WE HAVE CHANGED
Derry Friends of Palestine was formed in 2008/9 during Cast Lead. In March 2012 the group expanded in order to accommodate people who wished to work with us outside of Derry and we became an “All Ireland” organisation called “Irish Friends of Palestine.” We are working to create cultural and humanitarian links, between “like” groups in Ireland and Gaza. We organise “Freedom & Friendship” delegations to Gaza on an annual basis, usually twice per year.
Our group aims to both create and fund projects or events in Ireland or Palestine, which will help the people of Palestine through either raising awareness of certain issues, making cultural links or humanitarian aid and assistance. We believe the people of Ireland can make a difference in the lives of people in Gaza.
Internationally we work very hard to spread the word of the plight and the suffering of Palestinians under occupation and the illegal siege and welcome associations with other worldwide groups. We do this by working with our own contacts inside Palestine, or by associating with other international groups.
The work contained on this site will remain here for reference.
Please visit us now at www.irishfriendsofpalesitne.org and bookmark us there.
13 Irish men and women from Belfast, Derry, Waterford and Kilkenny, will travel on the 2nd Freedom & Friendship Delegation to Gaza. Irish Friends of Palestine will be fulfilling our promises made during the 1st Delegation in March 2012 and we are returning with 6 Fishermen who will meet with Gazan fishermen and also with the Ministry of Agriculture to discuss the brutal conditions the fishermen operate under. We also have Teachers and Youth Workers on the delegation who will meet with the Ministry of Education and various schools and NGO’s to arrange work and links between Gaza and Ireland. We will be re-launching LINK FOR LEARNING our successful School Twinning program upon return to Ireland this autumn. For more about our program go HERE. You can follow our delegation by joining our Facebook page HERE
We currently have 3 projects we are working on for this trip. We need your help and support:
1. Ibrahim’s Dream CLICK HERE
2. Basma “SMILE” Center CLICK HERE
3. Crafting for Gaza Kids CLICK HERE
As part of the National Hungerstrike Commemoration 2012 Derry Friends of Palestine was invited to travel to Dungiven to deliver a talk and discussion on Palestine. The discussion was facilitated and chaired by Cathal Og Donnelly from the Sinn Féin – Republican Youth Committee. The talk covered the recent political situation, the EU trade agreement with israel, possible roles for Ireland, and of course on the heels of our successful Prisoners Conference in May, the event ended with a discussion of Palestinian prisoner issues. A special report on Fishermen in Gaza from our friend Jenny Graham in Gaza was read out. It covered the international work being done to help the fisherman. Jenny painted a dire and dangerous situation facing these fisherman as they come up against the israeli Navy on a frequent basis. Their boats are targetted, and at times their lives are lost, simply trying to make their living as fishermen. Big thanks to Jenny for keeping us updated. You can read Jenny’s report here.
Cathal Og Donnelly was recently in Gaza as part of the Irish Friends of Palestine Freedom and Friendship Student Delegation March/April 2012. Cathal discribed the harsh situation he witnessed in Gaza and told the story of a small boy who was walking to school with his little brother when an israeli missle struck and killed his young brother as he watched in horror. Cathal spoke of how the Delegation visited the boy’s school and witnessed the destruction of the apartment building next door near where the child had been murdered.
Gerry Maclochlainn gave an update on the current political situation in Palestine which covered the EU trade agreement with israel, what roles if any Ireland can play in helping the Palestinians move forward. He ended with a discussion onthe current Palesitnian hungerstrike and prisoners issues and abuses being suffered within the israeli prisons including human rights abuses, torture and internment.
The audience then heard a recorded message from a former Palestinian prisoner in Gaza who was recently released as part of the Gilad Shalit negotiated deal between israel and Hamas. The agreement saw hundreds of Palestinian prisoners released, many of whom had been held for years and never having been charged with any crime. This is an illegal practice called “Administrative Detention” better known to us in Ireland as “Internment.”
Ahmed Taha originallly spoke at the “Dying to Live” prisoners conference we held in association with our partners UFree. Abu Taha told the audience of the harsh conditions for prisoners in israeli gaols, and he delivered a heartfelt speech of solidarity and between Ireland and Palestine wiht quotes from Bobby Sands.
The meeting closed with a brief update from the Chair of Irish Friends of Palestine on the upcoming 2nd “Freedom and Friendship Delegation” to Gaza which covered how people can help and get involved with Irish Friends of Palestine.
Please enjoy more photos of the event:
As you watch your favorite teams playing in the Euro2012 games, can you please give thought to 25 year old Mahmoud Sarsak, a skillful footballer who once played for the Palestinian National team. He urgently needs your support as he now faces death at the hands of the oppressive Israeli regime.
