Flotilla Finale: Protesters Deported In Final Chapter of Protest Saga
This article first appeared in NOW Magazine.
Israel’s internationally enforced blockade of Gaza erected its final wall against the second Gaza Freedom flotilla Tuesday morning, when Israeli naval commando’s easily boarded and commandeered the French vessel Dignité/Al Karama (French and Arabic for dignity) in international waters. Pulled into the Israeli port of Ashdod from just off the Gaza coast, passengers with Israeli citizenship aboard the boat were processed quickly and released while international activists were detained by border police.
With most of the 10 vessels tied up in bureaucratic red tape in Greece following a massive pressure campaign by Israel on the economically collapsing country to reverse its longstanding foreign policy, Al Karama originally departed from a French port on the Mediterranean island of Corsica. After a refueling stop and some delay in the Greek Islands, the French yacht picked up a small international delegation representing the blockaded flotilla vessels, including Stephan Corriveau, steering committee member of the Canadian boat Tahrir, and then set sail.
Without a drop of aid aboard and carrying solely the ship's provisions, and determination to freely interact with Gazan Palestinians, the bare simplicity of the symbolism of the Israeli soldier’s routine nature in taking charge of the Gaza-bound vessel speaks volumes about the nature of the blockade.
“It was never about aid,” says Mark Regev, the Israeli Government Press Office spokesperson on the phone from Tel Aviv on Tuesday. He sounded almost as if he was in agreement with the activists’ position that the problem in Gaza is not humanitarian but political, and created by Israel’s military blockade. Then he added “If the activists are interested in Gaza’s freedom, then why is their ally and supporter the authoritarian, Hamas?”
The Freedom Flotilla has always maintained that its support for the Palestinian liberation struggle does not align with any particular political faction.
Regev was quick to claim victory and deny Israeli responsibility at the same time saying, “The simple fact is the flotilla activists had no international legitimacy.” He went on to contend that the pressure exerted was the product of the UN, European and North American governments and was not an Israeli initiative.
Corriveau would likely agree with Regev’s assessment of Western nations’ willingness to assist Israel in its blockade. He was certainly ready to point out what he sees as Canada’s ready collusion when we spent two weeks together on the island of Crete preparing for the the Tahrir to set sail. He, like most of the international activists on the 10 boats that participated, was challenging his own government's support for Israel despite its continued occupation of Palestinian territories.
Even after Tahrir fell under the full control of the coast guard and it became clear that Greece was going to stop the departure of all flotilla vessels, Corriveau remarked, “I think it's mission accomplished even if the game is not finished.’’
“I like Stephan, he has a deep understanding and long history in fighting against white supremacy,” Haaretz correspondent Amria Hass, who was with Corriveau on the Tahrir and the Al Karama, told me over lunch in Crete two days after the Canadian boat had been hauled back to shore.
We discuss how the Palestinian liberation struggle divides into three rough camps: The emancipatory (based on a universality support for freedom and equality), the nationalist and the Islamic. “He is defiantly part of the emancipatory camp,” Hass said of Corriveau.
Hass was immediately separated and quickly released after the Al Karama passengers were brought to port in Israel. Talking to her on the phone as she made her way to the Haaretz office in Tel Aviv after her release, she said Corriveau “responded very well” at the time of the naval takeover and transport to Ashdod.
His activist game has been a long one, dating from freedom for South Africa, to indigenous land rights, campaigns for affordable housing and anti-sexual repression fights with the Catholic Church. Still, he told me as we headed to the then-secret location of the Tahrir, that "Palestine is my first love."
The continued determination to negate Israeli blockade and occupation directly illustrates how the context of the flotilla has changed with the Arab Spring. Israel's deadly raid on the Turkish ship during the first Freedom flotilla in 2010 is generally credited with creating the pressure that resulted in Israel’s increase of aid provision allowed into Gaza. Following Palestinian refugees clashing on Israel's border with Syria and Lebanon and clashes in the West Bank and at Gaza's Erez checkpoint in May, this flotilla may be seen as expanding a campaign that is challenging oppression of Palestinians on all its fronts.