Hunger strikes present the historical past of Irish-Palestinian solidarity

During the 11-day Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip in May, which claimed the lives of 254 Palestinians, together with 66 youngsters, acts of solidarity have been staged around the globe. But, maybe, none was as vital as that which came about in Ireland. On May 26, the Irish parliament handed a decision condemning Israel’s “de facto annexation” of Palestine.

It was vital, nevertheless it was not shocking, for the historical past of Irish-Palestinian solidarity is lengthy and mutual.

It was on show once more when the best-selling and award-winning Irish writer, Sally Rooney, declined a proposal to translate her novel, Beautiful World, Where Are You, into Hebrew, citing assist for the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) motion.

The BDS motion, which requires international civil society to interact in a complete marketing campaign of boycott towards Israel till it permits Palestinian refugees to return to their houses, ends its navy occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, dismantles settlements and the separation wall and treats Palestinians with Israeli passports on an equal footing with Israeli Jews, is especially widespread in Ireland. But, once more, this could come as no shock – for the very time period “to boycott” originated there.

Charles Cunningham Boycott (1832-1897) was an English land agent who labored for Lord Erne, who owned 40,000 acres (16,000 hectares) of land in Ireland. At the time, throughout British rule, 750 – usually absentee – landlords owned half of the nation. Many of them paid brokers to manage their estates, as Boycott did for Erne in County Mayo. His job concerned accumulating hire from the tenant farmers who labored the land.

In 1880, the Land League, which had been shaped the 12 months earlier than to work for the reform of the owner system, which left poor tenant farmers weak to extreme rents and eviction if they may not pay, demanded that Boycott scale back rents by 25 p.c. Harvests had been dangerous and the prospect of famine loomed. But Erne – and Boycott – refused and obtained eviction notices for these tenants who couldn’t pay.

Charles Stewart Parnell, an Irish nationalist chief and president of the Land League, urged Boycott’s neighbours to shun or ostracise him in response. Shops within the space refused to serve him and when labourers refused to work the land, he was compelled to herald employees from Ulster at a value far larger than the worth of the crops they harvested.

But Father John O’Malley, an area chief of the Land League, reportedly felt the phrase ostracise was too difficult for the tenants – and so the time period ‘to boycott’ was born.

But that phrase – and idea – is just not the one thread connecting Irish and Palestinian historical past.

‘Bloody Balfour’ – from Ireland to Palestine

Not lengthy after the 1916 Easter Rising – when, from April 24 to April 29, Irish nationalists rebelled towards British rule till the British navy brutally quashed the insurrection and executed its leaders – Palestinians skilled their very own calamity by the hands of the British.

On November 2, 1917, the British international secretary, Arthur James Balfour, wrote a letter to Baron Lionel Walter Rothschild, a number one determine in Britain’s Jewish neighborhood, by which he declared: “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”

The Balfour Declaration would have horrible penalties for the Palestinians, however the Irish have been already aware of Balfour’s work.

From 1887 to 1891, Balfour had been chief secretary for Ireland, the place he had instantly set about making an attempt to repress the work of the Land League. The Perpetual Crimes Act of 1887 went after agrarian activists and aimed to stop, amongst different issues, boycotts.

Hundreds of individuals, together with greater than 20 MPs, have been imprisoned on account of the Act, which allowed instances to be tried by a Justice of the Peace with out a jury. But when members of the Royal Irish Constabulary fired at a crowd demonstrating towards the conviction of two folks in Mitchelstown, County Cork, on September 9, 1887, killing three males, Balfour was given the moniker “Bloody Balfour”.

The 1980s – from Lebanon to Long Kesh

The connection between the Irish wrestle towards the British and that of the Palestinians towards Israel continued in later years. During the 1970s and early 1980s, members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) reportedly had ties with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

Irish members of the IRA would go to Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, the place the PLO was based mostly till 1982, to point out solidarity with the Palestinian folks. According to Danny Morrison, a former director of publicity for Sinn Fein, an Irish republican political occasion traditionally related to the IRA: “The IRA has never confirmed a working relationship with the Palestinian Resistance. There were reports of republicans being trained at a Palestinian camp. There was an arms seizure by the Irish authorities in Dublin Port which came via Cyprus and was allegedly from the PLO to the IRA in 1977 but the IRA never confirmed this.”

But, maybe, the difficulty that the majority carefully connects the Irish and Palestinian expertise is that of political prisoners.

In 1936, in the course of the British Mandate in Palestine, Britain launched Administrative Detention, which allowed for prisoners to be interned for an indefinite interval with out trial or cost. Israel nonetheless makes use of this regulation to this present day, and a whole bunch of Palestinians are presently imprisoned underneath it.

In the north of Ireland, an equal regulation was launched in 1971, three years after the beginning of the Troubles, with the intention of penalising the IRA. Internment with out trial concerned mass arrests, principally of nationalists and Catholics, lots of whom had no connection to the IRA. Those arrested have been despatched to Long Kesh Prison Camp (which later housed the infamous H-Blocks or Maze Prison). By the time the regulation resulted in 1975, almost 2,000 folks had been interned.

