New campaign challenges blockade a year after Greece blocked flotilla to Gaza

ActivismIsrael/Palestine
gaza fisherman
Fisherman from Gaza risking Israeli attack return to port, 2011. (Photo: Furlong/Getty Images)

One year after the Greek government bowed to pressure and enforced the outsourced Israeli blockade of Gaza, the international movement to challenge the blockade is still very much afloat: we may change our tactics, but not our objectives. Our new campaign to challenge the blockade from the inside out emphasizes the fundamental importance of freedom of movement for Palestinians.

On July 4, 2011 the Canadian boat Tahrir left the port of Aghios Nikolaos (in Crete, Greece) bound for Gaza. After days of waiting for official clearance in the face of increasing bureaucratic and political obstacles, we decided to defy a Greek government ban on Freedom Flotilla departures and simply cast off. There were more than 40 people on board the Tahrir: a wide range of delegates from Australia, Belgium, Denmark and Canada as well as journalists from various countries. Our Greek captain and crew had been replaced for the occasion by volunteers– we were lucky to have among us delegates with professional maritime experience, from engineers to ship’s officers.

We didn’t make it more than eight nautical miles out before the Greek coastguard commandos boarded the Tahrir and took control of the vessel. We were towed back to port where three people from our group had been arrested (they were subsequently tried and given suspended sentences). The Greeks used minimal force in stopping the Tahrir. They did not interfere with communications nor with media reporting – cameras and live phone interviews were rolling throughout the whole process. Some of the coastguard commandos in fact said they were embarrassed by what they saw as their government’s betrayal of Greece’s traditional Mideast position. By accepting to play the role of unenthusiastic enforcers for Israel’s outsourced blockade of Gaza, then-Prime Minister Papandreou was indeed betraying his father Andreas’ historical support for Palestinian liberation. All the pandering to powerful international forces could not of course save the younger Papandreou’s job as PM from the pressures of the austerity agenda, and it remains to be seen whether present or future Greek governments will return to a more independent foreign policy. Meanwhile, we remain more buoyant about our international anti-blockade movement than about the Greek political situation.

When the Tahrir sailed again in November, this time from Turkey and with a much reduced delegation (just 12 people on board), we got much further before being captured by the Israeli navy in international waters just 45 nautical miles from Gaza. In stark contrast to the Greeks, the Israeli navy began by blocking all communications and throughout did everything possible to prevent journalists on board from doing their work by reporting. By stealing media professionals’ recording equipment, the Israelis showed once again they know their actions are illegal and indefensible. Despite recognizing that there were no arms or munitions of any kind on the Tahrir and that they would be met with only nonviolent resistance, the heavily armed commandos boarded us with overwhelming military force, an act of state-sponsored piracy.

The Tahrir and the Saoirse are still illegally impounded in Israel, along with at least five other boats from different countries which have challenged the blockade since 2009 (after the six successful voyages to Gaza in 2008). We have filed a legal request for the release of our boat and its content but we know the Tahrir faces more delays before we can deliver this gift from Canadian civil society to the Palestinians of Gaza. The U.S. boat to Gaza, the Audacity of Hope, has been impounded since last year by the Greek authorities, along with three other vessels.

A few Greek and Turkish boats from the 2010 Freedom Flotilla were finally returned, heavily damaged, from Israeli captivity, and the French campaign Un Bateau français pour Gaza has filed legally against Israeli authorities for piracy, kidnapping and theft following the illegal capture of their boat Dignité Al-Karama last July. Meanwhile the commercial sailing ship Estelle is making its way from Scandinavia through the ports of Europe to the Mediterranean in order to challenge the blockade. So our international civil society movement against the blockade of Gaza remains very much afloat.

Launched in May 2012, Gaza’s Ark (GazaArk.org) is a new campaign in cooperation with organizations and individuals in Palestine, Canada, Australia and the U.S. which aims to build hope on the ground in Gaza in order to sail from Palestine against the blockade. It is not an “aid” project but rather an affirmation of the ability of the Palestinians of Gaza to rebuild their productive export economy, once they regain their freedom of movement. We are funding a boat to be sailed out of Gaza (the only Mediterranean port closed to shipping) by internationals and Palestinians to transport Palestinian products to complete trade deals with international buyers.

