Bearing Witness

Palestinian Solidarity Under Attack – Forum Presentation

Recently I was asked to participate in Forum put on by the Palestinian Action Group in Sydney called “Palestinian Solidarity Under Attack”. I was honoured to speak alongside Marrickville Councillor Cathy Peters, who put the BDS motion to Marrickville Council that created such a stir in the right-wing media last year, and Damian Ridgwell, one of the Boycott Max Brenner 19 currently being persecuted – oh sorry that is prosecuted – in Melbourne for supporting the call to boycott Max Brenner – whose parent company the Strauss Group openly supports the Golani Brigade and other IDF units involved in the military occupation of Palestine.

Below is my presentation that itemises some of the obstacles that Israel and her Apartheid loving supporters put between Free Gaza Australia and our participation in the international movement to break the illegal and inhumane blockade of Gaza.

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As was mentioned in my introduction I was a representative of Free Gaza Australia [FGA] on Freedom Flotilla II – that was stopped in Greek Ports in July last year – and also Freedom Waves – which made it out of the Turkish port of Fethiye and to 45 nautical miles off the coast of Gaza in November – Throughout the process of organising, fundraising and participating in the flotilla movement, FGA has faced many challenges from the typical slurs of ‘anti-Semitism’ right through to acts of state sanctioned violence.

The first obstacle we faced in participating in the FF2 was getting our funds to our partners in Canada, who were purchasing our vessel the ‘Tahrir’. Our first transfer was delayed until we provided information about the law firm we were sending the money to and the purpose of the transfer. We provided the information that we were part of an international movement to challenge the illegal blockade of Gaza and that the law firm represented our partners, the Canadian Boat to Gaza initiative.

That transfer went through, however a few months later when we went to make the next transfer – it keep bouncing back and our bank could not tell us why ??? We tried sending it to different accounts and in different amounts – all bouncing back with no clear explanation ??? In the end we had to send the money with the participants – Not long after this the Bendigo Bank closed our account – again in less than clear circumstances – with one bank employee telling us that any account with the word “Palestine” in it would set off red flags.

Once in Greece the authorities slowed us down with a litany of bureaucratic obstacles in regards to the Tahrir: such as the temperature of the hot water, even though it was the middle of summer in the Mediterranean and no one wanted hot showers; the width of the benches that we would as a beds when we were out at sea, even though no one could show us the regulation stipulating the width of beds on ferries; the fact the emergency beacon identified the boat under its old name and needed to be replaced, even though it gave a correct GSP location; plus making us submit and re-submit form after form after form to the Harbour Master’s office.

While navigating these bureaucratic obstacles, two of the boats in the flotilla (the US boat “The Audacity of Hope” and our boat the “Tahrir”) had complaints made against their sea worthiness by the Israeli Law Centre. These complaints were made not as a way of stopping us, as both boats had already passed all the relevant inspections – several times – but most likely a way to slow us down and prevent us all from sailing together – making the job of intercepting and boarding us easier. In another attempt to minimise the number of boats in the flotilla the Swedish and Irish boats both had their propeller drive shafts cut in acts of sabotage.

Also during this time a number of flotilla participants in Athens were mugged and had their phones stolen – no money, no jewellery, just their phones – in an effort to infiltrate our communications – as it was already clear we were being watched. This was all being done with a back drop of Israel and the US applying immense diplomatic pressure on the countries where the flotilla boats were docked – in an attempt to prevent us from setting sailing permanently.

We navigated these obstacles only to then be slapped with what can best be described – as a dubious ministerial edict – that had no basis in law. The edict stated that “no ship could leave a Greek port bound for Gaza” – no matter what the conditions or the circumstances – and with that the blockade of Gaza was extended to European waters. Undeterred by the ministerial edict, we made a run for international waters – only to come up 4 miles short.

After the disappointment of Greece we needed to amend our tactics. Israel had varied its strategy of deterrence from violence to the full court press of diplomatic pressure, intelligence service monitoring

and legal challenges – on top of the usual smear campaign and threats. After a comprehensive analysis of the events in Greece we decided our best option was to take advantage of the window of opportunity we had before storm season began in the Mediterranean in mid-November. Israel thought that it had dealt with us for the year and if we organised this new mission as covertly as possible we might catch the Israeli government napping.

After some deliberation about possible ports of departure – which were now very limited – we reassembled in Turkey in November for “a day trip to the Greek Island of Rhodes sailing out of the Turkish port of Fethiye”. While I’m sure we did not catch Israel totally by surprise, I do feel our strict protocols for the discussion of the mission, the quick turn around and our choice of departure port did help us get the jump on them, as it was clear we were not under anywhere near the same leave of surveillance as we were in June in Greece.

While our change of strategy got us out of port and to international waters – everyone aboard was well aware of what awaited us of the coast of Gaza. The Israeli military has a long history of targeting peaceful protesters with violence and the Israeli Navy did indeed take control of the Tahrir using water cannon, tazers and brute force.

I think it’s interesting to contrast the vast difference between the way the Greeks and the Israelis undertook the same task. In July, Greek authorities managed to take control of the Tahrir – and almost 50 people on board, using only one small cutter and two Zodiacs – carrying a total of ten coastguard officers. IN CONTRAST – Israel sent hundreds of heavily armed troops – on at least three warships – and between 15 and 20 assault boats.

Once we arrived at the port of Ashdod we were physically removed from the Tahrir with the use of stress positions and pressure points. We were then strip searched or in some cases a more accurate description would be sexual assaulted. During this search/assault all of the documentation of our violent boarding was confiscated as “evidence” – basically all of our cameras, computers, storage devices were stolen, and the Tahrir was impounded – all of which we have not seen since and are appear unlikely to ever see again.

From Ashdod we were taken to Givion prison where we were detained for a week for the crime of entering Israel illegally – even though we had no intention of going to Israel until our boat was violently boarded by the Israeli Navy – who once they had control of the Tahrir in international waters set a course for Ashdod – and then once in the port of Ashdod forcibly removed us from the boat – hence entering illegally, confusing to say the least.

While these obstacles no doubt make the organisation of actions in solidarity with the Palestinian people much more difficult, they almost always show the true nature of the Israeli state – REPRESSIVE ! – helping us in our mission to show the true nature of the relationship between Palestinians and Israelis, which too often is classified as a “conflict” – which is incorrect, it’s the ”oppression” of Palestinians by Israelis – which is becoming clearer every day thanks to the heavy- handed tactics of the Israeli State.

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July 7, 2012 Posted by | My Thoughts | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Freedom Waves #1413831

 

After a comprehensive review and evaluation of Freedom Flotilla 2 Stay Human, the Freedom Waves strategy was developed. Freedom Waves is the dawn of what we hope will become a new strategy in the international movement to break the blockade ofGaza. Freedom Waves to Gaza seeks to move away from large flotillas which are inherently cumbersome and difficult to keep quiet, towards more agile actions by smaller numbers of boats, leaving from different ports at different, less predictable times, thus keeping the blockaders guessing and making the pressure on them more continuous.

News came through in September that the first wave would consist of two boats, the Tahrir and the Saoirse, and would leave in early November. Time was of the essence, it was quickly resolved inSydneythat Free GazaAustraliawould support this new strategy and Australian delegation would sail with the Tahrir. The preparations then began in earnest– funding was secured, a media strategy developed, a home team organized and delegates selected. All these preparations where done with great secrecy and information was only shared on a need to know basis. I was privileged to be selected as the Australian delegate. After taking part in Freedom Flotilla II earlier in the year, I was excited to be back. With the Freedom Flotilla II mission being stopped by Greek authorities before being able to proceed to international waters and onward toGaza, the changes in strategy this time around offered renewed optimism about the opportunity to challenge the actual blockade ofGazaand not just its extension to European waters.

