has nothing to do with 
us. Everything that happens to human beings is 
personal both to victims and perpetrators, albeit 
in different ways. For those looking at 
significant historical events from outside or 
from the distance of time, it can be too easy to 
perceive them in the abstract. In fact, the way 
history is written and taught makes it too easy 
for all of us to view things with detachment. 
This film warns us against that. It makes history personal.

The victims of the famine were people, human 
beings like us. We don’t have to know them 
personally to be able to put ourselves in their 
shoes. What would it be like to be so poor that 
you have nothing, to have no shoes, no warm 
clothes, to not be able to feed yourself and your 
children, to watch your children die of 
starvation? How frightening and how desperate 
would this be? We all know what it feels to be 
afraid. We all know what desperation feels like, 
even if we have never experienced the particular conditions the film shows.

What would it be like to be stripped to the bare 
bones of survival because of the deliberate and 
calculating actions of someone more powerful than 
you who views you with contempt because of who 
you are? What would it be like to be treated like 
you are piece of garbage, a nothing, by someone 
who is so much more powerful than you that he can 
do anything he wants to you? It isn’t that hard 
to imagine and right now this is life and reality 
for many people around the world, including the 
Palestinian people. There are degrees of 
suffering, yes, but in my profession, we do not 
compare suffering. Every human being’s suffering 
matters to them and those around them and it should matter to all of us.

The events between 1845 and 1849 that devastated 
Ireland are called the ‘Irish Famine’. This is a 
descriptive title, and yes there was a terrible 
famine. But such a title makes it sound like this 
was an unavoidable natural disaster, a force of 
nature, when it was anything but. The so-called 
‘Irish Famine’ was really a genocide committed 
with intent by the colonizing British Empire. It 
saw millions die of starvation, disease and 
exposure and millions leave Ireland never to return.

Britain took advantage of a natural disaster that 
caused a devastating failure of potato crops not 
only in Ireland but elsewhere in Europe to reduce 
the population of Ireland and break its 
resistance to British colonial rule. The potato 
blight that swept through Ireland left millions 
starving. The genocide saw the Brits ship food 
out of Ireland deliberately, while the local 
people were starving. Starving people were 
cold-heartedly evicted out of their dwellings 
into the harsh and cold countryside because they 
were too poor to pay rent to well-nourished 
English and English-sponsored landlords who stole 
and colonized Irish land and lived in comfort and 
warmth. Millions, entire families, were made 
homeless for no reason at all and no fault of 
their own. They were victims of the cruelty of 
the ruling classes of an Empire that wanted their 
land. They were thrown out with nothing, starving 
and barefoot like useless bits of rubbish with nothing to eat, and many died.

Britain felt contempt for the indigenous Irish. 
It chose not to see them as fellow human beings. 
Charles Trevelyan, the assistant secretary to the 
Treasury who was effectively in charge of Famine relief in Ireland said:

“The judgment of God sent the calamity to teach 
the Irish a lesson, that calamity must not be too 
much mitigated . . . the real evil with which we 
have to contend is not the physical evil of the 
Famine but the moral evil of the selfish, 
perverse and turbulent character of the people.” 
(From Tim Pat Coogan. *The Famine Plot: England’s 
Role in Ireland’s Greatest Tragedy*. 2013)

This quote does not need interpretation. It 
speaks for itself. Dehumanization is a common 
tactic all colonizers and settler-colonizers have 
been using throughout human history. All 
colonizers and genocidal regimes convince 
themselves (and all the bystanders out there) 
that they are not committing any crime, that in 
killing millions of their fellow human beings 
they are in fact doing something virtuous, 
essential and even godly. It is necessary to 
dehumanize victims so the job of harming, killing 
and displacing them is not only made easier but 
is in fact possible at all. Most people would not 
harm one another when they feel empathy and 
relate to each other’s experience. Colonizers do 
a good job convincing large sections of their own 
population and outsiders to turn off the empathy 
switch. They would not be able to carry out atrocities otherwise.

Britain managed to reduce the indigenous 
population of Ireland by half, and even after the 
worst of it was over, the population of Ireland 
kept declining. Britain did fail in the end. 
Ireland eventually freed itself from British 
colonialism in 1937, just under a century after 
the famine genocide. The entire journey however 
took hundreds of years of ongoing resistance to 
horrible cruelty, brutality, injustice, internal 
divisions fostered by the colonizers, a civil war 
and an unbelievable amount of suffering of an untold number of people.

Halving the population of a country that you 
colonize is one effective way to try to prevent 
resistance. The British ruling classes wanted 
Ireland not for natural resources but for 
strategic advantage. But regardless of the 
reasons that might lead one group of people to 
invade the land of another, colonizers and 
settler-colonizers are always abusive and 
parasitical opportunists. They invade, they take 
over, they turn people against one another, they 
suck the land and its population dry, they steal 
from and discard the host, or at least try to.

We see one such case unfolding in Palestine right 
in front of our noses and no one is doing 
anything about it. Most of the world looks on as 
it always has done. It views what is being done 
to the Palestinians either with the indifference 
of detachment, or with contempt toward the 
victims fueled by the choice to believe the 
perpetrators’ (predictable) dehumanizing 
propaganda. The perpetrator, the exclusively 
Jewish state of Israel created by the Zionist 
movement – itself a product of the colonialist 
mindset of 19th Century Europe – is still, 
incredibly, perceived as legitimate rather than 
as the crime that it is. It is as if we have 
learned absolutely nothing from history.

It took this long for such a painful, 
uncompromising and realistic film to be made 
about one of the many crimes of British 
colonialism in Ireland. I wonder when someone 
will finally make a film like this about the Nakba.

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'From South America, where payment must be made 
with subtlety, the Bormann organization has made 
a substantial contribution. It has drawn many of 
the brightest Jewish businessmen into a 
participatory role in the development of many of 
its corporations, and many of these Jews share 
their prosperity most generously with Israel. If 
their proposals are sound, they are even provided 
with a specially dispensed venture capital fund. 
I spoke with one Jewish businessmen in Hartford, 
Connecticut. He had arrived there quite unknown 
several years before our conversation, but with 
Bormann money as his leverage. Today he is more 
than a millionaire, a quiet leader in the 
community with a certain share of his profits 
earmarked as always for his venture capital 
benefactors. This has taken place in many other 
instances across America and demonstrates how 
Bormann’s people operate in the contemporary 
commercial world, in contrast to the fanciful 
nonsense with which Nazis are described in so much “literature.”

So much emphasis is placed on select Jewish 
participation in Bormann companies that when 
Adolf Eichmann was seized and taken to Tel Aviv 
to stand trial, it produced a shock wave in the 
Jewish and German communities of Buenos Aires. 
Jewish leaders informed the Israeli authorities 
in no uncertain terms that this must never happen 
again because a repetition would permanently 
rupture relations with the Germans of Latin 
America, as well as with the Bormann 
organization, and cut off the flow of Jewish 
money to Israel. It never happened again, and the 
pursuit of Bormann quieted down at the request of 
these Jewish leaders. He is residing in an 
Argentinian safe haven, protected by the most 
efficient German infrastructure in history as 
well as by all those whose prosperity depends on his well-being.'


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