Bearing Witness

The Kayaktivist Rides Again

Well I’m back in the Middle East and I have to say it almost feels like coming home. The first morning in Cairo I woke to the sound of the call to prayer and from that moment on I have felt welcomed and supported. I am in Cairo to sort my entry into the Gaza Strip to assist with the Gaza’s Ark <www.gazaark.org> project.

WHY ?

That is a question I have been asked time and time again and if I am honest I have asked myself on several occasions, especially over the last couple months as I have traveled through the Americas. Leaving idyllic places and amazing people to travel to a part of the world that is under such violent oppression by the Israeli state, so much so that William Madisha (a South African trade union leader) has stated: “As someone who lived in apartheid South Africa and who has visited Palestine I say with confidence that Israel is an apartheid state. In fact, I believe that some of Israel’s actions make the actions of South Africa’s apartheid regime appear pale by comparison.”

I guess I personally have several motivating factors. Firstly, the sense of social justice that was instilled in me by my wonderful parents. Secondly, the fact that I have witnessed first hand the brutality of the Israeli state, while I volunteered with Project Hope <http://projecthope.ps/nablus/> in Nablus. After the joy of experiencing a new culture and meeting incredible Palestinian people, whose lust for life under such oppressive circumstance is truly remarkable, I realised that what I was witnessing in the West Bank was a systematic and methodical ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from Palestine… there is no other way to describe it. Thirdly, that this oppression of the Palestinian people, more often than not, goes unreported in the western media and is unfortunately even supported by my very own Government. Lastly, but definitely not least, my time in Palestine ended with Operation Cast Lead where I saw the very worst effects of the Israeli Military Doctrine of “Disproportionate Force”, which killed over 1400 Palestinians – most of whom where civilians.

Since then I have become a member of Free Gaza Australia <http://freegazaoz.org/> . FGA is an organisation that stands in solidarity with the Palestinians of Gaza by directly changing the illegal blockade of Gaza, that has been in place (officially) since 2007. However, the restriction on the movement of Palestinians in Gaza dates back to 1991, when Gaza was first cut off from the West Bank and Israel. This blockade is clearly an act of collective punishment, which is outlawed under the Fourth Geneva Convention and has resulted in what was once the economic centre of Palestine becoming home to a population of aid dependant civilians. With at least 70% of the population of Gaza now reliant on aid to provide the basic essentials of life – food, shelter and medical care. I have been honoured to be a part of both recent Australian delegations that have attempted to break the blockade, firstly with Freedom Flotilla Two <https://occupiedterritories.wordpress.com/2011/07/23/stay-human-the-story-of-freedom-flotilla-2-from-the-kayaktivists-perspective/> and then Freedom Waves <https://occupiedterritories.wordpress.com/2011/12/01/freedom-waves-1413831/>. Lets hope it is third time lucky in FGA’s attempts to break this brutal blockade.

My belief in the Gaza’s Ark <www.gazaark.org> project is also a motivating factor for me. While the Ark will challenge the blockade physically in the tradition of previous flotillas, our focus has shifted from sailing aid in, to sailing trade out. There has been a debate in recent times in Palestine and throughout the international solidarity movement about the effectiveness or otherwise of aid delivery to the Palestine people. Has aid merely maintained an unacceptable status quo? This is a question which is above my pay grade, however it is clear that if the Palestinians of Gaza were allowed to trade their products with the rest of the world, their reliance on aid would greatly diminish. The other benefit of this approach is that as the Ark is being built in Gaza, the process of construction is as important as the action of challenging the blockade – as we can show the difficulties of everyday life in Gaza under the blockade.

How ?

The movable feast that is the process of gaining legal entry into the Gaza Strip has been a difficult one to navigate. When I left Australia three months ago the process had to be undertaken in Cairo, however since leaving that changed to people wanting to enter Gaza needing to inform the Egyptian Embassy in their home country when applying for their visa. At this point there are three main options, firstly through getting an invitation from an NGO in Gaza and then working with your embassy and the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Cairo to get approval to enter through the Rafah Crossing. The second option is to be an accredited journalist and apply through the Press Office in Cairo and finally the third option is to attach yourself to a delegation that already has approval. I have been trying all three. Two weeks in I feel I am getting nowhere, if nothing else it has been a lesson in patience. I naively thought that while the Muslim Brotherhood’s election victory has no doubt been a blow to the hope of Egyptians for a secular democracy, that it would make entry into Gaza through the Rafah Crossing easier. However it appears that Morsi – like most politicians – has mastered the art of talking the talk, but has failed learn how to walk the walk.

