I arrived in Gaza with 45 others from 16 different countries on August 23, 2008 as part of the Free Gaza Movement. For this we are guilty of exercising the inherent human right to travel as outlined in Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In Gaza I have met with and expressed solidarity with those who resist the occupation and for this I am guilty of affirming the lawful right of self-defence. I have also met with, expressed solidarity and initiated work directly with Palestinians who choose non-violence and law as their means of struggle. In this choice we are guilty of conspiracy to expose the truth about the Zionist need for conflict; which explains why people of peace are unwelcome in the eyes of the Israeli Government.
I learned this lesson several years ago when I was jailed by Israel for “illegally attempting” to enter Gaza. In 2004 I came as the founder of P10K (www.P10K.net), a plan that involved an ‘Agreement in Principle’ between the three major resisting factions and 1000 international observers. The agreement proposed that upon the arrival of these international observers, the resisting factions (Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Al Aqsa Martyr Brigades) would enter into a self-imposed cease-fire. My logic being that the presence of these international observers would shine a bright light on Palestine and expose the ongoing crime of occupation, thus compelling meaningful change. I stand by this belief to this day. This agreement was also intended to prove that the resisting factions were not unreasonable; to the contrary, Hamas has since proven its willingness to participant in a non-violent political process.
Likewise, in a deal brokered through the honourable Mohammed Hourani of Fatah, Al Aqsa Martyr Brigades committed to the agreement in principle back in 2004. With that I headed to Gaza with good reason to believe that signed approval from Islamic Jihad and Hamas was forthcoming, but fate and Israel had other plans. I managed to slip past Israeli security at Erez crossing, make it into Israeli Gaza and ride on a settler bus to the sea. I made it as far as the security zone in the north between Israeli and Palestinian Gaza. At that point I was halted at gunpoint by the Israeli Defence Forces. So instead of a ceasefire agreement I was jailed for 20 days and deported on the basis of secret testimony… as a “security threat” of course. Flat out, the Israeli Government wants no part in peace and it makes sure that Palestinians and internationals do not threaten their maintenance of violent conflict. This is a critical truth that must be exposed if there is any chance of a just settlement.
The truth is that back then, as now, Gaza was inaccessible to anyone not approved by Israel; until the Free Gaza Movement that is. Israeli approval inherently means that anyone critical of Israel, no matter how peace minded they are, is extremely unlikely to be permitted by Israel to enter Gaza. Archbishop Desmond Tutu being a perfect example. Making matters worse the people of Gaza cannot get “approval” from Israel, to exit Gaza. But it is not only Israel, it is shamefully the Arab brothers and sisters of the Egyptian Government who collude with Israel in the policy of collective punishment; which results in 99% plus of the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza being imprisoned.
So now I write these words as an honoured inmate of Gaza Prison; and I am proud to be with my brothers and sisters in Palestine. But prison is a generous word for Gaza; western prisons provide medical care, three meals a day, clean water and at least limited access to family. Israeli prisons, at least for Israelis, offer the same. In Gaza however few have these basic needs, while virtually none have all of these needs. Furthermore, prisons are supposedly for criminals, so a place where you are locked up simply for being a particular nationality, is not rightly called a prison. According to the Dictionary.com definition, a concentration camp is;
‘a guarded compound for the detention or imprisonment of aliens, members of ethnic minorities, political opponents, etc., esp. any of the camps established by the Nazis prior to and during World War II for the confinement and persecution of prisoners.’
So in the interest of truth, I shall from this day onward refer to Gaza as an Israeli Concentration Camp for Palestinians.
While in Gaza Concentration Camp I myself can afford three meals a day and clean water, not true for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. But if I am shot I might well die (as many Palestinians do) because adequate medical care will not be possible. If I fall ill, I may die from a completely treatable ailment for lack of medicine. Physical access to family outside of Gaza is impossible, as it is for the 1.5 million people of Gaza.
But Israel and its partner Egypt do me personally a great service by denying me exit through their corrupted lands, they have gifted me with a small taste of what it is to be incarcerated in Gaza. They have forced me to see the glaring truth; the way in and out of Gaza, is by the sea. Poetic to a person like myself, considering the fact that my first love, is the sea.
So here I am in Gaza, on yet another peaceful, lawful mission. And I am guilty; guilty of acknowledging that Israel has nuclear weapons and is dangerous enough to use them; guilty of knowing that the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is a threat to all life on planet Earth. I am guilty of acknowledging that the formation of Israel involved the Black’s Law definition of terrorism and can additionally be defined as ethnic cleansing if we use Bosnian ethnic cleansing as a standard. I am guilty of knowing that Israel has wiped large areas of Palestine, including hundreds of villages, “off the map”. I am guilty of acknowledging that the root cause of so-called “terrorism” includes but is not limited to, occupation, theft of land, denial of human rights, extrajudicial killings and of course mass murder.
Most of all I am guilty of rejecting the role of the cynic who pretends that we as people are powerless. Thus I am guilty, guilty of conspiring to commit acts of consciousness and humanity with like-minded people such as those of the Free Gaza Movement. And I repeat, 46 people, have proven one powerful truth, one undeniable and glaring truth, that Palestine is accessible via the sea.
Think about it, 46 people have proved that the Israeli siege of Gaza is breakable. What could 500 of us do, or perhaps 1000?
There are roughly one billion people in the west, .000001% of that population equals 1000. Are there 1000 such people in the West, people who are ready to act in unison, intelligently and without fear? Would we be ready to train as international observers and sail right into Gaza according to the rights protected by International Public Law? International Observers is what P10K requires and now more than ever I believe it is possible to transport them to Palestine. And so it is that I work now with those who are ready to purchase the ship that will make this a reality.
Wake up world, it is the people of conscience, minority that we are, that offer the real potential for a better world, a world of justice and peace. It is time to renounce powerlessness and act with the power of love in this cause. Only then, will there be peace; let us please stop pretending as if peace is possible amidst the terrible injustice of our world.
As for me I have little doubt that I will soon reunite with my family, and I plan to do so by way of the sea, travelling through Gaza’s territorial waters, into international waters and on to Cypriot territorial waters, which are controlled by a most honourable government. I expect to return as I came, never once needing approval from Israel or Egypt. Only 46 people in the world are confirmed to have done this by sea, and so we shall do it again, but more importantly, we shall do so by the thousands. I cannot think of a better way to visit the people of Palestine, people who bless me every day that I am here.
And special thanks to the Israeli and Egyptian Governments for the unexpected yet welcome extension to my Gaza experience. As a matter of courtesy I shall express my gratitude by pushing for the purchase of a passenger ship capable of carrying thousands of Palestinians and internationals to and from Gaza. This, inshallah, shall be my gift to you… and the people of Palestine of course.
1. “Boats With Pro-Palestinian Activists Reach Gaza”, By Ibrahim Barzak of the Associated Press, August 23, 2008 http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory?id=5638134
2. “Statement by Archbishop Desmond Tutu”, May 29, 2008 www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/Statement_by_Archbishop_Desmond_Tutu.pdf