Event will be shown on television in Middle East

Echoes of the past abound in major Falls conference

By Gráinne Brinkley

A MAJOR new conference discussing the plight of over 1,500 Palestinian prisoners currently incarcerated in Israeli jails will be held at St Mary’s University College this Saturday. ‘Dying to Live – Palestinian Prisoners Conference’ has been organised by Irish Friends of Palestine in conjunction with the Ufree Network, which is a pan-European network that works to support the rights of Palestinian prisoners, and also the Ufree Palestinian Prisoners’ Association.  It will feature debate and discussion and features West Belfast MLA and 1981 hunger striker Pat Sheehan, former Palestinian prisoner Nigal Abu Shikha, writer Danny Morrison and former Foyle MLA Mary Nelis whose son took part in the blanket protest.  The event will also be televised for broadcast on Palestinian television.

Internment

The upcoming conference comes after a two-month mass hunger strike held by upwards of 2,000 Palestinian prisoners who are currently imprisoned in Israeli jails was called off on Tuesday.  The strike ended after Israeli authorities agreed to the prisoners’ demands for the end of internment without trial, an end to solitary confinement, the reinstating of family visits and the restoring of prisoner access to education and books.

Speaking this week ahead of the conference, Brendan ‘Bik’ McFarlane, who was the Provisional IRA’s O/C in Long Kesh during the 1981 hunger strike, said it was important that local people showed their support for the Palestinian prisoners.

“Some of the hunger strikers were in a critical condition and into the 70-day mark of their fast,” said Bik.

“It’s quite significant that the day the strike was called off, May 15th, is also the anniversary of the day when the Palestinians were first moved from the their lands by the Israelis in 1948. It’s a very crucial day for them.”

Bik also explained the differences between how the deal struck by the Israelis to end the Palestinian hunger strike had contrasted with negotiations to end the 1980 and 1981 hunger strikes in Long Kesh.

Lawyers

“The two prisoners longest on the Palestinian hunger strike received verification, in person, from their lawyers about the detail of the deal, whereas during the second hunger strike here the British refused to let any advisors in to detail any sort of deal that was on offer,” he said.

“And again, being mindful of how the first hunger strike ended in 1980, when British assurances that the proper procedures and reforms would be put in place only for them to renege on that deal, we would urge caution from the Palestinians regarding the Israelis promise to roll out these measures.  However, it is still hugely significant that some form of measures are to be put in place by the Israelis.”

The conference takes place at St Mary’s University College on the Falls Road from 1pm this Saturday (May 19).  For more information you can visit ‘Dying to Live – the Palestinian Prisoners Conference’ on Facebook.

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