There is a Freedom Flotilla to Gaza taking place this summer with several boats from various countries. Several boats docked in Copenhagen for a couple of days as part of their journey to Gaza, which they plan to reach in late July.
From 2008 through to 2016, 31 boats have challenged the blockade. (The flotillas took a break in 2017.) These boats sail to challenge Israel’s Naval blockade on Gaza, part of its siege of Gaza that has lasted more than a decade. Although several boats managed to get through the blockade in the first years, Israel tightened its grip against what was becoming a serious PR issue, and this tightening climaxed in the most deadly incident in that history, the attack on the Turkish Mavi Marmara in 2010, in which 10 activists were killed by the Israeli commandos in international waters.
I had the pleasure of interviewing crew member Zohar Chamberlain Regev, who also happens to be Jewish-Israeli and residing in Spain. Our interview aboard the bigger Al-Awda boat is an hour long. While the full interview can be viewed here, I will provide some highlights from it below.
Zohar is a member of the Freedom Flotilla Coalition, and has participated in two freedom flotillas to Gaza, in 2012 and 2015, but has never before reached the “confrontation point”, as she will do this time.
I asked her how she feels about reaching the “confrontation point”, which is bound to be somewhere very far from Israel in international waters, where she is likely to get arrested by the Israeli navy, and possibly worse, in light of the past deadly confrontations.
“Well, first of all, we feel it must be done. The fact that the illegal blockade on Gaza goes on, forces us to keep acting against it. And our direct action – non-violent direct action – is directed just as much towards the Palestinians of Gaza, in solidarity with them, as it does towards the international community, civil society, in order to put pressure upon the governments of the world to actually make Israel lift the blockade. So the issue of actually getting into Gaza, or being intercepted, is beside the point. What we do is what we do here in Copenhagen. We just raise the issue, we explain to people what’s happening in Palestine, what’s happening in Gaza, we explain how it’s illegal according to international law – the blockade on Gaza is used by Israel as collective punishment which is prohibited by the Geneva conventions. So we have to do it.”
We talk about the notion of criticism and protest against Israel being labelled as criminal, as for example the BDS laws accusing people of “delegitimizing” and Israeli ministers accusing activists of being “terrorists”.
Zohar has been stopped several times at the Ben Gurion airport and questioned for her activities. Last time she entered Israel was in 2015, and she was accused by the interrogators of “delegitimization”. She was asked to go to a “police station” in Tel Aviv, which turned out to be a Shin Bet secret service center. Zohar was asked about her activities, but refused to give out more information without a lawyer, and they let her go. If Zohar was not an Israeli citizen, she would most likely be denied entry to begin with.
“What we just try to do is counteract this Israeli propaganda that says that we’re delegitimizing Israel. The BDS, or the direct action of the Flotilla is not delegitimizing anything – we’re just exposing the reality. And what Israel does, with its policy, is delegitimizing its existence”.
I mention the recent BDS entry ban on various international organizations, including Jewish Voice for Peace, and say that even Jews don’t seem to be that protected by Israel anymore – that it’s becoming more a question of what kind of Jews they are, and whether they support Israeli policy or not. I ask Zohar where she thinks it’s going.
“I’m just thinking about Germany in the 1930’s. To me, I think this is where the Israeli society is going. So I don’t know what they’ll do with me. They could accuse me of treason, or whatever – I don’t know. It’s also a question of what would serve their purpose. They don’t want us to get any publicity – so I don’t now what they’ll do. But I’m really worried about this trend in the Israeli society, where everything is twisted. I just read today, about the demonstrations in Haifa against the shootings in Gaza, and the demonstrators say, ‘we just say that Arabs and Jews don’t want to be enemies, and our opponents say yes to killing, and then we’re portrayed as supporting terrorism, and they’re portrayed as really tolerant’. You know, this is all really like George Orwell’s 1984. […] To me it’s a very personal thing. I see my society, I see that it’s going through a pathological process, and I’m just worried, and I think we have to do something. As Israelis, you know, we have double-triple obligation to counteract this terrible process.”
We talk about the recent Great March of Return and its resultant massacres, and about how Palestinian Gazans have tried to make themselves visible through these protests.
I spoke of the sad and cruel logic of the fact that the Gaza protesters were literally paying with their lives to become visible. And that the flotilla crew is also trying to make Gaza visible by sailing there, even if they do not expect to reach Gaza’s shores.
“Exactly that. It’s unfortunate, but it seems media will not pay attention unless you actually do something. So we’re just a bunch of people, normal people, from all walks of life, from 10 or 12 different countries, just trying to do something – basically to save our own conscience. What will you say to the next generation? What did you do when Gaza was dying? What did you do when Palestine was suffering, being so visible? And it’s breaking the media blockade that’s our biggest challenge. Whether we actually get to break the physical blockade on Gaza is sort of secondary. And that is why we’re doing all these interviews in hope that the word will get out there. And actually coming into Copenhagen yesterday, just seeing all the people who see us, and maybe, you know, something will click. We are suffering in this age of an overdose of information, and it’s so difficult to see what you don’t want to see. You know sometimes when a boat just passes by and you see this [Palestinian] flag, it makes you wonder ‘why? Why are these people doing that?’ – this is what we’re trying to do. And this is why the journey is more important than the destination.”
And with those profound words, our interview ended. The flotilla has continued on in their journey towards Gaza. Will they ever reach the Gaza shores? Zohar is not worried. The journey is more important than the destination, and the message of solidarity that these activists carry is a mission in and of itself.