Of course Flotilla is Political Provocation
By Joe Catron
As the launch of the Freedom Flotilla – Stay Human approaches, increasing numbers of Zionist officials and commentators illuminate the depths of their moral and intellectual bankruptcy by arguing that it is a political – not humanitarian – project.
Ran Curiel, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, offers an example as good as any other. On May 10, he actually went to the trouble of calling a press conference in Strasbourg to offer this conclusion. “In our view, the flotilla is clearly a political provocation … since there’s no need for a flotilla to aid Gaza,” he said. “You can pass whatever you want to Gaza through normal channels.”
Curiel’s reasoning leaves much to be desired. Nobody seems entirely clear on what can enter Gaza through his “normal channels,” namely the Erez Crossing, and a large majority of its necessities continue to arrive at a high premium via tunnels from Egypt. And humanitarian opposition to the siege has always had more to do with its crippling effect on Gaza’s economy than its obstruction of aid. Due to the impossibility of legally importing most goods, or exporting nearly anything, unemployment now reaches 45%, and 300,000 people survive on a dollar a day.
Nevertheless, his conclusion is sound, if self-evident. The Freedom Flotilla is indeed “a political provocation.” Why shouldn’t it be? And when has it pretended to be anything else?
Like its predecessors, from the successful Free Gaza boats of 2008 to the Freedom Flotilla that suffered lethal violence by Israeli commandos in international waters last year, this Flotilla is an unabashed act of solidarity with a people fighting colonialism, ethnic cleansing, and apartheid.
The Flotilla targets the denial of Palestinian self-determination, not a humanitarian crisis. It aims to break the siege, not only because the siege causes hardship for Palestinians, but also because it obstructs their inherent rights to determine their collective destiny, and that of their historic homeland. The goal is not a reliable flow of international charity, or even a functional economy, but rather Palestinians’ sovereignty over their own coasts and territory.
Efforts to obscure these obvious truths, by holding the Flotilla to some other standard that it has never aspired to meet, are part of a Zionist “big lie,” a myth that its tellers hope will carry the weight of truth because its listeners believe it.
Zionists would have us accept that any effort not loyal to their regime must be apolitical and rooted only in charitable impulses. In the narrative they hope to spread through their frequent observations of the obvious, theirs is the only acceptable side, and strict neutrality the only possible alternative. Nothing else may exist within the strict parameters of thought and action they seek to impose.
But let there be no mistake: All of us who are part of the Flotilla effort, in ways great and small, have chosen a side, and it is not theirs. We stand with the people of Palestine in their struggle for equality and self-determination. And unlike architects of Operation Cast Lead and apologists for the Nakba, we have nothing to hide.
Flotilla organizers have hardly kept this a secret. In a June 24 statement, the Free Gaza Movement “reiterate[d] that our effort is not simply about delivering humanitarian aid. The goal of the Flotilla is not aid; it is freedom for Palestinians in Gaza and the rest of the occupied Palestinian territories. As such, there are no ‘established channels’ for freedom – there is only one – an end to the Israeli occupation.”
In more ways than one, Zionists criticizing the Flotilla as a “political provocation” share the mentalities of those who condemned the Salt Satyagraha or the Montgomery Bus Boycott for similar reasons. These efforts were also indisputably political and provocative; salt marchers could have simply paid the British tax, while Rosa Parks would actually have reached her destination more quickly by moving to the back of the bus. That these, too, were “political provocations” is equally obvious, and no less beside the point.
And the point, for the Freedom Flotilla, the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and countless related efforts to rally support for embattled Palestinians, is one of solidarity with a liberation struggle, not charity for helpless victims. As the late Juliano Mer-Khamis told The Electronic Intifada about his own Jenin Freedom Theatre:
“We are joining, by all means, the struggle for liberation of the Palestinian people, which is our liberation struggle. Everybody who is connected to this project says that he feels that he is also occupied by the Zionist movement, by the military regime of Israel, and by its policy. Either he lives in Jenin, or in Haifa, or in Tel Aviv. Nobody joined this project to heal. We’re not healers … We are freedom fighters.”
His words also describe Flotilla participants, and growing millions of supporters of the Palestinian cause. Yes, out solidarity is political. Yes, it is provocative. And unlike the racism and oppression of Zionism and its enablers, there is nothing shameful about it.
