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.