What next after the latest frustrated flotilla?

on 26 Comments

 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.

About Pam Bailey

Pam Bailey is founder of WeAreNotNumbers.org and international secretary for the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor. She is based in Washington, DC, and travels to the Middle East frequently.

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26 Responses

  1. JohnAdamTurnbull
    November 9, 2011, 4:06 am

    Your view is correct, at least from where I sit in Istanbul. Israel is back to homebase on this run. Unless they actually harm one of the 21 prisoners, the news is over.

    While it’s tempting, and amusing, to think of other ways that a flotilla could be organized, I think it may be more important to look at the way ordinary people change their minds about what Israeli really is. In my estimation, there are very few North Americans or Europeans who can visit the West Bank and return with any shred of respect for this Israeli government. Of course, Israel uses a variation of this technique to keep the US Congress onside — and it seems to work.

    I wonder whether the organization of inexpensive trips to the West Bank, or perhaps tunnel-to-Gaza adventure tours, might produce more sympathy for Palestinians. The control point for Gaza, of course, is Egypt. We should be working now to find ways for them to give their permission as the Turks recently did. The control point for the West Bank is also difficult — but many have managed to do it.

    As for bringing Palestinians out — Yes! This should be an exchange. I think it may be possible to find institutions that have a specific interest in some aspect of life in Gaza. For example, there are unions of fishermen who would understand immediately what it means to be shot at within four miles of your shoreline. I know of a mid-western orchard farmer who become outraged at the treatment of olive farmers once he understood that settlers were destroying trees.

    It was our encounter with Palestinians accountant in Canada that got us involved. Imagine the excitement!

    Karen’s few days in the spa at Givon has made her more resolute and it seems to have the same effect on other “ordinary” people.

    • Pam Bailey
      November 9, 2011, 3:41 pm

      John, that is exactly what I have in mind…to pair ordinary people to ordinary people based on interests, rather than use politics as a starting point. Artists can relate to artists, for example, even if one starts out having no interest in Palestine. And yes, part of that would include trips in, and OUT. Let me know if you’d like to get involved in helping make this happen.

  2. Boycott Israel on Campus
    November 9, 2011, 5:08 am

    A very easy way is to loudly demand a resolution to boycott all Israeli products at your university:


    That will cause enough panic among the Zionists on campus. They will then increase the publicity your boycott campaign receives.

  3. JohnAdamTurnbull
    November 9, 2011, 5:55 am

    We, the imprisoned foreign nationals are the lucky ones. We at least have supporters at home and consuls who watch over us the best they can. What happens to Palestinian political prisoners and to ordinary Palestians daily is far worse–there is no pressing need for the state of Israel to prove to anyone that they are not abusing Palestinians.

    I agree with your analysis that we need to keep trying to change the behaviour of the state of Israel. But I also see more and more ordinary people becoming activists after they understand our story is not about us, but about what Israel does to ordinary Palestinians and to Palestinian political prisoners when no one is looking. There are different ways to help people make that imaginative leap.

    I have long heard the argument that the money for a ship may be better spent on BDS. I believe that every effort is valuable in a different way in that although they may overlap, there are some people whose imagination is more activated by one or the other.

    This I do know– more ships are coming. I don’t know when. There will be more smaller, cheaper ones. I am guessing that legal action will be taken to get the Tahrir returned. After that, we shall see. Freedom rules the waves. Israel waives the rules.
    But our numbers are growing.

  4. seafoid
    November 9, 2011, 6:13 am

    Would it be worth looking into an action against Israeli boats in Europe ? Even plastering them with BDS stickers would be newsworthy. Especially private boats. Greek Islands in summertime.

    Alternatively spraying Israeli boats with water would get attention. Give them the same treatment that the flotillas get near Israel.