On the 25th of October I slipped out of the country, under the guise of a trip toCanada for a speaking/fundraising tour. Instead I flew toInchon inKorea, then on toIstanbul inTurkey – where I played the role of tourist while I waited for further instructions. None of the flotilla delegates knew which port we would depart from prior to our arrival inTurkey. After two nights inIstanbul word came through I was to meet my fellow Tahririans in Daliman, hoping this would be my last flight I boarded the plane with a sense of anxiousness and excitement. Once in Daliman I meet up Ehab one the members of the Canadian steering committee. It was great to finally meet Ehab in person; he is warm man, a wonderful organiser and has a wealth of knowledge. We spent the day securing supplies to upgrade our satellite communications aboard the Tahrir – with the help of Google translate.

Over the next 24 hours the Canadian delegates began arriving in Daliman, most of them had been with us in Argos Nicolas in Create in June for the Freedom Flotilla II. It was like getting the band back together – David, Bob, Santargo, Irene, Kate, Jase and of course my prison bitch the gorgeous Sandra Ruch.  A new addition to crew was Majed, a Palestinian from Haifa, I was very excited to have Majed aboard and we formed an instant friendship over several Efes’. The press contingent was all new, apart from Hassan from Press TV; we had Al Jazeeera English and Arabic, Democracy Now, and Lina Attalah a freelance journalist from Cairo all on board. After two days of securing supplies, catch up with old friends and making new ones – word came through that we where to catch up with the American and Danish delegation in Gocek. We weren’t suppose to all come together before getting on the boat – so we were left wondering what was going on?

I made my way to Gocek with Irene and Kate, my fellow Tahririans, and Jihan and Reed from Democracy Now, who I done an interview with earlier in the day. I was to go from Gocek to the Tahrir in port at Fethiye to do guard duty and await a delivery from IHH of our $30,000 dollars worth of medicine for the besieged Gaza Strip. In Gocek the group grew, it was great seeing John and Karen and the whole Danish crew – who had the same delegation as in June with the exception of my dancing partner who was missing, the vivacious Anna Sita. My excitement of catching up with my fellow Tahririans was tempered by the fact my mind was running wild with possible reasons why we had all been called together early.

We head to the hotel where the US delegation was stationed to find out what the news was. Just as we start the meeting with Ehab informing us that the Port Master in Fethiye has declared that the Tahrir is only allowed to have 12 passengers aboard not 35, news came through that we are a larger meeting than the hotel expected and that the manger was asking us to leave. The owner had seen us coming in on the CCTV and he was not happy – so after some unsuccessful negotiations we decided to leave and head up the road to a clearing in the bush – I’m cold, anxious and we are about to make an important decision about our flotilla delegation on the side of the road in the dark.

To go or not go, that is the question we where was faced with. After almost an hour of debate we where far from a decision about who would constitute the much smaller delegation or if we would go at all, and I had to get to the port for my shift guarding the Tahrir. I left with the final decision to wiser heads and headed of to Fethiye and the Tahrir. The Tahrir stood out like a sore thumb in Fethiye. The marina was full of some the most audacious luxury yachts I have ever seen and then at the end of the dock is this steel hauled, outdated ferry, covered in netting – still from my perspective she was the most beautiful one of them all, hello Tahrir! I spent the night on duty, but my mind never left Gocek – with many questions weighing on my mind: what was happening, had decision been made, where we going or was this déjà vu? Sandra, Ehab and Jase, all Canadian Boat to Gaza steering committee members, returned to the Tahrir around midnight where they inform me that no decision had been made.

Me and my old friend Tahrir in Fethiye.

The next day the steering committee meet again and it was decided that we would try and get 12 passengers approved. Having to cut the Tahrir delegation from 35 down to 12 people caused much angst. I was selected as first mate, our Captain George’s offsider. I spent the day learning how to run the generator, the bilge pump and the spot tracker. I was ecstatic to make the cut, however it was very bitter sweet as many wonderful friends would be left on the dock if the Tahrir made it out of Fethiye – which I was staring to doubt, as news had spread that decisions about our departure where being made in Ankara not the Harbor Masters office in Fethiye – why?

The next day things start to progress: our fuel delivery arrived and we had to sail to the other side of the marina to pick it up – this was my first test as first mate and I soon found out my knot tying skills left a little to be desired. Once we had fueled up the clock was now ticking. We had purchased the fuel duty free which meant we had to leave the port in the next 24 hours to avoid being charged the duty. The last hurdle, hopefully, was having the passenger list check against our passports – a fifteen minute process. Instead 1 hour passed, then 2 hours, 3, 4, 5 – we began to wonder what was going on? David started his own occupy Fethiye Harbor Masters office in protest and I ducked off for a couple of cold bevies, to ease my frustration.

When I returned home after Freedom Flotilla 2 earlier in the year, I had a definite sense of unfinished business. When the Greek authorities stopped our boat from leaving port to travel through international waters to challenge the siege of Gaza I felt like I had been cheated out of doing the most meaningful thing I had ever set my mind to by a dubious ministerial edict that had no basis in law. I was hoping that with our change of strategy things would be different this time. When I noticed David heading from the Harbor Masters office back to the Tahrir at around midnight the feeling of déjà vu I had been trying to suppress for the last few days bubbled to the surface, I wondered if we would be allowed to leave the port after all. As the crew at the bar started to disperse, I was a far from finished – so I gathered my buddy Majed, Reed and Jihan from Democracy Now and Lina and off into night, or early morning to be more precise, we headed. After blowing off a fair bit of steam, possibly too much – we called it a night.

The next morning as I nursed a hangover I heard the news that the passenger list had been approved by the Harbor Master and we would be leaving port for “Rhodes” that afternoon. Leaving port was as expected a bitter sweet moment: on one hand we were on our way to international waters and I was aboard for the first time, on the other the Danish delegation John, Annette and Charlotte where left behind on the dock, as were Irene, John, Jase, Santiago and Sandra – not to mention the Quebec and Belgium delegations that were not with us this time. The Tahrir felt empty with just 12 of us on board, but we where on our way.

The first day on the boat I kept busy getting my head around all my duties as a the first mate, plus doing interviews with the media on board and trying to find time to keep the Free Gaza Australia team at home in Sydney in the loop with photos, statements and updates. Although I did take a few minutes to smell the salt spray once we had made international waters, we were now only a matter of days away from answering the challenge that had been issued to us, the international solidarity movement, by the IOF (Israeli Occupation Force) when they massacred our brother and sisters on the Mavi Marmara during the 2010 Freedom Flotilla. The attack on the Mavi was clearly meant as a deterrent. As governments and international institution have failed to hold Israel accountable, Israel knows that civil society is the only threat to their continued impunity from international law,  the IOF’s actions against the 2010 flotilla were a way of saying “how committed our you?” Our answer has been continued commitment to the people of Palestine.

In June as part of Freedom Flotilla 2 ‘Stay Human’, we doubled the number of participants, countries represented and boats in the flotilla. While most of the boats in that flotilla were blocked from leaving the Greek ports at which they were docked, it was still an impressive show of solidarity. From there to where we are now, at the start of Freedom Waves Initiative, we continue showing our commitment to answering the challenge and ending the blockade of Gaza and the collective punishment it enforces by changing up our strategy to keep constant pressure on Israel’s illegal blockade.

