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Maha Abdallah

LL.M. International Human Rights Law, University of Galway (2017)

Maha Abdallah, from Palestine, was an Ireland Fellow in 2016-2017. She shares her experiences with us below of her course, the LL.M. International Human Rights Law in the University of Galway, her studies and experience before coming to Ireland and what she has been up to since.  

I have directed so many people to the Ireland Fellows Programme. It's always the first recommendation I make to my people from Palestine and to other colleagues and friends from around the world without hesitation. 

I'm from Jerusalem, Palestine, I was born and raised there. I finished high school in 2008. Then I went to study in Egypt, at the American University in Cairo (AUC). I was not sure what I wanted to study, I knew that I eventually would like to do journalism or human rights. Eventually, I ended up studying political science, and did a specialization during that time in public international law, and a minor in history and economics.  

After my graduation, I worked for a little bit in Cairo as an intern legal advisor for the Africa and Middle East Refugee Assistance (AMERA) which provides legal and psychosocial support for refugees and asylum seekers in Egypt. After that, and primarily due to the political situation in Egypt, I went back to Palestine where I started an internship with Al-Haq, which then turned into a lifelong commitment.  

Several years later, I was curious to explore the advocacy scene and work for Palestine in Europe, and specifically within the EU context. This is when I joined the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies in the Brussels office in February 2020, where I worked for Palestine, Syria and Yemen, for two and a half years. I learned a lot about the EU institutions, the dynamics of EU aid and Member States relationships, and the European Parliament. I spent a lot of time exploring and trying to build networks and connections and influencing, and that was exciting, but also equally frustrating, especially on Palestine. There's a clear lack of willingness among the majority, not all, but the majority of to do anything decent, if anything at all for Palestine. Of course, there's a small cluster, including brilliant Irish MEP’s who are out there leading the fight in different ways, explicitly and implicitly. That's always reassuring and adds a bit of positivity to this very frustrating cloud of policymakers. Then, for a short period, I joined the International Rehabilitation Council for Victims of Torture (IRCT). Shortly after that I had an opportunity to take up a position as a graduate teaching assistant, where I am now at the University of Antwerp carrying out my PhD research examining genocide, settler colonialism and Zionism.   

I always say it was the best decision I have ever made to have gone to the Irish Center for Human Rights to pursue my LLM. It was the place where I learned the most about theory in the areas of international law, and the different fields between human rights, business and human rights, criminal law, and humanitarian law. During my time at Al-Haq, I learned a lot in practice, without having much time to read theory and delve into concepts. I wanted to do my LLM, specifically in international human rights law, to look at it from an academic perspective. The experience superseded my expectations for sure. It was a lot of hard work, it was a compact program for one year, but it was worth every hour at the library.   

The course really helped me shape and refine a lot of my research skills and writing skills, and I felt that I was also exposed to different ways of looking at the law and analyzing it. It was a rich experience, and I really enjoyed the warm environment. There were constantly vibrant and stimulating discussions happening in different formats, whether that be at the study groups or lunch seminars or the classes themselves. 

My favorite memories of Ireland include the serenity and calmness of Galway, that was important to me. Galway is a beautiful place. It really helped motivate my presence. Of course, the rain was always there, all year round.  

I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly I managed to feel adjusted and at home in Ireland, because everybody is so friendly, helpful and down to earth. The facilitation from ICOS was great too, everything is very clear from the beginning about the different administrative and logistical issues.   

Since my return from Ireland, I went back to Al-Haq, where I carried out legal research and advocacy in different capacities. I authored and co-authored several publications in the areas of business and human rights and corporate accountability. Business and Human Rights was something that I was really interested in so during my time at the Center, I took a course in business and human rights and economic social cultural rights. These two courses together helped me to find more resources, tools, ways of thinking about the framework and how to apply it to situations like Palestine.   

During that time, I also became involved in ESCR-Net, which is an international network of about 270 civil society, human rights organizations and social movements from around the world, that work on issues or advocate for issues related to land rights for indigenous peoples, against corporate capture, women and economic social cultural rights, among others. I was elected for the board, for which I'm serving now my second term.   

I have directed so many people to the Ireland Fellows Programme. It's always the first recommendation I make to my people from Palestine for sure, because I know the program is ongoing, and even to other colleagues and friends from around the world without hesitation.  

My advice would be to enjoy the process, to try and strike that balance between studying and learning. Also, growing in an academic sense, but also trying to explore the surroundings in Ireland, wherever they may be. I would definitely advise people to travel around Ireland.