Wednesday 13 November 2019

Ross man home after week in Israeli prison



A NEW ROSS man and a niece of Wexford GAA star Ned Buggy were among 14 Irish human rights activists detained in an Israeli prison for a week after Israeli Special Forces intercepted Irish vessel the MV Saoirse, as it tried to break the blockade of Gaza.

Electrical engineer Gerard Barron, and Zoe Lawlor, a University of Limerick lecturer, were held at Givon Prison near Tel Aviv after Israeli forces boarded the MV Saoirse as it made its way towards Gaza. MEP Paul Murphy and rugby international Trevor Horgan were also among those arrested on the boat after it was surrounded by navy ships and smaller boats last Friday week.

The activists were allowed to return to Ireland late last week, much to the relief of waiting families and colleagues.

New Ross resident Gerard Barron, the organiser for the Wexford branch of the Irish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, was one of seven who arrived back in Dublin Airport on Friday, disappointed that the flotilla had failed to reach Gaza, but happy that their mission had highlighted the situation once again in the world's media.

'Succeeding in distributing aid would have been a major bonus but the campaign's main objective was to expose the illegality of the blockade and publicise it to a world audience,' said Gerard at the weekend.

This is not the first time that the humanitarian activist has endeavoured to journey to Palestine. He was on board the MV Saoirse last June when it was allegedly sabotaged while docked at Turkey. An electrical engineer by trade, Gerard had at that time intended to travel to Gaza to carry out work to restore electricity to homes.

This time round, however, thanks to the involvement of former rugby international Trevor Hogan, the activists carried on board sports equipment, primarily, rugby gear, which was destined for distribution to schools in Gaza.

Gerard said that one of the most serious aspects to the blockade of Gaza is the control which the Israeli government has over aid entering Gaza, which is being ' turned on and off like a tap'. This is affecting the children of Gaza most particularly, he said, as donations of school books and educational materials are no longer reaching them through the blockade.

According to the Irish Ship to Gaza leader, Dr Fintan Lane, the takeover of the MV Saoirse was 'dangerous to human life'. The operation took about three hours during which, he said, the soldiers used high-pressure hoses and guns were pointed at activists through cabin windows. Damage was caused to the MV Saoirse and the Canadian vessel MV Tahrir, which also took part in the campaign.

Gerard Barron said that at the time of the interception the ships were sailing in international waters, and that because of this the navy operation was ' totally illegal'.

The New Ross resident described the week he spent in Givon Prison as ' very uncomfortable'. The activists refused to sign a voluntary deportation order as, according to Gerard, this could be perceived as ' an admission of guilt'.

When news first broke that the MV Saoirse had been boarded by Israeli forces, Gerard's family were deeply concerned for his safety. To make thing worse they had to rely on unconfirmed media reports, which speculated that the group were taken with the use of excessive force.

Gerard's son Seán explained that they had to wait 40 agonising hours until finally on Sunday evening they received a phone call from his father. However, this did little in the way of reassuring the family because Israeli soldiers were listening closely to the conversation and he was afraid to give an accurate account of his experience in the prison.

After some confusion as to whether or not the group would be allowed to return to Ireland, all 14 activists touched down in Dublin airport on two separate flights last Thursday and Friday. Glad to be home and reunited with his family, Gerard was keen to emphasise that although the treatment of the group of Irish activists was ' appalling', it was ' like living in a luxury hotel in comparison to what the Palestinians are forced to endure daily'.