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Turkish harbormaster let 11 of us sail (and 25 are left behind)

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Mazin Qumsiyeh is part of the ground crew for the latest Gaza flotilla. A letter he just sent out to friends.

Dear friends and colleagues,

This letter was written and rewritten four times as the ups and downs of the last few days.  When you get it two boats would have left Turkish waters and I am not on one of them.  I finalize this letter from a boat returning to port in Turkey.  Tears are dry (of joy at success of our comrades and sadness for not being with them).  The will is still there and I promise myself to get to Gaza next time.  

The boats now in International waters are named Saoirse ( and Tahrir (, Irish and Arabic for Liberty and Freedom.  The Canadian steering committee that invited us to join selected 11 from the 36 slated to go because they were unfairly reduced to that number by the Turkish harbor master. We are very disappointed that 25 of us were left behind.  Some of us left behind are trying different ways to catch up and we may still succeed.  In fact if you do not hear from me in 24 hours it means most likely I have succeeded to get on a boat. We hope that those who took the boats do arrive to the besieged strip on the Mediterranean where 1.6 million people are held under and immoral and illegal blockade/siege.  A small group of us took a small boat to try to meet one of the boats in waters off the coast but that did not work out (Turkish coast guard and timing).  But it felt important to try.

I personally wanted so bad to visit many friends in Gaza some of them I have not seen in years.  I wanted to visit Hiam and her family.  I last saw Hiam and her mother 10 years ago when we brought Hiam to CT (she was then less than 8 years old) to get a prosthetic eye after she was shot deliberately by an Israeli soldier.  She is one of hundreds of children who lost their eyes between 2000-2005 (for her story and pictures, see  I wanted to visit with friends like Dr.
Heidar Eid whom I saw only when he was able to get out of Gaza and I was able to get out of the occupied West Bank so that we can meet in a faraway country in Europe. I want to look in the eyes of Gaza children and tell them that we, the human family, care about them.  We will keep trying. I figure, not trying would be far harder on all of us.

We arrived at Istanbul at the 88th anniversary of proclamation of Turkey as
a republic in 1923.  Ataturk’s Turkey evolved quickly into a modern state
at par with other European states. On the news we witness earthquake
destruction in Eastern Turkey and I see a beautiful young girl with casts
on her legs smiling at one point, sad at another and I do not have to
understand the language to understand human tragedy. The damage from this
natural disaster is chillingly similar to the damage of the man-made
disaster in Gaza: collapsed multistory building, burying dead, injured
people.  But Gaza is not allowed to recover.

From Istanbul to Dalaman and then to a small lovely town where we stayed
until the launch time.  People here are very friendly.  They become even
friendlier (if that is possible) when they hear I am from Filistin.  But
then the whole place reminds me of Filistin (especially northern Palestine
areas of the Galilee).  I take a deep breath and soak the views of Olives,
Citrus, Figs, Almonds, Loquots, mullberies, Jasmine, cactus, old stone
terraces, and old men playing cards or backgammon. The colors are so
bright, the smells so refreshing, the water so abundant.  Smiley
comfortable faces with the wrinkles of the hillsides reflected on the faces
of the old people.  The shops, restaurants and hotels are family run and
the young are playful and energetic.  The evening call to prayer emanates
from the mosque. The bicycles all around are never locked and even our
hotel rooms were left open much of the time.   I feel like I am again
visiting North Palestine where my grandmother is from a place that was also
etched in her face and her memory till the day she died.

Before I proceed any further, I pause to tell you who were most on my mind
in the last four days as we went through the ups and downs and countless
meetings to come to this point.  What was on my mind were victims of the
Israeli apartheid state including these US victims:

1) The 34 sailors killed on the USS Liberty attacked deliberately in
International waters in 1967 (, ) and the survivors who have later died without ever
seeing justice for the murderers.

