Posts By Conor McCarthy


Cutting the Grass in Gaza


This article originally appeared on Conor McCarthy’s blog Reflections From a Damaged Life on the 22nd of July.

The current Israeli offensive against the Gaza Strip recalls earlier interventions over the last several years, going back to Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009.  As this blog has noted before, amidst the welter of reportage and high-octane verbiage brought forth in the media about these events, perhaps the most important thing for us observing, and protesting, from afar is to maintain a sense of the ‘bigger picture’.

As this blog has noted previously, Gaza is a place where violence – the hidden violence embodied and crystalised in the historical and present structures of states and interstate relations, as well as the obvious violence of war and counter-terrorism – over-determines the situation as we witness it now.

Let’s repeat a few simple facts:

  1. Gaza is the most densely populated region on the planet, with 1.7 million inhabitants. The overwhelming majority of these people are either refugees or the children or grandchildren of refugees – the human detritus of phases of Israeli ethnic cleansing both in 1947-49 and in 1967.  The great majority of the population is poor, and unemployment is extremely high, with approximately 60% of the population directly dependent on UNRWA for assistance and food;
  2. Gaza has never been a sovereign political entity or part of one – it has no army, no formal state apparatus, and it is technically, in spite of Israel’s pull-out of its settlers in 2005, under Israeli occupation.  This means that Israel has a duty of care to the Strip and its inhabitants;
  3. Gaza has historically been the locus of various kinds of Israeli violence: not merely ethnic cleansing, but also land confiscation, illegal colonial settlement, and population transfer; punitive raids into the Strip are not new – the Israeli raid of 1955 stands out.  And so amidst our horror at the current savagery meted out to the Strip, we must remember that it is routinely subjected to Israeli internventions, air-raids and killings;
  4. Gaza has been subject to an Israeli blockade since 2007, which seeks to control all movement not only of alleged Iranian or Syrian weapons supplies to Hamas, but also of food, fuel, medical supplies, and other essentials of even the most basic civil life, and it is surrounded on its Israeli borders by a ‘fence’, which has served as the prototype for the much better-known West Bank ‘security’ wall.

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Ireland and the Enclosure of the Commons

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This article was originally published on Conor McCarthy's blog, Reflections from Damaged Life on the 6th of April.

Last January I climbed Djouce Mountain, in Co. Wicklow, with my old friend and comrade Andrew. We went up by the Barr and White Hill, and on to Djouce summit. It was a beautiful day of hard frost, and the hills retained a dusting of snow. It's a magnificent, easy hike. Cresting the Barr, where we passed the memorial to JB Malone, the view down to Lough Tay and Luggala, over to Fancy and Knocknaclohoge, and beyond to Lough Dan and Scarr, was superb. Snows fringed the rim of the great cliffs above the lake, backed by pale azure skies. Every blade of grass bore its own banner of hoarfrost.

The walk is deceptively easy, as much of it is now 'boardwalked'. By this I mean that the path had been becoming severely eroded, and some combination of agencies – the Wicklow National Park, perhaps, and Coillte, and Mountain Meitheal – came together to lay a pathway over the soft heather and bog, made of old CIE railway sleepers bound together, and laid in pairs end to end, in steps or stretching out over the moors. For once, a decent and environmentally-sound intrusion has been made into the over-pressured Wicklow hills.

But a much bigger problem is in the making, and has been for some time. Andrew and I parked the car at the entrance and carpark of a state forest on the east side of the Sally Gap-Luggala road, a Coillte forest that drapes the southern flanks of Djouce and White Hill. These forests, which litter Wicklow, and are present all over Ireland, are mostly composed of fast-growing lodgepole pine and sitka spruce and other unprepossessing conifers, that can cope with rugged or boggy or otherwise marginal land. They are planted very densely, and in ugly boxed formations that lap up the mountainsides. They are planted so closely, in fact, that in the resultant darkness there is no undergrowth, and much the ground beneath them becomes sterile. Very little wildlife can survive in these forests once they are mature, though some species like the plantations when the trees are young. The pine needles and other detritus from these trees, which are grown mostly for pulp, not for quality timber, cause acidification of the soils, such as they are. When Coillte decides to fell a certain crop of trees, the procedures used are extraordinarily destructive and ugly. 'Clearfelling' involves simply smashing down all the trees in a designated area. They may be felled by axe and chainsaw, or they may be pulled down by some kind of pulley machinery. Either way, the result is a blasted landscape of grey deadwood, resembling some dismal blend of Flanders in 1916 and Tunguska in 1908.

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