The latest flotilla to try reach the coast of Gaza has been turned back -- ships impounded and passengers deported -- just like every other one since December 2008 (right before the launch of Israel’s massive attack). And although the effort was covered by some of the so-called “mainstream” media (ranging from CNN to The Guardian), the reporting is starting to treat the repeated forays as predictable events.
As Dan Murphy from the Christian Science Monitor observed, “‘Flotilla’ news is buried inside. That's not entirely surprising... A repeat of the violence of 2010 is vanishingly unlikely, and such symbolic efforts lose force over time, as the public grows used to them.”
The one flotilla that actually forced a change in Israeli policy was in May 2010, when the passengers on board the Mavi Marmara actively resisted Israeli commandos, resulting in the murder of nine of the activists. I would argue that short of a government promising to take on Israel by sending its own ships as an escort, the same kind of resistance (sacrifice?) is required to achieve any kind of real impact. And perhaps even that tactic is no longer effective, since the international governing elite would likely criticize the activists for ignoring the lessons they should have learned from past experience.
So....is it time to rethink this strategy for breaking the siege of Gaza? To weigh whether the enormous expense of purchasing and outfitting ships that are later confiscated would be better spent elsewhere (like on advertising in support of BDS)?
I cannot help but think that we should work to bring as much media attention to the Palestinians living inside the prison that is Gaza as to ourselves, the “brave foreigners” who stare down the Israeli navy, get thrown into prison and then are deported home. I am well aware that many Western media don’t pay attention unless one of their own is harmed...I remember the relatively massive media coverage attracted by the murder of Italian activist Vittorio Arrigoni. It was a tragedy indeed; Vik was a personal friend. But meanwhile, the routine killing of many more Palestinians goes virtually unnoticed.
In addition to these high-profile campaigns to “break the siege” by bringing in foreigners, why not put even more effort into helping Palestinians and their goods get out? As much as the Gazans love and welcome internationals who fight to visit their world, they would, I think, benefit even more from a little more help pushing traffic the other way.
The “common knowledge” is that it is impossible to get a single young man between the age of 18 and 40 out of Gaza, particularly to the United States. The assumption appears to be that either he is a terrorist, or will not want to return to his homeland -- and the U.S. no longer subscribes to taking the “tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” I was told that straight out last year by a desk officer at the State Department, when I tried to get U.S. visas for two young Gazan men so they could join me on a speaking tour.
But that “universal truth” was proven wrong recently when the owners of a cinema chain called the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas, managed to bring 23-year-old identical twins Tarzan and Arab (real names Ahmed and Mohamed Abu Nasser) from Gaza to the U.S. for an exhibit of one of their short films. I met the extremely talented pair while I was in Gaza earlier this year, and interviewed them for the Palestinian Gandhi Project. They cut unusual figures even in Gaza: Their hair is long and the word “swarthy” appeared to be coined just for them. They were the last ones you’d ever expect to get U.S. visas. And yet, they did -- with the persistent, dogged efforts of the Alamo Drafthouse and the immigration attorney they hired.
The same was true for the DARG Team, a rap group I also interviewed for the project. Their champions were a Swiss group, and the effect of being allowed to see a bit of the world and to experience the comradeship of those on the "outside" is evident in their songs. Before finally making it out of Gaza to tour Europe, their lyrics mostly focused on death and destruction, because that was the sum and total of their lives. When they returned home, however, they wrote songs about “holding your head up high” and “rebuilding Gaza.”
The impossible becomes possible when supporters become committed champions. The videotaping of “Palestinian Gandhis” is just the first step; I hope these too-often-muffled voices of Palestine will be given as much attention as the frustrated flotillas. The next step will be to encourage “twinning” -- matching teachers, artists, students, etc. to their counterparts in Palestine. My hope is that they will begin a collaboration that will help break down borders and other barriers. Isn’t that worth as much effort as getting more foreigners in? If you are interested in joining the effort, contact me.