Importantly, outbound export trade from Palestine cannot be portrayed as threatening anyone’s security. But it does affirm a very basic human right systematically denied to Palestinians by the Israeli occupation: the freedom of movement within as well as in and out of their country. It also supports the Palestinian fishery’s right to operate in Palestinian territorial waters off Gaza for their livelihood, also threatened daily by the same blockade we are challenging.

Five independent human rights experts reporting to the U.N. Human Rights Council reiterated in September 2011 that the blockade of Gaza is illegal under international law. Until the governments of the world take up their responsibilities towards Palestinian civilians and demand that Israel comply with international law, civil society movements like ours maintain our sights steadily fixed on freedom of movement for all Palestinians.

Our tactics may change but our course remains the conscience of humanity.

About David Heap and Ehab Lotayef

Linguistics professor David Heap and IT engineer & poet Ehab Lotayef are Steering Committee member with the Canadian Boat for Gaza (www.tahrir.ca) and Gaza’s Ark (www.GazaArk.org). They were on the Tahrir when it was attacked and seized last November and spent six days in Israeli prison before being deported back to Canada.

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36 Responses

  1. Fredblogs
    July 26, 2012, 2:30 pm

    Outbound trade brings them currency that they can use to buy weapons to be smuggled in. Also, the boats couldn’t come back without being searched, which the Palestinians would not allow. And that’s 5 “independent” human rights experts, not 5 independent human rights experts. They were carefully chosen for their prejudice against Israel. Richard Falk for example is a long time anti-Israel activist.

    Nice little anti-Semitic and anti-USA cartoon he posted on his blog

    http://blog.unwatch.org/index.php/category/richard-falk/

    • Cliff
      July 26, 2012, 2:48 pm

      UN Watch is an Israel Lobby group, hence it’s discredited from the get-go. Richard Falk is not anti-Israel, he just calls it like he sees it – just like the UN.

      Reality is not antisemitic.

    • ColinWright
      July 26, 2012, 3:01 pm

      “And that’s 5 “independent” human rights experts, not 5 independent human rights experts. They were carefully chosen for their prejudice against Israel…”

      The difficulty is that anyone who has any authentic concern for human rights at all is rather swiftly going to acquire a prejudice against Israel.

    • Woody Tanaka
      July 26, 2012, 3:24 pm

      “Outbound trade brings them currency that they can use to buy weapons to be smuggled in. Also, the boats couldn’t come back without being searched, which the Palestinians would not allow.”

      Who cares? It’s still a violation of their rights. The zios have no right to search their boats and no right to keep them from arming themselves to defend themselves from the zio’s attacks.

      “And that’s 5 “independent” human rights experts, not 5 independent human rights experts. They were carefully chosen for their prejudice against Israel. ”

      I’m sure you can document that that is why they were chosen. Or is your logic: “I don’t like what they say about my country, therefore they’re biased against my country.”

      “Nice little anti-Semitic and anti-USA cartoon he posted on his blog”

      Once the israeli state decided to co-opt religious symbols of Judaism and to declare itself a “Jewish State”, it opened up those symbols for use by cartoonists, commentators and others to make political points. If you don’t like that use, persuade the israelis to change their state’s symbols, so that these symbols can revert to merely religious ones.

      And so what if the cartoon is anti-USA? If the USA is wrong (and it is here) then NOT stating the anti-USA opinion would be wrong.

  2. eljay
    July 26, 2012, 3:00 pm

    >> Outbound trade brings them currency that they can use to buy weapons to be smuggled in.

    You’re absolutely right, they shouldn’t have to buy and smuggle weapons. They should be given weapons, just like Israel is given weapons. That way, they can defend themselves properly AND use the currency generated by outbound trade to develop Palestine.

    >> Nice little anti-Semitic and anti-USA cartoon he posted on his blog

    The U.S. and the Jewish State pissing on Lady Justice as they kill with impunity. Seems accurate enough.

  3. ColinWright
    July 26, 2012, 3:03 pm

    “Nice little anti-Semitic and anti-USA cartoon he posted on his blog”

    I’m interested. While that cartoon is indisputably critical of the US, in what way is is it ‘anti-semitic’?

    • Fredblogs
      July 26, 2012, 4:51 pm

      Note the Yarmulke, suggesting that Jews control the USA. Protocols of the Elders of Zion it ain’t, but anti-Semitic nonetheless.

