Tánaiste Micheál Martin

EDITORIAL: On Familiar Ground

Tánaiste Micheál Martin is due to visit the strife-torn Middle East this week.

He knows the ground well.

Back in 2009, as Minister for Foreign Affairs (a post he again holds along with defense) he was denied access to the Gaza Strip, then under an Israeli blockade.

He made it into Gaza a year later - on a one-day humanitarian mission through the Egyptian border.

In doing so, according to his Wikipedia entry, Martin became the first western foreign minister to visit Gaza since Hamas took control in 2007. While in Gaza, Martin toured hospitals and schools. 

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"I would appeal to the Israeli government and all concerned to lift this blockade," he said at the time.

Thirteen years later and a blockade is the least of anyone's worries - unless we are talking about blocking humanitarian aid, or blocking civilian escape from what is now a bloody war zone.

Of the present fighting Martin said in recent days: “We need a humanitarian ceasefire, and we need it urgently to alleviate the situation for ordinary Gazans within Gaza itself, and to get humanitarian aid in at the scale that is simply required and of course, vitally, medical supplies.”

Mr. Martin, according to reports, called on Hamas to release hostages and said he was due to meet the family of eight-year-old Irish citizen Emily Hand, who is thought to be held captive by Hamas.

And so now, back to familiar ground in a grimly familiar context.

Mr. Martin is to travel to Egypt, Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.

According to the Irish Times he will also meet Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Secretary General of the Arab League Aboul Gheit.

In Israel, Martin will meet Foreign Minister Eli Cohen. He has indicated that he hopes to visit the south of the country and the communities affected by the October 7th attacks. He will also meet the Palestinian Foreign Minister Malki, and also hopes to see Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Mr. Martin will hear much during these meetings. The Corkman is generally viewed as being a decent, empathetic man. Like President Biden he knows how it feels to lose loved ones far too soon in life; in Mr. Martin's case two of his five children.

And now he returns to a part of the world where far too many parents are losing far too many children.

Yes, Mr. Martin will hear much. Those meeting him would do well, in turn, to listen closely to their Irish visitor.