2) Rachel Corrie, 23 year old American student killed deliberately by
Israeli bulldozer in Rafah

3) Furkan Dogan, 19 y. o. Turkish American citizen, who was executed at
point blank range on the Mavi Marmara ship (see and smuggled
videos at  and )

I thought of their bravery as I watched fellow human beings from 10
countries try and even compete to get on boats (some have been to Gaza
several times and some tried to get to Gaza several times).  Driven only by
belief in our common humanity, I as a Palestinian cannot help but feel a
weight of gratitude for these brave souls. We had lots of glitches in the
past few days here with both bureaucratic and political rollercoaster. I
will spare you the gory details because the ultimate goal is Gaza. Briefly,
we arrived Saturday and were in meetings Sunday when negotiations started s
the boats arrived at docks.  Monday we find that we are unable to
accommodate all passengers per the Turkish authorities (who were not told
our destination).  Monday night we had a meeting till nearly midnight.
Tuesday was a an emotional rollercoaster as those selected were approached
individually to give their passports. Those of us who were not asked knew
then we were not selected. Passport data went to Ankara and further delays.
Wednesday at 11 AM came back green light to go but a little later, we heard
glitches happening and the authorities were at the doc. When the boats
finally left, five of us “the crazies” raced to our locally chartered boats
to try and meet.  The cruise Wednesday did not succeed and we had to go
back, disappointed.  But we hope that our colleagues on the Tahrir and
Saoirse will not be intercepted by the navy of the apartheid regime that is
enforcing an illegal and immoral siege on Gaza.

We live in an Orwellian world where humanitarian activists are persecuted
and war criminals get wined and dined in five star hotels.  We live in a
world where for seeking membership in a cultural and scientific
organization (UNESCO) and getting it by a democratic vote:

– the organization is punished with losing members withholding dues

– the internet service of 4 million Palestinians under occupation is
targeted by spams and attempts to shut it down (slowed down so far but it
is not clear if the Palestinians will cope with this

– the occupation authority decides to “punish” the Palestinian population
by building more settlements and by withholding Palestinian tax money (this
is Palestinian money from their taxes due to them).

– the US congress cuts humanitarian aid going to the Palestinian people
(not going to the Palestinian authority or even passing through its hands).

It was hard for me to see why we had to be secretive about a humanitarian
operation like this.  It is hard for me to see why the Turkish authorities
limited us to 11 passengers on each boat.  It is hard for me to see why
activists had hard feelings about each other or why choices were made the
way they were.  I had so many questions left on my mind but for now sadness
and anticipation overwhelms everything.

The human language is so limiting in expressing emotions and feelings on
this day. Words like anticipation, exhilaration, hope, fear, love, are all
rather limiting.  But there is one thing I think is interesting: when I am
in the Galilee, in Al-Walaja, in Aida refugee camp, in an Israeli holding
cell or jail, or attempting to get to Gaza, it is precisely these times in
my life that I feel most alive and most human because I am having “joyful
participation in the sorrows of this world”. Fellow human beings from
Ireland, Canada, USA, Denmark and elsewhere are inspiring and I quickly
became friends with those I did not know before.  They share me these
strong feelings and this makes it even more meaningful. You can see why
Vittorio Arrigoni ended his messages to us with the note “stay human”. May
we all stay most alive and stay most human.

If you want to help, please use all possible communication means (emails,
twitters, facebook, calls) to let all people especially media and
politicians know you support lifting the siege on Gaza and you want our
ships protected from Israeli piracy.  It is long overdue.

Now imagine:

For a previous adventure of the Canadian boat, see

November anniversaries

2/11/1917 Britain issued the infamous Balfour declaration promising some
one else’s country to become a national homeland for a racist Zionist

3/11/1956 Khan Yunis massacre by Israeli forces of civilians in Gaza

9/11   International Day of Action Against the wall (coincide with fall of
Berlin wall)

10/11/1975 UN General Assembly resolution condemning Zionism as a form of

13/11/1974 PLO Chairman Address UN General Assembly

15/11/1988 Palestinian Declaration of Independence

22/11/1967 UN Security Council Resolution 242 “Emphasizing the
inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war” and “achieving a
just settlement of the refugee problem”

29/11/1947 UN GA 181 recommending partition

29/11 International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People
inaugurated by the UN GA

Mazin Qumsiyeh, PhD

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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13 Responses

  1. mig on November 2, 2011, 4:13 pm

    Godspeed to you Mazin !