      • eljay
        July 26, 2012, 5:52 pm

        >> Note the Yarmulke, suggesting that Jews control the USA.

        To me, the yarmulke and the Star of David suggest the Jewish State which works as one with the American State (as there is “no light between them”) to piss on Justice. Crude, perhaps, but not inaccurate.

      • Woody Tanaka
        July 26, 2012, 6:21 pm

        “Note the Yarmulke, suggesting that Jews control the USA.”

        How does that suggest that? The dog or wolf or whatever the beast is, is wearing a garment on its midsection that represents the USS and a yarmulke that represents Israel. If anything, it is saying that the beast that is raving the people is made up of both Israel and the USA. (Caveat: I don’t know what the Arabic means, so my opinion might change if one of our Arabic speakers could translate…)

        I don’t see “control” anywhere (if the artist wanted to demonstrate “control” it would have been easier to simply use a figure representing Israel holding a leash and have the beast labelled “USA”). But even then, it’s still a stretch to view a political cartoon about Israel as being about Jews as a group and not israel as a state.

      • Fredblogs
        July 26, 2012, 7:25 pm

        It doesn’t say “Israel” and has nothing to indicate that it is Israel rather than Jews it is referring to.

      • eljay
        July 26, 2012, 9:25 pm

        >> It doesn’t say “Israel” and has nothing to indicate that it is Israel rather than Jews it is referring to.

        Good point. Given the lack of a clear qualifier – say, the name Israel, or a blue & white yarmulke with the SoD on it, or even something like Z✡ (to specify that it is Zio-supremacists and not all Jews who, with America, piss on Justice) – I will have to agree that it is anti-Semitic.

      • Woody Tanaka
        July 26, 2012, 9:40 pm

        “has nothing to indicate that it is Israel rather than Jews it is referring to.”

        What are you talking about? The cartoon specifically used the symbol which israel chose to put on its flag. What is the cartoonist supposed to use to indicate israel? A red Maple Leaf? A hammer and sickle??

        You can’t blame the cartoonist if israel decided to employ a symbol that was subject to uncertainty.

      • ColinWright
        July 27, 2012, 4:51 am

        It’s perfectly clear to me that the cartoon refers to Israel, and I’m pretty sure it’s clear to you.

        I see nomore reason to read anti-semitism into it any more than I would read anti-French bigotry into a political cartoon that made use of a poodle.

        To my mind, while the cartoon itself has no particular hidden meaning, the use of the ‘anti-semitic’ club to attack it and Richard Falk is pretty typical of ‘hasbara’ tactics.

        (I always stick ‘hasbara’ in quotes because while I have no idea what the word means, I’m pretty sure it’s not Hebrew for ‘dishonest propaganda.’)

      • Fredblogs
        July 27, 2012, 1:50 pm

        It is perfectly clear to me that the cartoon refers to Jews and not Israel. As eljay said (I’m not sure whether he meant it sarcastically or not), if it meant Israel it would have said “Israel” or been a blue star on a white background with or possibly even without stripes, not a white star on a black background.

        As for “hasbara” going by context around here it means “anything the anti-Israel crowd disagrees with”.

      • eljay
        July 30, 2012, 12:25 pm

        >> As eljay said (I’m not sure whether he meant it sarcastically or not) …

        Yes, I meant it.

  4. JohnAdamTurnbull
    July 26, 2012, 3:20 pm

    Currency and transport are clearly not impediments to anyone in Gaza who wants a weapon. Weapons travel through the tunnels and there seems to be money to pay for them.

    What the Israeli ban on exports does is disable legitimate, regulated trade — the kind of mundane business that ordinary, law-abiding, non-militant Palestinians want to do.

    Israel would rather have Gaza survive on charity from European and US donors. The threat of rockets in the desert is a useful foil for the theft of West Bank land in Area C.

    • ritzl
      July 26, 2012, 7:14 pm

      Yep. Well said. The only thing the blockade does is harm and radicalize regular folks. It’s pointless and meticulously mean.

  5. yonah fredman
    July 26, 2012, 5:38 pm

    Although the denizens of MW’s comment section approve of the cartoon, Richard Falk disavowed it. He’s old and didn’t notice the yarmulka and the mogen david, he claimed and I believe him.

    • Woody Tanaka
      July 26, 2012, 6:08 pm

      So you think that it is inappropriate (or antisemitic) for a cartoonist to reference a state that had the Star of David on its flag and habitually refers to itself as a “Jewish state” to use those symbols as a graphic shorthand? if so, why?

