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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

Widyan Sha'at Director of Ethar with Sinead MacLochlainn, Alanna Campbell and women of Ethar

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.

International Women's Day Belfast

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.

This woman and her children barely exist in this tiny one room space, nothing else

Barely enough room for one person let alone ten!!

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.

“We call for the immediate and complete lifting of the blockade on Gaza. The ongoing siege is a denial of dignity; it is a denial of rights for a people, particularly its women, who yearn to be Free!”

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.”

Taryn Trainor presents quilt to Mag's O'Brien and Sinead MacLochlainn

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.

Ethar Initiative-Gaza

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.

We Stand In Solidarity with Our Sisters

Clr Gerry MacLochlainn reports the following today:

I was happy to arrive again in Gaza and to visit old friends and new friends. However I was saddened to see that still nothing has changed from my last few visits. No rebuilding of homes, no cement allowed in.

Palestinians ethnically cleansed from their land

Palestinians ethnically cleansed from their land

(Above photo) In Zionist settlements north of Gaza – the area in front of these settlements was ethnically cleansed by Israeli Invasion forces in Operation Cast lead – No houses were left standingOnly those who fled survived the slaughter – the intensity of the Zionist aggression was such that a young girl of 3 years was killed running from her home but her body could not be recovered for another 20 days. Such is life in Gaza. Thousands of people are still being forced to live in tents or one room shacks 3 years on from the brutal attack on the civilian population.

The scene of yet another murder

(above photo) This crater which you now see, was once a fisheries police station until a week ago when Israel decided it had not killed enough Palestinians for a while. They bombed it and killed several policemen. There were no survivors – one policeman’s body was thrown some 30 metres away

I then spent the evening in Derry’s sister city of Khan Younis, meeting with my good friend Ahmed Al Najjar from the Gazan Ministry of Education, along with the Mayor of Khan Younis, Mr Muhammed Al Farra.

pictured from left to right: Mr. Ahmed Al Najjar, Ministry of Education, Clr Gerry MacLochalinn, Mr. Muhammed Al Farra Mayor of Khan Younis, Palestine

We spent the evening discussing future projects of mutual interest and ways that the people of Derry, Belfast and Ireland can help to improve the situation in Gaza. More on this when we get home to Ireland.

Today, Jennifer and I met the Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyah. As Jennifer and I are both former Irish political prisoners, we asked the Prime Minister if there was anything that we, as former political prisoners, could do to work with, assist, or help the Palestinian prisoners. Hundreds of them were recently released by Israel under the “Shalit” deal and there will be 500 more released soon. The majority of these prisoners are released into Gaza, even if they were from the West Bank. So they wer free from Zionist prisons, but not free to go home to the West Bank. Jennifer and I were honoured to be told by the Prime Minister that a meeting will be arranged for the two of us to meet with the prisoners and their families later today to explore what further work we can do, Insha Allah.

After meeting the Prime minister, I was one of two people selected to attend and speak at a press conference being held today with the Samouni family.

Clr Gerry MacLochlainn speaking at the Samouni Press Conference in Gaza

The Samouni’s lost 29 members of their family, mostly women and children when their home was deliberately attacked. Israel has denied any wrong doing and after it’s own “investigation” has decided the Samouni’s case and other cases like these will be “dismissed and closed.” yet another murderous war crime being swept under the Zionist rug.

Insha Allah, tonight Jennifer and I look forward to an evening spent with good friends, good Palestinian food, and good discussions.

Jennifer McCann MLA and Clr Gerry MacLochlainn arrive in Gaza

Derry Friends of Palestine member Sinn Fein Councillor Gerry MacLochlainn along with Sinn Fein MLA Jennifer McCann from Belfast, both arrived in Gaza on Monday night to a big Gazan weclome. They are part of the (Council for European Palestinian Relations) CEPR’s largest delegation yet. A fact finding mission consisting of elected members and Parliamentarians from around the world.

Jennifer McCann MLA and Claire Short from the British Labour Party at refugee camp in Gaza

Jennifer McCann MLA reports from yesterday:

Jennifer McCann MLA with women from the Delegation

There’s over 100 people from all over the world on this delegation. Today we visited the Health Facility for wounded children and as you can see from the pictures they have lost limbs in the bombing, one other young girl of 10 years had been shot.

