I was a passenger on the first effort to break the Gaza blockade. Our mission was to show that normal people cared.
Since the military attack on a fleet of civilian ships in international waters, Israel’s well oiled spin machine has imposed a total news blackout about the survivors, taking their phones and denying them access to consular representation. The void has instead been filled with disinformation about the passengers on board the Mavi Marmara ferry. For those of us with colleagues and loved ones of whom we still have no clear news, such lies only exacerbate our anxiety and fury. So, before I have to read another weasel word from politicians about inquiries into the motives of the flotilla, let me shed some light on the kind of people either hospitalized or being illegally held in prisons in the south of the country.
In 2008 I was a passenger on the first ever effort to break the Gaza blockade in a peaceful, non-violent, but very direct way. Tired of the international community’s refusal to act while 1.8 million Palestinians were being systematically denied their human rights on a daily basis, 46 people from all walks of life prepared to sail from Cyprus to Gaza. Kathy Sheetz, a nurse from the US, Therese McDonald, a Scottish postal worker. and Osama Qashoo, a Palestinian film-maker now resident in the UK, were on board then as now. And we too were called “provocateurs” by the Israeli media, “left-wing radicals” and “terrorist sympathisers”.
Our mission was simply to show the population of Gaza that normal people cared about their plight; that we saw their hunger, their fear, their imprisonment, their struggle; and that we – everyday folk with good hearts – would do what we could to bring their plight to the eyes of the world.
Then, as now, our intention was never to go anywhere near Israel’s shores, nor its waters, nor its military. Then, as now, the cargo on our ships was rigorously checked by European port authorities and stamped as free from any weapons whatsoever. We believed, back in those innocent days, that this would not furnish Israel with even the most vapid excuse to board or attack us on the pretext that we were a security threat. Then, they did not. This week, they did.
Let me ask you one final question that’s been troubling me, as sympathy for those apparently fragile Israeli commandos continues to pour in. If you were on a boat in the Mediterranean and hundreds of the world’s most notoriously violent soldiers started falling from the sky, wouldn’t you defend yourself? The brave human beings on the Mavi Marmara were acting in self-defense. And because of this many died. Something of the hopeful child in me died with them.