The shared history of the Palestinian and Irish peoples is evident across many instances. It is no coincidence that the Palestinian people believe that the Balfour Declaration of 1917, named after Arthur Balfour, then British Foreign Secretary, that promised the Zionist movement a national homeland for Jews in Palestine, was “the promise of those who do not own [i.e., the British] to those who do not deserve [i.e., the Zionists]” (p. 1). As revealed in A Shared Struggle by Dr. Asad Abusharkh, a Palestinian-Irish academic and a co-editor of the book, Balfour was known as ‘Bloody Balfour’ in Ireland due to his role in suppressing Irish protests in Cork (p. 25).
A Shared Struggle, published in July 2021 by Norma Hashim and translated by Yousef M. Aljamal, is the first book of its kind; it is unique in the sense that it brings together the experiences of Palestinian and Republican Irish hunger strikers, which are identical in many cases, in one book. The volume contains 31 entries, 24 from Palestine and seven from Ireland, detailing the experiences of political prisoners who went on hunger strike in British and Israeli prisons. The cover of the book urges the reader to dig deeper into these stories. It depicts a group of Palestinian women holding a poster that reads “Nafha, H Block, Armagh: One Struggle” and was taken during a solidarity sit-in organized by Palestinians with Irish hunger strikers during the iconic hunger strike in 1981 led by Bobby Sands, who lost his life after 66 days of hunger strike.
Richard Falk, who wrote the foreword for the book, reminds readers, “We should not be deceived into thinking that we are reading only about events in the past” (p. 21) While the struggle for self-determination in North Ireland achieved some progress with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, the struggle for freedom in Palestine continues today. Palestinian political prisoners and hunger strikers are considered to be at the forefront of this fight for equality. For example, Kayed al Fasfous, on November 22, 2021, ended a 131- day long hunger strike after the Israeli prison services agreed not to renew his detention under Administrative Detention. This British law continues to be used by Israel, where prisoners are held indefinitely without charge or trial.
Mohammed Alian, a former hunger striker from Jerusalem, narrates how he went on a hunger strike along with 120 other inmates, including Ali al-Jaafari and Rasim Halawa, who lost their lives. Alian addresses his deceased inmates by saying: “You lived with dignity and left with it” (p. 48). To date, a total of five Palestinians have lost their lives while on hunger strike, while 10 Irish Republican prisoners lost their lives in British jails during the 1981 hunger strike. Bobby Sands was the most iconic Irish hunger striker to pass away, as he was an elected representative at the time. Danny Morrison, a former political prisoner and Head of the Bobby Sands Trust, notes that the sacrifice of the ten Irish Republicans continues to have an impact 40 years on “in Ireland and further afield” (p. 38).
The poems included in the book by Bobby Sands and Khalil Abu Aram speak of longing for freedom: “The Lark and the Freedom Fighter” by Sands is similar to the story of Palestinian hunger striker Mohammed Hassan, who kept a bird as a pet in prison, shouting to his jailers, “were you not ashamed of imprisoning a bird in here” (p. 187). Hassan’s bird, to whom Hassan granted the freedom he yearned for, reminds us of Sands’ “Lark,” after which the publishing house of the present volume is named. Both Sands and Hassan passed away before seeing their homelands free.
Palestinian and Irish women take center stage in the book. For instance, Hana Shalabi speaks of her 43-day hunger strike, after which she was deported to Gaza in 2012, where she continues to live away from her family. From Ireland, Mary Doyle speaks of solidarity between female hunger strikers and political prisoners by stating, “I never had sisters, but there are some of those women whom even if I had had a sister, I couldn’t have been closer to” (p. 142) Doyle married former IRA prisoner Terence Clark, who escaped prison twice, as six Palestinian prisoners did in September 2021, after tunneling their way out of prison using a spoon over the span of nine months. The poems in the book by Khalil Abu Iram were smuggled out of the same prison, Gilboa, and made it into the book.
A Shared Struggle details the Palestinian-Irish solidarity represented by the stories of hunger strikes, and speaks to the long history of intersectional solidarity that extends from Ireland to Palestinian refugee camps from Lebanon to Palestine. The blurbs on the back cover, some of which were written by high-ranking Irish politicians such as Gerry Adams, speak of the bond that not only exists between the two peoples but also between their figures and politicians. The Irish resistance, represented by the Irish Republican Army (IRA), had long and strong ties with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in Lebanon in the 1970s and 1980s, with Dublin being the first EU capital to recognize the PLO in 1980.
From Palestine to Ireland and beyond, the issue of political prisoners and hunger strikers lives on. Just as the Irish diaspora was able to shift the discourse on Irish hunger strikers, which contributed to the success of the Good Friday Agreement, the Palestinian diaspora today is engaging in advocacy for Palestinian political prisoners. It could be just a matter of time before the Palestinians, who live under a de facto Israeli apartheid, enjoy freedom too. The book’s strength lies in bringing the narrative of Palestinian and Irish hunger strikers together in a symbolic gesture that speaks of the long history of intersectional solidarity between the Palestinian and Irish peoples.
The book is a must-read for those who want to learn about the prison literature in Palestine and Ireland, which are both unique and similar, and this comes as no surprise because Palestine and Ireland have been plagued by British colonialism.