However the delay in my entry into the Gaza Strip has meant that I have had the chance to meet some incredible Egyptian activists and that I will be around to stand in solidarity with them on the second anniversary of the start of the Egyptian revolution in Tahrir Square. Their passion and courage has truly inspired me, while their stories have helped put my concerns over living in Gaza into perspective. To me the Egyptian revolution is proof that the Margaret Mead quote, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”, is as true today as it ever was.

What ?

While our strategy has changed focus from aid to trade our main goals are still the same as the Free Gaza Movement’s first attempt to break this illegal and brutal blockade: solidarity and awareness. I hope to show the Palestinian people that my Government does not speak for me on the issue of Palestinian human rights and to generate awareness in Australia and throughout the western world about the plight of the Palestinian people. It is my hope that people in the west will understand that this is not an Israeli/Palestinian conflict, rather it is the oppression of Palestinians by Israel.

You help make this happen by buying a symbolic share in Gaza’s Ark and the hope it will build <http://www.gazaark.org/2013/01/15/buy-a-symbolic-share-of-gazas-ark-a-share-in-hope/>

Image

The Kayaktivists in action

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January 26, 2013 Posted by | Gaza's Ark | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Instilled Memory by Uri Avnery

 For several weeks now, our army and navy have been in a state of high alert, bravely facing a deadly threat to our very existence: ten little boats trying to reach Gaza. These vessels are carrying a dangerous gang of vicious terrorists, in the form of elderly veterans of peace campaigns. Binyamin Netanyahu has affirmed our unshakable determination to defend our country: We shall not let anyone break the blockade to smuggle rockets to the terrorists in Gaza, who will then launch them to kill our innocent children. This is a kind of record even for Netanyahu: not a single word is true.

The flotilla is not carrying any weapons – the representatives of respected international media in the boats provide assurance of this. Also, I think we can rely on the Mossad to plant at least one agent in every boat. (After all, what am I paying my taxes for?) Hamas has not launched rockets for a long time – it has very good reasons of its own to keep the unofficial “Tahdiyeh” (“Quiet”) agreement. If the flotilla had been allowed to reach Gaza, it would have been news for a few hours, and that would have been that. Israel’s total mobilization, the training of the naval commandos for capturing the boats, the acts of sabotage carried out in Greek ports, the immense political pressure exerted by Israel and the US on the poor, bankrupt Greek government – all this has kept this minor initiative in the news for weeks now, drawing attention to the blockade of the Gaza Strip.

What is this blockade for? There is no ascertainable reason for it now, if there ever was one. To terrorize the Gaza people into overthrowing the Hamas government, the victor in democratic elections? Well, it didn’t work, did it? To compel Hamas to change its terms for a prisoner exchange which would release Gilad Shalit? That didn’t either. To prevent the smuggling of arms into the Strip? The arms are flowing freely through a hundred tunnels from Egypt, if we are to believe what our army tells us.

So what purpose does the blockade serve? Nobody seems to know. But it is the rock of our existence. That much is clear. As a result of world pressure following last year’s flotilla, the blockade was eased considerably. But Gaza manufacturers are still prevented from getting their products out of the Gaza Strip – thus condemning most of the population to unemployment and abject poverty. The same goes for the disgusting trade in human remains. Netanyahu promised to turn over the remains of 84 “terrorists” (both Fatah and Hamas) to Mahmoud Abbas as a gift. At the last moment, he reneged. His people make believe that these remains, by now hardly identifiable, may serve as bargaining chips in the game for releasing Gilad Shalit.

The same goes for the actions against yesterday’s fly-in of international peace activists though Ben-Gurion airport. All they wanted was to go to Bethlehem and Gaza, which can only be reached by crossing Israeli territory. Almost a thousand police officers were mobilized to meet that threat. All of these unthinking knee-jerk reactions: We must be strong. Everywhere there lurk mortal dangers. Israel must defend itself. Otherwise there will be a second Holocaust. THIS IS an interesting phenomenon: people see innocent-looking elderly human-rights activists on their TV screens and believe they are seeing dangerous provocateurs, because the government and most of the media tell them so. Sinister “Arab and Muslim” individuals are hiding in the boats. An Arab American on one boat has been unmasked as somebody who has collected money for a Hamas social institution. A dangerous terrorist! How absolutely awful!