      • yonah fredman
        July 27, 2012, 4:46 am

        Woody- The star of David could have gone on the dog’s body, it didn’t have to be on a yarmulka.

      • Woody Tanaka
        July 27, 2012, 6:44 am

        “Woody- The star of David could have gone on the dog’s body, it didn’t have to be on a yarmulka.”

        Perhaps, but israel professes to be a “Jewish state” does it not? It professes to be established as a state for the Jewish people does it not? And aren’t these assertions facially nonsensical when 1/5 of the population de jure israel and 1/2 of the population of de facto israel are not jewish?

        Is the cartoonist not permitted to make note of that?

      • Woody Tanaka
        July 27, 2012, 6:55 am

        And besides, yonah, do you honestly believe that those who would find offense at graphically depicting Israel by using a yarmulka would not be equally “offended” if the cartoonist put the Star of David directly on the dog?

    • Shmuel
      July 26, 2012, 6:15 pm

      I agree that the cartoon is anti-Semitic, and Falk did the right thing in disavowing it. You have also done the right thing in not taking advantage of this to denigrate a man of Falk’s stature, although I’m sure you disagree with many of his positions. Too bad you had to get a swipe in at “the denizens of MW’s comment section” in the process.

      • Woody Tanaka
        July 26, 2012, 6:43 pm

        “I agree that the cartoon is anti-Semitic”

        How, exactly?

        And how is a cartoonist to graphically refernce israel if not with the symbol it has on it’s flag and a piece of clothing that represents Judaism, as it calls itself the “Jewish state” and when it says it is the state of the “Jewish people”?? Are cartoonists not permitted to simply take it at its word??

      • Shmuel
        July 27, 2012, 3:03 am

        Woody,

        This is ancient history (the incident occurred over a year ago) that Hillel Neuer of the odious UN Watch decided to resurrect because trying to discredit human rights experts and activists is what he does. Fredblogs is just here to regurgitate the talking points circulated by UN Watch and its sister propaganda organisations. The UNHRC says the ongoing collective punishment of every Gazan child, woman and man is illegal? Uncle Hillel has the answer – they’re all a bunch of anti-Semites! Proof? Richard Falk (who, of course, unlike Neuer, has no credentials, no expertise and no reputation in the field of human rights) once blogged (and subsequently disavowed) a cartoon!

        The cartoon itself is beyond the point, and you will undoubtedly disagree with my analysis anyway. The real issue here is the illegal and disastrous closure imposed on Gaza for the past five years, international collusion in Israeli human rights violations, and efforts to draw attention to the plight of Gazans.

        Nice threadjack, Fred.

      • ColinWright
        July 27, 2012, 4:56 am

        Well, maybe the dog could have worn a cowboy hat with the Star of David on it — but that would have been pretty weird.

        However, really it’s that this would actually form the basis for a serious attack that’s telling — and it’s still more telling that Richard Falk felt the need to disavow the cartoon in consequence.

        I prefer to just let people label me ‘anti-semitic’ if that’s all that they can think of. It implies that they don’t really have any retort to my actual argument.

      • Woody Tanaka
        July 27, 2012, 7:11 am

        “This is ancient history (the incident occurred over a year ago) that Hillel Neuer of the odious UN Watch decided to resurrect because trying to discredit human rights experts and activists is what he does. Fredblogs is just here to regurgitate the talking points circulated by UN Watch and its sister propaganda organisations.”

        Here’s the problem Shmuel: the fact that it is an old controversy is irrelevant to me. The fact is that the bullshit cry of antisemitism against criticism of israel’s acts is THE key weapon which the zionists are using in their war against the Palestinian people, because they use it blunt criticism which might otherwise result in political pressure (especially in the US) which would be disadvantageous to the israel’s goal of the complete absorption of Palestine.

        The state of israel has co-opted Jewish symbolism and the Jewish faith in many ways, and the zionists attempt to insulate israel from criticism for its acts through a very vile, viscous and highly immoral game of guilt-by-association whereby criticism of israel is antisemitic unless it hops through a set of standards which are designed to blunt and destroy that criticism. It works because it takes advantage of the fact that most everyone in the world today finds antisemitism abhorrent and something to be avoided.

