'Freedom Waves': Another Challenge to the Israeli Naval Blockade of Gaza and the U.S. Congress
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
In the overland five trips I have made to Gaza since March 2009, I have seen the disastrous effect the Israeli land and sea blockade has had on the Palestinian people. I have seen the terrible level of destruction the 2008-2009 Israeli attack wreaked on Gaza, in which 1,400 Palestinians were killed in the 22-day attack, 5,000 were wounded and 50,000 were made homeless. I was on the Gaza Freedom March in 2009 and I was a passenger on the US Boat to Gaza, the Audacity of Hope, that was forbidden from sailing June 2011 by the Greek government on behalf of the Israeli government.
As one of two American citizens on the Gaza Freedom Waves, I represented hundreds of thousands of Americans who are challenging Israeli and US policies concerning Palestine. We are using a variety of methods to let Israeli government officials know that international citizen activists are not going to stop challenging their policies. Boycott, divestment and sanctions programs, international citizens who attempt to protect Palestinians as they farm, fish and go to school, students confronting Israeli officials as they speak around the world and flotillas and waves of boats are part of the international effort. I am very proud to be a part of this movement.
Passengers on the Canadian Boat to Gaza, the Tahrir, left Turkey in good spirits Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2011 despite having its passenger list whittled down by the Turkish Port Authority, which allowed only 12 out of 35 passengers who had traveled to Turkey to board the boat. The Turks cited regulations that allowed only 12 persons to be on a boat rated as a “pleasure craft” departing Turkey for international waters, no matter that the vessel was rated for 50-plus passengers. My fellow Americans, Medea Benjamin, Robert Neiman, Paki Wieland, Tighe Barry and David Schermerhorn became our ground crew in Turkey when the passenger reduction was forced on us. On the day we left the Turkish port of Fetiyah, they rented a third boat to attempt to transfer in international waters the other 23 passengers.
Working with our sister ship, the Saoirse, from Ireland, we hit the high seas full throttle, continuing the previous flotilla's efforts to end Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza, which, in combination with Israel’s land blockade, has made the 1.6 million people of Gaza prisoners in a tiny land that is roughly 25 miles long and five miles wide.
Our team, on the Tahrir, consisted of five journalists, including Democracy Now’s Jihan Hafiz, six international delegates and the captain. We bonded quickly and settled into our various chores. Captain George delegated crew duties, journalists set up their satellites and computer stations, cooks and medics tended to physical needs and everyone vied for computer time to reach out to the world.
Canadian Boat to Gaza organizers did an excellent job stocking the boat with food, water and medical supplies, plus $30,000 of medical aid to be delivered to Gaza. The next two days were filled with blogging, filming, battling seasickness, sleeping, eating, nonviolence training and preparation for probable Israeli confrontation and imprisonment.
Arriving in the Danger Zone
Getting into international waters without the Turkish Coast Guard turning us back was our first success. In hopes of not being boarded by the Israeli Defense Forces during darkness, we slowed our speed so it would be daylight Friday morning, Nov. 4, 2011, when we approached 100 nautical miles off Gaza’s shore and probable contact with the IDF.
Each hour brought us 10 miles closer to Gaza. We were thankful to make it past the 70-mile mark where the Mavi Marmara was so brutally attacked in June 2010.