Thanks to Alanna Campbell who visited Gaza recently as part of an Irish Delegation.
Women of Gaza
National Youth Committee
Óige Phoblachtach East Tyrone
I was lucky enough to be part of a recent Irish Delegation to Gaza organised by Derry Friends of Palestine. Myself and my fellow Ógra comrades, Cathal Óg Donnelly, Ruairi McLaughlin and Mickey McCrossan have many special memories of the trip and have returned home to Ireland dedicated and committed to working alongside the people of Gaza until they achieve their freedom.
There are many different aspects to the siege and overall struggle in Gaza, and one that must be considered is the important role played by the women of Gaza. Similar to the role of women in Ireland, their bravery and courage struck me immediately. I felt proud to be in the company of so many strong, independent and loyal women; loyal to their country, loyal to their families and loyal to their basic internal qualities and beliefs of equality, freedom and justice.
We visited several universities in Gaza, and the amount of women in attendance was striking. Women outweighed the men in many universities and several continue their study and do masters and postgrads as a means of progressing themselves and their potential opportunities in the future. In the Islamic University inGaza, there was a majority of 68% female students to the 32% male students and these figures are similar in the various other universities. These statistics show the drive, determination and hope for the future that these young women have, and these women have undertaken the message behind the famous words ofThomas Davies, “Educate, that you may be free.” The education and progression of women’s skills is of the utmost important to the people of Gaza and is reflected by groups which have been set up by women for women. One women’s groups that we met with was ‘Ethar Voluntary Initiative’ and it is run under support and supervision of Jana Society for Community Development, aiming at empowering women, improving living conditions and creating opportunities for young people and marginalised groups. We presented them with a quilt, a gift from the women of Ireland to the women of Palestine, expressing our solidarity and recognising the special relationship that the women of Ireland and Gaza share.
One woman who stands out in particular and is now an international figure is Hana Shalabi; her story and her name have been a hot topic for all Palestinian activists around the world. One woman’s relentless courage and strong, un-surrendering beliefs in her rights and her desire for freedom led to a 43 day long Hunger Strike in which the rest of the world looked on, unable to believe that the Israeli authorities were refusing to step in! Four days after she ended her hunger strike, the Irish delegation were lucky and privileged enough to actually meet Hana in her hospital room. I can honestly say that one of the greatest honours in my life was presenting Hana with an Easter Lily, a symbol of remembrance and honour for all the great men and women who died in the pursuit of Irish freedom and re-unification.
We also met with the mothers, wives, sisters and children of many political prisoners. We heard their individual, heart-wrenching and emotional stories and their pleas for the release of the political prisoners. Many of the women had accepted that they might not see their beloved sons, husbands, brothers and fathers again, they had accepted the sad reality that they could die in prison. Mothers may never see their pride and joys again, wives are continuing to bring up their families, singlehandedly, struggling to make ends meet, and children, innocent, beautiful children, shaken with the harrowing realisation that they might never see their father again, and some who will never see their father even for the first time. These women are the strength behind the movement, the drive behind the fight for freedom, their unrelenting and unquenching thirst for justice left us all very emotional, and able to see the many similarities between the women of Ireland and the women of Palestine. We met with mothers who had sacrificed their sons for the freedom of their country, the love of their country and the future of their country. Imagine the feeling of sending your son out to fight, knowing full well that he will not be returning, that he will become a martyr and that his death is solely because of the occupation of his own country by a foreign people who should not be there and have no right to be there!
Ireland and Palestine have always had links throughout their struggles and history, the women of Gaza held posters of our ten brave comrades who died on Hunger Strike in 1981 to show their solidarity to our cause and movement. The people of Ireland have not forgotten that and will stand in solidarity with the men, women and children of Gaza until they are free from Israeli state terrorism!
Free Gaza, Saor Gaza, الحرية لغزة