 The phenomenon of people seeing something and thinking they are seeing something else has always intrigued me. How can people not believe their own eyes but believe the eyes of others? This week I got an e-mail message from a man who remembered something from the time he was a pupil of my late wife, Rachel, in first grade. Rachel asked him to raise his right hand. When the boy did so, Rachel said: “No, no. That is your left hand!” She turned to the other children and asked them, which hand it was. Following their teacher, they shouted in unison: “The left! The left!” Seeing this, the first boy started to waver. In the end he conceded: “Yes. It is the left hand.” “No, you were right in the first place,” Rachel assured him. “Let this be a lesson to all of you: if you are sure that you are right, insist on it. Never change your view because other people say the opposite.” Quite by chance, straight after reading this testimony, I saw on TV the results of a scientific investigation by Israeli researchers into “instilled memory”. Their experiments show that people who have seen something with their own eyes, but are told by everybody else that they have seen something else, start to suppress their own memory and “remember” that they saw what the others had allegedly seen. Neurological research then showed that this is can actually be seen happening in the brain: the imagined memory replaces the real. Social pressure has done its work: the instilled memory has become real memory.

I believe that this is even truer for an entire nation, which is, of course, composed of individuals. I have seen this many times. For example, for 11 months before Lebanon War I, not a single shot was fired from Lebanon into Israel. Against all expectation, Yasser Arafat had succeeded in enforcing a total cease-fire even on his Palestinian opponents. Yet after Ariel Sharon started the war, practically all Israelis clearly “remembered” that the Palestinians had shot across the border every single day, turning life in Israel into hell. I call this “Parkinson in reverse” – while advanced Parkinson patients do not remember things that happened, these patients do remember things which never happened.

There is a mental disorder called “paranoia vera”. Patients adopt a crazy assumption – e.g. “everybody hates me” – and then build an elaborate structure around it. Every bit of information which seems to support it is eagerly absorbed, every item that contradicts it is suppressed. Everything is interpreted so as to reinforce the initial assumption. The pattern is strictly logical – indeed, the more complete and the more logical the structure, the more serious is the disease. Among the accompanying symptoms are belligerent behavior, recurrent suspicions, disconnection from the real world, conspiracy theories and narcissism. It seems that whole nations can fall victim to this illness. Ours certainly appears to have.

The whole world is against us. Everybody is out to destroy us. Every move is a threat to our very existence. Everyone critical of Israeli policy is an anti-Semite or self-hating Jew. Indeed, even when we do a good thing, it is turned against us. Witness: We left the Gaza Strip and even dismantled our settlements there, and what did we get in return? Qassam rockets!” (Never mind that Sharon refused to turn the Strip over to any Palestinian body, leaving a void. He cut it off from the world and turned it into one big prison camp.) Witness: “After Oslo we armed Arafat’s security forces, and they turned their arms against us!” (Never mind that we never quite fulfilled our commitments under the Oslo agreements, that the occupation got more oppressive and that the settlements on Palestinian land increased by leaps and bounds. Also, the Palestinian security services never actually acted against Israel.) Witness: “We withdrew from South Lebanon and what did we get? Hizbollah and Lebanon War II!” (Never mind that Hizbollah was born in reaction to our 18-year occupation there, and that we ourselves chose to launch the second Lebanon War after a minor border incident.)

It has been said that paranoiacs also have real-life enemies. The trouble is that the paranoid by their offensive and distrustful behavior, create more and more real-life enemies. The slogan “All the world is against us” may easily function as a self- fulfilling prophesy. Israel is not the only country to suffer from this affliction. At some time, the Germans have been afflicted. So have the Serbs. So, to some extent, has the US and many others. Unfortunately, the costs of paranoia are very high. So let us start to behave like sane people. Let the little boats go to Gaza. Let arrivals at Ben-Gurion airport go to the Palestinian territories and pick olives, if that’s what they want. Even if we do behave like a normal nation, Israel will continue to exist. Really!

Article by Uri Avnery July 9, 2011.

July 10, 2011 Posted by | Freedom Flotilla Two, Media | , , , | Leave a comment

Death by a Thousand Papercuts?

This post is by Miles Howe, words and photograph – Miles is one of the most optimistic men I have ever meet, not to mention his wicked sense humor and commitment, and I still hope to sail to Gaza with him in the near future.

The Greek government has crumbled in the face Israeli pressure, and has issued a ban on the sailing of all Freedom Flotilla II boats to Gaza. The Canadian Boat to Gaza, the Tahrir, sits in a marina in Agios Nikolaos. It is unwilling to stay, but unable to go. Its banners of hope are now unfurled and draped over its sides, and it presents a striking counter-balance to its harbour mates of pristine tourist yachts.

Yesterday, the peaceful activists that make up the Tahrir’s crew protested the injunction against their boat, and marched through the streets of Agios Nikolaos, from the marina to the harbour police office. There, they were again stonewalled by a wall of red tape. Any and every reason for finding the Tahrir unable to sail were found, from inadequate bench length, to lack of warm water, to an improper radio signal.

