“The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.“ — Fyodor Dostoyevsky
“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails.”
― Nelson Mandela
The world is aware of the support for the Palestinians from South Africa because of their experiences of living under the old apartheid regime.
Why is there so much sympathy for and solidarity with the Palestinian people, by the Irish?
A Shared Struggle Stories of Palestinian and Irish Hunger Strikers has recently been published, An Fhuiseog (The Lark) 2021.
In the foreward, commentators note that both the Palestinians and the Irish have historically been victims of cruel British colonial oppression.
Palestinian -Irish academic Asad Abu Shark explains, “Palestine and Ireland suffered from the same British colonialism. The British colonizers did all they could to subjugate, humiliate and dehumanize both peoples to impose total surrender, resignation and submission.”
The Israeli regime continued practices introduced by mandate Britain, including the notorious, and widely used, practice of arresting Palestinians under ‘adminstrative detention’, no charges, no trial.
In A Shared Struggle, former hunger strikers, 24 Palestinians, including 2 women and 7 Irish, including one woman, share their stories.
The decision to take part in a hunger strike was never taken without careful consideration, being well aware of the risks of severe health consequences, even death. It was only taken as a last resort by prisoners being held under appalling condition that defy international law and universal humanitarian norms.
The hunger strike is a weapon of last resort.
Richard Falk, Professor Emeritus of International Law, in his forward article explains that the hunger strike is the “ultimate form of nonviolence”.
It gives “power to the powerless”, as both oppressors, the Israelis and the British are aware of historic examples such as Gandhi’s hunger strikes, that led to the collapse of more powerful regimes by winning the “legitimacy battle” for world opinion.
The oppressors were determined to break the strikers, sometimes by force-feeding or by holding barbecues near the strikers’ cells so that the aroma of cooking would drift into the cell, sometimes by eating in front of the prisoners.
Their shared experiences of Palestinian and Irish hunger strikers, answer the question, “Why Ireland?”
As former prisoner Danny Morrison, secretary of the Bobby Sands Trust declares, “The cause of Palestine is the cause of Ireland. The cause of Ireland is the cause of Palestine”.
Award-wining Film Director Ken Loach points out,“For many years there has been solidarity between the Palestinians , South Africans fighting apartheid, and the struggle for Irish unity. That mutual support is needed now more than ever, as the oppression of the the Palestinians becomes ever more brutal.”
Richard Falk points out that “the Irish hunger strikes were given generally sympathetc prominence in mainstream media outlets, with Bobby Sands’ name and martyrdom known and respected throughout the world. “
Bobby Sands died in 1981 after 66 days of hunger strike.
A Shared Struggle includes excerpts from his H-Block Trilogy;
Beneath the sky men live and die
For man must die from birth.
And some never see the flower or tree
Or know their lovely worth,
But in the gloom of prison tomb
Men crave for Mother earth.
In contrast, Falk argues, mainstream media, by ignoring Palestinian hunger strikes, help to “reinforce Israeli oppression” and should be “viewed as a kind of transnational complicity”.
Richard Falk reminds us that Palestinians are still being harshly treated, citing the figures, as of his writing, of some 4500 prisoners, 350 under adminsrative detention.
He hopes that this new book will be widely read and will lead to a grassroots demand for justice.
As Falk says, “The suffering of the Palestinian people has gone on for far too long”.
Lois Griffiths is a Human Rights Activist.