    F*ck Israeli impunity

    • thetumta
      November 9, 2011, 7:40 pm

      Interesting. If Greece wasn’t on the edge of economic oblivion and naturally consumed with their own fate, your concept would be workable. My ex-brother-in-law once showed me a tiny cave on his home island where the resistance in his town hid from the Wehrmacht. He also described to me participating in food marches under occupation when he was 10.
      One day he mentioned to me that he was with his mother at this very spot, holding her hand as their food march approached a fortified Wehrmacht position with many of those wonderful German chain guns. The entire group of civilians could have been eliminated in seconds. It was the first time in his memory that he feared for his life and he was ten.
      Out of the blue, this part of the conversation was followed by an exclamation of how much he despised the IDF from what he had seen of their behavior in Palestine. Much worse than the Wehrmacht.
      The German troops did not fire because they were without food as well and suffering. The Israelis are very well fed and suffer nothing, but they kill with abandon including 10 year olds.
      He’s older now and not afraid of death since he sailed the seven seas for 40 years before knowing me. He could be very useful in such a strategy and there must be many, many more like him.

  5. Graber
    November 9, 2011, 8:57 am

    Hey Pam,

    I have a radio show on West Philadelphia’s community radio station WPEB 88.1, entitled “Radio Against Apartheid.” We are “amplifying voices for justice and equality in the Middle East”.

    We just started a few weeks ago, and we’ve already featured Omar Offendum and Susan Abulhawa. This week’s show features an interview with Joseph Dana and Jesse Rosenfeld, and we have plans to speak with representatives from the Great Book Robbery as well as a discussion with philosopher Judith Butler.

    We would love the opportunity to feature more Palestinian voices on the radio. [email protected] if you have any particular contacts who may be interested.

    Thanks in advance!

    • Pam Bailey
      November 9, 2011, 3:43 pm

      Graber…I will send you an email so we can discuss this opportunity further!

  6. Taxi
    November 9, 2011, 9:23 am

    Thank you Pam Baily for your refreshing perspective, your creative ideas and also especially for introducing us to such young and great artists from occupied Palestine.

    JohnAdamTurnbull’s insights are wonderful and profoundly valuable too.

    Raising money and awareness through the arts, and especially through music – a kinda Palestine Live Aid, would be cool too on so many levels. Contacting for instance the big-name artists that have been vocal about the boycott (Elvis Costello, Roger Waters, the Pixies, etc) and organizing a live musical event that features them. You can use this money raised from the event for both a future peace flotilla AND for assisting Palestinians who’ve been victimized by the occupation.

    Personally, I strongly believe in cultural exchanges, especially artistic exchanges, as a way of getting to know the voiceless other on a deep and soulful level.

    With good people like Pam and JohnAdam, and countless other nameless ones working to help the Palestinians, well… there is yet hope in humanity itself eventually and collectively doing the right thing for justice in Palestine.

    Thank you peace activists and internationals the globe over. You give mankind a good name – you who are few in number, yet courageous and righteous individuals who are indeed willing and DOING the changing of the world.

    • Pam Bailey
      November 9, 2011, 3:55 pm

      Taxi…yes, I am VERY excited to arrange some arts exchanges! But I wouldn’t use the funds for more flotillas. I would use them to help re-establish art classes in Gaza (they have been eliminated due to a shortage of space) and pay talented artists to teach others…Art is so under-valued there right now due to the poverty…

      • Taxi
        November 9, 2011, 11:24 pm

        Please,Pam, keep bringing us here to mondoweiss the work and life-stories of young Palestinian artists.

        It’s all so truly amazing. To be inspired to create despite the barrel of a gun daily pointing at their heads – now THAT is truly life-affirming genius!

        Viva Palastina!

        Viva Pam Baily!

  7. rosahill
    November 9, 2011, 10:34 am

    I couldn’t agree more that the focus of all our actions has to be on the plight of the Palestinians. That’s hard, but not impossible, when the mainstream media is focused on what they view as sensational stories like the kidnapping and imprisonment of foreigners. (And, I have to add, primarily foreigners who they think of as “white.” The kidnapping and disappearance for days of Press TV journalist Hassan Ghani, a Scottish citizen, got virtually no coverage.)