Mahmoud Sarsak has been held on Administrative Detention (internment) for 3 years, wihtout charge and without trail. He has been convicted of NO crime! He was on his way to play a game in the West Bank of Palestine 3 years ago he was arrested at a checkpoint and has been illegally held ever since that day. He is now reaching his 92nd day of hunger strike- the longest hunger strike undergone by a Palestinian Political prisoner. Due to the prolonged suffering to his body and immune system his health is deteriorating rapidly and his condition is now more critical than ever.
UFree Palestinian Prisoners Association and Irish Friends of Palestine urge you to support his Mahmoud Sarsak’s case immediately!
Israel should be subjected to the same criticism faced by Poland and Ukraine, who are hosting Euro 2012. It is time to end Israel’s impunity and to insist on the same standards of equality, justice and respect for international law that we demand of other states.
UFree Palestinian Prisoners Organisation urge you to take the following actions so Sarsak’s life can be saved:
1. Highlight Sarsaks case by contacting parliamentarians and Israeli embassies across the world and subject Israel to the same criticism faced by Poland and Ukraine, who are hosting Euro 2012.
2. To urge FIFA to intervene in the case, expressing grave concern regarding Sarsak’s deteriorating health. http://www.fifa.com/contact/form.html
I urge your support as we call an end to Israel’s impunity and to insist on the same standards of equality, justice and respect for international law that we demand of other states.
You can copy and send the letter below to your local MP’s and MEP’s, you can contact the Israeli embassy in your country and demand Sarsak be charged or set free!
Re: Palestinian prisoner Mahmoud Sarsak deteriorating health
As the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship grips the nation I draw your attention to the plight of Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Sarsak. Once a star player in the Palestinian national team, Sarsak was jailed by Israel in 2009, as he left the Gaza Strip en route to a match. He has since been held without charge or trial. Sarsak had been on a hunger strike since 19 March 2012, after his administrative detention was once again renewed for an astonishing sixth time.
His health condition is now critical and deteriorating fast. Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-Israel) have said that Sarsak could die at any time. Israel has not allowed the charity to visit him in Ramle Prison until last week. Sarsak has experienced extreme loss of muscle tissue and drastic weight loss. He frequently loses consciousness and suffers memory lapses.
On Sunday 6th of June, Israeli Prisons Service (IPS) transferred Sarsak to Assaf Harofeh hospital because of his rapid deteriorating health. This transfer was due to the inability of both Al Ramla prison hospital and Mair civil hospital to treat Sarsak’s critical health condition.
Sarsak has been interned without trial or charge for 3 years under the infamous “Unlawful Combatants Law”, which allows Israeli authorities to detain Palestinians from Gaza for an unlimited time without trial or charge.
I ask you to please call on Israel to either charge him or release him now!
A letter from Thaer Halahleh, on day 75 of hunger strike against his detention without charge, to his two-year-old daughter Lamar, who he has never seen.
“My Beloved Lamar, forgive me because the occupation took me away from you, and took away from me the pleasure of witnessing my first born child that I have always prayed to God to see, to kiss, to be happy with. It is not your fault, this is our destiny as Palestinian people to have our lives and the lives of our children taken away from us, to be apart from each other and to have a miserable life, nothing is complete in our lives because of this unjust occupation that is lurking on every corner of our lives turning it into eeriness, a continuous pursuit and torture.
Despite that I was deprived from holding you and hearing your voice, from watching you grow up and move around in the house and in your be, and that I was deprived of my rule as a human and a father with my daughter your existence has given me all the power and hope, and when I saw your picture with your mother in the sit-in tent, you were so calm staring in wonder at people, as if you were looking for your father, looking at my pictures that are hung inside the tent asking in silence why is my father not coming back, I felt that you are with me, in my sentiment and inside my mind, as if you are a part of my heartbeats, steadfast and the blood that flows in my veins, opening all doors for me spreading clear skies around me, and unleashing your free childish voice after this long silence”.
“Lamar my love: I know that you are not to be blamed and that you don’t yet understand why your father is going through this battle of the hunger strike for the 75th day, but when you grow up you will understand that the battle of freedom is the battle of going back to you, so that I can never be taken away from you again or to be deprived of your smile or seeing you, so that the occupier will never kidnap me again from you”.
“When you grow up you will understand how injustice was brought upon your father and upon thousands of Palestinians whom the occupation has put in prisons and jail cells, shattering their lives and future for no guilt but their pursuit of freedom, dignity and independence, you will know that your father did not tolerate injustice and submission, that he will never accept insult and compromise, and that he is going through a hunger strike to protest against the Jewish state that wants to turn us into humiliated slaves without any rights or patriotic dignity”.
“My beloved Lamar keep your head up always and be proud of your father, and thank everyone who supported me, who supported the prisoners in their struggle, and don’t be afraid god is with us always, and god never lets people who have faith and patience, we are righteous, and right will always prevail against injustice and wrong doers”.
