The STAY HUMAN Flotilla to Gaza

June 2, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, TMO

The Freedom Flotilla II, named the Stay Human flotilla, will sail for the beleaguered Gaza Strip of the Occupied Palestinian Territory in the latter part of June. The postponement from the originally scheduled March departure date is due to the complex logistics involved in campaigns to raise money for multiple sailing vessels and to outfit them properly and prepare them for their journey. Another factor is the political turmoil in the region, particularly what is happening in Libya and Syria.

The name Stay Human was chosen to honor the late Italian Palestinian activist Vittorio ‘Vik’ Arrigoni. His recent violent death, under circumstances still in question, left the Palestinian activist community stunned. Tributes poured in from all over the world, and people who knew him and worked with him and were touched by his charm and dedication could only work through their grief by rededicating themselves to his cause.

His favorite expression to his co workers was “Stay Human”, and thus the flotilla name.

“Our message of peace is a call to action, for ordinary people like ourselves, not to hand over our lives to whatever puppeteer is in charge this time round, but to take responsibility for the revolution. First, the inner revolution- to give love to give empathy; It is this that will change the world.”

Two activists who contributed to this article, veteran  human rights activist and International Solidarity Movement (ISM) member, Greta Berlin, and human rights activist, ISM co founder, and member of the Flotilla Steering Committee, Huwaida Arraf, were among the many who paid tribute to “Vik”.

Ms Arraf delivered a tribute at his funeral and Ms Berlin had the following to say: “Nothing that we can write can capture the man who was so full of the joy of life, a man with the pipe in his mouth and the captain’s hat always tilted at an angle on his head.The man with the big smile and gentle nature, someone who used his physical strength to hold small children in his arms, sometimes several at a time. His laughter and his last comments every time we saw him will ring in all of our ears as we board the boats to return to Gaza at the end of May.”

In the past the organizers of the vessels have worked with the government of Cyprus. This coming flotilla is and will be working with the Mediterranean governments of France, Spain, Greece, Italy and Turkey.

Ms Berlin urges all our readers to advocate for the flotilla’s safe voyage. People should call their representative, send an email, call the White House, and the State Department and inform them that the American people expect all on board the vessels to be safe.

Most of the monies raised were raised by grass roots fundraising. The only boat scheduled to leave from the United States, named The Audacity of Hope”,  was funded in part by activists going into the streets of New York with buckets and asking for contributions. The organizing group bought a 100 foot boat that will support from 50-60 passengers. Most on board will be from civil society with a few notables.

The boat will not carry cargo but will carry messages and letters from the American people, said Jane Hirschmann of the US Boat to Gaza. The relevant web site is: www.ustogaza.org. Americans who want to send a personal message should access the web site to find out the protocol.

Present estimates give the number of ships in the flotilla as between ten and fifteen. A number of the ships represent joint ventures. The ships are nation oriented though they are networks of national organizations and do not represent a government or an NGO.

There will be high profile people aboard these ships including members of parliament. For security reasons many are not currently named. It is known that they will include Colonel Ann Wright, Alison Weir of If Americans Knew, and Code Pink leader Medea Benjamin as well as Rugby star Trevor Hogan. Mr. Hogan has written an opinion piece in The Irish Herald in which he announced that he will be a part of the flotilla and will be aboard the Irish ship to Gaza.

Foremost among the cargo will be construction supplies, equipment for hospitals, water purification systems, and generators. Organizers would also like to be able to bring solar paneling for Green energy so that Gaza might become more independent  of Israel for its energy needs. However the costs are prohibitive. Individuals who want to contribute but hold back because the amount they can contribute is small should consider that their donation, along with others, will purchase a part of an important commodity. Please access the following web site: www.freegaza.org/donate.  

The International Solidarity Movement (ISM) in Gaza is in need of volunteers, and some of the flotilla passengers may elect to remain in Gaza to work with them. Huwaida Arraf cautions those who wish to remain that pre arrangement must be made with an organization including the ISM. ISM works with fishermen who challenge the limitations that Israel places on their right to move their fishing vessels – and therefore their livelihood – more than a few miles from the Gaza coast. Farmers with ISM help challenge the buffer zones imposed by Israel which zones prevent them from reaching their land.

People who must leave Gaza may be on the departing vessels. Again Ms Arraf cautions that they must have the proper paperwork required by the nations where they hope to be taken as this is an immigration issue that the Free Gaza Movement has no control over. While previous vessels leaving Gaza have dealt with the issue, the permanent opening of the Rafah border renders the issue moot.

