|Interview with Mary Kelly - a nurse
from Cork, one of 2 Irish citizens who
witnessed first hand Israeli atrocities against the Palestinian
By Irina Malenko
"Ariel Sharon is a man of peace"-
- Mary, please tell us a few words about yourself and how did you decide
go to Palestine?
- I have been working for many years on environmental, antiwar and human
rights issues. I work with Atlantis community group of Irish and English
people who emigrated from Ireland to Columbia in 1987. We have
self-sufficient life style. Our work became very focussed on human
after two of our teenage boys were senselessly murdered in Columbia
ago. For the past 2 years I have been working on our 55-foot wooden
boat, Atlantis Adventure, helping to restore it for use as a campaigning
Early in February 2002, my attention was caught by horrifying stories
via Internet, about Palestine. I was particularly upset reading of
number of Palestinian women who have had to give birth at Israeli military
checkpoints in violent and humiliating circumstances. Many times their
husband has been wounded or killed, and a very high number of the babies
were stillborn. I read of an appeal by Palestinians for peace
go and do support work and so I responded.
- What was your knowledge of the situation there before you came, and
the reality different from what you have expected?
- I had very little knowledge of the political situation and history.
only aware that Palestinians were under constant attack from a very
and powerful army, the Israeli military. I expected to be doing observer
witnessing type of work - at checkpoints, seeing how Palestinians are
treated in these situations. I thought I would be helping out on Palestinian
farms - I had read that many of the crops are constantly destroyed
(Israeli Defence Force). I expected to be doing some human shield work
staying in refugee camps, where the Palestinians are regularly under
The reality was so different. No sooner had I arrived in Bethlehem,
invasion of that town started. I had only time to pay a quick visit
people in Aida refugee camp, and also to do some non-violent direct
training. Suddenly the town was invaded by over 150 tanks, Apache
helicopters were flying overhead, a total curfew was imposed on the
and the army started arresting all the men from the age of 14 to 60.
university was taken over as a military base, and the army has made
big bases in the town where the arrested men were taken and interrogated.
- Please highlight the major points of your trip to Palestine.
- The first "highlight" was going on a demonstration with 90 international
peace activists. We intended to visit a family that had their house
blown-up. We wanted to support and help. We were in Beit Jala district
Bethlehem and had only walked a short distance before meeting 2 Israeli
tanks. I was one of 3 people who were elected to talk / liase with
if we met any on the march. We approached the tank with our hands in
air. From inside the tank a soldier fired a round of shots with a machine
gun - at us. The Nigerian man standing next to me was shot, also a
Palestinian photographer working for the BBC. I looked around and saw
several others had been injured (7 in all). In a very ordered fashion,
got our wounded members into taxis and an ambulance that was following
march. We retreated from that area followed by tanks. Soon after, I
Beit Jala hospital to see how badly our people were injured. All of
were able to return "home" with us to the Bethlehem Star hotel, except
an English woman who was seriously ill. A bullet had penetrated her
and she needed emergency surgery. This "demonstration" was just my
introduction to the situation on the ground, and how the IDF were waging
war of terror on civilians were intimidating the peace campaigners.
It was a
shock to realise that it was not possible to talk with the IDF. They
The second high point was succeeding with 4 other activists in getting
the town of Nablus, which was reported, was being invaded, and that
were many casualties in the old part of that city. We failed to get
the checkpoints by car, so our driver took us down a maze of country
and set us on a track which led us through the hills. After a 4-hour
we reached the outskirts of Nablus and spent a night with a Palestinian
family who took us in. Next day we managed to reach Nablus which
totally deserted except for soldiers. Surprisingly they let us through
we got to Rafidia hospital, the main surgical hospital for the town.
we met with the hospital director and all the medical staff and technicians
who have been under siege in the hospital for 10 days. Only a small
of wounded people were in medical care, and the IDF was not allowing
ambulances into the areas that they had bombed. Our job was to accompany
ambulance workers, with the belief that a foreigner witnessing how
ambulances were under attack would lessen the harassment to the occupants.