One of many children who have lost limbs when israel attacked their homes

We then went through Beit Lahia just north of Jabalia,the area was totally devastated in the bombing of Dec 2008. This is an area where entire families were wiped out in a single attack, and where the UN school was bombed. We visited the makeshift homes in one of the refugee camps and the conditions over 130,000 people are living in are atrocious, 7 people all living in one or two tiny rooms. They cannot rebuild any of the houses that were bombed as they can’t get access to building materials due to the blockade.

one of the thousands of homeless refugee familys, 7 members forced to live in one room

There were a number of other meetings and presentations with NGO’s and leaders of Civil Society here and we had a reception in the University for applied sciences, the young students have increased in numbers from 300 to 9,000. The Palestinians are very resilient people. There are students who had gained University places in other countries but can’t go due to the blockade.

West Belfast Sinn Féin representatives call for the release and repatriation of MV Saoirse passengers

West Belfast MP Paul Maskey and MLA Pat Sheehan MLA have called on to Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore to ensure the Israeli authorities expedite the repatriation of the passengers of the MV Saoirse including two of their constituents John Mallon and Phil McCullough.

The West Belfast MP met both families on the day of their relatives illegal arrests and has been in contact with the Friends of Palestine Belfast group on a regular basis with updates.

Paul Maskey said:

“I have been contacted by the family of John Mallon and Phil McCullough, two West Belfast passengers who were on board the Gaza bound MV Saoirse and are being held by Israel.

“Eamon Gilmore needs to do more to ensure safe return of the Irish citizens who were illegally seized in international waters and taken to Israel against their will. The 72 hour period that Israel said they would keep them in custody before releasing them has now passed yet they are still being held.

Local MLA Pat Sheehan said:

“Israel seem intent on playing games regards the repatriation of those passengers they illegally took hostage. Israel was wrong in the first place and the Irish Government must impress upon Israel that their citizens be repatriated immediately.” CRíOCH/END

Irish Friends of Palestine member John Mallon has been in touch with family today asking a message be delivered to us. We were informed that the Irish Prisoners are not co-operating with Israeli authorities and because of continued harassment some are now being punished accordingly.

In a phone call today John said that the Israeli authorities had already completed searches of all the prisoners. Then they approached John again at which point he was told to submit to yet another full search. He refused to cooperate in this farce and was immediately placed in handcuffs and shackles.

We do not know how he is physically but he remains in excellent spirits. He says that the hostages will not be intimidated by their kidnappers and they will continue to demand their civil rights and their release from the illegal kidnapping.

The Political Prisoners ask that you contact the Irish Foreign Minister and demand that he ensure the immediate release of the kidnapped hostages and to afford them proper treatment until they are returned to Irish soil.

PLEASE SEND YOUR COMPLAINTS TO MFA:
Eamon Gilmore TD, Minister for Foreign Affairs: 00 353 1 478 082
Email: eamon.gilmore@oir.ie

ISRAELI AMBASSADOR:
Israeli Ambassador: 00 353 1 230 9400
Email: info@dublin.mfa.gov.il

>>>>>>>>>>

A Reminder of what kind of rogue state we are dealing with, from our good friends over at If Americans Knew:

Isarel has more than 62 UN resolutions passed against it, which, it ignores. Palestine has none! Aside from the core issues—refugees, Jerusalem, borders—the major themes reflected in the U.N. resolutions against Israel over the years are its unlawful attacks on its neighbors; its violations of the human rights of the Palestinians, including deportations, demolitions of homes and other collective punishments; its confiscation of Palestinian land; its establishment of illegal settlements; and its refusal to abide by the U.N. Charter and the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. Full list of 62 resolutions against Israel up to 1992 can be seen HERE

In a statement today Sinead MacLochlainn National Chair of the Irish ship to Gaza Committee condemned the reckless behaviour of Israeli Forces as they violently seized the Saoirse and Tahrir boats on Friday. She was speaking as the following harrowing account came through from one of the Irish hostage in Govin Prison.