The second day at sea we rendezvous with the Irish delegation on board the Saoirse, from above deck we shouted words of support back and forth between our boats. As we drifted away from the Saoirse to shouts of “see you inGaza” spirits and hopes were high. We slowed our progress from 15 to 10 knots to ensure that we would enter the region in international waters that the Israeli authorities have dubbed a “closed military zone” in day light and arrive inGaza before night fall. At this point I had not slept for two days and with game time fast approaching I handed over my first mate duties to Majed while I enjoyed a few hours kip, sleeping next to my essentials for the Tahrir being boarded by the Israeli military: goggles, ear plugs, head light, sat phone, camera – I took the time out for a few deep breaths to remind myself, I’ve got this! then of to sleep.

The Saoirse approaching the Tahrir

I was woken from my nap with the news that we were less than 100 nautical miles from the port of Gaza. This was not the news I had expected to woken with. The IOF had not taken their last chance to take us at night and I wondered why not. At this point the words of Miles Howe who took part in the June flotilla rang loud in my mind, “We are going to Gaza”, well maybe this time we were. I made my morning update via sat phone and tried to send our two latest photos back to the team in Sydney. The first photo sent but second would not load, trying and trying again to attach the second, but failing – does anyone else have internet? No. Is this the start of our communications being jammed ? I head off to check if the spot tracker still has a signal, its green which means it is still sending a signal. I head to the wheel house to see if there are any new blips on the Tahrir’s radar and I arrive in time to hear the crackle of the first hail of the IOF stating that we were “headed into a closed military zone”.

I rushed below to get Ehab and David, our nominated spokes team. The three of us arrived back to the wheel house to the IOF asking, “What is your course”, with out missing a beat Ehab grabbed the two way radio and stated “the consciousness of humanity” – “what is your final destination”; the IOF officer enquires again “the betterment of mankind”. Back on the sat phone to call through another update to Sydney. As I make the call news spreads through the Tahrir that there is a frigate our left hand side, here we go. Anxiety levels are definitely on the rise at this point, to say the least. I start to update the home team, “there is a frigate on our left, what side of the boat is that, who knows boat shit?” A reassuring voice comes back down the line, “it’s the port, the port” how does Kate know boat shit? I finished my second update to Kate and the team back in Sydney with Ehab’s quote, that I later found out had been written with David Heap: “What is your course” – “ the consciousness of humanity” – “what is your final destination” – “the betterment of mankind” – pure GOLD!

Suddenly my attention is drawn to what I now know is the starboard side of the boat, there are two Israeli frigates looming up on us. My sat phone is the only one that still has signal so I lend it to Kasey, to do a live phone in for Al Jazeera; I then set about documenting the scene. I photographed and videoed the armada that Israel had assembled to stop 27 unarmed human rights activists on two small boats attempting to deliver medicine – I counted 17 Israeli military vessels that I could see. There where at least five frigates or destroyers (large navel vessels several hundred feet long) – three water canons – mounted on what looked like 30 foot tinies – four boarding boats – 20 foot steel vessels, they looked like landing boats you would see in movies about the D-Day landing at Normandy – and five 20 foot zodiacs – at a quick estimate at least 1500 hundred soldiers just to board us.

At this point I must admit I headed down stairs under the pretense of discarding my laptop, which I had actually done earlier – as we knew the IOF would 1] look at contacts in our address books and life is tough enough in the occupied territories without me bringing more frustration to the lives of my friends in Palestine – and 2] there little chance I’d get it back if it was confiscated by the Israeli military. However I digress, I headed below deck to get my shit together. I knew, as did everyone aboard, the long history of the IOF using violence against peaceful protesters and I must admit it rattled me for several minutes. I quickly put into action my breathing techniques and calmed myself to the point where I could focus on the job at hand: documentation and communication.

I head back up onto the deck and get my sat phone back from Kasey – I try and call Sydney, but it is no use, the sat phone can no longer get a signal. Our communications are gone; the name of the game now is documentation. I shot some more video and took some more photos, before heading to the wheel house to hear how our spokes team was going. The IOF officer was clearly getting frustrated with our replies that “we do consent to your request, but we will not resist”, they sounded and looked like they where about to board – the officers tone was becoming sharper as his voice crackled over the two way radio and by now the heavily armed soldiers had been in position in full kit with their weapons trained at our foreheads for over an hour. As we are circled by IOF vessels I head down below deck to hide my camera chip and get the flip video footage onto a USB stick. I could not get the footage to transfer, but stashed the USB – am I smarter than the search awaiting me in Ashdod ? Fingers crossed.

By the time I got back on deck both boats, the Tahrir and Saoirse, where corralled so tightly together we where only several meters apart. As negotiations turned to demands over the two way the Tahrir and Saoirse collided, BAANNNGGGG – as the Saoirse pulled away from the Tahrir its gang plank nearly ripped off the stern of the vessel (I always knew the stern from the bow). The collision rips a gash down the stern towards the water line. The Saoirse then took off to put some space between the two vessels; as it did so it was chased by two water canons and several zodiacs. We now know that boarding is imminent. We had discussed how we would handle the IOF boarding and formed buddy pairs and nominated where we would be positioned. Majed was my buddy and we where to be on the wheel house doors, I had the port side.

As I positioned myself on the port side door of the wheel house, the water canon moved in – spraying the bow of the boat, making the deck incredibly slippery. The water canon then started to head towards my position, I stood in the side spray for a while – holding my position, until I took a direct blow from the canon that knocked me off my feet. I then headed around to the starboard side of the wheel house to take cover from the water canon, it was here I found the rest of the Tahrir crew – apart from our spokes team David and Ehab and our Captain George who where still in the wheel house. At this point one of the boarding vessels began to maneuver it self along the port side the Tahrir, this surprised us – as we expected the IOF to board from the stern of the boat. However to avoid our netting, which was set up to block access from the rear of the Tahrir and to protect us from tear gas, the IOF came along side in a 20 foot boarding vessel that had been fitted with a scissor lift to get the boarding party up to height of the Tahrir’s top deck.

The soldiers came aboard and quickly secured the wheel house with the use of tasers and brut force – Ehab, George and David where pushed from the wheel house towards the rest of the crew who where still on the starboard side of the Tahrir. David had blood dripping down his forehead from having bumped his head after being tasered and pushed out of the wheel house by the Israeli soldiers. The sight of a bloodied David being pushed from the wheel house pushed me from fear to defiance. All the IOF had to do to secure the Tahrir was clear three unarmed men from the wheel house and they had now shown they could not even do that without violence. From this point onward I challenged every direction that was made of me and stated at every opportunity, “you have the responsibility as an occupying force to allow free access of humanitarian goods to the occupied territories” and “that Israel has no authority to board a Comoros Islands flagged ship in International waters – this is an act of kidnapping and piracy”.

Once the IOF had control of the Tahrir, they started to search the vessel and the crew. One at a time we where moved from the starboard side to the port side and searched, I was the first to be searched and I refused to cooperate by going limp as they dragged me across the deck to be searched. During the search I had a pistol firmly pressed into my lower back and had several shotgun sights trained on my forehead. This search was focused on getting our documentation of the illegal boarding, we where patted down and had any cameras taken from us. However I realised after the search that I still had the flip video camera in my top pocket, I thought that if they missed that maybe there was a chance they won’t find my memory chip stashed below deck. Before we arrived atAshdodwe were allowed to collect our belongings and in this process I slipped the flip video into Kasey’s bag – as I thought that Kasey with his Israeli press card had the best chance of getting it through the black hole that isAshdod.