The IDF would stop us for hours at the checkpoints, search everybody,
patients and their luggage. Many of the ambulances belonging to the
Crescent had bullet holes. Many patients bled to death at these hold-ups.
The ambulance workers were the only people "allowed " on the streets.
were stopped many times on each journey by tanks that took delight
pointing the huge barrel of its gun at the ambulance. It was very nerve
wrecking work. The drivers were very angry at this. I was very pleased
meet a doctor there who made a video about home birth that was broadcasted
on local TV in order to help women in labour. She helped so many babies
be born over the telephone, giving the instructions to the most capable
member of the family.
- What was the most touching and the most difficult moment for you there?
- My work in Nablus was most satisfying. I got to know some of
and their families and was privileged to be working with excellent
staff and very brave teenagers trained in emergency medical relief.
with them when the army eventually withdrew. A huge crowd of them cleared
the inner city, clearing all the rubble and also visiting all the places
that had been bombed. It took 2 weeks for emergency aid to get through.
very heavy incident happened in Nablus when the number of peace activists
grew, and 26 of us plus 6 Palestinians marched to Belata refugee camp,
bring food and medicine, as they had been about 17 days under curfew.
were stopped at an IDF checkpoint on the return journey. They refused
us pass and wanted to arrest the Palestinians who were all medically
trained: 4 men and 2 women. We formed a protective ring around them.
Suddenly IDF soldiers attacked us throwing percussion grenades, kicking,
hitting with rifle bults violently - until they got the 4 Palestinian
beat them up, handcuffed and then made then kneel. We were terrified.
tanks and APC's (armoured personnel carriers) border police jeeps,
to our fear. Nevertheless, we held fast and refused to hand over the
women. The soldiers did not know how to respond. They told us
to leave town
and to collect our bags. We said: not without the arrested men.
saw how stubborn we were (26 in number), they surprisingly let everyone
free, including all the Palestinians. It was a very tough day - we
to be alive that evening to tell the story to the media and to make
to all the consuls in the hope they would take a case against the IDF
The most difficult moment was at the beginning when I began to realise
being in a war zone meant. My body wouldn't stop shaking, I was very
I had to talk to many people and confess my fear. A hug or a few words
someone helped enormously to calm me down and then to get on with my
I loved my time visiting families and being part of their very rich
though it was brief, and there was a war raging outside. Palestinians
extremely hospitable, very strong and brave and intelligent. They always
were delighted to tell their story and wanted to share with us what
happened to their family. One day I visited a doctor family.
seen him for 10 days and were so pleased when we visited. They had
terrified - all the adults and children sleeping in one room, too scared
stand up, in case a spray of gunfire would hit their house. Most
have been damaged. The police station shelled to rubble. A Mosque and
school have been attacked. The local cemetery damaged..
My most difficult moment was when one night about 12 of us, internationals,
were having a meeting. Suddenly an ambulance driver who was a great
to us, joined the meeting. He spoke English and wanted to tell us of
terrible atrocities he had seen. He was extremely upset, and the worst
moment was when he produced 2 photos of bodies that had been horrifically
destroyed by bullets and grenades and one body was a mass of
Another day I was called to the morgue in the hospital, as the coroner
examining the bodies of 3 young boys who had been killed. They were
travelling in a car that was destroyed when a huge IDF vehicle crashed
it. It's very hard to look at dead children, to see the horror in their
starring eyes, their long eyelashes, heads split open. One boy had
a bag on
his lap - his brains were in it. All were dressed in poor clothes.
out of there when I saw the coroner handle them roughly. I could not
that they could not feel anymore.
- Have you met Yasser Arafat? The papers here reported several times
- I have not met Yasser Arafat and don't know the details about the
his compound. Another Irish woman, Caoimhe Butterly, spent 18 days
She is still in Palestine and can be contacted by phone.
- Please, Mary, say a few words about other volunteers from different
countries. Did you meet many new friends there?
- There were volunteers from England, US, France, Italy, Japan, Sweden,
Denmark, Holland, Vietnam, Wales and Scotland. I worked with many people
made loads of new contacts. At least 3 volunteers had video cameras
making documentaries. Some people came only for a few days, so our
were always changing.