“Lamar my love: that day will come, and I will make it up to you for everything, and tell you the whole story, and your days that will follow will be more beautiful, so let your days pass now and wear your prettiest clothes, run and then run again in the gardens of your long life, go forward and forward nothing is behind you but the past, and this is your voice I hear all the time as a melody of freedom”.
taken from the Middle East Institute for Understanding HERE
Today is Palestinian Prisoners day, Khader Adnan gains his freedom today. But as we rejoice in his freedom , lest we forget those still imprisoned. So when we take part in solidarity events across the world in today in support of the Palestinian prisoners, it is important to point out that there are hundreds of child prisoners being subjected to inhumane treatment and administrative detention.
with fearful trill
of the things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill for the caged bird
sings of freedom
a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing”
~Poem by Maya Angelou
Here is the story of a few of those child prisoners.
The room is barely wider than the thin, dirty mattress that covers the floor. Behind a low concrete wall is a squat toilet, the stench from which has no escape in the windowless room. The rough concrete walls deter idle leaning; the constant overhead light inhibits sleep. The delivery of food through a low slit in the door is the only way of marking time, dividing day from night.
This is Cell 36, deep within Al Jalame prison in northern Israel. It is one of a handful of cells where Palestinian children are locked in solitary confinement for days or even weeks. One 16-year-old claimed that he had been kept in Cell 36 for 65 days.
The only escape is to the interrogation room where children are shackled, by hands and feet, to a chair while being questioned, sometimes for hours.
Most are accused of throwing stones at soldiers or settlers; some, of flinging molotov cocktails; a few, of more serious offences such as links to militant organisations or using weapons. They are also pumped for information about the activities and sympathies of their classmates, relatives and neighbours.
At the beginning, nearly all deny the accusations. Most say they are threatened; some report physical violence. Verbal abuse – “You’re a dog, a son of a whore” – is common. Many are exhausted from sleep deprivation. Day after day they are fettered to the chair, then returned to solitary confinement. In the end, many sign confessions that they later say were coerced.
These claims and descriptions come from affidavits given by minors to an international human rights organisation and from interviews conducted by the Guardian. Other cells in Al Jalame and Petah Tikva prisons are also used for solitary confinement, but Cell 36 is the one cited most often in these testimonies.
Between 500 and 700 Palestinian children are arrested by Israeli soldiers each year, mostly accused of throwing stones. Since 2008, Defence for Children International (DCI) has collected sworn testimonies from 426 minors detained in Israel’s military justice system.
Their statements show a pattern of night-time arrests, hands bound with plastic ties, blindfolding, physical and verbal abuse, and threats. About 9% of all those giving affidavits say they were kept in solitary confinement, although there has been a marked increase to 22% in the past six months.
Few parents are told where their children have been taken. Minors are rarely questioned in the presence of a parent, and rarely see a lawyer before or during initial interrogation. Most are detained inside Israel, making family visits very difficult.
Human rights organisations say these patterns of treatment – which are corroborated by a separate study, No Minor Matter, conducted by an Israeli group, B’Tselem – violate the international convention on the rights of the child, which Israel has ratified, and the fourth Geneva convention.
Most children maintain they are innocent of the crimes of which they are accused, despite confessions and guilty pleas, said Gerard Horton of DCI. But, he added, guilt or innocence was not an issue with regard to their treatment.
“We’re not saying offences aren’t committed – we’re saying children have legal rights. Regardless of what they’re accused of, they should not be arrested in the middle of the night in terrifying raids, they should not be painfully tied up and blindfolded sometimes for hours on end, they should be informed of the right to silence and they should be entitled to have a parent present during questioning.”
Mohammad Shabrawi from the West Bank town of Tulkarm was arrested last January, aged 16, at about 2.30am. “Four soldiers entered my bedroom and said you must come with us. They didn’t say why, they didn’t tell me or my parents anything,” he told the Guardian.
Handcuffed with a plastic tie and blindfolded, he thinks he was first taken to an Israeli settlement, where he was made to kneel – still cuffed and blindfolded – for an hour on an asphalt road in the freezing dead of night. A second journey ended at about 8am at Al Jalame detention centre, also known as Kishon prison, amid fields close to the Nazareth to Haifa road.
After a routine medical check, Shabrawi was taken to Cell 36. He spent 17 days in solitary, apart from interrogations, there and in a similar cell, No 37, he said. “I was lonely, frightened all the time and I needed someone to talk with. I was choked from being alone. I was desperate to meet anyone, speak to anyone … I was so bored that when I was out [of the cell] and saw the police, they were talking in Hebrew and I don’t speak Hebrew, but I was nodding as though I understood. I was desperate to speak.”