        So criticism of israel’s acts (like this cartoon) are subject to dismissal by the zios by lame cries of “antisemitism” — it changes the subject from the critique presented in the cartoon to a critique of the cartoon. And the way this is done is by pretending that the cartoonist intended to refer to “the whole Jewish people” or “Jews, not israel” when by context, such critiques are baseless.

        Especially when it is israel, itself, that co-opted these symbols for itself, which self-proclaimed itself a “Jewish state” and the “homeland of the Jewish people”. If they political use of these symbols of Judaism could be misinterpreted to be antisemitism, then by all means convince the israelis to adopt different symbols. But in the absence of them doing so, to simply assume that someone’s use of israel’s self-adopted symbolism is demonstrative of anti-semitism is, in my opinion, a form of bigotry or, at the very least, knee-jerk injustice.

        So when you say that a cartoon that graphically represents israel in a critique of israeli and american action is “antisemitic” you are playing right into the hands of the people who are looking to do nothing more than protect israel from criticism of its acts and giving credence to their game. That’s what’s offensive.

        “Nice threadjack, Fred.”

        Fredo’s a zionist. I would no more blame him for being an immoral apologist for israel’s crimes than I would blame a shark for being an amoral killing machine. Each follows its nature.

      • Shmuel
        July 27, 2012, 7:49 am

        I see where you’re coming from Woody, but just because the accusation of anti-Semitism has been and continues to be greatly abused doesn’t mean that it is never accurate. I think it is in this case; you don’t. I’m pretty sure I won’t convince you, and would rather not give this issue more attention than the subject of the post: efforts to challenge the blockade. Fred would like nothing better.

        To the extent that this cartoon ever had any bearing on the UNHCR expert report on the Gaza blockade, Prof. Falk has already dealt with it as he saw fit.

      • Woody Tanaka
        July 27, 2012, 8:21 am

        “but just because the accusation of anti-Semitism has been and continues to be greatly abused doesn’t mean that it is never accurate.”

        Perhaps not, but for purposes of this cartoon, the more important and relevant point is that a cartoon commenting on Israel does not become “antisemitic” by asserting that if it were commenting on Jews in general, that it would be antisemitic.

      • Merk
        July 26, 2012, 10:45 pm

        Shmuel, what is inaccurate about Yonah’s ‘swipe’

        Do you see all of the people here making excuses for it. I think he is just calling it like he sees it.

      • Shmuel
        July 27, 2012, 3:06 am

        Merk,

        Those who defended it defended it; those who didn’t didn’t. Yonah was generalising.

  6. southernobserver
    July 26, 2012, 6:23 pm

    The arguments justifying turning Gaza into an open air, starvation-diet, prison camp could readily be applied fully and reciprocally to the rogue state of Israel. Israel has consistently been the aggressor, and therefore the blockade should be more rather than less stringent of of course.

  7. DavidHeap
    July 27, 2012, 7:03 am

    Those interested in this campaign to build hope and challenge the illegal blockade of Gaza (as opposed to a cartoon someplace else) can follow us at GazaArk.org, twitter.com/GazaArk or facebook.com/GazaArk.

    • Shmuel
      July 27, 2012, 7:07 am

      Thanks, David.

      • DavidHeap
        July 27, 2012, 9:26 pm

        No problem, Shmuel. Always happy to try to help recover a jacked thread :)

  8. karendevito
    July 27, 2012, 3:49 pm

    This campaign is a challenge to Israel’s illegal blockade and its ongoing enforcement in the most inhumane way. Fishers are attacked daily even within the three-mile limit (set by Israel). Palestinians’ boats are swamped by the IDF, the occupants of the boats are forced to swim to the IDF vessel to be arrested. Their boats are often confiscated, sometimes returned wrecked, sometimes not returned at all. Why?
    Because Israel is enacting the blueprint of how it will slowly choke out Palestinian life in Gaza and the West Bank–if we all simply stand by. THose villages in the West Bank will soon be Gaza in miniature. Every aspect of the military occupation is enacted in the most humiliating way possible by the IDF.
    Palestinians go about attempting to rebuild their entire society every day. This campaign is about restoring inalienable human rights. How many do Palestinians possess according to the UN Universal Declaration? Not many. http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/
    More ships, more activism, more BDS–all are coming like freedom riders. Israel waives the rules but Freedom rules the waves.

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