Shortly after this the IOF officer in charge told us what we already knew, that there where no weapons found on board the Tahrir. At this point Ehab requested that we be allowed to continue on our course to the “consciousness of humanity” otherwise known asGaza– unsurprisingly this request was denied. Shortly after we where moved below deck for the trip toAshdod, which took several hours. Once we arrived atAshdodwe where asked to leave. Our Captain and the journalists walked off the boat, but the delegates refused to leave stating again that “we had no intention of going toIsrael; we are on aComorosIslandsflagged vessel bound forGaza”. After a brief stand off the IOF handed over the duty of removing us from the Tahrir to the Israeli police – Kit and Karen eventually agree to leave the vessel – while Majed, Ehab, David and I where dragged from the Tahrir. They used pressure points, we where put in stress positions and speaking for myself, I was kicked and had my head bounced off several passing structures.

This forced disembarkation was witnessed and documented by hundreds of smiling Israeli military, police and immigration officers – I now understand the line in the Staple Singers track “I’ll take you there”: Ain’t no Smilin faces – I could never figure out why in this nirvana like place that was being sung about, where there was nobody crying, nobody worried, there were no smilin faces. I now know that they were not friendly smiles being sung about, but rather those of the oppressor smiling at the suffering of the oppressed. Several of the onlooking officers even laughed as we screamed in pain.

After being searched again, this time more thoroughly, expectantly I lost my sat phone, my iPod and disappointingly both my memory chip (I will need to rethink my stash spot for next year). We where then taken to a bus where some of us where shackled for the journey to the next stage of our processing at an Israeli immigration centre – tell me again why where still being treated as a threat ? While waiting for the rest of the flotilla crew to get on the bus we noticed that Majed, the Palestinian delegate, was being pushed into a police car and driven off with several officers. This concerned us all as we knew that Majed being Palestinian could face more brutal treatment than any of us, and now he was on his own. We requested that he be transported with us, but this request was meet with soldiers telling us, “shut up, shut up, you shut up” together with threats of more violence.

We arrived at the immigration centre at around 10pm; six hours after IOF had taken control of the Tahrir. Awaiting our arrival was several hundred Israeli police and immigration officers, while waiting to disembark I hear David call out, “so how Israeli’s does it take to change a light bulb,” the response comes back form one of my Irish brothers, “several hundred, one to change the light blub and the others to do security”. At the immigration centre we where photographed, finger printed and asked to sign documents in Hebrew which apparently stated we came toIsraelillegally. All the delegates refused to sign expect for Ehab, who had signed in the hope of being released so that he could present the real story of the boarding to the world’s press. We were then interviewed by an intelligence officer, who asked many questions – but got one response, “lawyer”. From here we where taken back onto the bus and transport to our final destination of our processing: Givon prison in Ramla.

Once at Givon we where searched AGAIN and 12 hours after we were first boarded I finally got to my home away from home: wing 5 cell 12 Givon Prison – where I would be known as #1413831. As I got to the cell I was given my first prison meal – stale bread and a capsicum (yuummm). At 9.00am the next morning, after just three hours sleep, I was woken prison style, “up count, up” and “good morning, up count” as the keys jangled and big steel doors slammed shut and creaked open. “Aussie John Michael, come your consulate is waiting,” they said and I was escorted to the see my consulate officer, Sue was one of only two conduits I had to the outside world, she brought me newspaper clippings from Australia, muesli bars, cigarettes, and most importantly got a messages to my family, friends and my home team. I would like to take this opportunity to publicly acknowledge Sue for her support: Sue, your support during the longest week of life was greatly appreciated – thank you. Unfortunately I can not say that I received the same support at a ministerial level.

I returned from seeing Sue and was allowed into the yard where my Irish brothers had already formed a prisoner committee and where making demands on the prison authorities:

1] Free Association on the wing – open cell doors during the day

2] Provision of adequate reading and writing materials

3] Access to the outside – via regular phone calls

4] Knowledge of our sisters being held in another wing of Givon

5] That Democracy Now correspondent Jihan Hafiz be recognized and treated as a recognized journalist.

The next morning in response to these demands the guard only let half the wing into the yard at a time. Once we realized what was happening the call came from our Irish brothers to head back to our cells and lock yourself in – “one in, all in”. After ten minutes all of the cell the doors were opened and we where all allowed into the yard together, but our Prisoner’s Committee did not leave it there – we negotiated a routine that would see us only return to our cells for counts three times and be locked down from 8.00pm at night, as opposed to being locked down all day apart from two one hour trips to the yard. This victory was hugely uplifting; it showed me that we could have some effect on our conditions. Thank you my Irish brothers for prison solidarity 101.

The committee also pressed for our other demands to be met, with varying degrees of success. However we were finally allowed a phone call home later that day. We where escorted one by one into the manager’s office, which was set up with a lady in headphones and with a laptop connected the phone – so much for unmonitored. We were then told, “you get three minutes – nothing political, just say you are fine and have been treated OK” (WTF?) I told them, “I wait 48 hours for a phone call and I get three minutes to lie to my family?” Off I went, “I have been the victim of piracy, I was then kidnapped and forcedly brought to a foreign country against my will and am now being detained illegally – all for the crime taking medicine to sick people, I AM NOT OK !” – “Do you want your call,” they asked, to which I responded, “yes, and you can tell her to unplug the laptop and take off the headphones, we were told our calls would be unmonitored” – “OK call,” they said, “but she listens”. I get through it’s my Dad, he sounds happy but concerned/stress/sleep deprived and after my “negotiations” with the manager I was wound up – which probably did not help ease my Dad’s mind.

I was also concerned with getting a message out; I knewIsraelwould be telling the media about a peaceful boarding process and carefully managing the first 72 hours post-incident of state sanctioned piracy. I told Dad the details of the boarding and our detention and upon using words like “Taser” “Piracy” “Kidnapping” “Assault”, I was cut off and I did not get a chance to tell my folks I love them.

On the third day the misinformation campaign waged against us by the Israeli authorities started in earnest. Up until that point we had been told by everyone, Israeli immigration and prison officials, our consulates and lawyers, that “we could only be held for 72 hours, that’s the law”. Sue delivered the news that the 72 hours had not started atAshdod, i.e. when we arrived. It started when the judge signed the deportation order, oh and then more waiting as flights are arranged. I thought thatIsraelwould have at least respected their own laws, I should have known better. At least another 24 hours, but trying not to be fixated on a date – to avoid devastation.

Then the next day and we are given another story. We are told by an immigration official, “we could be here for up to two months”. I struggled to bring myself back up after this. However I did learn available lesson, “don’t believe a word the bastards say,” cheers for the knowledge Hassan. Cheers my entire wing actually, my Canadian, Irish and English brothers- you keep me positive. Someone was always whistling, “always look on the bright side of life,”  telling a joke or a story, crafting a checkers board from the packaging dinner came in – meals that can best be described by another David Heap quote, “oh great, another alleged meat product,” a heart felt thank you to you all.

