Wednesday, August 27, 2008

From Gaza, in solidarity

Yes, the two wooden fishing boats managed to break the mighty seige and sailed in to Gaza with the whole world watching. Their primary goal was to draw attention to the inhumane yet human-made tragedy in Gaza. Mission accomplished.

Below are excerpts from the activists describing their first hours in Gaza (first two from email messages, third from published article).

Aug 23rd, 2008; Mary Hughes:

I woke up this morning wondering if it was all a dream. And then I looked through the window and saw the harbor, and the fishing boats, and our two proud lttle boats, the FREE GAZA and the LIBERTY, bobbing gently in the Gaza breeze and I could finally believe we are here!

There are not enough words to describe the feelings we all had as we saw the shores of Gaza appear on our horizon, and then as we got closer and closer we were welcomed by the first of dozens of fishing boats, all crowded with cheering, waving Gazans who had waited since early morning for our arrival. Dozens of them jumped into the water and climbed aboard our boats, cheering and waving and hugging everybody, smiling and telling us "you are welcome." I don't know how so many members of our welcoming committee managed to crowd onto the two piers.... women, men, children, a band playing for us, police trying to control them as more of them jumped into the water to reach us.

It was truly an experience for a lifetime. Surreal. After two years of planning and hoping, and disappointments, and great sadness when our beloved friend Riad was suddenly gone from us. But his spirit is here with us, and many of us wore pink shirts in his memory.

There is so much more to say, but for now this is just to say we have arrived, we are elated, we are humbled, we could not have achieved this without the support of so many friends and strangers who believed in us.

Shukran, and love to all of you.

Mary in Gaza City


Aug 23rd, 2008; Greta Berlin:

A few hundred meters before we navigated through the small opening into the port, we were met by dozens of fishing boats loaded with people. Little boys jumped in the water to swim around us. We had blown up balloons (yes, they are biodegradable) and dropped them in the water as the young boys swam around catching their trophies. On each red, white, black and green balloon, it said FREE PALESTINE with a dove on it. Those of us who were parents on board held our breath as the swimmers mutliplied. I don't know how our two captains managed to lightly pull into the dock amid all of the other boats and people, but they did.

Today, I looked out the window of this beautiful hotel we're staying in, and there were the boats, and we had really arrived. A sour-faced Israeli official announced last night that "We have decided to let the boats through this time, but we will look at other trips on a case by case basis."? In short, our little group of 40+ human rights workers not only won the right to enter Gaza, but we won the PR battle as well.

There wasn't an Israeli warship in sight. They withdrew everything. In the 30 hours we have traveled from Cyprus to Gaza, most of us seasick, the electronic systems jammed, barely able to communicate from boat to boat, we knew we had broken Israel's siege of this small seashore community.

The quay was packed with people.... packed. The video doesn't begin to do it justice. Many literally fell into the boats in an attempt to interview us, grabbing us by the hand, pulling us in front of cameras. Tony Blair's sister-in-law was brilliant, the face of the internationals here. Jeff Halper, the Israeli professor was passionate, all of us were crying.


August 26, 2008. Huwaida Arraf:

Our two boats were greeted upon arrival by thousands of jubilant Palestinians who in 41 years of occupation had never witnessed such a scene. To get there we braved anonymous death threats and the Israeli military interfering with our means of communications despite rough seas that jeopardized our safety. Before our departure, the Israeli foreign ministry asserted its right to use force against our unarmed boats.

We nevertheless resolved to act, to symbolically end the siege of Gaza -- and to do as civilians what governments have lacked the compassion or courage to do themselves. Once here, we delivered critical supplies such as hearing aids, batteries for medical equipment and painkillers.

When a massive earthquake rocked China and cyclones ravaged Myanmar, the world responded. Governments and civilians alike rallied to help. Yet world governments have witnessed a manmade humanitarian catastrophe unfold before our eyes in Gaza. Karen Koning AbuZayd, Commissioner-General of the UN agency for Palestine refugees, UNRWA, has asserted that "Gaza is on the threshold of becoming the first territory to be intentionally reduced to a state of abject destitution, with the knowledge, acquiescence and -- some would say -- encouragement of the international community."

Continue here

Since those exhilarating moments of arrival, the activists have been meeting community representatives in Gaza and joining peaceful demonstrations whenever they could. Jeff Halper was arrested yesterday in Sderot as he was making his way back to his home in the apartheid state. The boats are scheduled to leave this Thursday taking with them Palestinian students who were denied access to their universities, and women to be reunited with their families.

What next? A small group of activists have redefined the meaning of solidarity. They have challenged other activists to take their work to the next level, and the world to prove its humanity. No one can claim ignorance any longer.

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