During interrogation, he was shackled. “They cursed me and threatened to arrest my family if I didn’t confess,” he said. He first saw a lawyer 20 days after his arrest, he said, and was charged after 25 days. “They accused me of many things,” he said, adding that none of them were true.
Eventually Shabrawi confessed to membership of a banned organisation and was sentenced to 45 days. Since his release, he said, he was “now afraid of the army, afraid of being arrested.” His mother said he had become withdrawn.
Ezz ad-Deen Ali Qadi from Ramallah, who was 17 when he was arrested last January, described similar treatment during arrest and detention. He says he was held in solitary confinement at Al Jalame for 17 days in cells 36, 37 and 38.
“I would start repeating the interrogators’ questions to myself, asking myself is it true what they are accusing me of,” he told the Guardian. “You feel the pressure of the cell. Then you think about your family, and you feel you are going to lose your future. You are under huge stress.”
His treatment during questioning depended on the mood of his interrogators, he said. “If he is in a good mood, sometimes he allows you to sit on a chair without handcuffs. Or he may force you to sit on a small chair with an iron hoop behind it. Then he attaches your hands to the ring, and your legs to the chair legs. Sometimes you stay like that for four hours. It is painful.
“Sometimes they make fun of you. They ask if you want water, and if you say yes they bring it, but then the interrogator drinks it.”
Ali Qadi did not see his parents during the 51 days he was detained before trial, he said, and was only allowed to see a lawyer after 10 days. He was accused of throwing stones and planning military operations, and after confessing was sentenced to six months in prison.The Guardian has affidavits from five other juveniles who said they were detained in solitary confinement in Al Jalame and Petah Tikva. All confessed after interrogation.
“Solitary confinement breaks the spirit of a child,” said Horton. “Children say that after a week or so of this treatment, they confess simply to get out of the cell.”
The Israeli security agency (ISA) – also known as Shin Bet – told the Guardian: “No one questioned, including minors, is kept alone in a cell as a punitive measure or in order to obtain a confession.”
The Israeli prison service did not respond to a specific question about solitary confinement, saying only “the incarceration of prisoners…is subject to legal examination”.
Juvenile detainees also allege harsh interrogation methods. The Guardian interviewed the father of a minor serving a 23-month term for throwing rocks at vehicles. Ali Odwan, from Azzun, said his son Yahir, who was 14 when he was arrested, was given electric shocks by a Taser while under interrogation.
“I visited my son in jail. I saw marks from electric shocks on both his arms, they were visible from behind the glass. I asked him if it was from electric shocks, he just nodded. He was afraid someone was listening,” Odwan said.
DCI has affidavits from three minors accused of throwing stones who claim they were given electric shocks under interrogation in 2010.
Another Azzun youngster, Sameer Saher, was 13 when he was arrested at 2am. “A soldier held me upside down and took me to a window and said: ‘I want to throw you from the window.’ They beat me on the legs, stomach, face,” he said.
His interrogators accused him of stone-throwing and demanded the names of friends who had also thrown stones. He was released without charge about 17 hours after his arrest. Now, he said, he has difficulty sleeping for fear “they will come at night and arrest me”.
In response to questions about alleged ill-treatment, including electric shocks, the ISA said: “The claims that Palestinian minors were subject to interrogation techniques that include beatings, prolonged periods in handcuffs, threats, kicks, verbal abuse, humiliation, isolation and prevention of sleep are utterly baseless … Investigators act in accordance with the law and unequivocal guidelines which forbid such actions.”
The Guardian has also seen rare audiovisual recordings of the interrogations of two boys, aged 14 and 15, from the village of Nabi Saleh, the scene of weekly protests against nearby settlers. Both are visibly exhausted after being arrested in the middle of the night. Their interrogations, which begin at about 9.30am, last four and five hours.
Neither is told of their legal right to remain silent, and both are repeatedly asked leading questions, including whether named people have incited them to throw stones. At one point, as one boy rests his head on the table, the interrogator flicks at him, shouting: “Lift your head, you.” During the other boy’s interrogation, one questioner repeatedly slams a clenched fist into his own palm in a threatening gesture. The boy breaks down in tears, saying he was due to take an exam at school that morning. “They’re going to fail me, I’m going to lose the year,” he sobs.
In neither case was a lawyer present during their interrogation.
Israeli military law has been applied in the West Bank since Israel occupied the territory more than 44 years ago. Since then, more than 700,000 Palestinian men, women and children have been detained under military orders.
Under military order 1651, the age of criminal responsibility is 12 years, and children under the age of 14 face a maximum of six months in prison.
However, children aged 14 and 15 could, in theory, be sentenced up to 20 years for throwing an object at a moving vehicle with the intent to harm. In practice, most sentences range between two weeks and 10 months, according to DCI.
