Excitement builds over US boat to Gaza

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On Thursday this week, the group that is planning a US boat to Gaza is having a sunset cruise in New York harbor to raise money. There is a lot of excitement about the boat (the evolved Times ledeblog has covered it), and so the cruise is almost sold out, 400 passengers. Look at the list of people who are behind the US boat. Phyllis Bennis, Leslie Cagan, the Corries, Russell Banks, Anna Baltzer, Rashid Khalidi, Donna Nevel, Felice Gelman, Michael Ratner, Michael Smith, Judy Walker, Alice Walker, Noor Elashi, Rebecca Vilkomerson, Iara Lee. Good people.

"It seems to me like this is what many many people have been waiting for, all around the country," Gail Miller says. "People are so eager to be part of this." Just Friday night, a party raised $4,000 in Woodstock.

The goal is to raise $360,000 to buy a boat and put 40 to 60 Americans on it in the next big push of international boats in September or October. There are rumors that Iker Casillas, the amazing Spanish goalie who reportedly expressed outrage over the siege even in the midst of the Spanish victory, and Rafael Nadal, will also be on that flotilla.

I met Laurie Arbeiter, who is working day and night on the boat, and as she spoke about the struggle to find the boat, it reminded me of the opening chapters of Exodus, when the Zionists are acquiring a boat and hiding it in Cyprus. (I’ve always felt that non-Zionism among Jews mirrors the liberation ideals of the Zionists– when they were responding to European persecution, though sadly ignoring the Palestinian reality.)

The boat idea got going right after the flotilla when Adam Shapiro and Ann Wright addressed All Soul’s Church in New York. Then when Arbeiter went to the US Social Forum in Detroit last month she bought some black pails and taped US Boat to Gaza on the sides and passed them around. Within a day or so she had $2000 in the pails. There were two young girls from Gaza there, about 10 and 11 years old, touring the country (can someone supply me names and ages?) to raise awareness about the crushing conditions in that open-air prison.

The girls each put in $40.

People ran after the girls and said, No no no, you keep this money! But the girls turned on the organizers and said, No, you keep this money. Do you know how important it is to us that people come to Gaza and see what we are experiencing?

That is what I saw in Gaza: the people are desperate to be known. (And the moral leadership provided by Palestinian children is also the lesson of Fida Qishta’s film about Gaza.)  

Below is a note from Laurie Arbeiter on the importance of the boat, and below that, the appeal from the organizers:

First I think that it is important to note that the name of the boat, THE AUDACITY OF HOPE, has captured the imagination of people all over the country because the phrase succeeds in expressing the political will and collective desire to challenge the U.S./Israeli alliance… In order to challenge such a stronghold on power held by governments that have this much military might it requires audacious nonviolent acts such as the freedom flotilla sailing to break the illegal Israeli blockade of Gaza.

It requires us to face the facts of the blockade head-on, placing ourselves in the presence of an illegal criminal regime, asking ourselves to have the courage to face a condition constantly being faced by the Palestinian people living under occupation and siege. 

Gaza is an open-air prison, without a doubt, when you consider that the definition of a prison camp is a place where people and goods cannot go or come without the say so of the guards — in this case Israel. One can argue whether the guards are nice guards or mean guards — or the prisoners well treated or poorly treated. But there can be no argument that Gaza is a prison for 1.5 million people who are being collectively punished. The mission of the flotillas is to sail to the walls of the prison and demand that they be taken down.

Also the U.S. government has sent and continues to send boats to that region carrying aid, only it is military aid. This will be a U.S. boat carrying a U.S. delegation with the message that the U.S. government has treaty obligations to obey universal human rights and international law and therefore it must stop all military aid to Israel, a country whose government has abused power and committed war crimes.

And here is an excerpt of the boat appeal:

This is an important moment in history. In the aftermath of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla massacre and increased world-wide scrutiny of Israel’s blockade of Gaza, the Israeli government has mounted a huge public relations campaign spreading the lie that by letting a few more items into Gaza the blockade has been lifted. This is not the reality. Gaza is still under siege…

We are planning to launch a U.S. boat to Gaza, joining a flotilla of ships from Europe, Canada, India, South Africa and parts of the Middle East due to set sail in September/ October of this year. In order to succeed in this essential but costly human rights project, we need significant financial support.

Citizens around the world have responded to the plight of the Palestinian people and are taking action to help break the blockade which is suffocating the lives of the people of Gaza and denying them their liberty. The U.S. government is complicit through established policies that uncritically support Israel in its brutal attack on the Palestinian people and on those who attempt to intervene on their behalf. We in the United States must continue to step up and do our part. We must join with others from across the world to support an end to the collective punishment of 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza.

We turn to you to help make the U.S. boat, The Audacity of Hope, a reality. We must raise at least $370,000 in the next month. These funds will be used to purchase a boat large enough for 40-60 people, secure a crew, and cover the licensing and registering of the boat. In addition, the funds will subsidize some other costs of sending a U.S. delegation.

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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