“Dying to Live” Palestinian Prisoners Conference Great Success
On 19th May, over 70 people from across Irish society attended the first Palestinian Prisoners Conference held in Ireland. Representatives from the Legal field, activist groups, political groups and members of the general public were in attendance. Irish Friends of Palestine, in conjunction with our partners at UFREE Palestinian Prisoners Organisation, hosted the conference at St Mary’s University College in Belfast. The conference focused on the condition of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and on the recent hungerstrike. This conference follows on the heels of the first International Palestinian Prisoners Conference in Gaza of which Irish Friends of Palestine participated in.
The event, the first of its kind, was organized by “UFree Network.” Ufree is an international organization that works to highlight the suffering of Palestinian political prisoners and to promote their rights internationally. The entire conference was filmed for broadcast in Palestine and the Arab world.
Mohammed Hamdan, the Chair of UFree, which is an independent European-wide human rights network; set up to defend the rights of Palestinian prisoners and detainees, along with UFree representative Khaled Almudallal both traveled to Ireland to attend and address the Irish participants. The Irish Conference follows UFree’s recent International Palestinain Prisoner Conference which was held inside Gaza for the first time. Irish Friends of Palestine was proud to have attended and participated in the Gaza conference in April.
Opening remarks of the conference were given by Sinead MacLochlainn the Founder of Irish Friends of Palestine, who outlined the days program and introduced Bik McFarlane the Key Note speaker.
Brendan “Bik” McFarlane is a former Irish political prisoner and he was the Officer Commanding in the Maze Prison during the 1981 Irish hunger strike in which 10 prisoners died, among them Bobby Sands. By 1993 Bik had become the longest serving prisoner in the H-Block Prison. He is now a member of Coiste na n-Iarchimí (“the Ex-Prisoners’ Committee”) – a welfare organisation for republican ex-prisoners. Bik recounted the 1981 Irish Hungerstrike related to the current hungerstrike inside Israeli jails.
Chairing the discussion panel was Gerry MacLochlainn. Gerry is on the UFree political committee and is a former political prisoner himself, he is also co-founder of Irish Friends of Palestine. The fellow Irish panelists included former Political prisoner and hungerstriker, Mr Pat Sheehan who is now a Sinn Fein MLA. After Bobby Sands died on Hungerstrike Pat replaced him and remained on hungerstrike for 55 days, he was near death when the strike ended. Next we have author Danny Morrison, He is also the secretary of the Bobby Sands Trust and current chairman of Féile an Phobail.Next on the panel is Mary Nelis, a former MLA, mother of former hungerstriker. Mary organised the first community association in the Foyle Hill estate and helped spread community groups in other areas of the city of Derry. In 1976, she became active in the Relatives Action Committee: an organisation campaigning for prisoners’ rights and helped organise and lead the relatives committee during the 1981 hungerstrike. She was also active in the civil rights campaign. Mary was presented with the Paul O Dwyer Award by the IAUC for her work for peace and justice in Ireland, she is also an Irish Friends of Palestine supporter.
The conference heard first hand about the plight and conditions of prisoners from panellist and former Palestinian prisoner Nidal Abu Shikba who traveled from the West Bank of Palestine to speak as part of the Panel.
We then went to our live link with Gaza where Ruairi McLaughlin introduced the Gaza Participants and handed over to our host in Gaza Mr Ahmed Al Najjar representing the Waed Palestinian Prisoners group in Gaza who spoke highly of the links between our two countries.
He then introduced us to the next speaker Former Prisoner Ahmed Abu Taha who spoke live to the Irish audience from Gaza during a video conference. He delivered a rousing speech which saw the audience stomping, cheering and clapping! For those interested, you can read Abu Taha’s speech HERE.
Also from Gaza we heard a recorded video message from Former Prisoner Obada Bilal which you can view on THIS page.
We then heard from Pat Sheehan MLA and former hungerstriker. Pat’s personal and harrowing story of what it was like being on hungerstrike touched the hearts of everyone, it will never be forgotten.
After each panel member spoke, the Chair then opened up the discussion to the audience participation section. Many members of the audience participated in the 45 minute Q & A session.
Culminating from the successful conference, the panelists, consisting of former Palestinian and Irish political prisoners, demanded an end to Israel’s so-called “Administrative Detention” and the release of all Palestinians held in Israeli jails. Flowing from the conference we have issued a joint Declaration which we encourage support for throughout Ireland.
The following Declaration Statement was adopted between UFree and Irish Friends of Palestine:
Palestinian prisoners’ conference declaration statement
Organisers: UFree Network and Irish Friends of Palestine
Since 1967, when Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, more than 700,000 Palestinians have been detained by Israel. This represents approximately 20% of the total population in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), and 40% of all males. Despite prohibition by international law, Israel detains Palestinians in prisons throughout Israel; far from their families. The latter almost never obtain the necessary permits to visit their imprisoned relatives.
Since 1967, Israel has detained 10,000 Palestinian women. Women prisoners endure inhumane conditions including shackling during childbirth and an ongoing lack of gynecological care. Today, 37 female Palestinian prisoners continue to be held in Israeli prisons. Most are elected members of the Palestinian Legislative Council and, thus, are clearly political prisoners.
This Conference on the Plight of Palestinian Prisoners in Israel Prisons was convened by UFree Network and Irish Friends of Palestine on 19th May 2012. We have gathered in Belfast uniting elected representatives, former prisoners and prisoners’ relatives and human rights activists
We heard speeches from former Prisoners and Palestinian human rights activists of the conditions facing Palestinians in Israeli jails.
We learned of
• The detention of Palestinians for more than 5 years without trial.
• The widespread use of solitary confinement for many years at a time
• The denial of family visits for many years on end
• The imprisonment of Palestinian children and on occasions the use of these child prisoners as hostages to pressurise their families.
• Threats and practice of sexual harassment.
• Abduction of elected Palestinian parliamentarians
Conference concludes that the conditions facing Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails constitutes cruel and inhumane treatment and that such conditions breach numerous aspects of international law.
We pledge our support to UFree Network’s international campaign to highlight and challenge the abuse of Palestinian Prisoners human rights and the human rights of their families.
The conference decides to have a working group in cooperation between UFree Network and Irish Friends of Palestine which will be a broad based group in Ireland. From today, we shall be contacting potential members to join this group.
The group will work on the following:
1. To spread awareness about the issue of Palestinian prisoners
2. To exert political pressure on both the Israeli occupation and international governments.
3. To offer appropriate legal support and rehabilitation of former prisoners.
The group shall lobby Parliamentarians, human rights groups and civil society throughout Ireland, in particular to the Irish Government and other European Governments and the European Union, appealing for support for the following actions:
1. Israel should embrace and implement their obligations under International law by
2. Immediately implement the agreement reached with prisoners to end the hunger strike, including an end to solitary confinement and imprisonment without trial
3. The European governments and EU Parliament:
4. Launch and participate in an international solidarity campaign supporting the Rights of Palestinian prisoners and detainees.
5. Establish a European fact-finding mission to examine the living conditions of the prisoners in the Israeli jails.
The Irish Government in particular should:
• Organise its own fact finding mission to visit prisoners and their families to inform itself of conditions in Israeli prisons.
• Report back to Dail Eireann on the outcome of this fact finding mission.
• Take diplomatic action and sanctions against the Israeli government if it fails to honour international conventions and comply with the human rights’ standards in dealing with the prisoners.
A working group has been established between UFree Network and Irish Friends of Palestine which will be a broad based group in Ireland. In the near future Irish Friends of Palestine will begin contacting and requesting potential group members within Ireland who can contribute to the Palestinian prisoner’s project.