After five days in Givon news came through that the longest week of my life was over – What? Who told you that? Is this real? After nervously having the news confirmed by multiple sources, I was well and truly au fait with rule one wing five Givon prison, “don’t believe a word the bastards say” – I belived it, I am going home : ] Three hours later I was on my way to a bus which would take me along with half the Irish and all the Canadian delegation to the airport. On the way I made a point of telling the manager of Givon and any one else that would listen that I’d see them next year – because that’s what Israel must learn, we are not going away and neither are the Palestinians. It reminds me of a quote a friend of mine in Nablus told me while discussing transfer by stealth, the method of making life so unbearable in the occupied territories that the Palestinians leave of ‘their own accord’ – “what they don’t realize Mike is that those who have left have left and those that have stayed, where born here and will die here” – long live Palestine !

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the crew at Free GazaAustralia, which is practically 8 people inSydney- we have and will continue to do amazing things. While I’m giving props, I’d like to thank all of those who sent messages of support while I was on my journey, and of course to our international partners – my Canadian Boat to Gaza peeps, Free Gaza Demark, my friends in Belgium, New Zealand, Germany, America and most of all Palestine – THANK YOU : ]

Freedom Waves delegates aboard the Tahrir the morning of the boarding

* All the photo’s with me in them where courtesy of Lina Atallah, thank you Lina .

December 1, 2011 Posted by | Freedom Waves, My Thoughts | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

PA bid for Palestinian statehood

Well I know it’s been a while – I’ve been catching up on six weeks worth of work, flotilla review and evaluation, illness and if I’m being honest a little max’n and relax’n. However the PA bid for Palestinian statehood at the UN has got me back on my soap box. I find myself in opposition to several people who I respect greatly on this issue and have had to question my stance – however my position is unchanged I think it is the wrong move by the wrong people at the wrong time.

MOVE: One of the major problems with most people’s understanding of the “Palestinian/Israeli conflict” is this very term – there is no conflict, as a conflict denotes two equal sides. In what I refer to not as the “Palestinian/Israeli conflict“, but more correctly as the oppression and of Palestinians by Israelis and if successful this statehood bid will  only reaffirm this myth of two equal sides, while changing nothing on the ground.

So why then if your already in weakened negotiating position, such as the Palestinians, would you divide the issues up for negotiation into separate parts ? Further weakening your overall position – as it stands to reason that if you’re the weaker party you generally end up making the most concessions, i.e. accepting 22% of your historic homeland as your state. 

Why then negotiate more than necessary ?

PEOPLE: Most commentators agree that there will be no real change on the ground from this bid for statehood, however there will be real change at the UN, where the Palestinian Authority [PA] will most likely get the  observer status which the Palestinian Liberation Organisation [PLO] already basically has,. i.e. the only real change will be that the Palestinian refugees and those Palestinians living in Israel will lose their representation at the UN. As the PLO represented all Palestinians and PA represents only those living in the West Bank, roughly 25% – and the PA  has shown through the Oslo process their willingness to negotiate away the rights of their fellow Palestinians.

In addition to this the PA has no electoral mandate, that expired more than two years ago – no credibility, that expired long before their electoral mandate. And they have become the Palestinian face of the occupation – even working with the Israeli Occupation Force [IOF] to quell protests inspired by their UN bid.

In my opinion this is the PA’s last ditch attempt to salvage a failed 20 year “peace process” because their credibility is so wrapped up in it – even though this so-called “peace process” has seen all the major indicators of life in the occupied territories decline and no gains made on the right of return or the discrimination of Palestinians living in Israel.

TIME:  This bid should be made by a united Palestinian Government Hamas, Fatah, the PFLP, etc … all voting on it in the Palestinian Parliament after being elected by the people and in an ideal world, well I have already asked for unity and fresh elections, with an electoral mandate for the bid.

And finally and more importantly it‘s not just the wrong move with the wrong people at the wrong time, it also threatens  to wall Palestinian aspirations into a political cul-da-sac  without addressing the right of return or the discrimination of Palestinians living in Israel.

This is why I am not supporting the PA’s bid for statehood at the UN

RANT OVER !

September 27, 2011 Posted by | My Thoughts | , , | 1 Comment

Stay Human – the story of Freedom Flotilla 2 – from the Kayaktivists perspective

Well where do I start, I know it’s been several weeks since my last post – but I’ve been a little pre-occupied with a wall of bureaucratic obstacles and a possible prison sentence. Anyway I digress, let’s go back to the start and I can bring you up to speed on what has been one of the most amazing months of my life – even if it did contain some of the scariest moments of I ever experienced.

So we started off in Crete at the port of St Nicolas, as the ABCD tour group – as we were mainly made up of members from Australia, Belgium, Canada and Denmark – the most diverse and unorganised tour group in the history of tourism. Diverse, aged from 23 to 80, students to retired politicians, 10 nationalities represented [yes Manon and Mary-Eve – I am including Quebec in that count] and more opinions than people. Unorganised, well at least it would have looked that way from the outside – we were constantly meeting in a small meeting room to discuss “outings” that kept getting postponed, our room bookings changed on a daily basis and the next stop on our tour changed every time we were asked.

St Nicolas in Crete

While discussing the group I must admit that I am not a people person – put me in a room with 50 people and generally I might like 5 of them, if your lucky. However of the 50 participants of the ABCD tour group, or the “Tahririans” as Amira Hass has dubbed us, I respected and liked everyone involved – almost feeling out of place at times, for example while sitting around discussing wealth distribution with Bob Lovelace [1st Nations Chief] Sylvia Hale [former member of parliament] and Sue Breeze [a 30 veteran of peace and justice struggles].

For the impressive back stories of the “Tahririans” click here.

The four days of training that we undertook were designed to  bring us together as a group and help prepare us for the challenges that lay ahead. Ladder Climbing Lee [LCL], we had to give ourselves a prefix to our first name that described you and  started in the same letter as your first name – I was Manic Michael, anyway LCL facilitated most of the four days and I have to say was the best facilitator I have ever seen –  and I have seen a few facilitators as I organise training for my day job. It was beautifully structured, invigorating and it pushed you, and all in a hot, overcrowded room, with minimal props – just LCL , some butchers paper and a few textas.

Scenario training - boarding

Scenario training - disembarking

So let me set the scene we have all spent the last 6 to 12 months working and preparing to sail in uncertain water, to put it lightly. We have now just finished four days of training, that involved discussing some pretty heavy scenarios – how we would be boarded – where you wanted to be during the boarding – how long you were prepared to stay in detention before signing the Israeli deportation order admitting you “acted illegally”, i.e. that the siege of Gaza and the collective punishment they is enforce is legal. While I know answering these questions pre the event only gave an indication of how you would like to carry it, but speaking personally, it help me solidify a process I had started months before. So you getting the picture, we were up for it, where ready to roll – then we got our first paper cut.

Training - preparing for what lay ahead

Each day at the start of training Decisive David would give us an update in regards to timeline, tasks, and possible obstacles. As the training was coming to an end the obstacles began taking up more and more of the update – it seemed every time we fulfilled one of the INSB or Harbour Master requests, they hit us with two more. For instance at one stage the INSB had spent all day inspecting our boat, a regular occurrence, they discovered that the emergency beckon while it gave our correct position it identified the ship under its previous name and that the benches were not wide enough to be used as beds. The radio was replaced in half an hour and shortly there after we were demanding to see where in the  regulatory guide it specified the width at which a bench can be used as a bed. Strangely they could not find that regulation in the book, but by the time that was figured out  – we now needed a representative of the Comoros Islands, whose flag we were sailing under, to confirm that the representative that signed the first document was actually a representative of the Comoros Islands, no really!

