Julie Webb-Pullman reports

Irish ex-prisoner tells Gaza “I determined that day to work for Palestinian prisoners”

03 December 2012

Gerry McLochlainn promises to breach the walls of Israeli prisons, as Gaza prisoners’ mothers breached his.

Gerry McLochlainn (left) and Minister of Detainees' Affairs Dr Attallah Abu AlSebah

Gerry McLochlainn (left) and Minister of Detainees’ Affairs Dr Attallah Abu AlSebah

Gerry McLochlainn, head of an 11-person delegation ‘Irish Friends of Palestine’ visiting Gaza for a week, told the families of prisoners today that he was a prisoner of the British occupation in his country during the 1981 Irish hunger strike in which 10 of his co-prisoners died.

“We felt very alone,” he said. “But one day I saw a photograph in a newspaper of mothers from Gaza holding up photos of our hunger-strikers. These mothers reached into the dark of my prison cell and lighted it up. They weren’t able to actually break down the walls, but seeing that photo, I knew we were not alone. I determined that day to work for Palestinian prisoners on my release.”

At the event hosted by Dr Attallah Abu AlSebah at the Ministry of Detainees’ Affairs in Gaza City, several such mothers, as well as ex-prisoners, exchanged their experiences with the Irish delegation, highlighting the similarities in their oppression by their occupying powers.

Political commonalities were noted by Mr McLochlainn. “My country was occupied by the British imperialists – it is the same story as that of the Palestinians. We know it was the British who took your land and gave it to the Zionists, so we know we are one,” he commented.

Medical negligence is also a common factor. Palestinian prisoners’ family members and an ex-detainee described to the Irish delegation the dire health situation in Israeli jails faced by the 1200 Palestinian prisoners suffering illness and disease, including eleven with cancer but who receive no treatment, only analgesics for pain relief – the same situation faced by one of the Irish prisoners, who developed stomach cancer but was given only painkillers.

Preventing contact with families is another ‘trick of the trade’ in denial of prisoners’ rights. Veronica Abu Sisi, wife of Mossad kidnap-victim Dirar Abu Sisi, described how she and their children have not been permitted any kind of contact with him since his imprisonment in Israel following his abduction in the Ukraine. “He has been in solitary confinement since May,” she said. “I am not allowed any contact with him, not even to speak to him. I tried to send him some warm clothes but he was not permitted to receive them. I tried to send him pictures of our children, but they were not allowed.”

Similar, but not identical to, the experience of the Irish political prisoners. “We were separated from the other prisoners,” Mr McLochlainn told the Palestinians. “When our families came to visit us, the prison authorities would move us to another prison so they could not see us.”

Ex-detainee Ahmed told the delegation that family visits were resumed today, but Gazan prisoners are only permitted one family visit every six months. On top of this, they are still being subjected to administrative detention, strip searches, and night-raids of their cells, all of which are violations of international conventions.

Om Nidal, wife of released prisoner Mohammad Hassan, said two of her sons have been martyred, one only two hours before the recent ceasefire began, and her son-in-law was killed the day before that. She described how her husband was imprisoned for most of their children’s childhoods, and how joyous it was when Abu Nidal was released in the Shalit prisoner exchange deal.

Om Nidal - proud of her martyred sons

Om Nidal – proud of her martyred sons

“They got to spend one year together, then Nidal was killed by three Israeli rockets, along with four of his friends. What wrong did he do? He defended his country, that is all,” she said. “We are not terrorists – they are. They [Israel] destroyed our houses and killed our children.”

Dr Attallah Abu AlSebah reiterated her view, pointing out that Israel depicts Palestinians as terrorists, yet it is Israel who has stolen their homeland.

“The international community has given Israel the green light to attack us. They stood by and watched as our children were slaughtered, our streets ran with their blood and the ground was littered with their body parts,” he protested.”They need to tell Israel enough is enough.”

Gerry McLochlainn agreed, saying, “Your sons and daughters, mothers and fathers are called terrorists – if they are terrorists then I am a terrorist too, and there are another five here with me. When you country is stolen, your land is taken, your children are killed then resistance is the right thing to do.”

Mothers and children of political prisoners, not terrorists

Mothers and children of political prisoners, not terrorists

An old woman called out, “We will avenge our sons, we will defend our country, and Israel will never defeat us.”

Mr McLochlainn replied, “We will walk with you, and stand with you until you can walk through every part of Palestine, and I promise you I will walk through the streets of Al Quds with you. Your day will come.”

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