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Cathal Og Donnelly who was recently in Gaza on an Irish Friends of Palestine Student Delegation chairs a discussion on Palestine with Derry Friends of Palestine speaker Gerry Maclochlainn who has been to Gaza 6 times.

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.

Gerry MacLochlainn talks about the current political situation in Palestine, the EU Trade Agreement with israel and what possible role Ireland can take to help the Palestinians. The talk ended with a discussion of Palestinian Prisoner issues.

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.”

recently released former Palestinian prisoner Abu Taha speaks about Palestinian prisoners and solidarity between Ireland and Palestine

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:

Young Palestinian girl urinating in fear as she is taken away by Israeli soldiers

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.

“The caged bird sings
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.”

source: Guardian

http://youtu.be/R7U2nuyTjao

The free bird thinks of another breeze
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

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

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.

Clr MacLochlainn with Adnan Abu Shabab from the Palestinian Embassy in Ireland

The organisation voted by an overwhelming margin of 107 nations for to 14 against with 52 abstentions.

Councillor MacLochlainn said:

“This is tremendous news for the oppressed people of Palestine – hopefully it is one more step on the way towards complete freedom for the Palestinian people

“It is obviously a move, which shows the overwhelming support of their struggle for freedom, justice and for their right to statehood.

“Unfortunately, the response from the US Government has been deeply disappointing and somewhat petty by removing some $60 million in funding from UNESCO in line with overtly undemocratic US legislation passed in the 1990’s.

“Secondly, any suggestion by the US that efforts by the Palestinian people to attain recognition of their statehood at the UN or elsewhere ‘undermines peace negotiations’ is complete and utter nonsense.

“Israel has full recognition of their state internationally, despite not having clearly defined borders and this is mainly due to their ongoing seizing of Palestinian land to facilitate illegal settlements.

“It is these actions that have undermined a peace settlement, yet the US stands idly by and placates Israel at every turn.

“The ‘Arab Spring’ is an opportunity for both the US and the European Union to build new relationships of trust in a region that has been blighted by conflict and failed by the international community.

“The US and the EU must now step up to their responsibilities to confront illegal Israeli settlements and broker a lasting peace between Israel and Palestine.”

The first fleet of ships of freedom “2” from France

Today the first of the Freedom Flotilla 2 fleet has set sail to the rendezvous point in the Mediterranean where it will meet up with the Irish Ship to Gaza and others ships from around the world.

Mr. Mazen Kahil of the European Campaign to End the Siege said today “The first ship of the Freedom Flotilla 2 which bears the name of “Dignity “, was launched from the port of Corsica, in France. The” Dignity” is on her way to the starting point for the rest of the fleet,” explaining that the French ship will join the other boat named “Michael Lewis”, where it is now moored in a port in Greece.

You can find the ECESG on Facebook HERE to follow their ships on the Flotilla2

MV SAOIRSE~THE IRISH SHIP TO GAZA

The Freedom Flotilla II coalition has called on UN bodies to send officials to search the flotilla’s multinational ships, which are gearing to defy the Israeli siege and deliver humanitarian aid to the besieged Gaza Strip next week.

The coalition challenged that the searches could be before the ship’s departure or while at sea or when they arrive to the Gaza Strip, saying the calls are aimed at assuring that the movement is a peaceful one.

Israel has threatened to use physical force to thwart the aid flotilla, claiming it a security threat to the country. Israeli naval forces intercepted the first freedom flotilla in May 2010 killing nine peaceful activists and injuring many more.

“We are determined to sail to Gaza. Our cause is just and is characterized with transparency, and our means are peaceful,” said the European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza, quoting Ander Dimitras, a committee member of the ship from Switzerland.

The source said the coalition would continue sailing to the Gaza Strip “until the illegal siege has ended”, emphasizing that the Palestinians besieged in the Strip have the same human and national rights as anyone else in the free world.