“The takeover of the MV Saoirse was violent and dangerous. Despite very clear protests from the occupants of the two boats that they did not want to be taken to Israel, they were forcibly removed from the boats in a violent manner. The whole takeover took about three hours. It began with Israeli forces hosing down the boats with high pressure hoses and pointing guns at the passengers through the windows. I was hosed down the stairs of the boat. Windows were smashed and the bridge of the boat nearly caught fire. The boats were corralled to such an extent that the two boats, the Saoirse and the Tahrir, collided with each other and were damaged, with most of the damage happening to the MV Saoirse. The boats nearly sank. The method used in the takeover was dangerous to human life. The Israeli forces initially wanted to leave the boats at sea, but the abductees demanded that they not be left to float at sea, for they would have been lost and possibly sunk. All belongings of the passengers and crew were taken from them and they still do not know if and what they will get back. The 14 Irish citizens remain in Givon prison.

Sinead MacLochlainn said.

“The Israeli forces acted with complete disregard for Human life never mind human rights. Please contact your local elected representative and the Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore – tell them about this act of piracy and tell them that we expect our colleagues to be treated properly from here on in and for their speedy and safe release from this illegal custody.” She continued “I also want to commend the hostages for their courage and steadfastness and congratulate them for establishing their political prisoner committee which succeeded in winning important concessions from the Zionist authorities,”

ENDS

press@derryfriendsofpalestine.org

We are receiving direct information from David Heap one of the Canadian prisoners who was abused and tasered by Israeli Commandos as their boat was seized. This is a serious development and Sinn Fein’s Foreign Affairs spokesperson Padraig MacLochlainn TD is currently speaking to the Irish Foreign Ministry to seek clarification from our prisoners directly as to whether any of them were tasered or otherwise injured by Israeli forces.

We are also being told that the Irish prisoners have organised themselves to ensure their basic rights are honoured during their captivity. We are also told that Mags O Brien and Zoe Lawler, and the other women are being held separately from the men. The prisoners committee is seeking direct contact with the women prisoners.

Our Canadian brother David has managed to smuggle the letter out to the world. His letter confirms that the Irish prisoners, 6 of whom are Irish Republicans, have created a Political Prisoners Committee. The four Canadians imprisoned with the Irish have joined the Irish Prisoners Committee for a united front against their captors:

David Heap of the Canadian boat states:

““The four of us, Ehab and I (Cdn), Michael (Aus) and Hassan (UK) have joined with the Irish in their political prisoners’ committee in order to press our collective demands:

· association in the block – i.e. open cells
· adequate writing and reading material
· free communication with outside world – i.e. regular phone calls
· information about shipmate women held at same prison

Additional information tells us that David and possibly others were tasered when the ships were boarded

“Although I was tasered during the assault on the Tahrir, and bruised during forcible removal dockside”

Note:the two women from the Irish ship (Zoe Lawler and Mags O’Brien are held elsewhere)

WE EXPECT AN ADDITIONAL UPDATE TODAY ON THE CONDITION OF THE IRISH PASSENGERS, PLEASE CHECK BACK

On Thursday evening, the Belfast Friends of Palestine held a Rally at the old Andytown Barracks in support of the Irish citizens kidnapped from on board the MV Saoirse Irish Ship to Gaza, by Israeli pirates. Friends, family and supporters of the Belfast crew John Mallon and Phil McCullough attended along with local MLA Paul Maskey.

A massive Palestinian flag was unfurled behind the speakers. Belfast Friends of Palestine are calling for the immediate release of all Irihs citizens, wihtout charge, and for the return of our stolen ship which belongs ot the Irish people.

BELFAST RALLY

Paul Maskey-MLA Sinn Fein

Philomena Flood- Belfast Irish Ship to Gaza and member Belfast Friends of Palestine

Paul Maskey MP Sinn Fein calls for release of Irish passengers

Philomena Flood-Belfast Friends of Palestine/Irish Ship to Gaza Belfast

Friends, family and supporters of the belfast passengers

Rally in support of kidnapped Belfast passengers

*** UPDATE IDF CONFIRMS BOATS UNDER THEIR CONTROL
New photo of ships position and tracking shows that the ships have been boarded and are now under israeli control. The course has taken a turn away from the destination port of Gaza and now appears to be heading towards Ashdod.

MV SAOIRSE ABDUCTED AND BEING TAKEN TO ASHDOD

LET THEM HEAR YOUR VOICES NOW:

Eamon Gilmore TD, Minister for Foreign Affairs: 00 353 1 478 082
Email: eamon.gilmore@oir.ie
Mr Daniel Megiddo, Israeli Ambassador: 00 353 1 230 9400
Email: info@dublin.mfa.gov.il

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