In September 2009, a special juvenile military court was established. It sits at Ofer, a military prison outside Jerusalem, twice a week. Minors are brought into court in leg shackles and handcuffs, wearing brown prison uniforms. The proceedings are in Hebrew with intermittent translation provided by Arabic-speaking soldiers.
The Israeli prison service told the Guardian that the use of restraints in public places was permitted in cases where “there is reasonable concern that the prisoner will escape, cause damage to property or body, or will damage evidence or try to dispose of evidence”.
The Guardian witnessed a case this month in which two boys, aged 15 and 17, admitted entering Israel illegally, throwing molotov cocktails and stones, starting a fire which caused extensive damage, and vandalising property. The prosecution asked for a sentence to reflect the defendants’ “nationalistic motives” and to act as a deterrent.
The older boy was sentenced to 33 months in jail; the younger one, 26 months. Both were sentenced to an additional 24 months suspended and were fined 10,000 shekels (£1,700). Failure to pay the fine would mean an additional 10 months in prison.
Several British parliamentary delegations have witnessed child hearings at Ofer over the past year. Alf Dubs reported back to the House of Lords last May, saying: “We saw a 14-year-old and a 15-year-old, one of them in tears, both looking absolutely bewildered … I do not believe this process of humiliation represents justice. I believe that the way in which these young people are treated is in itself an obstacle to the achievement by Israel of a peaceful relationship with the Palestinian people.”
Lisa Nandy, MP for Wigan, who witnessed the trial of a shackled 14-year-old at Ofer last month, found the experience distressing. “In five minutes he had been found guilty of stone-throwing and was sentenced to nine months. It was shocking to see a child being put through this process. It’s difficult to see how a [political] solution can be reached when young people are being treated in this manner. They end up with very little hope for their future and very angry about their treatment.”
Horton said a guilty plea was “the quickest way to get out of the system”. If the children say their confession was coerced, “that provides them with a legal defence – but because they’re denied bail they will remain in detention longer than if they had simply pleaded guilty”.
An expert opinion written by Graciela Carmon, a child psychiatrist and member of Physicians for Human Rights, in May 2011, said that children were particularly vulnerable to providing a false confession under coercion.
“Although some detainees understand that providing a confession, despite their innocence, will have negative repercussions in the future, they nevertheless confess as the immediate mental and/or physical anguish they feel overrides the future implications, whatever they may be.”
Nearly all the cases documented by DCI ended in a guilty plea and about three-quarters of the convicted minors were transferred to prisons inside Israel. This contravenes article 76 of the fourth Geneva convention, which requires children and adults in occupied territories to be detained within the territory.
The Israeli defence forces (IDF), responsible for arrests in the West Bank and the military judicial system said last month that the military judicial system was “underpinned by a commitment to ensure the rights of the accused, judicial impartiality and an emphasis on practising international legal norms in incredibly dangerous and complex situations”.
The ISA said its employees acted in accordance with the law, and detainees were given the full rights for which they were eligible, including the right to legal counsel and visits by the Red Cross. “The ISA categorically denies all claims with regard to the interrogation of minors. In fact, the complete opposite is true – the ISA guidelines grant minors special protections needed because of their age.”
Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, told the Guardian: “If detainees believe they have been mistreated, especially in the case of minors … it’s very important that these people, or people representing them, come forward and raise these issues. The test of a democracy is how you treat people incarcerated, people in jail, and especially so with minors.”
Stone-throwing, he added, was a dangerous activity that had resulted in the deaths of an Israeli father and his infant son last year.
“Rock-throwing, throwing molotov cocktails and other forms of violence is unacceptable, and the security authorities have to bring it to an end when it happens.”
Human rights groups are concerned about the long-term impact of detention on Palestinian minors. Some children initially exhibit a degree of bravado, believing it to be a rite of passage, said Horton. “But when you sit with them for an hour or so, under this veneer of bravado are children who are fairly traumatised.” Many of them, he said, never want to see another soldier or go near a checkpoint. Does he think the system works as a deterrent? “Yes, I think it does.”
According to Nader Abu Amsha, the director of the YMCA in Beit Sahour, near Bethlehem, which runs a rehabilitation programme for juveniles, “families think that when the child is released, it’s the end of the problem. We tell them this is the beginning”.
Following detention many children exhibit symptoms of trauma: nightmares, mistrust of others, fear of the future, feelings of helplessness and worthlessness, obsessive compulsive behaviour, bedwetting, aggression, withdrawal and lack of motivation.
The Israeli authorities should consider the long-term effects, said Abu Amsha. “They don’t give attention to how this might continue the vicious cycle of violence, of how this might increase hatred. These children come out of this process with a lot of anger. Some of them feel the need for revenge.
