This short excerpt from Jamal Al Attar is the personification of the joy we met on the day we arrived in Gaza 8 years ago. With all of the tragedy that surrounds this small enclave, we need to remember the exhilaration of that day. Not only did we sail four more times successfully, but caravans began to come in and other initiatives sprung up and Egypt had a pretty much open border.
It can and it will happen again.
“My mum came to my room with a smile on her face, ‘‘Jamal, the boats are visible on TV.’’ So I jumped from my bed and asked her, ‘‘When?’’ She said, “It is just breaking news.” I can’t remember how, when, or why I found myself on a bus going back to the port with the scouts. I can’t remember how we managed to be together again going to the Port of Gaza. We all jumped on board different fishing boats and sailed to the open sea again. There, on the horizon, I saw three elements: A beautiful sunset, the Liberty, and the Free Gaza. On the east side of the Port, more and more people from Gaza were gathering. This time, their disappointed faces were not there. We could hear the people laughing high and delighted as they strained to catch sight of the boats.” Jamal Al Attar, August 23, 2008
This is the day we will never forget; Palestinians waiting for us 44 bedraggled and seasick passengers. We watched the shoreline of Gaza shimmering in the late afternoon sun getting ever closer. We were not going to be stopped by the Israeli navy. We were sailing in.
“The emotional climax came with the sighting of the breakwater’s endless masses of cheering Gazans 40,000 strong. Children dove from the boats into the polluted water, far from shore, eagerly grabbing for the balloons that we started blowing up an hour earlier and tossed into the bay. Then, as if to seal the two-year promise by FG to close the gap and make Palestine’s sea route open once and for all, the boats sidled up to Free Gaza and Liberty and spilled their teary-eyed passengers onto our deck, who then embraced us as if we were liberating soldiers. Ren Tawil, passenger, August 23, 2008
Two years, thousands of volunteers, $700,000 raised from donors around the world, 44 activists, none of us famous… all boiled down to this moment, the moment we sailed into port to the shouts and whistles of an imprisoned people who thought everyone had forgotten them.
Arriving in Gaza
Here is how we felt, best described in the poem of Vittorio Arrigoni on that wonderful day when everyone thought there was hope for freedom and justice for Palestinians. We might finally open the only border that Israel had no right to control. They said to the world that Gaza was free. Our arrival solidified that.
“History is us… History is not cowardly governments with their loyalty to whoever has the strongest military… History is made by ordinary people everyday people, with family at home and a regular job who are committed to peace as a great ideal to the rights of all to staying human… History is us who risked our lives to bring utopia within reach to offer a dream, a hope, to hundreds of thousands of people Who cried with us as we reached the port of Gaza… Our message of peace is a call to action for other ordinary people like ourselves not to hand over your 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 We have shown that peace is not an impossible utopia… Or perhaps we have shown that sometimes utopia can be possible… Believe this… Stand firm against intimidation, fear, and despair And simply remain human.”
Seven years later, the situation in Gaza is worse, three massacres, thousands murdered and maimed by the Israeli Occupation Army, the infrastructure in ruins, but we will not forget, and we will not stop trying to break Israel’s illegal siege on 1.8 million people. We promised we would return, and another 14 voyages have sailed to Gaza, four of them successful. And now there is now talk about opening a trade lane from Larnaca, Cyprus to Gaza and back. Free Gaza should be proud if this happens.
Musheir AlFarra, the only Palestinian on board our boats who actually is from Gaza reminds us why we will not stop:
“The day before we were due to leave, I went to my mother’s grave. “Mother, I am here. I am visiting you despite their siege.” I used to joke with my mother. “Do not die when I cannot be with you.” She would laugh and say, “Don’t worry, I will not if you promise to place me in my grave with your own hands.” I had promised to do that, but was unable to. It was a great feeling, a feeling of freedom that I had never experienced. It was the first time in my life that I had visited home without the humiliation of being questioned or interrogated by the Israelis, without being threatened, having my travel documents thrown in my face, and not knowing whether I would be able to get out or not. It is a sense of liberation I hope every Palestinian will experience one day. I am proud of being one of the first Palestinians from the Occupied Territories to enter Palestine without Israeli permission since 1967.”
Perhaps it’s time to look at a different tactic. We proved that we could break the siege by sea. Maybe it’s time to break the siege by air… hot air balloons? Fixed wing planes? Small helicopters? Hang gliders? We’re thinking, and that makes us dangerous to the Israeli authorities.
Greta Berlin and Mary Hughes Thompson, Co-Founders, The Free Gaza movement. Illustration courtesty of Carl John Freeman.