- What was the main difference in attitude towards the volunteers from
Palestinian and the Israeli side?
- The Palestinians were 101% welcoming
and delighted that we were
there. The soldiers hated us.
We were an annoyance and
they were probably under orders not to
shoot us - though they shot very close to us. They were agressive
hostile, and it was next to impossible to speak to them.
- Please tell us now about your stay in the Nativity Church: how did
manage to get in, what were the conditions
like inside, how did people
cope with it? There was very little in the media about the actual conditions
and negotiations: what do you think of the media coverage of the situation
in Palestine in general?
- I got into the church of Nativity on the 2nd of May with other activists.
12 other activists did a diversionary tactic in the square in front
church, taking the soldiers' attention so that we were able to cross
the razor wire rolled out on the ground, and very quickly march to
of the church which was opened and we were let in. Conditions were
inside. No food, except for what we brought in our rucksacks.
there was no running water, except for a disused well. Not much
terrible sanitary conditions. The people were grey looking and weak
being inside for so long without food. Quite a number had left
since the start of the siege. They were all arrested and interrogated
IDF. On the day we came in 4 people were ready to go out. Our coming
supplies helped them stick it out to the end. Many of those who
before the deal was negotiated can now not be found. No on knows
are in prison, if yes, in which one - or if they were just killed.
For 5 days we were getting news of different deals that were done. At
it was only 3 people that the Israelis wanted. As the numbers went
was uproar in the church - for a Palestinian to be deported is shameful.
heard one say it is better to be killed or spend 20 years in an Israeli
jail. The Israelis wanted a list of everyone inside. Naturally the
Palestinians did not want to give it, and with a good reason. When
was eventually sent out to the negotiators, the first thing the army
was to go into the houses of many who were inside the church, breaking
everything down there and arresting any men in the household. One man
had a very bad leg wound from a bullet, was devastated when he heard
his house had been bombed. Those moments were terrible, suffocating,
felt helpless to do anything. I felt like telling the Palestinians
accept these dreadful deals. Their lives were in the hands of negotiators
who were, in my opinion, not very skilful. So much sacrifice
had to be
made. The fighters were tired, their families in Bethlehem had been
total siege for one month. They did not have the strength to hold out
further. It was the saddest time when everyone said goodbye to all
be deported. Many tears, hugs, kisses, jokes. Very, very heartbreaking.
When the wounded man came out of the church, there were hundreds of
watching, cheering and crying on the roof tops of Bethlehem-
broken that Bethlehem's greatest and oldest fighter was to be
the Israelis. The news broadcaster on the Bethlehem radio relaying
event as the men came out of the church, was in tears. That was a horrible
time, when all the Palestinians left as the deal made for them was
unjust. They should all have walked free.
Us, the peace activists, had then a terrible time in store for our own
We had asked the priests inside the church for a sanctuary, as we most
definitely didn't want to go out and to be arrested by the army.
We had an
assurance from President Arafat's office that we could stay in the
and they were negotiating with the army about us. That we would not
arrest and deportation. We were let down. The priests turned
out to be very
aggressive and very violent, pushing and shoving us to try to get us
leave. One old priest screamed at us that it was HIS church.
By this stage
we were thoroughly fed up with all the priests inside: Franciscan,
Orthodox, Armenian. they had been receiving food from some source,
the IDF, and were keeping it all for themselves. One day they
noodles into a salt broth that we were existing on, seasoned with some
from a tiny patio garden. That was the extend of the sharing that I
witnessed from the priests. It was a sever shock to know they had food.
That, plus their violent behaviour at the end, made them my enemies
I told to the old priest that the church belonged to the people, not
him. . They were all well satisfied when the army came in to remove
forcibly and to put us under lock and key. No formal arrest was done,
charges made against us. We were all deported.
I thought the media coverage in the Irish Republic was fairly good.
were some good bits in the UK media - but the BBC, for example, was
especially pro-Israeli. I heard that in Glasgow - in a sample of 300
people - only 9% knew that Israel was the occupying power. That definitely
points to unfair and inadequate reporting. I could not get a clear
from the media of what was really going on in Palestine before I went
- When were you most angry and when were you most happy during your
Are you going back? What can be done for the Palestinian people?
