From somewhere in the eastern Mediterranean:
It’s been difficult to write anything at all, the days are long, exhausting, as we imagine ourselves into the next days and weeks; internet access is common but slow. But perhaps the greatest impediment to writing is the reality of our embargoed status. What at first appears as an intriguing constraint, adding to the flow of adrenalin, becomes increasingly sobering as the days pass and reports flow in. If we didn’t know why we needed to be careful of our speech in public places, why information on timing and location is strictly limited, we now know.
CBC headines today strike close to home (for me): Greece braces for 48-hour general strike and UN approves troops to disputed Sudan area. Yesterday, several of our group flew to Athens for the flotilla’s first press conference. There were 70 media representatives there from all over the world. I haven’t seen the footage yet, other than peering over someone’s shoulder this morning. Bob Lovelace, former chief of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation was there as representative of the Canadian Boat to Gaza.
I imagine that our common messages are repeated once again: We will sail to Gaza soon, leaving from undisclosed ports in the Mediterranean. Israel’s closure – or siege (not recommended) or blockade – of Gaza is illegal. The occupying forces have a responsibility to ensure the security of the occupied population; having failed to do so, Israel is in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Occupied peoples have a right to resist. The infants and toddlers of Gaza are stunted in growth and mental acuity due to the daily deprivations due to the blockade. In violation of international law, Israel is committing collective punishment of 1.5 million Palestinians, who live in the world’s largest open-air prison.
The flotilla is part of a global coalition of people from more than 20 countries, all of whom are completely committed to non-violence. We are undertaking an action that is called for by the International Committee of the Red Cross and is supported by four Nobel Peace Prize winners, all of them women: Mairead Maguire (1976), Roberta Menchú Tum (1992), Jody Williams (1997) and Shirin Ebadi (2003). The Nobel laureates have called upon the UN to inspect and seal the cargo of the boats and upon all governments to support the safe passage of all ships to Gaza.
To the Canadian media, in particular, there is this to say: the Canadian Boat to Gaza (CBG) is doing what the Canadian government, as a High Contracting Party to the Fourth Geneva Convention, is required to ensure: the provision of social services to a population under occupation. In the absence of Israeli fulfilling its legal obligations, the international community must fill the gap. Despite the Canadian Prime Minister’s public abandonment of the official Canadian position, to be found on the DFAIT website, Canada remains committed to a return to the 1967 borders and to compliance with the SC resolutions 242, 446 and 1860.
Canada’s Foreign Minister, John Baird, has called the CBG ‘provocative’. The implication is that the CBG and the Freedom Flotilla Two are destined for Israel and, in so doing, will invariably provoke Israel into defending itself. But the CBG/FF2 is headed for Gaza, which is an occupied Palestinian territory. Israel has no right to obscure the situation by claiming security concerns. The blockade of Gaza must come to an end; Gaza and the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territories must be allowed to resume a normal national life. The blockade of Gaza must end; the occupation of Palestine must end. Israel must comply with UN Security Council resolutions 242 (1967), 446 (1979) and 1860 (2009), all of which Canada affirmed as member of the Security Council (a privilege it has lost). The latter, in addition to calling for an end to the blockade of Gaza, calls for the ‘unimpeded provision and distribution throughout Gaza of humanitarian assistance within Gaza, including food, fuel and medical treatment.’
Further, 1860 recognizes the role of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in providing such assistance, and emphasizes the need to ensure ‘sustained and regular flow of goods and people through Gaza crossings’. CBG is doing this. The resolution ‘welcomes the initiatives aimed at creating and opening humanitarian corridors and mechanisms for the sustained delivery of humanitarian aid.’ CBG is doing this. The resolution calls on States Members to ‘support international efforts to alleviate the humanitarian aid and economic situation in Gaza.’ The Canadian government is not responding to this call. The CBG is doing so by bringing humanitarian aid and challenging the blockade. The government’s mantra that ‘Israel has the right to defend’ itself implies that Israel is the victim. However, it is Israel that is occupying Palestine; it is Israel that is blockading Gaza.
Press conference talking notes refer to the fact that Israeli officials, lacking a clear response to Freedom Flotilla 2 are asking international governments to intervene. Having found themselves the object of global outrage over the killing of nine Turkish citizens on the Mavi Marmura, part of last year’s Freedom Flotilla I, they are reluctant to create similar headlines. Turkey has responded by impounding the Mavi Marmura. Greece has responded in a number of ways – information that is currently embargoed. Canada has responded with Baird’s ‘provocative’ speech. Israel has admitted that it is behind the ‘private complaint’ about the seaworthiness of the U.S. vessel – which is now mired in inspection and reporting processes. Two ships are now at sea, out of the reach of various port authorities.