    In my thinking, this journalistic myopia is evidence of the success of Israel’s campaign of occupation, apartheid, and erasure. We need to counter it at every possible turn. The success of BDS campaigns around the world tells us that people are ready to understand and act when given an opportunity and the means.

    But I also think that challenging the borders and apartheid laws plays a very useful purpose in defining the nature of the occupation. It’s just up to us to put it into context by making it clear that the same walls that keep people out keep many more people in. The same “laws” that are used to imprison foreigners have been applied far more harshly to literally hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. Finally, I think, going forward, that people who do decide to challenge the borders should be prepared to challenge every facet of the Israeli “legal” process and fill the jails.

  8. Meehow
    November 9, 2011, 11:09 am

    Nimer Sultany offers a concise and incisive analysis of the “Palestinian Gandhi” trope in the latest issue of Jadal:

    “Nevertheless, many feel obliged to search for a Gandhi to verify the existence of Palestinian non-violence. But this search, while perhaps helpful in challenging stereotypes, falls into the ugly trap of basing the legitimacy of Palestinian demands on the choice of means. Furthermore, by distancing oneself from the stereotype one implicitly concedes certain validity to it. Instead of regarding the stereotype as a misrepresentation of the reality of the oppressed, it becomes the yardstick by which the oppressed has to measure himself through negating it. The oppressed is requested to mold his or her mode of resistance into an identifiable and acceptable form. But no matter how frequently the oppressed declares he is ‘nonviolent,’ he will still need to demonstrate, time and again, that his hands are clean leading to a never-ending game. The suspicion will always lurk that the oppressed will fall back into his ‘violent nature.'”

    • Pam Bailey
      November 9, 2011, 3:58 pm

      Yes, I have read that and my partner and I have debated to a great extent the chosen name for our project. We ended up keeping it, because this is the language used by everyone else and our project is a response to it. I wrote an earlier post on Mondoweiss, where I explain that our use of the word “Gandhi” is very loose indeed.

  9. BillM
    November 9, 2011, 11:25 am

    Thank you for writing this. It’s a very hard thing to do, question the prevailing wisdom on your own side, but I think you are absolutely correct (I’ve thought this way for a while). Unless there is some factor to change up the normal dynamic, sending little flotillas of small ships that Israel can easily corral gains very very little bang for the buck.

    I think your focus on traffic the other way is creative an potentially powerful. I also think that the weak point in the siege is currently not the coast but the Egyptian border. Putting pressure on this border has a much better change of forcing an opening, and has the added benefits of increasing the Egyptian people’s direct involvement in the Gaza issue and simultaneously putting pressure on the Egyptian military junta. Yes, I realize that so some extent this plays into Israel’s denial of responsibility for Gaza and the siege, and does not lead to the right of Palestinians free to interact with the world without ANY intervening power, but I think in terms of the most immediate point to change the current balance of power on the ground, the Egyptian border is the place to push.

  10. eee
    November 9, 2011, 11:31 am

    Well, not all of you have their heads in the sand. At least Pam Bailey sees what I have been saying all along, that the flotilla is a waste of money.

    • Hostage
      November 10, 2011, 6:19 am

      Well, not all of you have their heads in the sand.

      The biggest difference between South African Apartheid and Israeli Apartheid is the possibility of criminal prosecution for the crime of apartheid in the ICC. Trials in an international penal tribunal were first envisioned in Article V of the Apartheid Convention.

      The US media didn’t pay much attention, but a few days before UNESCO recognized Palestine as a State entitled to full membership in that specialized UN agency, the ICC Prosecutor explained that the Palestinians could pursue war crimes charges in the ICC without full statehood in the UN:

      “We have the declaration, and we have been analyzing if they are a state,” he said. “Now the issue is before the UN, and whatever they decide, we will react to.”

