Preparing to Sail to Gaza


Last week, newly-arrived in Athens as part of the US Boat to Gaza project, our team of activists gathered for nonviolence training. We are here to sail to Gaza, in defiance of an Israeli naval blockade, in our ship, “The Audacity of Hope.” Our team, and nine other ships’ crews from countries around the world, want Israel to end its lethal blockade of Gaza by letting our crews through to shore to meet with Gazans. The US ship will bring over 3,000 letters of support to a population suffering its fifth continuous decade of de facto occupation, now in the form of a military blockade controlling Gaza’s sea and sky, punctuated by frequent deadly military incursions, that has starved Gaza’s economy and people to the exact level of cruelty considered acceptable to the domestic population of our own United States, Israel’s staunchest ally.

The international flotilla last year was brutally attacked and the Turkish ship fired on from the air, with a cherrypicked video clip of the resulting panic presented to the world to justify nine deaths, one of a United States citizen, most of them execution-style killings. So it’s essential, albeit a bit bizarre, to plan for how we will respond to military assaults. Israeli news reports say that their naval commandos are preparing to use attack dogs and snipers to board the boats. In the past, they have used water cannons, taser guns, stink bombs, sound bombs, stun guns, tear gas, and pepper spray against flotilla passengers. I’ve tried to make a mental list of plausible responses: remove glasses, don life jacket, affix clip line which might prevent sliding off the deck, carry a half onion to offset effect of tear gas, remember to breathe.

Israel Defense Forces are reportedly training for a fierce assault intended to “secure” each boat in the flotilla, the “Freedom Flotilla 2”. As passengers specifically on the U.S. boat, we may be spared the most violent responses, although Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has not ruled out such violent responses and has preemptively certified any response we may “provoke” (in sailing from international waters to a coastline that is not part of Israel) is an expression of Israel’s “right to defend themselves”. Israel says it is prepared for a number of scenarios, ranging “from no violence” (which it knows full well to expect) to “extreme violence”. We are preparing ourselves not to panic, and to practice disciplined nonviolence whatever scenario Israel decides to enact.

If they overcome our boat swiftly, they will presumably handcuff us and possibly hood us, before commandeering our ship toward an Israeli port, removing us from the ship, jailing us and (judging from their past actions) deporting us. I don’t know what country I would be deported to, but I would eventually return to the U.S. and to my home city of Chicago, and to a safety I cannot share with the desperate people of Gaza, or friends from throughout this region so troubled by war, much of it instigated by my own country.

The slogan of our flotilla is “Stay Human.” It’s advice that exposure to violence, real or imagined, always tempts us to forget. Young friends I have met in Afghanistan, faced with pervasive everyday precarity I cannot easily imagine, have expressed this idea in a YouTube video which utterly takes my breath away: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dkiMOPoU1qA They ask Gazan youth to hold on to hope and to the capacity for childlike joy: “To friends in Gaza: don’t stay angry for too long, Stay together, and love from us in Afghanistan!”

My fellow passenger Johnny Barber recently visited Gaza, and this morning he told me a harrowing story of a Gazan family, that of a farmer named Nasr, living near the Gazan-Israeli buffer zone. The first attack took place in June of 2010. To quote John’s website: “?the Israeli army attacked the family home while the children were playing outside?Nasr’s wife, Naama, was in the front yard when a tank 500 meters from the home fired shells packed with nails at the home. Nasr’s wife, torn to ribbons, bled to death in the yard when ambulances were not permitted down the narrow dirt road to his home.” Ambulance stoppages are a frequent punitive measure used against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.”

“After the second attack,” which occurred in April 2011, “Nasr’s family moved to a house in the village, near to the cemetery where his wife was buried. One night, around midnight, Nasr woke to find his children gone. He went outside and found them at their mother’s grave.” The next day he took them away from that village and back to their land, to try and put the past behind them, and await a future they can barely hope will be kind.

I hope that our ship will make it to Gaza. I hope Johnny Barber can again visit Nasr, and that I can visit the family and the trapped young men who sheltered me during the final days of the crushing December 2008 “Operation Cast Lead” bombardment. I hope that our ship will make it out of dock – acting on an “anonymous complaint,” the government here has demanded an inspection of several days before they will allow our (entirely seaworthy) ship to sail. With its world-headline-producing economic troubles, Greece seems incredibly vulnerable to the intense pressure that the Israeli and U.S. governments seem openly prepared to exert: we hope that neither economic nor political blackmail will succeed at stopping our ship from leaving the spot near Athens where it is waiting to receive us.

“Please don’t lose the human capacity for happiness.” My Afghan friends in the video urge us to stay human. Ali, who speaks in the video, has been harassed by Afghan security forces since becoming active with the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers. So has his family. Others of his companions have faced death threats, interrogation, arson and theft. Their persistence encourages and guides me, and I struggle to let their persistence urge me on, because staying human is also about doing what is right.