Today, the Flotilla appears to have been dealt a very serious blow. All boats save the French Dignite, which sailed out of Corsica, were hoping to sail from Greece. Political contacts that were expected to allow this to happen were sadly absent in the face of Israeli governmental power. The legality of this action by the Greeks, who are the EU’s main importer/exporter, is in question, and brings to doubt Greece’s safety and sovereignty as a place to do shipping business of any kind.

Such matters are for the courts, and we must wait for the work week for the legal implications of what the Israelis and Greeks have done to begin to unfold. The Israeli government has succeeded in not allowing the boats, for the moment, to sail. On the other hand, many consider that Israel has failed miserably in keeping the world’s eye, and one would hope conscience, from the larger issue of the continued imprisonment of the Palestinian people. People from around the world now wonder why Gazans remain captives in their own state, why they cannot access their coastlines and sail freely, why they cannot visit the West Bank, and why the world cannot visit them and do trade with them. It is clear that the ‘Arab spring’, indeed the human spring that must take place, will not forget Gaza, and will not come to fruition until Palestine is free.

Sylvia Hale and I venting our frustration at the Zionist Greek Government !

July 2, 2011 Posted by | Freedom Flotilla Two | , , , | 1 Comment

Australians determined to join Freedom Flotilla 2 despite Eygpt partially opening Raffah Crossing

On the eve of first anniversary of the deadly Israeli attack on the 2010 international Flotilla to break the siege of Gaza, Australian participants reiterated their determination to join the second Flotilla, which will set sail for Gaza at the end of June.

“We welcome Egyptian moves to partially lift the siege by opening the Raffah crossing,” said former Greens MLC Sylvia Hale, “but in itself this will not substantially alleviate the suffering of the people of Gaza.

“Despite the easing of the siege, men under 40 are not permitted to cross, making it impossible for them to find jobs outside Gaza. The refusal to permit raw materials to enter Gaza or exports to leave it, means widespread unemployment will continue.

“Gaza will not be free  so long as the Israeli siege destroys the territory’s economy,” said Ms Hale.

“The Australian delegation is determined to join the second international Flotilla to break the siege,” said Vivienne Porzsolt of Jews Against the Occupation.

“The world witnessed the brutality of the Israeli attack on the Mavi Marmara 12 months ago, when nine activists were killed and many others injured and illegally detained,” Ms Porzsolt said.

“Such aggression must not go unchallenged. By participating in the Flotilla, we are opposing Israel’s acts of piracy in international waters and its illegal blockade of Gaza..

“We are committed to peace and non-violence and will offer no provocation or resistance to any action by the Israeli forces. Should any of us be injured, it will be the responsibility of the Israeli Government,” said Ms Porzsolt.

May 30, 2011 Posted by | Freedom Flotilla Two, Media | , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

ISRAELI PM THREATENS NEXT GAZA FREEDOM FLOTILLA

 

Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu threatened to “act firmly” using “force” against the Freedom Flotilla from 22 countries due to set sail for Gaza next month. It will be joined by an Australian contingent in partnership with Canadians and others.

Organisers are extremely concerned considering Israel’s use of lethal force against civilians on last year’s Freedom Flotilla.

Netanyahu has also asked UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to help stop the Freedom Flotilla. The Secretary General has responded saying that Israel should end the blockade of Gaza.

“Netanyahu’s statement is tantamount to a death threat against participants in the Flotilla. In spite of this, all intending participants from Australia have declared that they will not be deterred. The siege of Gaza must be broken and the Freedom Flotilla will sail ahead as planned.” said Rihab Charida of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla Working Group in Sydney.

In June 2007, Israel and the so-called Quartet, the US, the UN, Russia and the EU, imposed a siege on the people of Gaza after all Palestinians had democratically elected Hamas to form Government. Since then the 1.5 million people of Gaza have been shut off from the outside world, trapped within the world’s largest open-air prison in an act of collective punishment.

Essential food, medical, building and other supplies have been prevented from entering the tiny coastal strip, impoverishing its people and destroying its economy. The easing of the siege in response to the last Freedom Flotilla has been cosmetic only with no materials for manufacture permitted, nor exports, nor free passage of people.
“In the face of the shameful failure of governments to defend international law, the people of the world will break the unlawful siege of Gaza,” said Ms Charida.

The Freedom Flotilla sets sail for Gaza in the second half of May 2011. †It consists of more than 11 boats from over 22 countries including Canada, Spain, Switzerland, Italy, Ireland, USA, Britain, Greece, Turkey, Australia and France.

Article by James Godfrey.

For more information on the activities of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla Working Group Sydney check out: http://www.facebook.com/#!/group.php?gid=127042173984253

April 22, 2011 Posted by | Freedom Flotilla Two, Media | , , , | 2 Comments