  2. catherinewriter on November 2, 2011, 5:17 pm

    Don’t understand all the secrecy, activist hard feelings, Turkish authority decisions, etc., but know that with you involved, the outcome will arc toward justice. Be safe, Mazin, and all of you.

  3. Helena Cobban on November 2, 2011, 5:48 pm

    Godspeed to all flotillastas– and all Gazans!

  4. pabelmont on November 2, 2011, 6:31 pm

    Mazin: I hope you are soon reconnected with all your friends in Gaza.

  5. tod on November 2, 2011, 6:47 pm

    Any idea why where you left behind? Any common denominator between you people?
    I understand this was a secret departure but I’m not sure Turkish intelligence where not aware of it.
    Just for the record.

    • Chaos4700 on November 2, 2011, 10:54 pm

      On the other hand, though, I’m unclear as to why Turkish officials would restrict the number of passengers for any sort of underhanded reason. Could it have been that the harbor master just didn’t think that the class of ship that was leaving port could safely house as many people? Clearly there was no goal to prevent this flotilla altogether, and Turkey wasn’t who decided who stayed and who could go under the passenger restrictions.

  6. kalithea on November 3, 2011, 2:18 am

    God speed to the brave and compassionate people on board. May you all reach Gaza safely and may you be successful in breaking the Zionist scourge on Gaza’s people.

  7. Shmuel on November 3, 2011, 3:30 am

    I want to look in the eyes of Gaza children and tell them that we, the human family, care about them. We will keep trying. I figure, not trying would be far harder on all of us.

    This is something that the detractors of the flotillas don’t seem (or want) to get. Yours is an act of solidarity with an impact that goes far beyond the woefully inadequate aid that you can bring on a small boat to the besieged population of Gaza. Tell them they have not been forgotten. Tell them that they are not alone. Tell them that they are on our minds and consciences, and in our hearts. Thank you Mazin, and good luck.

    • annie on November 3, 2011, 3:49 am

      it is so powerful shmuel, i cannot begin to describe the power of those eyes and voices. w/very much will and confrontation they stared and asked ‘why and how is it you are here?’. this was just months after the massacre when very few had been allowed entry and i swear it was as if they didn’t quite realize or grasp the world really was watching or that we (mostly americans) could care. and there was no suspicion just a sort of awe to see another face, another being because when you live in a blockade all you see is eachother so foreigners are very rare..or were then. and that pause as they wait for the answer which comes almost immediately..because i care..and the faces light us as if the sun opened if all they do is look in your eyes and then it is as if an explosion of relief and excitement like nothing i have ever experienced ever ever or probably ever will again. just an amazing thirst for life beyond and the concept they have been there in our hearts throughout all this. so then i said i come as a representative of thousands and thousands who care and feel and love them and the only phrase i memorized was (which i have forgotten now) ‘i love gaza’ and these huge leaps of was literally mindblowing the reception we received.

      and i recall speaking to one of the passengers on the very first flotilla..she told me they lined the coastline 10,000 strong to greet them. can you even just brings tears to my eyes now typing it. the first to break thru and everyone came to the shoreline for this little boat.

      the people are so beautiful so warm so..i just never understood generosity and hospitality at all until i visited gaza. there is nothing like it in the entire universe..these people are the salt of is unbelievable. and the children swarm around and so much embrace is hard to fathom but it is real and it thrives in gaza. my heart will never ever be the same and i will return.

      • Shmuel on November 3, 2011, 4:11 am

        Very moving description, annie. Thanks.

      • justicewillprevail on November 3, 2011, 6:26 am


  8. Walid on November 3, 2011, 4:26 am

    What’s going on between Turkey and Israel is not as sour as it’s being made to appear. Last may we went from Turkey’s piss and vinegar threat to teach Israel some manners with the use of its navy to its sudden cancellation of the Mavi Marmara commemorative sailing that was to mark the one year anniversary of the massacre.

    • kursato on November 3, 2011, 7:50 am

      Turkey acts responsible and waits until Israel makes a mistake again.

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