The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Caoimhe Butterly

Doubtless, we will be told, these horrors serve a larger purpose than mere sadistic cruelty. After all, "the two sides" are engaged in a "cycle of violence" which has to be stopped, sometime, somewhere. Once in a while, we ought to pause and declare indignantly that there is only side with an army and a country: the other is a stateless dispossessed population of people without rights or any present way of securing them
- Edward Said on Israeli violence

Anthony McIntyre • 23 February 2003

I have heard many speakers over the years, most of them instantly forgettable. Their long winded assertions invariably peppered with self-serving bollix and falsehoods never fails to inspire me to run away from them. Caoimhe Butterly is something else. She holds you in your chair. Subconsciously, you want to nail your feet to the floor in case time is called and you have to leave. Brought up in a culture of liberation theology, in which the intellectual influence of the murdered archbishop Oscar Romero was pronounced, she has dedicated her life to campaigning for human rights.

Since listening to her last Monday night as she provided the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign in Belfast with an account of life under Israeli occupation, her words have been etched deeply in my mind. Since then, I have listened to her twice, once at Queen‘s University and then at the Culturlann in West Belfast. On each occasion the venue was full and some of those who had gathered to listen to her sat on the floor or along the walls. The effect is always the same - she electrifies her audience. Her command of language is superb - her knowledge of the subject matter makes her discourse anything but rhetorical. This woman answers on the spot, seemingly never pausing for reflection. A cross examination of some point produces the same response. Unfaltering, crafting layer after layer of incisive intellectual coordinates, she quickly weaves these into an devastatingly comprehensible map which conveys a horror about the terror that Israel wields over the lives of Palestinians who go about their daily lives, two-thirds of whom live below the poverty level of $2 a day.

That she is only 23 is one thought that immediately springs to mind. Physically, she fits the bill but intellectually this woman towers over people twice her age, armed as they may be with PhDs and degrees from a variety of academic institutions. Experience, they say is a great teacher. In my experience few have been taught nor teach as well as Caoimhe Butterly. Yet she is so reticent about being viewed in terms other than ordinary. No shrinking violet in front of Israeli tanks she is ‘camera phobic’ preferring to melt into the crowd than to be set apart from it on some podium. Her most relaxed posture was attained when she sprawled on the floor, back to a settee drinking coffee in the West Belfast home of an IPSC activist.

She fits in over here but in Palestine it is different. There her presence while loved by the Palestinians is a source of defiance to the armed might of the Israeli state. Her physical bravery in placing herself between the soldiers of that state and the children they seek to kill and maim is as provocative to it as her ability to articulate the grievances of those Palestinians subject to its brutal rule. And the attitude of that state to the children of Palestine was encapsulated in the praise showered on the pilot of an Israeli F-16 by Ariel Sharon after he had murdered nine children in Gaza.

Caoimhe has already been shot for her stance. If they hope to deter her and keep her away, they may forget about it. This woman has the same strength of purpose as those who died on the 1981 hunger strike. There is no deterring people of that make up. In her own words ‘I'm in this for the long haul. I think that as a human being of conscience it is not good enough for me to stay where I am comfortable. I'm going nowhere. I am staying until this occupation ends. I have the right to be here, a responsibility to be here. So does anyone who knows what is going on here.’

An insight into the daily routine of Caoimhe was provided first hand by Katie Barlow who met her in Jenin as part of a film she was making:

A disabled Palestinian boy had been shot off his bicycle by an IDF sniper. Caoimhe ran straight towards him, despite the continuing fire, and covered the gaping wound in his back. Within minutes, the Red Crescent ambulance arrived at the scene, and amid continuing gunfire, the paramedics got the boy into the vehicle. The snipers managed to shoot through the ambulance window, shattering glass all over the boy and nearly killing the local cameraman who was filming a report. At the hospital, we were told that the boy was going to survive but would be paralysed from the waist down. This, said Caoimhe, is everyday life in Jenin.

And she was catapulted to international prominence in April of last year when she got herself into Yasser Arafat's Ramallah compound to help a wounded Palestinian friend shot in the leg by Israeli troops.

Thanks to Caoimhe Butterly and people of her standing the major war crime that took place in Jenin has been thrust in the faces of the massacre deniers. According to Edward Said this crime was not properly investigated because cowardly international bureaucrats such as Kofi Annan back down when Israel threatens. Khader Shkirat, a director of LAW, The Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment has argued that 'part of an overall settlement must now also include an end to impunity: that requires the prosecution of war criminals'. Without the testimony of Caoimhe Butterly such impunity will continue unalloyed. And if it does crimes against humanity will continue and we may never learn of:

burnt, broken body parts, a plait of a little girl, and the foot of a baby. I picked up what remained of a head. I saw the body of a little girl who was curled up with her teddy bear. She had suffocated when her house was demolished.

And we who might otherwise do something will be permitted to wallow in conscienceless silence.





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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



Follow the path of the unsafe, independent thinker. Expose your ideas to the dangers of controversy. Speak your mind and fear less the label of 'crackpot' than the stigma of conformity. And on issues that seem important to you, stand up and be counted at any cost.
- Thomas J. Watson

Index: Current Articles

27 February 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


Blair in Belfast
Sean Smyth


Bernadette Devlin McAliskey Deported from USA
Tommy McKearney


Sinn Fein's Helpful Hints for Upholding Harmony
Eamon Lynch


Jomo Kenyata in the Mau Mau - Never

John Nixon


What Practical Alternatives To Provo Republicanism exist?

Seaghán Ó Dubhslaine


Caoimhe Butterly
Anthony McIntyre


'The Left Isn't Listening' - Really Mr Cohen?

Paul de Rooij


Israel's Proxy War?

M. Shahid Alam


Jack Holland And The Obsolescence Of Republican Socialism
Liam O Ruairc


23 February 2003


Knowing Too Much and Saying It Too Well: Bernadette McAliskey Barred from US
Anthony McIntyre


A Unity of Purpose Against the War
Aine Fox


UK Complete Me
Jimmy Sands


The Left Isn't Listening
Nick Cohen


The Letters page has been updated.




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