Joe Catron is a resident of Brooklyn, New York and a current member of the International Solidarity Movement – Gaza Strip. He writes in a personal capacity. Catron contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.
The US ship will bring over 3,000 letters of support.
By Kathy Kelly
Last week, newly-arrived in Athens as part of the US Boat to Gaza project, our team
of activists gathered for nonviolence training. We are here to sail to Gaza, in
defiance of an Israeli naval blockade, in our ship, “The Audacity of Hope.” Our
team, and nine other ships’ crews from countries around the world, want Israel to
end its lethal blockade of Gaza by letting our crews through to shore to meet with
Gazans. The US ship will bring over 3,000 letters of support to a population suffering
its fifth continuous decade of de facto occupation, now in the form of a military
blockade controlling Gaza’s sea and sky, punctuated by frequent deadly military
incursions, that has starved Gaza’s economy and people to the exact level of cruelty
considered acceptable to the domestic population of our own United States, Israel’s
The international flotilla last year was brutally attacked and the Turkish ship
fired on from the air, with a cherrypicked video clip of the resulting panic presented
to the world to justify nine deaths, one of a United States citizen, most of them
execution-style killings. So it’s essential, albeit a bit bizarre, to plan for how
we will respond to military assaults. Israeli news reports say that their naval
commandos are preparing to use attack dogs and snipers to board the boats. In the
past, they have used water cannons, taser guns, stink bombs, sound bombs, stun guns,
tear gas, and pepper spray against flotilla passengers. I’ve tried to make a mental
list of plausible responses: remove glasses, don life jacket, affix clip line which
might prevent sliding off the deck, carry a half onion to offset effect of tear
gas, remember to breathe.
Israel Defense Forces are reportedly training for a fierce assault intended to “secure”
each boat in the flotilla, the “Freedom Flotilla 2”. As passengers specifically
on the U.S. boat, we may be spared the most violent responses, although Secretary
of State Hillary Clinton has not ruled out such violent responses and has preemptively
certified any response we may “provoke” (in sailing from international waters to
a coastline that is not part of Israel) is an expression of Israel’s “right to
defend themselves”. Israel says it is prepared for a number of scenarios, ranging
“from no violence” (which it knows full well to expect) to “extreme violence”. We
are preparing ourselves not to panic, and to practice disciplined nonviolence whatever
scenario Israel decides to enact.
If they overcome our boat swiftly, they will presumably handcuff us and possibly
hood us, before commandeering our ship toward an Israeli port, removing us from
the ship, jailing us and (judging from their past actions) deporting us. I don’t
know what country I would be deported to, but I would eventually return to the U.S.
and to my home city of Chicago, and to a safety I cannot share with the desperate
people of Gaza, or friends from throughout this region so troubled by war, much
of it instigated by my own country.
The slogan of our flotilla is “Stay Human.” It’s advice that exposure to violence,
real or imagined, always tempts us to forget. Young friends I have met in Afghanistan,
faced with pervasive everyday precarity I cannot easily imagine, have expressed
this idea in a YouTube video [http://r20.rs6.net/tn.jsp?llr=dcbsoncab&et=1106271380887&s=7420&e=001nhIO4LNKF3xMPPO6c_sSsg_Q97LM7iKLvKpRj-r5xMxupbKyWkil6TBw4ccmtl3tFzAG-JiElDAkA5XuWtMrdCRrX9doIjYHI-8l2zPeEDMCofDTqFvoIsFCpzxxIhrbuCQXT9tuegbzzJI70klIHA==]
which utterly takes my breath away. They ask Gazan youth to hold on to hope and
to the capacity for childlike joy: “To friends in Gaza: don’t stay angry for too
long, Stay together, and love from us in Afghanistan!”
My fellow passenger John Barber recently visited Gaza, and this morning he told
me a harrowing story of a Gazan family, that of a farmer named Nasr, living near
the Gazan-Israeli buffer zone. The first attack took place in June of 2010. To
quote John’s website: “…the Israeli army attacked the family home while the children
were playing outside…Nasr’s wife, Naama, was in the front yard when a tank 500
meters from the home fired shells packed with nails at the home. Nasr’s wife, torn
to ribbons, bled to death in the yard when ambulances were not permitted down the
narrow dirt road to his home.” Ambulance stoppages are a frequent punitive measure
used against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.”