Decisive David - giving one of his many updates

Keeping in mind we had already passed all the relevant inspections prior to requesting to sail to Gaza, only then were they “concerned for our safety”. The other interesting point is that before we bought the Tahrir it did Island cruises between different Greek islands, without any concerns about its sea worthiness. Since we had bought the boat we had spent thousands on improvements to the engine, putting in larger water tanks and better communications equipment – yet now they were worried about its sea worthiness ???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

So you’re with me, we were starting to get the sense they might not let the Tahrir leave Greek waters – people are starting to postpone flights home at ridiculous costs, hotel bills are adding up and all this at personal expense and on top of cost already incurred – some of us, me included, hoped Israel would deport us back to home countries rather than the other options of Athens or Amman. Well, if we got that far there was a good chance that the Tahrir would be impounded never to be seen again, so a flight home was not asking to much ; ] This tension built up for several days until two days after training had finished – while we were not training, we were still meeting at least twice a day to work on strategy, media and web presence. We received the news that the Swedish, Norwegian and Greek cargo ship that was part of the flotilla had had its propeller drive shaft cut and there was no doubt it was an act of sabotage. We immediately went to a 24 hour security roster and installed under water lights to increase night-time visibility. While there had been speculation about the level of surveillance we were under – this was the first piece of solid evidence we had that Mossad was in town, towards the end when they had fallen into certain patterns of surveillance we realised how much surveillance we were under – although our Greek comrades knew the whole time, insisting that during meetings all phones not only had to be off – but have the batteries removed as well.

Miles and Nick - on guard duty

Alex - part of the crew - keep watch from the water

Well it was becoming clear that our attempt at subtlety was not getting us anywhere, maybe it was time to change up? But before we had a chance the Harbour Police turned up and demanded our ships log, which Sandra Ruch refused to give it up, stating “If you take the log, you take me with it” – much respect, Sandra. The Harbour Police’s indecision gave us enough time to mobilise and get enough bodies on to the boat so that taking Sandra with the log was no longer an option. When we came out, I must say, it was one of the most liberating experiences of my life. We were no longer the ABCD tour group, we where part of Freedom Flotilla 2 – Stay Human. We dropped our banners and did what we do best: PROTESTED INJUSTICE. We quickly organised a march through the streets of St Nicolas to the Harbour Masters office, if she wanted the log she could have it along with us and a long list of queries about why the blockade of Gaza had been extended to European waters and questions about under whose authority was this done ?

The Tahrir pre-coming out

The Tahrir post-coming out

Sandra - leading our march through the streets of St Nicolas, ship's log in hand

While on the march we chanted and danced, alivened by the fact we could now openly express ourselves. Unfortunately the joy was short-lived, once at the Harbour Masters office it became clear that the Greeks had run out of bureaucratic hurdles and instead slapped a ministerial edict on us, stating that “No ship bound for Gaza could leave Greece”. The last of the 1000 paper cuts, or as fellow Tahririan Miles Howe described it “Where like a peaceful elephant getting taken down by a wild pack of hyenas – painfully and slowly being ripped apart”.

Sandra confronting the Harbour Master

But this elephant was not out for the count yet, we decided to move on to the boat – the Tahrir was now home : ] Moving to the boat not only made it less likely we would suffer the same fate as the Swedish-Norwegian-Greek cargo boat, but it also lifted our spirits, giving us  sense of progress. However this again did not last long and just when I was ready to re-name the flotilla “ready, steady – NO” news comes through that we were going to challenge the extension of the blockade of Gaza to European waters by leaving port without permission from the Harbour Master. Only problem was  since we had come out, we had a coast guard boat moored next to us.

Coast Guard boat moored next to the Tahrir

So bags packed, all aboard, but how are we going to get around the Coast Guard boat? Then Soha, who I had become already quite close to due our nocturnal lifestyles, comes up to me and asks whether I can help her out. She had been asked earlier in the day whether she would give up her spot on the boat to help the Tahrir get out of port, but she needed a partner in crime – I told Soha that I would do it, but needed to let some one from the Australian delegation know – so I could hand over the communication role and equipment. Soha said that no else could know, and that she would try to find some else, personally I thought phheeewwww! However an hour later Soha still has not found her partner in crime and tells me I’m in – I quickly grab Nick and bring him up to speed with the satellite phone, grab my gear from the boat and rush it back to Soha’s hotel room. At this stage I must admit I had mixed emotions, I had spent the last year organising and fundraising to get to this point – then just before we get to the second last hurdle, I‘m out. On the way back to the hotel I discover that we are going to position ourselves in front of the Coast Guard boat in kayaks in order to stop them blocking the Tahrir in port, we decided on a strategy and race back top the Tahrir.

Once back on board Soha and I start to prepare, familiarising ourselves with our equipment and trying not to show the emotion that was welling up inside – for me at least. Then the call came to get into the kayaks, at first we just played around splashing each other – and even though Soha won’t admit it, I won – we then slipped around the side of boat where the Coast Guard could not see us, waiting for the Tahrir to start its engines – which was our signal to go. We waited for what seemed like an eternity, then the engine roared into life – game on. Much to my surprise we had caught the Coast Guard off guard and made it to the bow of the Coast Guard boat unopposed, once in position I started to think “maybe it would have been better that they did see me paddling into position – what if in their panic they take of without realising where here”. Then much to my relief the Coast Guard begin to shout at us to move, trying to kick us off our kayaks while lowering themselves down to water from both the boat and the dock, even using their fender to shoo us a way like flies. We mange to obstruct the Coast Guard long enough for the Tahrir to get out of port, with almost a five minute head start. What now? As Soha and I looked at each other, neither of us thinking we would get this far and thus had not planned our get away – LEG IT! Or in this case, paddle for it.

The Kayaktivists getting the V for victory as the Tahrir leaves port

Soha and I celebrating the Tahrir leaving port - one of the happiest moments of my life

We paddled out of port and headed to beach landing around the corner, the whole time focused on Tahrir and its dash for the deep water shoot – “Go the Tahrir, show the world the lengths Israel will go to – to stop humanitarian aid – and hopefully have the world ask: why?” As we approach the beach we realised there was a reception party awaiting our arrival, we tried to paddle for another beach, but soon realised that we were done – we came ashore with our hands up stating that we were peaceful protesters and that we were no threat. Soha and I were immediately cuffed and transported to the Harbour Masters office. Where we were separated and left cuffed in our wet cloths, listening to our future being discussed in raised voices and a  foreign language. After an hour or so, John Turnball – not sure what John’s prefix from training was, but if I had to come up with it, it would have been Joyously Technical John. As James Brown would say “John was the hardest working man in St Nicolas” – anyway John brought Soha and I dry clothes, which we were allowed to change into – un-cuffed, but supervised. A short time later we were un-cuffed to eat, and this time the cuffs stayed off. That night we spent at the Harbour Masters office, I later found out that staff did unpaid overtime to keep us out of the cell’s in Napoli, and after seeing those cells while waiting to see the District Attorney the next day, I am forever in their debt.

Later that night, Sandra who had been down to see us several times throughout the evening, came back to Harbour Master’s office and was arrested –  as the ship’s owner. This was because there been a “I’m Spartacus” moment on the boat post its boarding, with all 35 crew stating that they where the Captain – keeping in mind the experience of the American Flotilla boat, “Audacity of Hope”, where the only person arrested when it made its dash for open water was the Captain – OH Captain, my 35 Captains.