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Kashif Weds Komal

July 9, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

TMO Stringer

kashif-komal

Detroit–June 4–Kashif, son of Mohammad Saleem and Kishwar, and Komal, daughter of Syed Nisar (Arif) Akhtar and Dr. Nilofar Syed, enjoyed a unique wedding on the Detroit River Princess boat, with over 1,000 people in attendance.  The boat journey and wedding reception lasted for about 2 and a half hours.

The reception hall on the first deck of the boat was decorated elegantly for the occasion.  The 3rd deck was reserved for children’s entertainment, including a “magic show.”  A large number of guests from outside of Michigan, including California, Texas, Florida, Illinois, and from overseas (India and Pakistan) were in attendance.

After a brief introduction and speeches, a delicious dinner was served, and people journeyed up and down on the boat through four different levels.  On the fourth level a lovely Mushaira was in progress, in the unseasonably cool Michigan breeze that wafted across the Detroit river.

The guests were entertained as they attempted to pray Maghrib and a person called out “The boat is turning, wait a minute…” and all the guests were forced to adjust their positions.

In their eagerness to attend, people arrived at the waterfrong before the boat’s departure–this is somewhat unusual for the Indo-Pak community.

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Cynthia McKinney Demands Immediate Release After Her Gaza-Bound Boat is Seized by Israeli Navy

July 2, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

Former U.S. lawmaker and Green Party leader Cynthia McKinney, a longtime activist for the Palestinians, says her boat, the Spirit of Humanity, was carrying medical supplies, cement, olive trees and children’s toys to Gaza when it was seized by an Israeli navy ship.

Former U.S. lawmaker and Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney, whose relief boat was seized by an Israeli naval ship Tuesday for the second time in a year, is demanding the immediate release of her and 20 other activists.

McKinney, a longtime supporter of Palestinians, said her Greek-flagged boat, the Spirit of Humanity, was carrying medical supplies, cement, olive trees and children’s toys to Gaza when it was boarded by the Israeli navy.

“This is an outrageous violation of international law against us,” said McKinney. “Our boat was not in Israeli waters and we were on a human rights mission to the Gaza Strip. President Obama just told Israel to let in humanitarian and reconstruction supplies, and that’s exactly what we tried to do. We’re asking the international community to demand our release so we can resume our journey.”

The Israeli military issued a statement Tuesday saying that the boat had attempted to break a blockade of Gaza and was forced to sail to an Israeli port after ignoring a radio message to stay out of Gaza waters.

The statement said navy personnel boarded the freighter Arion without any shots being fired, and those on board were to be handed over to immigration authorities. Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said Israel was planning to free the crew and passengers.

“Nobody wants to keep them here,” he said. “They will be released as soon as they are checked.”

The humanitarian cargo was also to be trucked into the Gaza Strip after a security check.

In a statement released by the Green Party, McKinney said she had sent appeals to Obama and the State Department for assurances of protection for the relief mission. She said the boat was sailing in international waters when it was seized.

The White House nor the State Department was immediately available for comment.

This isn’t the first time a boat carrying McKinney has clashed with an Israeli navy ship. In December, McKinney was among 16 people aboard a medical supply boat that collided with an Israeli naval ship as it tried to enter coastal waters around Gaza.

At the time, the group claimed the Israeli military fired machine guns into the water in an attempt to the stop the boat’s progress. But a spokesman for Israel’s foreign ministry said “physical contact” was made only after the aid boat failed to respond to radio contact and he denied any gunfire had occurred.

Israel launched an offensive in December against Gaza in an attempt to halt years of Palestinian rocket attacks on southern Israel. The two sides reached a cease-fire in January.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Breaking the Gaza Siege

November 13, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Ramzi Kysia

2008-11-10T163944Z_01_JER25_RTRMDNP_3_GAZA-POLITICIANS

An international activist waves a Palestinian flag as a boat carrying European politicians (unseen) leaves Gaza’s seaport November 10, 2008. The boat arrived at Gaza from Cyprus on Saturday after attempts to get to the Palestinian territory via Egypt failed.

REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

GAZA CITY, FREE PALESTINE (29 October 2008) – This morning I walked to the Indian Ocean and made salt in defiance of the British Occupation of India. This morning I marched in Selma, I stood down tanks in Tiananmen Square, and I helped tear down the Berlin Wall. This morning I became a Freedom Rider.

