Caoimhe Butterly

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Caoimhe Butterly
Caoimhe Butterly.jpg
Caoimhe Butterly with the MV Rachel Corrie
Born1978 (age 39–40)

Caoimhe Butterly (born 1978) is an Irish peace activist who has worked with people with AIDS in Zimbabwe, the homeless in New York, and with Zapatistas in Mexico as well as more recently in the Middle East and Haiti. In 2002, during an Israeli Defence Forces attack in Jenin, she was shot by an Israeli soldier. She spent 16 days inside the compound where Yasser Arafat was besieged in Ramallah.[1] She was described by Time magazine as one of their Europeans of the Year in 2003. Butterly is a pacifist and a member of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), an organisation that seeks non-violent alternatives to armed intifada by mobilising international civil society.[2]

Early life[edit]

Caoimhe Butterly was born in Dublin to a family therapist. Her father's work as a United Nations economist moved the family from Ireland to Zimbabwe when she was a young child. She grew up in Canada, Mauritius, and Zimbabwe. She spent time working in the New York Catholic Worker Movement, then moved to Latin America where she spent three years living with indigenous communities in Guatemala and in Chiapas, Mexico. She also lived in Jenin refugee camp on the West Bank for a year. She has visited Iraq on numerous occasions,[3] she recently[when?] visited Lebanon, where she protested British prime minister Tony Blair's visit to the country after he allowed US bomb shipments to be sent to Israel via Britain during the 2006 Lebanon War.

Butterly was brought up in a culture of liberation theology, which, she says, "deeply inspired" her to spend her life campaigning for human rights. At a very young age, she says, she developed a deep sense of duty. "I've always felt the need to almost a painful degree of needing to stand up against injustices in whatever contexts they lie." She left school at 18, wanting to travel, and headed to New York, where she spent time working in the city's Catholic Worker house, which was founded by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in 1933.[4][5]

Political activism[edit]

She went on to Guatemala and from New York to Chiapas, where she worked for two years among the Zapatista communities. In 2001 she spent 10 days fasting in front of the offices of the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs, in protest at the Irish government's decision to allow US warplanes to refuel at Shannon Airport on their way to Afghanistan. She was arrested while trying to block the runway.[6]

Siege of the Arafat compound[edit]

In April 2002, she was one of a group of foreign activists who occupied the compound of Yasser Arafat, in Ramallah, in solidarity with the Palestinians and to protest the Israeli military presence in the area.[7]

Jenin incident[edit]

On 22 November 2002, during an Israeli military operation in Jenin, Butterly, then 24 years old, was shot by an Israeli soldier and suffered a thigh injury. She had been trying to lead a group of Palestinian children to safety.[1][6]

In an interview in The Guardian, journalist Katie Barlow reported being inspired to meet Butterly by the footage of her blocking Israel Defense Forces tanks as they fired over her head, and stories of her standing in the line of fire between soldiers and Palestinian children, as the IDF threatened to "make her a hero".[6] In the report, Barlow described how Butterly ran straight, despite the continuing fire, toward a disabled Palestinian boy who was shot by an Israeli sniper. Later a 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. The boy would survive, but was paralysed from the waist down.

After being shot, Butterly, who had by then spent more than a year standing in the path of Israeli tanks and troops, refused to leave: "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."[8]

Iraq War[edit]

Before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Butterly campaigned against the Irish government's decision to allow the United States military to use Shannon Airport. She was initially a signatory to the Pitstop Ploughshares action that disabled a US warplane at Shannon in February 2003, but decided ultimately not to participate out of a desire to travel to Iraq in solidarity with civilians there.[citation needed] At a 2003 Belfast summit between US President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Butterly was arrested and dragged away by her hair for smearing red jam on the riot shields of two policemen. "There is no such thing as a benign occupation" she says. "It's time to focus again on what is happening in Baghdad."[1]

Stay in Beirut[edit]

After the 2006 war in Lebanon, British Prime Minister Tony Blair went on a political trip to the Middle East for meetings with leaders of the region. A feeling of anger against the British Prime Minister was mounting in Lebanon, in relation to his stance during the war, his refusal to call for an immediate ceasefire and his aligning of his policies with those of America President George W. Bush in support of the Israeli military operation. Butterly interrupted Blair's press conference with the Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, accusing Blair of complicity in the recent Israeli bombardment of Lebanon. "This visit is an insult", "Shame on you Tony Blair" Butterly shouted as Siniora and Blair spoke at Siniora's office complex. She held a banner saying "Boycott Israeli apartheid" in front of live TV cameras, until security guards holding her by arms and legs carried her out. Blair and Siniora stood quietly as she shouted. [9]

Iain Hook incident[edit]

In 2005, she gave written eyewitness testimony in the inquest into the killing of UNRWA relief works project manager Iain Hook by an Israeli military sniper. Butterly was also shot in the foot during this incident.[10]

Gaza flotilla raid[edit]

Butterly was aboard a flotilla bringing relief supplies to Gaza during the Gaza flotilla raid on 31 May 2010.[11]


  1. ^ a b c "She Took a Bullet for Peace". Time Europe magazine. 28 April 2003. Retrieved 16 April 2008.
  2. ^ Michael McCaughan (7 April 2002). "Front line life of an Irish peace crusader". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 31 December 2009.
  3. ^ "Speakers: Caoimhe Butterly". Archived from the original on 18 November 2007. Retrieved 16 April 2008.
  4. ^ Michael, McCaughan (7 April 2002). "Front Line Life of an Irish Peace Crusader". Common Dreams. Archived from the original on 18 June 2013. Retrieved 20 July 2014.
  5. ^ Cornell, Tom. "A Brief Introduction to the Catholic Worker Movement". The Catholic Worker Movement. Archived from the original on 14 March 2014. Retrieved 21 July 2014.
  6. ^ a b c Barlow, Katie (27 November 2002). "Courage under fire". The Guardian. London (27 November). Retrieved 16 April 2008.
  7. ^ Greenberg, Joel (3 April 2002). "Mideast Turmoil: Doves; Peace advocates in Arafat Compound hope to deter Israeli troops". The New York Times. Retrieved 11 December 2008.
  8. ^ Barlow, Katie (27 November 2002). "Real lives: Courage under fire: For almost a year Caoimhe Butterly has been standing in the way of Israeli tanks and troops in Jenin. Last Friday she was shot by a soldier – but she still won't leave, she tells Katie Barlow". The Guardian (UK). p. 6. Archived from the original on 2 April 2009.
  9. ^ The Daily Star Blair delivers pledge of support for army's presence in South web, September 12, 2006, retrieved 3 September 2015
  10. ^ "UN relief worker 'refused flak jacket'". BBC News. 13 December 2005. Retrieved 13 December 2008.
  11. ^ Maev Kennedy; Harriet Sherwood; Severin Carrell (31 May 2010). "Gaza Freedom flotilla carried world-renowned names and veteran activists". The Guardian.

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