The next day in the afternoon we were cuffed and transported to Napoli to see the District Attorney about bail – we waited 5 hours for the privilege, but it was worth it, I avoided spending a night in the cells, which once I realised were dual occupancy, scared the shit out of me! Once released on our recognisance to appear in court the next day, we headed straight to the boat to see our fellow Tahririans. As we got out of the car back in St Nicolas, in view of the Tahrir, a round of applause started on board as word spread that we had been released, the cheering grew, and as we approached our 35 Captains – it dawned on me that I have  35 of the amazing people I have ever met giving Soha and I a standing ovation – it was special : ] Then Sandra appeared and the Captains Chorus stepped it up a level – breaking into our theme song –

“Get Up Stand Up,
Stand up for Gaza,
Get Up Stand Up,
Stand up for their rights.”

Sandra - returning to the Tahrir

That night was either my first night of renewed freedom or my last night of freedom for a while – so either way it was party time – maybe not the smartest option. Court was scheduled for 12.30pm  the next day, so we had to be there 11.30am – which meant leaving St Nicolas around 10.00am – after a few coffees I was fine.  Again there were long delays in Napoli and before the AC was turned on I felt like I was about to faint – a funny story in quite a serious situation, while waiting for the Judge the Tahrir three Sandra, Soha and I all received massagers from our fellow Tahririans, tell me again “why was Israel so scared of us”?  Oh right, we’re the only threat to their continued impunity from international law – unfortunately there were no cameras allow in court.

As for the court case, it was like a Sydney horse race, the fix was in. From the get go it was clear the DA, who we already knew was not part of the international solidarity movement, and the Judge, we’re on the same team. On the evidence before the court – some very considered testimonies by the Coast Guard and Harbour Police – our own testimonies – and some impassioned arguments from our lawyers – I started to think we might, just maybe, be in the clear – although that impression came second-hand from a court employee’s interpretation. Still I was taken aback when we were asked to stand, one by one, and convicted, one by one, to 30 day sentences. Then we were asked if we had ever been convicted before, “No you Honour” – SENTENCE SUSPENDED – that was longest five minutes of my life.

Exiting court - "Freedom" - now to bring the same joy to the Palestinians

Sandra, Soha and I post court - the Tahrir Three

Post-court and post several beers, Decisive David sidles up to me and asks, “When is your flight home?” – “I don’t have one” – “Good, this is not over yet !” – the roller coaster continues. So news has come through that some flotilla boats in Greek ports had changed tact and are now requesting to sail to ports in Turkey and Egypt – with some success. So for the next few days we rode the roller coaster, having several meetings that would possibly inform us we were free to leave Greek waters. At first I was trying to convince myself that I could bring my self back up for a last lunge toward the line, but eventually – knowing there was a chance of being deported back to Greece to serve at least my 30 days in general population – I decided to jump ship and join the home team – where I would mind luggage and post it to where ever my fellow Tahririans where deported to. I know that I let a few of you down with this decision, butI was happy that I had realised my limits – something I generally struggle with.

Unfortunately the bureaucratic wall held firm and the Tahrir is still in the port of St Nicolas in Crete – however, because of some of the most committed people I have ever met, the story continues. Firstly, Sylvia and Vivienne decided to join the “Welcome to Palestine” or “Flytilla” imitative  – flying to Tel A Viv and stating at customs “I am here to visit Palestine” – this was a short notice call to arms that was impressively responded to, resulting in over 100 people taking part. Some were stopped in their home countries, such as France, where several French nationals were not allowed on flights bound for Tel A Viv – but the majority made it to Tel A Viv and were detained and were awaiting deportation. Not Vivienne and Sylvia though, they appealed their deportation orders and won,  setting a legal precedent in Israel. The Flytilla was effective on two fronts – it showed the isolation of Palestinians living under occupation, even convicted criminals get visitation rights – but it also showed that like Greece, France could also be pressured into denying its citizens basic rights to appease Israel and the US.

Vivienne Porzsolt and Sylvia Hale at the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem during the first Israeli Palestine rally for the liberation of Palestine

Then Stephan from the steering committee, and Amira, a journalist, get themselves on the Dignity, the French boat that sailed from Corfu. The only member of Freedom Flotilla 2 to challenge the Israeli imposed blockade of Gaza. Much respect Vivienne, Sylvia, Stephan and Amira – after three weeks on the emotional roller coaster that was Freedom Flotilla 2, I was emotionally and physically spent, but you marched on and it’s a privilege to know people like you.

Well that’s my story, so far, but before I sign off I would like to publicly acknowledge the Sydney working group – Vivienne, Rihab, Raul, Adam, James and Sylvia – for their vision and commitment. The Canadian Boat to Gaza steering committee, your leadership and inclusive decision making was greatly appreciated. Lastly, to all my  fellow Tahririans it was a privilege and an honour to serve with you, and I am looking forward to seeing you all in foreign port somewhere in the not too distant future.

My Fellow Tahririans

 * All photos courtesy of Jim Rankin -Toronto Star – and Miles Howe – Halifax Media Coop – Cheers guys.

July 23, 2011 Posted by | Freedom Flotilla Two, My Thoughts | , , , , | 5 Comments

Machinations

Well as sit here in my hotel room suffering through a cold, which has finally caught up with me : / I think the adrenalin has keep it at bay for the last couple of weeks and with our latest delay it has given it the opening it needed. I wanted to let you know about all the hurdles that Israel is trying to put in our way and on a certain level I take as a compliment.

Apart from the diplomatic efforts to deter us, through the UN and pressure on our respective embassies, there has been a series of events that would be more at home in a spy novel than my life – the machinations behind attempts to stop this flotilla sailing have been incredible to watch from up close.

Firstly at least two of the boats in the flotilla have had complaints made against their sea worthiness, the US boat “The Audacity of Hope” and our boat the “Tharir”. The Israeli Law Centre has made these complaints as not a way to stop us, as both boats had already passed the relevant inspections, but most likely a way to slow us down and prevent us all from sailing together – making their job of intercepting and boarding us easier.

In addition to this the Swedish, Norwegian and Greek boat has had its propeller drive shaft cut, in another attempt to minimise the number of boats in the flotilla. Hopefully this will only take two days to fix but with the strikes and chaos in Greece at the moment maybe longer. We have put extra precautions in place to stop the same faith be falling the “Tharir”.

Then at this morning briefing we were informed that a number of flotilla participants in Athens had been mugged and their phones stolen – only, in an effort to infiltrate our communications. Not to mention all the pressure that the US/Israel is putting on any country where we will be sailing from to not let us sail – through their own diplomats and other international institution that they control.

All this as mentioned earlier is on one level a compliment to the international solidarity movement, we are now setting the agenda, with the Nakba protests demanding the right of return for the Palestinian refugees, with the global effort to impose a strategy of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions on Israel until it abides by international law and of course the flotilla which aims to challenge the illegal blockade of Gaza and the collective punishment it enforces.

It is truly an inspiring time to be alive and involved in the international solidarity movement : ]

June 29, 2011 Posted by | Freedom Flotilla Two, My Thoughts | , , | Leave a comment

Diversity

Well we are all here and started our scenario training today with a major focus on NVDA, our crew is incredibly diverse 6 nationalities – Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, New Zealand and German – ranging in age from 30 to 70 years old – and from all walks of life.