“After the second attack,” which occurred in April 2011, “Nasr’s family moved to
a house in the village, near to the cemetery where his wife was buried. One night,
around midnight, Nasr woke to find his children gone. He went outside and found
them at their mother’s grave.” The next day he took them away from that village
and back to their land, to try and put the past behind them, and await a future
they can barely hope will be kind.
I hope that our ship will make it to Gaza. I hope Johnny Barber can again visit
Nasr, and that I can visit the family and the trapped young men who sheltered me
during the final days of the crushing December 2008 “Operation Cast Lead” bombardment.
I hope that our ship will make it out of dock – acting on an “anonymous complaint,”
the government here has demanded an inspection of several days before they will
allow our (entirely seaworthy) ship to sail. With its world-headline-producing economic
troubles, Greece seems incredibly vulnerable to the intense pressure that the Israeli
and U.S. governments seem openly prepared to exert: we hope that neither economic
nor political blackmail will succeed at stopping our ship from leaving the spot
near Athens where it is waiting to receive us.
“Please don’t lose the human capacity for happiness.” My Afghan friends in the video
urge us to stay human. Ali, who speaks in the video, has been harassed by Afghan
security forces since becoming active with the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers. So
has his family. Others of his companions have faced death threats, interrogation,
arson and theft. Their persistence encourages and guides me, and I struggle to
let their persistence urge me on, because staying human is also about doing what
I think of Nasr’s children watching their mother die, and I think that if they’re
going to stay human then I and my countrymen and women ought to help. We have to
become more human than we’ve so far managed to be: We have to make sacrifices to
stop the crimes that are ultimately being committed in our names. In different ways,
we have to risk the consequences of being where we need to be when we need to be
there. We have to stand up to injustice and with the victims of injustice, and
rely on our opponents to find their humanity in time, given enough examples of what
it can look like. When we find ourselves, against all odds, staying human, that
example surprises us and helps sustain us in hope for the power of humanity. We
hope we will be allowed through to Gaza, we hope that the siege will be lifted,
and that in this time when humankind can so little afford the nightmares of greed
and ignorance that rend the Middle East and that render our leaders incapable of
uniting to address ever-more desperate, ever-more-frightening global crises, we
as a species, one with no assurance of its perpetual survival, will somehow find
some way to stay human.
Kathy Kelly co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence. She contributed this
article to PalestineChronicle.com.
GAZA, WE ARE COMING
Huwaida Arraf, Athens +30-694-781-5798
Greta Berlin, Athens +33 607 374 512
On Saturday, 25 June, the French boat, Dignity / Karama, left the port of l’ile Rousse in Corsica, France, to meet up with at least nine other vessels sailing to Gaza to challenge Israel’s illegal blockade. Israel’s best efforts to stop our boats at port, including pressure on governments, threats against insurance and communications companies, intimidation of human rights defenders, frivolous lawsuits and other underhanded tactics, have thus far failed. The Freedom Flotilla has set sail.
In the coming days the rest of the vessels in the flotilla, two cargo ships and seven other passenger boats, will leave from various ports to a meeting point in international waters from which the boats will sail all together towards Gaza. We will carry nearly three thousand tons of aid and hundreds of civilians from dozens of countries, including members of parliament, politicians, writers, artists, journalists and sports figures, as well as representatives of indigenous peoples and various faith groups.
Unfortunately some of our vessels are facing delays admittedly initiated by bogus complaints from the Israel Law Center, attempted sabotage of some boats, as well as administrative obstacles created by the Greek government in response to Israeli pressure. We call upon the Greek government not to become complicit in Israel’s illegal actions by succumbing to this pressure, and to join France in standing unopposed to the flotilla.
There is no question that Israel’s near hermetic closure of the Gaza Strip is illegal; this has been affirmed again and again by numerous international human rights bodies including the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross. And, when prompted by the flotilla effort, international consensus has been unequivocal in the demand for the Israeli siege to end. There is no question that Israel’s closure policy has had a devastating effect on the occupied people of Gaza. This has also been well documented. The only question is why does the international community of states allow Israel to keep violating the law and rights of the Palestinian people with impunity?