The Freedom Riders of the 21st Century are sailing small boats into the Gaza Strip in open defiance of the Israeli Occupation and blockade. This morning I arrived in Gaza aboard the SS Dignity, part of a Free Gaza Movement delegation of twenty seven doctors, lawyers, teachers, and human rights activists from across the world, including Mairead Maguire – the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

When I close my eyes, I still hear the crash of ocean waves, I still feel the warm sun on my face, and I still taste salt from the sea spray. When I close my eyes, I can still see the Israeli warship that tried to intimidate us when we reached the twenty-mile line outside Gaza, and I can still see a thousand cheering people crowding around our ship when we refused to be intimidated and finally reached port in Gaza City. Today, the proudest boast in the free world is truly, “Nam,  Nehnu Nastatyeh!” – “Yes, We Can!”

Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, an independent member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, sailed aboard the Dignity, along with six other Palestinians from the West Bank, from 1948/inside the Green Line, and from countries in Europe. What should have been a ninety-minute drive from Ramallah to Gaza City became a three day odyssey as he travelled from the West Bank to Jordan, then flew to Cyprus, before finally coming aboard the Dignity for the fifteen hour sea voyage to Gaza.

“We’re challenging Israel in a manner that is unprecedented, “said Dr. Barghouti. “Israel has prevented me from visiting Gaza for more than two years now. I am so pleased that we managed to defy Israel’s injustice so that I can see all the people I love and work with in Gaza. Israel’s measures are meant to divide us, but it is our defiance and resistance which unite us. “

Photos from Gaza:  Hamas sailors watch as a boat carrying European politicians (unseen) leaves Gaza’s seaport November 10, 2008. The boat arrived at Gaza from Cyprus on Saturday after attempts to get to the Palestinian territory via Egypt failed. Other pictures of the boat, and of Palestinians in Gaza.

Reuters

This is a resistance which can and should light the fire of all our imaginations, and bring hope not just to Palestinians, but to peoples suffering the terrible tides of oppression and injustice the world around.

After watching the Dignity’s arrival, Fida Qishta, the local coordinator for the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) in the Gaza Strip, said “If Gaza is free then it’s our right to invite whomsoever we wish to visit us. It’s our land and it’s our sea. Now more groups must come, not only by sea but also the crossings at Erez and Rafah must be opened as well. This second breaking of the siege means a lot, actually. It’s the second time in two months that people have come to Gaza without Israel’s permission, and that tells us that Gaza will be free.”

For over forty years, Israel has occupied the Gaza Strip. Despite the so-called “Disengagement “ in 2005, when they shut down their illegal settlements here, Israel maintains absolute control over Gaza’s borders and airspace, severely limiting the free movement of goods, services, and travel. Israel is still an occupying power.

For over two years, Israel has maintained a brutal blockade of Gaza. Less than twenty percent of the supplies needed (as compared to 2005) are allowed in. This has forced ninety-five percent of local industries to shut down, resulting in massively increased unemployment and poverty rates. Childhood malnutrition has skyrocketed, and eighty percent of families are now dependent on international food aid just to be able to eat. An hour after we arrived, I watched a teenage boy digging through the garbage, looking for something he could use.

Israel’s siege isn’t simply illegal – it’s intolerable.

Renowned human rights activist Caoimhe Butterly also sailed aboard the Dignity, and will remain in Gaza for several weeks as Project Coordinator for the Free Gaza Movement. But, said Butterly, “My feelings are bittersweet. Although we’re overjoyed at reaching Gaza a second time, that joy is tempered by the fact that the conscience of the world has been reduced to a small boat and 27 seasick activists. This mission is a reminder of not only the efficacy of non-violent direct action, but also of the deafening silence of the international community.”

Our first voyage in August, the first voyage of any international ship to Gaza in over forty years, showed that it was possible to freely travel. This second voyage shows that it is repeatable, and this sets a precedent: The Siege of Gaza can be overcome through non-violent resistance and direct action.

Today, the Free Gaza Movement has a simple message for the rest of the world: What are you waiting for?

——-

Ramzi Kysia is an Arab-American writer and activist, and one of the organizers of the Free Gaza Movement. To find out more about Free Gaza and what you can do to help support their work, please visit http://www.FreeGaza.org <http://www.freegaza.org/>

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