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

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

End Australian Support for the Illegal Blockade of Gaza

Dear Prime Minister,

In early November 2011, we wrote to your Government demanding
immediate action, to:
1. Pressure the Israeli government to unconditionally release and
facilitate the safe return of Michael Coleman and all political
prisoners.
2. Demand the release of the Tahrir and Saoirse along with all
personal property, as well as compensation for damages incurred by the
act of piracy that the Israeli government committed on the high seas.
3. Ensure that Israel ends its illegal blockade of Gaza to enable
freedom of movement for people and goods.”

Five days after the Tahrir was attacked in international waters and
Michael, all other passengers and crew were abducted, he was released
and ‘deported’ to Australia via Bangkok and Melbourne.

On 28 November 2011 we received a woefully inadequate response from
Samuel Allen (Acting Director, Levant and Iran Section) of the
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in which no answers were
provided to our principal demands for action.

The Australian Government’s response to the act of piracy committed by
the Israeli Government against the unarmed flotilla that Michael
Coleman was aboard has been pitiful.

Your regurgitated comments about practical support and partnership
agreements are mealy-mouthed apologies, which are grossly inadequate
and disproportionate for the Palestinian people whose land has been
stolen from them by the actions of the ever-expanding Apartheid
Israeli ‘state’.

Providing drip feed of ‘aid’ is not the solution to the plight of the
Palestinians and the injustices they experience in Palestine and in
forced exile. Your ‘travel advice’ that Australians should not attempt
to travel to Gaza by sea is cowardly. The Australian Government should
be working with other countries to aid the people of Gaza who demand
an end to the blockade and with it their ability move and trade
freely.

All governments, including yours, must hold Israel accountable for its
defiance of international law with regards to the ongoing collective
punishment of more than 1,600,000 Palestinians in Gaza, half of whom
are under the age of 16 in what is effectively the world’s largest
open air prison.

Instead you persist in platitudes to the Israeli Government and
business interests who continue to make their money from the theft of
Palestinian lands. Indeed we found your recent attendance at and
speech to the Australia Israel Chamber of Commerce extremely offensive
when Palestinian people are denied freedom of movement and trade.

We contrast your Government’s actions with the visit to Gaza last
month by Deputy Prime Minister Eamon Gilmore from the Irish Republic
and his statement demanding an end to the blockade.

It is because of the continuing inaction of governments, including the
Australian Government that ordinary people feel compelled to act.

When our delegate sailed to Gaza, he did so in the firm belief that
the blockade of Gaza by the Israeli Government is illegal and inhumane
and should end without delay. In this appraisal we believe that we
have the support of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the
UN Human Rights Council, the International Committee of the Red Cross,
and numerous other human rights organisations.
We consider that our assets – the Tahrir, of which we hold a one-tenth
share, medical aid we were transporting to give to the people of Gaza
and our personal belongings including a satellite telephone have been
confiscated illegally by the Israeli Government.

We urge you to actively support our demand that the Israeli Government
reloads our medical supplies and our personal belongings and other
assets onto our boat and allow us to sail it to Gaza without delay.

We look forward to hearing back from you soon with a considered,
positive reply that repositions Australia on the right side of history
and international law, and alongside the overwhelming majority of
countries in the world who will not support the systematic abuse of
Palestinian people and their human rights.

Yours sincerely,

James Godfrey
for
Free Gaza Australia

February 16, 2012 Posted by | 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

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