The ECESG, a key member of the coalition, has announced the ships will depart for Gaza the middle of next week, denying any schedule changes as rumored by some news outlets.

The flotilla includes hundreds of activists from some forty nations worldwide. Among the passengers are members of the European Parliament as well as other European lawmakers and forty media sources set to provide direct blanket coverage.

The ECESG called on states whose legislators and citizens have joined the flotilla to provide protection against a likely Israeli attack.

Armed Commandos Shooting at Passengers on board the Mavi Marmara

Israel has been called on to avoid military force against human rights activists who will next week attempt to break the Gaza blockade.

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore said he has told Israeli Ambassador to Ireland, Boaz Modai, that any interception of the flotilla must be peaceful.

Nine people were killed last year when commandos stormed the MV Marmara, a Turkish aid ship trying to break the naval blockade. The Irish-owned MV Saoirse will sail with up to a dozen other aid vessels next week as part of Freedom Flotilla II.

Mr Gilmore said he can not advise any Irish national to participate in a venture which potentially brings them into harm’s way.” I emphasised, however, to the Ambassador that if the flotilla does sail next week, then Israel must exercise all possible restraint and avoid any use of military force if attempting to uphold their naval blockade,” said Mr Gilmore, the foreign affairs minister.

“In particular, I would expect that any interception of ships is conducted in a peaceful manner and does not endanger the safety of our citizens or other participants. I urged the Ambassador to ensure that this message was relayed to his authorities.”

Mr Gilmore said it was incumbent upon all interested in promoting peace between Israel and its neighbours to avoid any repetition of the completely unacceptable and unjustified violence which marked last year’s flotilla. “The Government will continue working with all interested parties in the coming days to ensure this is the case,” he added.

Aid ships from around the world carrying medical supplies, sports equipment and construction materials are due to meet in international waters some 16 hours from Gaza early next week.

Dr Fintan Lane, co-ordinator of Irish Ship to Gaza, has said crews plan to make it difficult for Israel to seize control of vessels through non-violent means.

source Belfast Telegraph

Freedom Flotilla 2 Immediate Press Release 24.06.2011

Posted by ihhgazaflotilla on June 23, 2011

For Immediate Release

June 24, 2011

Israel Proves that Flotillas Work

Israel’s announcement of authorization for construction materials for 1,200 homes and 18 schools in Gaza is the latest achievement by the Freedom Flotilla, scheduled to sail next week.

In the weeks leading up to the flotilla, Israel has taken a number of steps to try to address the concerns raised in the public eye by the Freedom Flotilla 2 – Stay Human initiative. However organizers say that these steps are symbolic at best, fall far short of Israel’s obligations under international law, are insufficient to meet the needs of Palestinians in Gaza, and are fundamentally designed to maintain the occupation and system of control that Israel exerts over Palestinian lives. Ultimately, these measures fall short of the greatest test – that of freedom for Palestinians.

In addition to the authorization of a limited amount of construction materials, Israel has also recently permitted 19 trucks of medicine to be delivered by Palestinian sources from the West Bank to Gaza. This was in response to an emergency announcement from health authorities in Gaza that crucial medicines had run out due to Israel’s illegal blockade. Prior to that, Israel increased the number of aid trucks entering Gaza to between 210 and 220 per day. However, this still falls 35% short of what is required by Gaza Strip residents.

The pattern developing shows that as the sailing date of the Flotilla nears, Israel is increasing efforts to allow humanitarian goods into Gaza, including previously banned reconstruction materials. This proves three important things: (1) the Flotilla is effective in generating changes, even if they are insufficient, on the ground; (2) the ‘normal channels’ for delivering aid exist, but are useless without pressure on Israel to allow them to function; and (3) Israel’s standard excuse for preventing reconstruction material into Gaza is rendered baseless, given the approval to allow 1,200 homes and 18 schools to be constructed.

