West Cork cries for ‘Peace for Palestine’

A fundraiser for Gaza organised by DeBarra’s Spoken Word with special guest Naser Al-Swirki will take place in March. Naser lives in Skibbereen where a ‘Peace for Palestine’ rally has been taking place on Saturdays since early November 2023. An actor, director and writer, who can always discern a fresh angle on Palestine, he is usually one of the speakers at the rally. Moze Jacobs meets with Naser and others around West Cork who are flying the Palestinian flag in solidarity with the people of Gaza.

Naser speaking in Bantry

Naser was born in Gaza but moved to a refugee camp in Jordan at the age of seven with his family, visiting Gaza every summer thereafter. Eventually, he founded his own production company in Jordan, where he met his Irish wife. 

The ongoing carnage in Gaza affects him deeply. “I lost so many family members. Their houses destroyed, having to flee from one area to the next.” Naser believes that the fundamental problem is the Zionist idea born in 1948 to create a ‘home’ exclusively for Jews in a land where Palestinians already lived. “We are as attached to our land as the Irish,” he shares. He is writing a screenplay, ‘The Seventh Door’. “It is about understanding and appreciating Arab women. I had a mother, I have sisters and I wanted to comprehend the meaning of love. I’m finally mature enough to realise that I cannot live without it for one moment. As Palestinians, what we learned from our enemies is how ‘not’ to hate. They are brainwashed from an early age. How else can you kill over 11,000 children? The world needs to stop them, they cannot stop themselves.”

As the gruesome onslaught continues, more and more people are taking action across Ireland, from Baltimore to Belfast, including the 80,000 people who marched in Dublin on February 17. The Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (www.ipsc.ie) lists what will be happening where.

“It’s a humanitarian issue,” says Donnchadh O Seaghdha, a former Skibbereen town councillor who also attends the weekly gathering around Skibbereen’s Maid of Eireann statue. “By coming out, we can make a difference, empower people. You need the grassroots to pressure the government to do more. The trauma and suffering is unbelievable. They want to level Gaza completely. Let’s take an international perspective and advocate for world peace, harmony, empathy, compassion, justice.” 

Another regular, Annie de Bhal, came from Germany 17 years ago and married an Irishman. She was raised in a Jewish Zionist family. “I was always the weird kid wrapped in a keffiyeh (Palestinian scarf). At the time, this was met with amusement rather than hostility. They thought I’d grow out of it,” she says. She didn’t. An active member of Jews for Palestine (Ireland), she passionately strives for peace. She is very critical of Zionism and its role in the current conflict but understands “what lies beneath”. 

“When you grow up in a German Jewish family, you are told, on a daily basis, that everyone is against you and you are going to die. My great-grandfather committed suicide in 1932, as he could see what was coming.” She believes there should be sanctions on Israel, similar to those on Russia, and in the past South Africa.

Sam Simpson is a Tús supervisor who grew up in Cork City and has recently trained as a human rights monitor reporting to the UN. He went to Palestine in 2016, having studied the area for years. He has a degree in history and is always providing useful background information, for instance, around the idea that what we are seeing is colonisation, exactly what happened in Ireland, America and Australia, to the detriment of the indigenous populations. “It’s all about more land and less Arabs. And to do that ‘properly’, these people need to be dehumanised. This happens in the Israeli education system where, even in kindergarten, children get the message that Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular are a threat and are less-than-human.”

Ahmed, who has a barber shop in Skibbereen, and his wife Rasha, are among the millions of Palestinian refugees who live outside their ancestral lands. Rasha grew up in Syria. Following the civil war in 2012, she escaped to Lebanon where she met Ahmed. They were granted a visa for Ireland and went directly to Skibbereen. “It was hard in the beginning because I had no family, but now I have my community. We support each other. And I like the Irish weather! Rain and cold are great; you can protect yourself against it. In Syria, it was impossible to escape the heat,” shares Rasha.

Ahmed was delighted that people started to get together out of concern over what was happening in Palestine, shocked by what they saw on television and social media. “Somebody told me there was a protest and I said, Oh perfect! Gaza is the biggest ‘open’ prison in the world. It’s great to get such a turnout in a small town like Skibbereen.” He always tells the people who turn up how much their support is appreciated by the Palestinians. “To know that someone out there cares.”

The women who started and drive the protest are strongly motivated. But they are often also affected emotionally.

Toma McCullim has always been working actively for peace and to empower people. “I was involved in anti-apartheid politics. What happened in South Africa gave us hope.”

Susy Cremers has been fundraising for Gaza since 2020 through an independent local team, Takeru, started by a man named Bilal in 2015. “He described his life in long conversations. Displaced, bombed, a BA in sociology against a 90 per cent unemployment rate. He was arrested, mistreated, interrogated. He ended up living in a tent with his wife and four young children. What blows me away is Bilal’s humanity and warmth. He has become like a son to me; he named his daughter after me. I am trying to figure out how to bring them to Ireland.”

Melanie Furniss organised a fundraiser with therapy sessions as prizes. She has also been raising money for Bilal, his team and family. “Even when I sent just €25 he would send back a photo to show what he’d bought and a thank-you message held up by one of his kids. Then sometimes he’d be gone for days. We didn’t know if he was alive or dead.”

L. McCarthy feels like “I’m on a massive learning curve. The whole idea of occupation and colonialism has become clearer. It’s like clouds parting. This is a cry for humanity. And an exposé of those who cause human suffering all over the world.”

Trish Lavelle says she feels “a sense of burning injustice. Disbelief that such collective brutality can occur at this point in history. On the plus side is the feeling of being part of something bigger: a solidarity movement.”

Becky Firmage describes how she tried to focus on politics and the situation in Gaza in the past but only after a massive shift in her own trauma work could she begin to take it in. “During one of the marches in Bantry, a man came up to me with tears in his eyes and asked ‘Are you able to hold this much grief?”. I replied, ‘Yes, I can. Because I have taken care of mine. Just in time.’” 

Peace for Palestine (a fundraiser for MAP) with special guest filmmaker Naser Al-Swirki will take place at DeBarra’s Folk Club in Clonakilty on March 13, 8:30pm.

The film ‘Gaza’ will be shown in Bantry Cinemax on Thursday March 14, 7:30pm, with speakers and Q&A afterwards.

WCP Staff

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