“You see children who are totally broken. It’s painful to see the pain of these children, to see how much they are squeezed by the Israeli system.”
an the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
and he names the sky his own.
But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing
Message from Sinead MacLochlainn , Chair of Derry Friends of Palestine:
The first (of many more) Freedom & Friendship Irish Delegation to Gaza was a big success, we covered so much. As an organiser of the delegation, I think we delivered for our members an experience they wont soon forget. As we all begin to attempt to settle back into “normal” life, bits and pieces of the long trip begin to find their places in my memory. We will, of course, eventually post reports on all the meetings we had with various Universities, NGO’s, Schools, and the main political parties. But I first want to tell our supporters about the frustration and anger of the experience.
Israel only allows 6 hours of electricity within each 24 hours. And as even more cruel punishment, this 6 hours can occur at any time within that 24 hour period, day or night, morning or middle of the night, always at israel’s discretion. This is done to demoralise the Palestinians even more, so that they cannot plan for anything in their lives with any assurance that they will have electricity available. It’s all about keeping them suffering, always keeping Israel in control of most aspects of Palestinians lives, making sure the people of Gaza are unable to control even the simplest of activities in their lives, like when they can flip a switch and a light comes on, or when they use a washing machine, or when they can charge their computers or phones, or when their children can study or play. For those who can afford it, tiny Generators and candles are what they mostly rely on.
So night after night as we returned to our hotel, we climbed the 5 flights of stairs, usually in darkness, up to the top floor Cafe which seemed to have generator power most nights. We came in search of an internet signal, or a cup of tea, or just to unwind and digest the realities of what we had witnessed that day. So we often sat on the top floor café which is an open space with a balcony which faces the ocean and the Gaza seashore which was in front of us. As you stand on the balcony and look across the darkness, the most amazing fact will hit you, as you stand there in Gaza and look across the water, you can, within a matter of minutes see the entire desperate sad story of Palestine encapsulated into one glance across the ocean.
Once, long ago, Jews, Christians and Muslims lived side by side in the land across the water, before Zionism took control of the Jewish religion and the region. For as I stood in the darkness on the balcony in Gaza and I cast my gaze across the water, I can see lights, millions and millions of lights twinkling in abundance. So what was once part of Palestine, it is lit up like a giant Christmas tree or Disney Land in the distance, welcoming the world to the now Jewish State as the people of Gaza suffer with candles in the darkness. This is the story of the “haves” and the “have nots” the occupiers and the occupied, the land stealers on one side, and on the other side in the darkness, those with the keys still in their hands.
And, what will strike you the most about Palestinians, is the smiles on their faces, and that they have nothing and yet want to give what they have to you to thank you for just visiting them, for just validating their story, and their existence. Because that is what this is really all about, Even the smallest child knows what the real battle is about, it’s the land, it’s always about the land, their land, their existence. They are fighting so as not to become a people without a land, they are fighting for their very existence in this world.
We must all redouble our efforts to help them in this noble fight for their existence!
My Dear friend Mags O’Brien (SIPTU & TUFP and Irish Ship to Gaza comrade) who lives in Dublin contacted me around the beginning of March 2012 just before UNISON’S International women’s day festivities which would be held on March 8th 2012 in Belfast. She said that a quilt had been made by women in Ireland who were members of the trade unions and they wanted it delivered to Gaza, was I up for doing it. I said “yes!” and agreed to meet her in Belfast on 8th of March for International Women’s day.
March 8th arrived and I boarded the bus form Derry as Mag’s boarded the bus from Dublin. I was excited about the prospect of delivering this message of love and solidarity to our sisters in Gaza. As I was already planning to travel out to Gaza on March 28th, delivering the quilt on behalf of Irish women could easily be added into my schedule.
We both arrived in Belfast and attended the woman’s day march and speeches after. During the speeches I couldn’t help but think to myself “here we are in Ireland as women standing free, exerting our rights as women, marching for what women have achieved and what women will achieve as our struggle continues to move forward” yet, back in Gaza our sisters are struggling in a way many of us here cannot comprehend. See for yourself the reality of life in Gaza for poor women who have lost their homes and/or husbands in Cast Lead.
Women with children forced to live in refugee camps, in tiny 3 metre areas that more resemble a stable or a shed rather than a inhabitable home created by a brutal inhumane collective punishment siege! Women who have had to watch their homes destroyed in a flash of white light from Israeli drones or F-16’s. Women who have had to watch their own children die for lack of medical supplies, or parts, and still others have been forced to watch as their child lies dying needlessly before their eyes, simply waiting for a little permit to be approved by Israel for the child to leave Gaza to go to a specialist hospital in Egypt or Israel. Women who have lost their homes and their husbands in Cast Lead and are now left to fend for themselves in the streets of an open air prison. The refugee camps will haunt you, cramped and filled with women and children, so many children. With horrible sewage problems because Israel won’t allow pipes in to fix the bombed out sewer system. The smell of this is a constant reminder and it is never far away, even the sea is polluted with sewage, and the tap water is nothing but contaminated sea water with waste in it. This is life in Gaza, this is a man made disaster of epic proportions which is being ignored by most of the world. And the women are suffering the most. So I was very happy to facilitate this Quilt with a message of Solidarity to our sisters in Gaza from women in Ireland.
