Forty American citizens participated in the fleet, a third of them ethnic Jews. They all have different lives, different motifs. All of them are successful in their private lives, and none of them has free time to waste. What makes these people leave their families, friends and jobs, and fly 10,000 kilometers to keep watch over the boats in order to protect them from sabotage, and wait for weeks to get permission to set off, and be prepared to endure rocking and experience a tough detention?
This is the most respectable participant of the fleet, Hedy Epstein who had lost her parents in Auschwitz. Hagit Borer, an Israel-born successful scientist. Gabriel Schivone, writer and journalist. The youngest passenger, a 22-year-old Christian, Max Suchar, with seven years’ experience of fighting for the rights of the Palestinians. Regina Carey, who accidentally learned what the living was like for the Palestinians during her pilgrimage to the holy places. A successful New Yorker Libor Koznar, who’s taking his first trip to Gaza. All of them are different, with their experiences and their understanding of life’s meaning. They are like-minded about one thing – they will keep going until the blockade is over; and their fight is purely peaceful.
Otherwise, they talk about various aspects which make them participate in such a troublesome task as fighting for the rights of others.
Hedy learned about the Palestinians from newspaper articles on the Sabra and Shatila camps. Some were told about the situation of the Palestinians by their Jewish husbands; some others, by their parents. Some believe it’s their religious obligation, others, a civil one. The Jews don’t want to put up with the fact that injustice has been performed in their name. The Americans disagree that their government assists in the occupation.
They have different visions of the political search for resolving the deadlock; they see the future of this land differently.
Presently, the Israeli commandos are convoying the final boat of the second Freedom Fleet to the port of Ashdod. This boat attempted breaking through the sea siege of Gaza on its own.
Aboard the Dignite al-Karama are the strongest activists, who haven’t put up with the fact that two boats were damaged by saboteurs, and others were prohibited from leaving the port by the Greek authorities.
Dror Feiler, musician and composer heads the boat. He was born in Israel and left it for Sweden as a protest against the politics of his homeland. In the Athens he was the one who stated that the fleet would carry on getting together until the siege of Gaza, whether sea, land or air, is removed completely and unreservedly. If not him, others would have stepped forward to lead this breakthrough. Those who saw these people have no reasons to doubt their determination.
This was my third encounter with the flotilla. Its story might teach the authorities a lot: common Westerners, pacifists and peace activists with no weapons and no money turned into a force to be reckoned with in just three years.
There were a few dozen of them. They managed to fit out a small boat in which they could smuggle several dozens of crates full of hearing aids. Now there are hundreds of activities, backed up by ten parliament members and riding two dry cargo ships. Mass media from all over the world are watching them closely.
My first encounter with the movement was in fall 2008 in Cyprus. There was only one vessel and two dozen people there who were trying to get permission to sail off.
It was all spontaneous. The first boat broke through the siege in summer 2008. Lauren Booth, Tony Blair’s sister-in-law was aboard that boat. Israel and Egypt didn’t allow her to leave the strip. And thus, the movement against the Gaza siege was forced to send the second boat to rescue Lauren.
During the time that Laura Booth spent in Gaza she studied the blockage in details. Had Israel of Egypt let her go in three days, she would’ve been unlikely to learn in such detail that in the 21st century a million-and-a-half people can be isolated from the world and subjected to collective punishment.
Having found herself a siege prisoner, not only did she receive a Palestinian passport, not only did she convert to Islam some time later but, having returned to England, she made a lot of efforts to tell people in details what it was like for the Palestinians to live under the siege.
I spent two weeks waiting for the boat to sail off, and my editors of that time called me back. And some time later, the boat broke through the siege once again.
In 2010, while six vessels were waiting in the sea, the organizers brought together parliamentary members, diplomats and other VIPs in Cyprus to get them to join the flotilla at the last moment. Cyprus prohibited any vessels, yachts and boats from taking those people aboard. The flotilla went to break through the siege without them. Israel attacked the boats in international waters, and eight Turkish citizens and one American were killed.
This year, the fleet distributed all parliamentary members and diplomats among different boats. The boats left from different ports of various countries. But Greece refused to let boats leave its ports, refused to refill the boats, and allowed for sabotage in the ports.
As a result, the fleet participants rallied in the streets of the Athens for many days. They held press conferences; the Americans went on hunger strike in front of the US embassy; the Spaniards went on a sit-down strike inside the Spanish embassy. And the authorities had nothing left to do but to clear the streets for rallies, release the US police captain, apologize, and dream that these people would finally leave Greece. They couldn’t deport the US and the EU citizens for their willingness to take several thousand letters from the US kids to the Gaza kids, could they?
While in 2010, Israel looked like a villain, in 2011, Israel looks funny. That’s what the flotilla participants are saying.
Most of the previous flotilla’s passengers were from the Islamic countries.
The second flotilla brought together 350 Europeans and Americans, a third of them Jews, including citizens of Israel and those who had emigrated from Israel. Aboard were about a hundred accredited reporters of the world media.
The participants are joking that the next flotilla will get together and think of something new, and Israel will have to humiliate itself again to ensure that pacifists and peaceful activists don’t reach the Gaza strip.