      He mentioned that the Rome Statute is open under the less strict “All-States formula”:

      “If the General Assembly says they are an observer state, in accordance with the all-state formula, this should allow them . . . to be part of the International Criminal Court”


      After the UNSECO vote, Palestine satisfies the more selective “Vienna formula” criteria. It was first used in the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, and has since been employed for many other UN multilateral treaties. It was developed in response to situations in which permanent members of the Security Council had blocked full membership in the UN for political reasons. It does not open Conventions for signatures by all States, but it does apply to member States of the UN specialized agencies like UNESCO:

      The present Convention shall be open for signature by all States Members of the United Nations or of any of the specialized agencies or of the International Atomic Energy Agency or parties to the Statute of the International Court of Justice, and by any other State invited by the General Assembly of the United Nations to become a party to the Convention

      A State for the purposes of the Vienna formula is naturally a State for the purposes of the all-States formula.

      I’m wondering when the Palestinian civil society and human rights organizations are going to tumble to the fact that nothing prevents Palestine from joining the ICC right now, except their own Palestinian officials.

      We obviously should be assigning a higher priority to getting formal criminal investigations and prosecutions underway for the blatant crimes committed on the territory of Palestine since 2002 in connection with the illegal settlement enterprise and the collective punishment regimes in Gaza and the West Bank.

      • eee
        November 10, 2011, 10:21 am

        Another way to waste money. Lebanese have access to the international courts and constantly threaten to sue Israel. Where are the suits? Saying that something is a war crime is very easy. Proving that in court is very hard and costly and the proceedings will take years and years. But, do your worst. There is only one way forward, negotiations.

      • Hostage
        November 10, 2011, 7:16 pm

        Saying that something is a war crime is very easy. Proving that in court is very hard and costly and the proceedings will take years and years.

        The Palestinians already have an ICJ advisory opinion in hand which found the settlements are a violation of Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention. That is a war crime ipso jure in accordance with Article 85 of the 1st Additional Protocol and Article 8(2)(b)(viii) of the Rome Statute. That ICJ ruling only took a matter of months and it merely reconfirmed a Declaration made by the Reconvened High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Convention and a multitude of Security Council and General Assembly resolutions.

        The Sasson Report didn’t take very long. In any event the ICC Prosecutor could indict and convict Netanyahu for authorizing the construction of illegal settlements and indirectly facilitating illegal population transfers and deportations in relatively short order. Hasbara talking points are not grounds for excluding criminal responsibility in accordance with Article 31 of the Rome Statute. I don’t think Israelis could simply adapt to the possibility of arrest and prosecution facilitated by 119 other states or an international court going after your foreign assests.

    • JohnAdamTurnbull
      November 10, 2011, 11:02 am

      You sound a little grumpy eee. What Pam said is that organizing another flotilla may not be worth while. Yes, I think Israel may have learned how to respond to these. However, they are still in the news at least in Canada and Britain, so don’t do the cost/benefit yet.

      You contention the flotilla is a waste of money is hard to support. The change in the number of news stories that recognize the justice of Palestinian self-determination is countable — and I estimate that it tripled. If you think that an old day-ferry is a lot of money to spend on that change in tone in the news, then try buying it directly.

  11. Pamela Olson
    November 9, 2011, 12:42 pm

    Hi Pam,

    Perhaps I missed it, but how can we contact you? Thanks!


  12. PeaceThroughJustice
    November 9, 2011, 1:10 pm

    “What next after the latest frustrated flotilla?”

    There had been some talk a few years back of organizing an air lift. Using small civilian aircraft suitable for rough-field operations (there are no airports anywhere in Palestine but landings could be made in any open area), it would certainly force Israel’s hand, as there is absolutely nothing it could do short of shooting them down and suffering the global publicity consequences. But it would take brave activists to pilot them.

    Anyone heard any further on this?

    • Pam Bailey
      November 9, 2011, 4:08 pm

      There used to be an airfield in Gaza, but Israel destroyed it like everything else…

      • Am_America
        November 9, 2011, 4:13 pm

        Pam, do you think flying planes into Gaza would be an affective strategy?

  13. Pam Bailey
    November 9, 2011, 4:27 pm

    I am not sure…I am sure Israel would find some way to stop them, assuming that we could find a country to let them take off. But not without some loss of life, I would think? What does a government do to force another plane down?

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