Lifelong Palestine advocate to receive Jerusalem (Al Quds) Peace Prize

Feb 22, 2024

A lifetime of advocacy and support for Palestine will be honoured on Friday evening as the 2023-24 Jerusalem (Al Quds) Peace Prize is awarded to APHEDA co-founder, nurse and refugee and women’s rights advocate Dr Helen McCue AM.

Hosted by the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN) , the annual Jerusalem (Al Quds) Peace Prize is awarded to an Australian who has shown extraordinary commitment and devotion to the Palestinian call for justice.

This year’s recipient of the prize, Dr McCue, has been a passionate advocate for Palestine since 1983, when she was a young nurse consultant educator for the World Health Organisation in the Middle East. 

She was seconded to the United Nations Relief and Works Organisation (UNRWA) to work in Lebanon, leaving the role after witnessing the horror of the Sabra and Shatila massacre to volunteer in refugee camps alongside Palestinian nurse Dr Olfat Mahmoud, who went on to become a lifelong friend, colleague, and source of inspiration, until her tragic death in September last year.

Dr McCue returned to Australia to co-found with ACTU president Cliff Dolan, Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA, an organisation that brought the Australian union movement together in solidarity with the lives of workers globally. 

Dr McCue became the organisation’s first Executive Director, and APHEDA’s first project was a community nurse training program for nurses from refugee camps across the Middle East region and from Gaza. 

Dr McCue also worked supporting various training and humanitarian projects with Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, and on programs supporting the rights of workers, migrants and women more broadly.

The demonisation of refugees during the Tampa Crisis in 2001 sparked Dr McCue to co-found Rural Australians for Refugees.

Dr McCue’s admiration for the strength and independence of Palestinian women inspired her to complete a PhD on gender and Islam, and she went on to work at the University of Melbourne’s Islamic Centre of Excellence in Islamic Studies, and at the University of Sydney’s Law Faculty focusing her research on Muslim women in Australia.

She has published a number of academic papers, and co-authored Family Law and Australian Muslim Women with Professor Abdullah Saeed.

Her decades of human rights, refugee and humanitarian work has seen Dr McCue awarded several national and international awards, including an Order of Australia in 2003. 

The Jerusalem (Al Quds) Peace Prize award ceremony will be on Friday 23 February at 6.30pm at the Melbourne Town Hall. 

Comments attributed to Dr Helen McCue:

“I’m honoured to receive this prize in memory of my dear friend, mentor and sister in struggle Dr Olfat Mahmoud.”

“It is particularly poignant to be receiving this prestigious prize at this time when Palestinians in both Occupied Gaza and West Bank are suffering unbelievable, horrific hardship and brutal violations of their basic human rights, for life, shelter, water and food. I salute all of the health workers, first responders, journalists and many others who have lost their lives serving their community.”

“Palestinians are struggling for liberty, for those human rights, for their own country that is free, where people are equal and have full democratic rights and where they can live in safety and dignity at peace with their neighbours.”

“This Jerusalem Peace Prize calls all of us to continue to work toward a just, sustainable and long term peace for the Palestinian people in their own land.”

Comments attributed to Australia Palestine Advocacy Network President Nasser Mashni:

As Israel commits genocide in Gaza and increases its violent attacks on the occupied West Bank, it has never been more important to recognise the vital work of Australian supporters and the strength and solidarity they offer to the movement for Palestinian justice.”

“Dr McCue has dedicated her life to working for justice for Palestinians and supporting the work of others who are struggling for equal rights, democracy and self-determination, and this prize is a fitting tribute to her leadership, compassion and humanity.”

“This year’s Jerusalem (Al Quds) Peace Prize couldn’t have gone to a more deserving recipient, and as we honour Dr McCue we also pay tribute to the memory and legacy of her friend, Dr Olfat Mahmoud, who I know has been a source of such great inspiration to Dr McCue throughout her four decades of advocacy work.”