The quilt was sponsored by UNISON and in 2011 it was taken from Belfast in small pieces down to the Women’s Seminar in Cork where women began working on it. The Quilt was then brought back up to Belfast where the finishing work was carried out by Vivien Holding of the Communications Workers Union. Vivien put it together and laboriously sewed the binding and backing.
Mag’s and I met up with Patricia McKeown the Regional Secretary of UNISON in the North of Ireland who facilitated us in making our way to the UNISON building for the remainder of the day’s events and speeches. As we made our way to the UNISION building we discussed with Patricia the possibility of Irish women doing some solidarity work with our sisters in Gaza.
Upon arriving at UNISON the quilt was presented to myself and Mags by Taryn Trainer of UNITE and the Chair of the Woman’s Committee in the North. In a message from Pauline Buchanan regarding the quilt, she said “ The women of Ireland thought that the quote which takes pride of place in the centre would appropriately express to our sisters in Palestine that we support them, and that we will continue to work towards the realization of their human rights.”
From the quilts idea and inception by women in Belfast shortly after Cast Lead, the quilt began its life in Belfast, travelled down to Cork where more women worked on it, then it travelled back to Belfast where still more women completed it. The quilt has travelled across Ireland, then by air across England, France, Italy, Greece to Cairo, Egypt. Where it then began the 7 hour ride across the Sinai desert where on March 28th it crossed into Rafah, Palestine, and then travelled to Kahn Younis where it was received and presented to Widyan Sha’at the Director of Ethar Woman’s Initiative. It is home now.
Sinead MacLochlainn made the presentation on behalf of the the Women’s Committee Irish Congress of Trade Unions’ and a mention of the ICTU, NIICTU, UNISON, UNITE, Communications Union Workers as well. Ms. Sha’at speaking on behalf of Ethar Initiative said she wishes to thank the women of Ireland for their solidarity, especially Taryn Trainer and the Women’s Committee in the North, Pauline Buchanan of ICTU and Patricia McKeown of UNISON and Vivien Holding of the Communications Workers Union. The quilt will stand as a reminder to women here in Gaza of the friendship and solidarity between Ireland and Palestine.
The Ethar Initiative will be sending a personal letter of thanks to the ICTU/NIICTU and to those organisations and women who participated in this project of solidarity by creating and sending the Quilt to Gaza.
The Ethar Initiative was set up by women, for women, and is run by women who get no salary, all donations go to the poor women and children that Ethar helps. Ethar is a labour of love run by our sisters, who need our help!! So, please check back on this website as we will be doing an entire report on the Ethar Woman’s Initiative and we hope all the women of Ireland will get on board and get invovled with the campaign to help woman in Gaza by working with our sisters at Ethar. Coming soon in solidarity we will be launching an all Ireland Initiative for women to work with our sisters in Gaza dubbed the “Ireland Gaza Woman’s Initiative ” and we hope Irish women will join us in working directly with our sisters in Gaza! Bookmark our coming website here www.igwi.org and check back to learn about the new Initiative between Ireland and Gaza.
Tuesday 10th April 2012
For Immediate Use
Irish Freedom & Friendship Delegation to Gaza a resounding success
Local Derry/Irish Friends of Palestine delegates returned from the first Irish “Freedom and Friendship Delegation” to Gaza promising to redouble their efforts to build links with our sister city of Khan Younis and to support the people of Gaza by continuing with more delegations in future.
Delegates from Irish Friends of Palestine were Gerry MacLochlainn delegation leader & Charlie McMenamin activist (both former Irish Political Prisoners), Ruairi McLaughlin, Mickey McCrossan, Alanna Campbell and Cathal Og Donnelly (Students and members of Sinn Fein Republican Youth), activist Liam McConway and Freedom & Friendship Delegation organiser Sinead MacLochlainn.
Speaking on arrival home, Derry/Irish Friends of Palestine Chairperson Sinead MacLochlainn said:
“Our delegation was hosted by the Mayor of Khan Younis Mr. Mohammed Al Farra, and the Municipality of Khan Younis, who so graciously offered us the most incredible hospitality, given the current conditions in Gaza which remains under a brutal blockade by Israel. Mayor Al Farra received us on our arrival and ensured a packed programme of visits and meetings with all aspects of society throughout Khan Younis and Gaza City.”
