PEOPLE are being encouraged to keep Palestine on the agenda, at an event in Belfast today to mark the 50th year of Palestinian Prisoners' Day.

Palestinian Prisoners’ Day is commemorated every year on April 17 – a date approved by the Palestinian National Council in 1974 as a national day dedicated to the freedom of prisoners and support for their rights. The date was chosen as it marked the release of prisoner Mahmoud Bakr Hijazi in the first prisoner exchange between the Palestinians and Israel.

Since the beginning of the Israeli occupation in 1967, Israel has imprisoned over one million Palestinians and continues to employ its policy of mass arbitrary detention through daily military raids and incursions. The last year alone has seen near-daily arrests in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, as Israel steps up its raids since October 7. 

On Wednesday, a coffee morning was organised at Tar Anall in Conway Mill to raise money and awareness of Palestinian Prisoners' Day.

Former republican prisoner Tommy Quigley said there were many similarities between ex-republican prisoners and current Palestinian prisoners.

"As a former republican prisoner I know all about the fight and struggle and I want to send out a message of solidarity with all Palestinian prisoners and every Palestinian person living under a very powerful, ruthless and immoral enemy in the Israeli Zionist state," he said.

"The enemy is supported by the same British powerhouse that occupied and colonised our country and imprisoned our people. We understand entirely the cause of the Palestinian people.

"Today is about raising funds and awareness of the Palestinian struggle and we encourage everyone to keep Palestine on the agenda."

Sinn Féin MLA Pat Sheehan told those gathered that "the intensity and scale" of what is being inflicted on the Palestinian people today and the "hypocrisy of Western states" is being brought into focus.

"I want to appeal to people here to not be distracted by any of the noise," he added. "We need to focus on Palestine and what is required to bring this to an end. Republicans have the longest relationship with Palestine and there is no need to take a back step now.

"We need a ceasefire, immediate humanitarian aid into Gaza, an end to occupation of Gaza and the West Bank and the setting up of a sovereign Palestinian state."

Palestine native Masood, who has lived in Belfast for many years, thanked republicans for their continued support.

"I have been here to know of the unwavering support for the Palestinian people and we will never forget it," he said.