- The incidents that made me very angry were during the negotiations
the future of the men in the church. I was livid and even crying tears
rage. I was very glad that we the Internationals were inside to witness
first hand these events.
Seeing a group of men being "herded" by the IDF soldiers into detention,
that made me seethe, but I was unfortunately very powerless to do anything
at the time. I saw this from an ambulance.
Seeing the damage done to people's homes, the ruins - some with people
buried underneath. In Nablus a family of 12 were buried alive when
rammed their house. Two old people were later found alive, after several
days of digging in the rubble.
Seeing children's lives being terrorised. Wherever I was staying with
family, the young boys of the neighbourhood would bring in all the
trophies for me to see. Bullets, grenades, F16 shells, mortar bombs-
various terrifying sizes.
All of the ambulance drivers have been arrested and at some stage spent
years in prison. Their crime? Throwing STONES at TANKS.. It angered
time I heard that one of the drivers' family had been arrested and
that 100% of men being kept in horrifying conditions in a country where
torture is legal. Even the plastic handcuffs they are using, are a
cutting off blood supply to the hands.
Seeing burst water pipes, sewage systems broken, old people without
holes in the walls of the houses that were dynamited by the soldiers
serve them walking in the streets doing house-to-house searches. I
woman living in a room with 9 people: her house had been bombed.
Seeing 13 dead bodies in the backyard of Nablus hospital. Having to
hurriedly bury these people without any ceremony while the curfew was
for 2 hours. Seeing the graveyard damaged by the IDF.
Everything army did, would make you angry. Whether it is intimidation
by F16's flying overhead or a 2-year-old kids say "tank" in Arabic
My happy moments were time spent with families, and especially when
tanks eventually withdrew from Nablus and people were able to go outside
the shops, to fix their houses, to visit each other.
Also fooling the soldiers and getting into the church of Nativity was
moment of joy. The people inside were cheering when we got in, and
I don't know yet when I am going back, but I hope to return. Right now
want to use all the media interest and to do the talks for the groups
have invited us to speak - in order to draw public attention to the
situation. I want to meet the Palestinian community here, - and hopefully
the 2 men who have been deported to Ireland. A journalist just informed
that they are being "guarded" in a safe place by the police "for their
protection" which is outrageous. They were supposed to be free.
are they being guarded?
I think the people need to protest to the Irish government, to the Taoseach
office, to the Foreign Affairs about this. The Palestinian people want
protest in whatever way is most effective to stop the occupation, to
the massacres - and for immediate military withdrawal. They want
international troops in, they want UN investigating teams in
each area that
was attacked. Constant, relentless protest, letter writing to the papers,
keeping the issue alive in the media., exposing the injustice and the
crimes and the war criminals, Israeli military.
They appreciate people visiting, supporting them by witnessing the effects
of the occupation. Making contacts with Palestinians in Ireland
events and talks focussed around them. Supporting the Boycott Israeli
Campaign. Calling on governments to impose the trade sanctions against
Israel. Supporting the refuseniks - soldiers who refuse to serve in
army, inviting them to speak. Any action that keeps pressure
governments to bring a halt to the occupation!
- In Belfast many nationalist areas are decorated now with Palestinian
flags, - and after that the loyalists started decorating theirs
Israeli flags. What do you think of it?
- When I was in Palestine, my friend
told me the news that many
Palestinian flags were flying in West Belfast and that the loyalists
flying Israeli flags. I was pleased to hear of the support from Belfast.
When I told this to the Palestinians they were delighted and many of
knew in depth Irish history. They understood that it was a similar
occupation, and that it was natural that the supporters of the crown
fly Israel flags. In Jerusalem almost every telegraph pole has an Israeli
flag, as has nearly every car and building. All the tanks and armoured
vehicles fly these flags. I was sick of seeing the blue and white of
Israel's flag - as it meant oppression, occupation and death.