“The main purpose of the delegation was to build educational links with the Ministry of Education and HIgher Education and University students. As such our Delegation was received by the heads of some of the main Universities in the Gaza strip, including the Islamic University of Gaza, Al Aqsa University (both the Gaza and Khan Younis Campus) and Khan Younis College of Science and Technology. Despite the siege and lack of electricity or fuel, we were impressed to learn that some 40% of young people in Gaza have access to further or higher education and some 60% of these students are women.”
“The Delegation was invited to a lunch at the Ministry of Education where we were greeted by Mr. Ahmed Ayesh Alnajjar the Director of International and Public Relations of Ministry of Education and Higher Education on behalf of Dr. Osama Elmozini the Minister of Education and Higher Education. The Student leaders on our Delegation were presented with a beautiful Plaque from the Ministry of Education to be presented to the Minister of Education here in the North of Ireland. Additionally a Plaque was also give the the Delegation itself in appreciation of the Educational links being created between Ireland and Gaza.
“Members of the Irish Delegation also met with representatives of the main political parties in Palestine, including Dr. Hisham Abdelrazic the Fateh leader in Gaza, and Dr. Yousef Al-Mansi, One of Hamas leaders and also the Minister of Telecommunication in the Gaza Government and finally Dr. Ahmed Bahar, Deputy Speaker of the Palestine Legislative Council.”
“In Khan Younis we visited the site of a large play park and International Garden area which is still under construction, here the student delegates joined local families in a soccer game with an idyllic view of the Mediterranean sea in the background. The Students played ball with local children at the park. Even here the realities of Israeli occupation were evident with armed Israeli drones and F-16 fighter planes flying over head. During our stay the F-16’s were our alarm clocks and the early morning call as they criss-crossed Gaza skies terrorising the population. They also dropped leaflets warning that anyone who went to within 300m of the border would be shot. Welcome to life in Palestine.”
“Visiting the packed refugee camps bears witness to the reality of life for many poor or homeless people in Gaza. Many of them had once been in full-time employment before the blockade, still others had their homes destroyed by Israel. Up to 4 generations all living in a 6 by 6 metre shed with broken walls, collapsed roofs and dirt floors with sewage problems. And still they smile at us for visiting them, this is the unbreakable spirit of Palestine!”
“On our last morning as we had our breakfast we were again reminded of the realities of life for the innocent civilians of Gaza. Fishermen in small wooden crafts who attempt to gather the ever shrinking available fish which swim in the three kilometres of their own waters, the only place that Israel allows them to fish, were to come under fire from Israeli naval ships. We could hear the heavy naval canons interspersed with the pulse of heavy machine guns. We were left wondering if we’d be hearing of yet another fishermen killed for trying to support his family.”
“We also learned that three young children had been burned to death during the night while attempting to read and study by candlelight. The candle fell over and they were trapped in their bedroom, God help them, all that was left of the three children were the scorched books on the floor which they had been studying from. Yet more tiny victims of the collective punishment siege as Israel only allows 6 hours of electricity each day, these few hours can come at any time even in the middle of the night when the population is asleep, so many students rely on dangerous burning candles to study! Myself and Ogra Alanna Campbell of Coalisland attended the children’s wake with other local women. Their Mother came over and handed me her last remaining child to hold in my arms as we cried together. The tiny 3 month old baby sister who was the only survivor, found under a pile of blankets which somehow managed to save her little life by protecting her from the smoke and flames which consumed her 3 siblings.”
“Leaving we were all very silent heading to Rafah to cross back into Egypt and then home to Ireland, just trying to absorb the gravity of what we had all witnessed for the last 8 days. But we pledged we would do all we can to support our friends in Gaza and to tell their stories to the world. Therefore Irish Friends of Palestine and Derry Frinds of Palestine will continue with more Freedom & Friendship Irish Delegations to Gaza until the murderous siege is lifted!”
BOOKMARK OUR PAGE AS WE WILL BE POSTING INDIVIDUAL REPORTS ABOUT ALL THE MEETINGS AND EVENTS WE ATTENDED IN GAZA
some of those inculded are:
Ministry of Education and HIgher Education
Islamic University of Gaza
Al Aqsa University
Khan Younis College of Science and Technology
Jabalia Martyrs Primary School
Refugee camps, meeting the poor and homeless
Global March to Jerusalem/Land Day Events
Khan Younis meetings
Political Meetings with Fateh, Hamas, and the PLC
Ministry of Youth and Sport
Effects of the Siege First Hand
Local Weekly Prisoner Protests
Prisoners and their Families
UFREE Prisoners Conference Gaza City
Emaar & Albasmah Centre
Khan Younis Park and Garden Development
plus much more…..