Those held at Long Kesh argued that they have been political prisoners reasonably than widespread criminals and must be handled as such. In 1972, prisoners serving sentences associated to the Troubles have been granted Special Category Status, or political standing, that means that they didn’t should put on jail uniforms or do jail work and will obtain additional visits and meals parcels.

But, in 1976, Special Category Status was ended. (A century earlier, Arthur Balfour had advocated treating political prisoners in Ireland like widespread criminals.) Israel, likewise, refuses to recognise the political standing of Palestinian political prisoners, though lots of them – like Ahmad Sadat and Marwan Barghouti – are leaders of political teams.

The starvation strikers

On March 1, 1981, 5 years after the Special Category Status was ended, an Irish republican prisoner, Bobby Sands, started a starvation strike to demand the restoration of political standing. Other republican prisoners joined him within the starvation strike at staggered intervals. Ten of them, together with Sands, died.

After Sands’s loss of life on May 5, the 66th day of his strike, Palestinian prisoners in Israel’s Nafha jail smuggled out a letter in assist of the Irish starvation strikers. It learn: “We salute the heroic struggle of Bobby Sands and his comrades, for they have sacrificed the most valuable possession of any human being. They gave their lives for freedom.”

There had been a number of starvation strikes by Palestinian prisoners earlier than this and plenty of extra since. Five Palestinians have handed away whereas on starvation strike and dozens have come near loss of life. Thousands of Palestinian prisoners have participated in what Palestinians name “the battle of empty stomachs”, both alone or en mass, through the years.

Hunger strikes are efficient as a result of, in addition to humanising the prisoners as folks prepared to sacrifice their lives for freedom, they acquire worldwide consideration – serving to to construct worldwide solidarity, significantly amongst folks within the diaspora.

I not too long ago contributed to a guide – A Shared Struggle: Stories of Irish and Palestinian Hunger Strikers – by which the tales of a few of these Palestinian starvation strikers, and their Irish counterparts, are instructed.

One of these tales is that of Rawda Habib, who was arrested by the Israeli military in 2007 and sentenced to eight years in jail. When Israel refused her request to be moved to the ladies’s part of the jail, Habib, who was pregnant on the time and later gave beginning whereas imprisoned, went with out meals or water for 3 days.

“I didn’t know that usually a hunger striker stops eating food and only takes salt with water, so as their stomachs don’t rot,” she defined within the guide. “I also discovered that a striker could just tolerate hunger but not thirst. Not taking water can lead to paralysis, renal failure or even death within a few days. On the evening of the third day, I collapsed and fell to the ground.”

She was moved to the feminine part of the jail and was later launched as a part of a prisoner swap between Hamas and Israel in 2011.

Habib’s story is much like that of Hana Shalabi. In 2012, Shalabi, who’s from the West Bank metropolis of Jenin, went on a starvation strike for 43 days, ending it when Israel agreed to deport her to the Gaza Strip, the place she nonetheless lives immediately. Shalabi instructed me that whereas she was on starvation strike, she was transferred to a hospital in Haifa, town the place her dad and mom had lived earlier than they grew to become refugees in the course of the Nakba. But when the Israeli authorities realised she was completely happy to be in her hometown, she mentioned they transferred her to a distinct hospital as a type of punishment.

Laurence McKeown, an Irish Republican who was jailed for 16 years from 1976 to 1992 took half within the 1981 starvation strike, becoming a member of after Sands and three others had died. His strike ended on its 70th day when his household authorised medical intervention to avoid wasting his life. In the guide, he described how jail guards would deliver him meals 3 times a day in an try to persuade him to desert his starvation strike. Today, Israel adopts the same technique towards hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners; in April 2017, when 1,500 Palestinian prisoners went on starvation strike, Israeli settlers organised BBQ events near the cells the place starvation strikers have been held.

The similarity between the inhumane practices suffered by Irish political prisoners prior to now and the inhumane remedy of Palestinian prisoners immediately serves as a reminder of this lengthy historical past of solidarity between two nations stricken by settler-colonialism. On the quilt of A Shared History is {a photograph} of Palestinian ladies carrying indicators that learn Nafha, H-Block, Armagh, One Struggle; it’s a picture that speaks volumes about Irish-Palestinian solidarity.

As of November 29, the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, two Palestinian prisoners are on starvation strike: Hisham Abu Hawwash, who has been on starvation strike for 108 days, and Nidal Ballout, who has been on starvation strike for 35 days. Both are held underneath Administrative Detention with out cost or trial.

But as Bobby Sands wrote all these years in the past in The Lark and the Freedom Fighter – an essay that reminds us of the late Palestinian prisoner Muhammad Hassan, who saved a hen in his cell at Nafha jail, feeding it and granting it freedom each day, till an inmate by chance stepped on the hen and killed it: “I have the spirit of freedom that cannot be quenched by even the most horrendous treatment. Of course, I can be murdered, but while I remain alive, I remain what I am, a political prisoner of war, and no one can change that.”

The views expressed on this article are the writer’s personal and don’t essentially mirror Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.