We have a former Belgium Senator, a 1st Nations Chief, lawyers, grand parents, software developers, students, journalists, activists including several that sailed on the Mavi in the last flotilla and not mention an impressive Australian contingent. All of whom are incredibly committed to NVDA and human rights – every where in the world not just in Palestine.

There is already a strong bond amongst the crew, you could literally feel the love in the room – it was a beautiful thing to behold. Apart from the focus on NVDA we also ran through some possible scenarios, sabotage, being boarded, naval stand off, use of chemical weapons, being detained, etc… These where discussed in great detail and you could see the crew all processing these possibilities and while I think we are all intimidated, none of us will be deterred from answering the challenge the IOF made to the international solidarity movement by attacking the last flotilla.

FREE GAZA !

June 23, 2011 Posted by | Freedom Flotilla Two, My Thoughts | , , , | Leave a comment

In Position

Well 30 hours, 4 planes, a bus and a car ride latter I have arrived and Gaza awaits : ]

I have had a tour of Tahir and it looks like the money has been well spent. I feel like big Kev “I’m ECITED !

I am posing as a tourist and have keep up appearances pretty well swimming, eating, drinking and making new friends, although I am looking forward to the rest of the crew arriving today and tomorrow – as keeping our mission to myself is killing me. This is the biggest thing I have ever taken on and while it’s an honour and a privilege to be here, it has been an emotional roller coaster and I am looking forward to hanging out with others who are on the same ride.

The contrast between where I am and where I am going is worlds apart. Where I am has electricity 24 hours a day, clean running water, working sewerage system, plentiful food supplies and an idyllic coast line. Where I am going has power cuts most days, polluted water supplies, no working sewerage system, 80% of the population reliant ion the UN for basic human needs like food and where a day at the beach can end in tragedy.  

This is my commitment to the people of Gaza, I and the rest of the international solidarity movement will not rest until normal life has been restored to Gaza and the differences between where I am and where I am going are only cultural – not life threatening !

June 20, 2011 Posted by | Freedom Flotilla Two, My Thoughts | , , | 5 Comments

WHY ?

Well I’m in and will be sailing to Gaza with the Freedom Flotilla Two, in an attempt to break Israel ‘s brutal siege of the strip. I must admit I am as anxious as I am exited about undertaking this trip, but I believe it is people who will break the siege of Gaza , not governments or international institutions which have failed to hold Israel accountable to international law. In fact the humble and hardworking program of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla [GFF] has put governments and international institutions to shame.

However I did not make my decision to join the flotilla lightly, knowing the stress and heartache my decision will have on my family and friends who I love dearly – but sometimes you have to put your money where you mouth is and after my time in Nablus, in the occupied West Bank, at the end of 2008 – start of 2009 I came away with a love of the Palestinian people and there vibrant culture, Palestinian hospitality is second to none and there lust for life in the face of such violent oppression is truly remarkable.

This appreciation soon turned to sadness though after the initial excitement of experiencing a new culture wore off, and the realisation hit that what I was witnessing in the West Bank was the systematic and methodical ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from Palestine. This sadness combined with a keen sense of injustice has steeled it’s self into non-violent action in an effort to expose the truth about the human rights violations happing on a daily basis in the occupied territories of Palestine.

By intercepting and attacking the 2010 Gaza Freedom Flotilla in international waters – killing 9 humanitarian activists and injuring 54 – the Israeli Government intended to deter people from attempting to break the siege of Gaza. I took this blatant show of force as personal challenge to the Palestinian solidarity movement, a challenge we have answered and will continue to answer until the siege of Gaza and the collective punishment it enforces ends !

This time around there will 22 countries represented, 14 boats participating and over 1000 activists sailing to Gaza . We in Australia have partnered with organisations in Canadian, Denmark and Belgium to buy a boat we have named ‘Tahrir’ meaning “Liberation’ in Arabic – which is what we hope to help achieve for the population of Gaza.

Remember, as Martin Luther King Jr once said “injustice anywhere is threat to justice everywhere“.

TAHRIR ! TAHRIR ! TAHRIR !

May 22, 2011 Posted by | Freedom Flotilla Two, My Thoughts | , , , , | 2 Comments

Fiona Byrne for PM

Hello Fiona,
 
You are truly a rare breed, a politician who has the courage to follow your convictions – even when they are not political expedient convictions. The way you stood up and were counted even in the face of such strong opposition, even though the majority of it was illogical and ill-informed – was impressive and while the BDS motion was voted down, you and your fellow councillors have helped put BDS  on the public agenda and for that I thank you whole heartedly.
 
Cheers : ]
 

April 23, 2011 Posted by | My Thoughts | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Since we last spoke

Well I think it’s been over a year since we last spoke, so to bring you up to speed, I have established the Engaging and Motivational Program of Activities Targeting Homeless Youth or EMPATHY Project – unfortunately I can’t take credit for coming up with the acronym. As the name suggests the EMPATHY Project is about trying to re-engage young homeless people in education and the boarder community.

The Dark Corner [TDC] has run it’s inaugural fundraising event for Project Hope Nablus, the event was at the Commons in Darlinghurst and was well supported with over fifty punters who all enjoyed a night of great food and company. TDC quickly follow their first event with a second in support of Australian contingent sailing with the next freedom flotilla to Gaza. This event was at the Gladstone Hotel and saw some of Sydney’s premier selectors, producers and purveyors of good times strut their stuff in support of a Free Gaza ! On the line up was Edseven, Jonny Faith, Prize, Sophie Loizou, Western Synthetics, Shantan, Victim and BC SWAT – and just quickly, massive to props to them all for donating their time and incredible talents to the cause.

So to date the TDC has raised $2485  to support NGO’s  working to help end the oppression and occupation of Palestinian’s in the West Bank and Gaza. Thanks to everyone that attended the first of hopefully many TDC event’s and an even bigger thanks to Dad, Ed‘s and Damo form the TDC Board for all their assistance..

The Gaza Freedom Flotilla Working Group in Sydney was formed in response to the tragic and horrific end to the firstly Freedom Flotilla, where 9 unarmed peaceful humanitarian activist were killed, and another 54 wounded, in a hostile military assault on the flotilla. After this tragedy the Free Gaza Movement and others called for larger flotilla’s to continue to sail to Gaza until the siege, and the collective punishment that it enforces, ends.

I should declare that I am actually a member of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla Working Group in Sydney and am currently in the drop zone to go. The Sydney working has partnered with several other countries including Canada to fund a boat, as raising enough for a whole boat+ crew + aid was just not possible. Because of this partnership arrangement places per country are decided by a percentage of overall contribution, I.E. if we hit our target of 30,000 euros we get 4 spots and I go, if we come up short we only get three spots and bo boo for me : /

But big picture, either way we will have let the world know that the Australian Government does not speak for all Australian’s when it comes to the of issue of Palestinian human rights – while also drawing attention to the humanitarian crises that Israel’s brutal siege of Gaza has created in the last 4 years.

Well that’s about it, well at least for the sanitized rose-coloured version of the last 12 months.

Keep your fingers crossed for me, re: the flotilla or event better still make a donation at:

Bendigo Bank Palestine Relief Fund Inc,
BSB: 633 108; a/c no:141120758;
PLEASE PUT NAME IN REFERENCE.

Or by post at:

PO Box 542 Leichhardt 2040

April 22, 2011 Posted by | My Thoughts | , , , , , | Leave a comment