Even as the Freedom Flotilla welcomes this latest achievement and proof of the necessity and effectiveness of the Flotilla tactic, we also reiterate that our effort is not simply about delivering humanitarian aid. The goal of the Flotilla is not aid; it is freedom for Palestinians in Gaza and the rest of the occupied Palestinian territories. As such, there are no ‘established channels’ for freedom – there is only one – an end to the Israeli occupation.

Flotilla preparations continue apace, buoyed by the support of people around the world. Next week Freedom Flotilla 2: Stay Human sails for Gaza; our destination is freedom.

On 14 June 2011, as part of its 17th Session, the Human Rights Council held discussions on the status of implementation of the conclusions contained in the report of the independent international factfinding mission on the flotilla attack. The Freedom Flotilla II Steering Committee submitted the following statement:

STATEMENT OF FREEDOM FLOTILLA II – STAY HUMAN STEERING COMMITTEE

TO THE UN HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL

In September 2010 the international Fact-Finding Mission to investigate violations of international law resulting from the Israeli attacks on the Freedom Flotilla I concluded that the conduct of the Israeli military towards its passengers, when it was unlawfully intercepted on the way to Gaza on 31 May 2001, “demonstrated levels of totally unnecessary and incredible violence… It constituted grave violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law.” Unfortunately and incredibly, Israel is threatening to use even greater violence against Freedom Flotilla II, which will sail to Gaza the end of this month. Its threats have included the use of snipers and canine units. Even more deplorable, world leaders, rather than demanding that Israel halt its provocative behaviour towards us and refrain from once again attacking unarmed civilians, have called the Flotilla initiative a provocation and have asked countries on the Mediterranean to prevent us from sailing..

In its September Report, the Fact-Finding Mission concluded that the passengers on board our ships in May 2010, many of whom they interviewed at length, were “persons genuinely committed to the spirit of humanitarianism and imbued with a deep and genuine concern for the welfare of the inhabitants of Gaza.” The same spirit of humanitarianism compels us to again take action – even at the risk of serious injury or death – to confront massive injustice with global nonviolent action. For too long our national and international leaders have passively watched the tragedy of Gaza – of all of Palestine. The grossly unjust and unlawful blockade of the Gaza Strip and the ongoing belligerent occupation of the rest of Palestine – imposed by Israel and tolerated by the world community – is a stark case of states sacrificing principle and human rights for power and self-interest. For those who have any lingering doubts that a man-made crisis continues to Gaza, just yesterday the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights issued an alert indicating its extreme concern over the “running out of medications and contraction of health services in the Gaza Strip.”

The Fact-Finding Mission gave much thought to and called upon the international community to recognize some role for “humanitarian organizations who wish to intervene in situations of long-standing humanitarian crisis where the international community is unwilling… to take positive action.” It included in its broad definition of humanitarianism both types of organizations involved in the Flotilla: those that engage in activities taken to alleviate crises and those that take action to address the root causes of the crises. The Mission understood that “too often” humanitarian organizations, such as those behind Flotillas I and II, are “accused of being meddlesome and at worst as terrorists or enemy agents.” Today, these same humanitarian organisations and human rights activists are being accused of ‘provocation’ and Israel is threatening, once again, to unlawfully and brutally stop them. We therefore call upon the Human Rights Council to stand up to these Israeli threats, to defend our right to intervene in the long-standing tragedy which is Gaza and to expose and put an end to Israel’s illegal behaviour, which has too long been tolerated by the international community.

We are determined to sail to Gaza. Our cause is just and our means are transparent. To underline the fact that we do not present an imminent threat to Israel nor do we aim to contribute to a war effort against Israel, thus eliminating any claim by Israel to self-defense, we invite the HRC or any other UN or international agency to come on board and inspect our vessels at their point of departure, on the high seas, and/or on their arrival in the Gaza port. We will – and must – continue to sail until the illegal blockade of Gaza is ended and Palestinians have the same human and national rights those of us sailing enjoy.

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