Recent steps taken by Israel to address the concerns raised in the public eye by the Freedom Flotilla II – Stay Human initiative, including last week’s announcement of authorization for construction materials for 1,200 homes and 18 schools in Gaza, prove that flotillas work. However, this is not enough, as our effort is not simply about increasing humanitarian aid to Gaza. It is about freedom for Palestinians in Gaza and the rest of the occupied Palestinian territories. Calls by some world leaders for flotilla organizers to use “established channels” to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza show a fundamental disregard for Palestinian human rights. The Palestinian people do not want handouts from the international community; rather they demand liberation – a call we must all support.
Therefore, despite intimidation, pressure, and threats of violence from the Israeli government, which is not ashamed to boast that it will use snipers and attack dogs against unarmed civilians, we will sail. We are part of a growing movement, led by Palestinian civil society campaigning for their freedom, that Israel’s strong-arm tactics cannot stop. We call on our governments to do their utmost to protect their citizens as we take to the sea, without weapons, protection or threat of force, in defense of freedom, human rights, and the rule of law. Gaza, we are coming.
In preparation for Gaza flotilla, passengers briefed on how to face Israeli soldiers
Gaza-bound: Why exactly would a 70-year-old need this?
By Amira Hass
SOMEWHERE IN GREECE – We’re in the lecture hall in which the people sailing on the Tahrir, the Canadian ship taking part in the Gaza-bound flotilla, are being briefed.
The Tahrir passengers are asked to decide: “Where would you prefer to be when the [Israeli] commandos commandeer the ship?”
Based on the experience of previous Gaza-bound boats, with the exception of the Mavi Marmara, the lecturer presents the options. “On deck you will be exposed to a few minutes of physical violence from the soldiers that will feel like a few hours,” he says.
“From previous experience, the soldiers, en route to the captain’s cabin, will step on people’s heads. You won’t move, but they’ll see you as the aggressor. The commanders know very well that we’re not armed. But the simple soldier has been brainwashed, and he’ll be afraid.”
I take a look at the other people in the room and ask myself, “Why do they need this?”
The oldest person planning to sail on the Canadian vessel is a 77-year-old American woman (not a 69-year-old one, as I mistakenly wrote in yesterday’s article – not even referring to this particular woman ). There’s also another woman and a man over 70, who both smilingly corrected my mistake as well.
There are nine other passengers in their sixties, and many others between 40 and 60.
So why are they doing this?
“I’m appalled, as are many friends and colleagues, by the conditions in Gaza and by the silence of the international community regarding the ongoing blockade in Gaza,” says Lyn Adamson, trying to explain why they are taking this calculated risk.
Adamson, 59, a Quaker from Toronto, is active in a number of social justice advocacy groups.
“In the absence of effective action by the international community to pressure Israel and Egypt to change their policies … we, at the grass roots, must take action,” she says.
The instructor continues to list the positioning options, noting that up on deck the air will be clear because tear gas dissipates quickly.
“By contrast, in a closed cabin, there won’t be direct exposure to the soldiers’ violence, but the tear gas chokes you and disorients you,” he says.
Once the Israel Defense Forces’ boarding is complete, the tow to Ashdod could take seven hours or more, with the soldiers sitting on deck among the activists, say those who experienced last year’s flotilla. They may not let you use the bathroom.
What then? That’s a good question.
Experience has shown that the female soldiers are rougher than the male soldiers. Experience has also shown that some soldiers try to be nice, the instructor stresses.
“It’s true, even though I only saw their eyes,” says a woman who took part in last year’s flotilla. “They were and remained masked. But a few of the soldiers blinked their eyes in a way that I interpreted as friendly, as a desire to calm us down.”
Another instructor says that some of the soldiers might curse the passengers.
“If you tell their commander that you see their commandeering the ship as an act of illegal kidnapping, that’s legitimate,” he says. “But don’t curse back at them. That’s one of the red lines.”
The “red lines” include several rules of behavior that were included in a written pledge of nonviolence, which all participants had to sign.
The rules include: “No initiating physical contact with soldiers, no jumping in the water, no throwing objects at soldiers, no starting fires, no using fire extinguishers against soldiers, no use or display of objects that could be misconstrued as weapons (cameras, etc. excepted ).”