I think of Nasr’s children watching their mother die, and I think that if they’re going to stay human then I and my countrymen and women ought to help. We have to become more human than we’ve so far managed to be: We have to make sacrifices to stop the crimes that are ultimately being committed in our names. In different ways, we have to risk the consequences of being where we need to be when we need to be there. We have to stand up to injustice and with the victims of injustice, and rely on our opponents to find their humanity in time, given enough examples of what it can look like. When we find ourselves, against all odds, staying human, that example surprises us and helps sustain us in hope for the power of humanity. We hope we will be allowed through to Gaza, we hope that the siege will be lifted, and that in this time when humankind can so little afford the nightmares of greed and ignorance that rend the Middle East and that render our leaders incapable of uniting to address ever-more desperate, ever-more-frightening global crises, we as a species, one with no assurance of its perpetual survival, will somehow find some way to stay human.

Kathy Kelly co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence and has worked closely with the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers. She is the author of Other Lives, Other Dreams published by CounterPunch / AK Press. She can be reached at: Kathy@vcnv.org



November 25, 2015
Jeff Taylor
Bob Dylan and Christian Zionism
Dana E. Abizaid
Provoking Russia
Oliver Tickell
Syria’s Cauldron of Fire: a Downed Russian Jet and the Battle of Two Pipelines
Patrick Cockburn
Trigger Happy: Will Turkey’s Downing of Russian Jet Backfire on NATO?
Robert Fisk
The Soothsayers of Eternal War
Russell Mokhiber
The Coming Boycott of Nike
Ted Rall
Like Father Like Son: George W. Bush Was Bad, His Father May Have Been Worse
Matt Peppe
Bad Policy, Bad Ethics: U.S. Military Bases Abroad
Martha Rosenberg
Pfizer Too Big (and Slippery) to Fail
Yorgos Mitralias
Bernie Sanders, Mr. Voutsis and the Truth Commission on Greek Public Debt
Jorge Vilches
Too Big for Fed: Have Central Banks Lost Control?
Sam Husseini
Why Trump is Wrong About Waterboarding — It’s Probably Not What You Think
Binoy Kampmark
The Perils of Certainty: Obama and the Assad Regime
Roger Annis
State of Emergency in Crimea
Soud Sharabani
ISIS in Lebanon: An Interview with Andre Vltchek
Thomas Knapp
NATO: This Deal is a Turkey
November 24, 2015
Dave Lindorff
An Invisible US Hand Leading to War? Turkey’s Downing of a Russian Jet was an Act of Madness
Mike Whitney
Turkey Downs Russian Fighter to Draw NATO and US Deeper into Syrian Quagmire
Walter Clemens
Who Created This Monster?
Patrick Graham
Bombing ISIS Will Not Work
Lida Maxwell
Who Gets to Demand Safety?
Eric Draitser
Refugees as Weapons in a Propaganda War
David Rosen
Trump’s Enemies List: a Trial Balloon for More Repression?
Eric Mann
Playing Politics While the Planet Sizzles
Chris Gilbert
“Why Socialism?” Revisited: Reflections Inspired by Einstein’s Article
Charles Davis
NSA Spies on Venezuela’s Oil Company
Michael Barker
Democracy vs. Political Policing
Barry Lando
Shocked by Trump? Churchill Wanted to “Collar Them All”
Cal Winslow
When Workers Fight: the National Union of Healthcare Workers Wins Battle with Kaiser
Norman Pollack
Where Does It End?: Left Political Correctness
David Macaray
Companies Continue to Profit by Playing Dumb
Binoy Kampmark
Animals in Conflict: Diesel, Dobrynya and Sentimental Security
Dave Welsh
Defiant Haiti: “We Won’t Let You Steal These Elections!”
November 23, 2015
Vijay Prashad
The Doctrine of 9/11 Anti-Immigration
John Wight
After Paris: Hypocrisy and Mendacity Writ Large
Joseph G. Ramsey
No Excuses, No Exceptions: the Moral Imperative to Offer Refuge
Patrick Cockburn
ISIS Thrives on the Disunity of Its Enemies
Andrew Moss
The Message of Montgomery: 60 Years Later
Jim Green
James Hansen’s Nuclear Fantasies
Robert Koehler
The Absence of History in the Aftermath of Paris
Dave Lindorff
The US Media and Propaganda
Dave Randle
France and Martial Law
Gilbert Mercier
If We Are at War, Let’s Bring Back the Draft!
Alexey Malashenko
Putin’s Syrian Gambit
Binoy Kampmark
Closing the Door: US Politics and the Refugee Debate