08 March 2010

Women of Resistance

Never underestimate the strength of women in resistance and struggle. Given that I come from an oppressed country where once, like the Palestinians today, have also had to struggle for Freedom, Justice and Equality. And today being International Women’s Day, I have to write about the women of Palestine and Ireland. As the women in my life would remind me, they played an important role in our struggle, and just like in Ireland, the women of Palestine do this everyday.
“We are prepared to fast to the death, if necessary, but our love for justice and our country will live forever.”—Mairéad Farrell, Mairéad Nugent and Mary Doyle (Hunger Strikers, Armagh Prison, 1 December 1980)
When I think of women and resistance, of all the women that come to mind, and there are a great many. Names like Rosemary Nelson,One of our Human Rights lawyers who was murdered shortly after testifying before the United Nations AND the US Congress that she was going to be killed. No one saved her……..And also Mairead Farrell,another Irish Republican prisoner who after release from jail was murdered in a shoot to kill SAS assassination. Much like the recent assassination that Israel just carried out in Dubai.

But, the one name that stands out the most is a woman called Martina Anderson. She served 14 years in British jails, her fiancée was also jailed for life and the two were married whilst still in jail. Martina and Ella O’Dwyer, another Irish Republican woman, were sentenced at the same time. When I first met Martina she was still in jail. When Martina and Ella were jailed they led a campaign to change the treatment of women in jail and ultimately the jail itself. They suffered greatly during those 14 years, and if you think times can’t change, just see at the end of this where Martina is today. But first this:
The stench of our urine and excrement clings to the cells and our bodies. Little light or air penetrates the thick boarding. For 23 hours a day we lie in these cells. For one hour everyday we get out into the yard, away from the stinking cells. We are freezing by the time the hour has passed, but it is worth it, believe me, that fresh air is worth catching pneumonia from. The prison doctor visits the cells on some mornings and asks us, as we lie among the excreta and urine, if we have any complaints….
I was arrested first when I was.... Well I was arrested at 16, just, out of the house, which was standard practice here for most young Republicans at that age. We were all arrested at 16 and “screened” by the army. You were taken to a barracks to get your fingerprints taken which allowed them to gather certain details about you.

In 1981 at the age of 18 I had been arrested with another girl. I was charged with possession of a firearm and intent to cause an explosion. I thought about it and after concluding that I would not get a fair trial and that I was not prepared to willingly go through the trial in the Diplock courts I opted to go into exile, to go “on the run” as we called it.

Then in 1985 I was arrested in Glasgow along with Ella O’Dwyer and three other male comrades. We were held in Glasgow and questioned for seven days before being flown from Glasgow to Paddington Green in London. We were held there for a further three days before all of us were charged with conspiracy to cause explosions in the UK.

After thirteen months in Brixton, we were sentenced at the Old Bailey to life imprisonment. We were transferred from Brixton to a jail in the North of England, Durham.

What was so disturbing about it all was that the women prisoners had nothing, in comparison to the male establishments around the, the poverty of the environment that was within that jail needed to be exposed. I think I went round Durham for about a week and I didn’t speak very much, I just absorbed everything. I looked around me. I was shocked at what I was seeing. And wondering, “Where do you start in a place like this?” And after about a week realising, “Well I’m going to be in jail for a very long time and in order for me to survive in here I’m going to have to do something about this place.” I didn’t know if it was within our capacity to change one iota of the place, but I believed we had to try. And I believed I couldn’t just succumb to feeling, “Well, this is our lot,” and, “Let’s just bury our head and get on with it.” That is not the approach of Republican prisoners.

So for the first six months I spent my time going from one type of punishment to another. So we spent six months in punishments cells in what they called “behind the door,” which was locked up for 23 hours daily. The 23 hours lock up in Durham was because we were campaigning and protesting.

After about six months the governor of the jail, he called the two of us into his office. he said, “You know I don’t care what you both do, I’ll send you both home in boxes if I have to. You aren’t going to come in here and undermine my authority.” We were challenging him about the conditions in the jail. Martina’s story can be read here in full.
So, where is Martina now? Why she is now an elected Sinn Fein MLA

And given this fact of history, we now turn to Palestine. The women of Palestine are also part of the resistance movement in many ways.

They resist the occupation every day, merely by exisiting. Others resist in more forceful ways.

But one thing I can say from experience, is that Israel cannot kill the resistance, Israel cannot kill the hunger for freedom. For each generation will rise to the struggle until they are free of oppression and occupation. I found a "must see" video of the most incredible outspoken resisting little Palestinian girl below. And whilst viewing it I remembered Martina's story and thought to myself, one day this little girl could become an elected representative of her country Palestine, inshallah.