by Rifat Audeh
I have always marveled at the human spirit. How some people persevere, overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles against all odds, elevate themselves to new heights and maintain their hope and dignity when all seems lost. And how others have such a profound sense of justice, of right and wrong, and how they are willing to sacrifice their own lives for strangers half a world away because of their magnanimous conscience, their ideals and principles. Names such as Rachel Corrie and Thomas Hurndall, along with Brian Avery, Huwaida Arraf and others come to mind. As an activist, I have been privileged and honored to have met such people throughout my life.
In December 2009, the third Viva Palestina convoy was launched to break the inhuman siege imposed upon the heroic people of Gaza, and bring much needed supplies to them. The convoy was launched from Britain, gained momentum along the way and included hundreds of activists. Originally, the Jordanian port city of Aqaba was to be the final point before entry into Egypt and continuing to Gaza. Yet, after these compassionate souls had traveled thousands of kilometers for weeks away from their families and loved ones, the Egyptian regime hindered their journey and they were stuck in Aqaba.
I was and am proud to be one of the people who first received the convoy in Amman at the Professional Associations Complex (also known as “Al-Naqabat”). What initially surprised me was the high spirits everyone was in, despite the long and tiresome journey they had endured. We warmly hugged and saluted them as they got out of their vehicles, and although the language barrier was present between many of us, it simply did not seem to matter. These were our brothers and sisters in humanity and as such we communicated at a greater level.
After a couple of days in Amman, the convoy continued to Aqaba. I decided that the very least I could do was join them there in a show of solidarity. The convoy members spent their Christmas stuck in a remote land, far from home, family and friends. Although we spent most of our time at the Aqaba’s Associations Complex building and yard, it should be noted that the people in Aqaba realized and understood the significance of the convoy and the sacrifices of its members. Accordingly, they opened up their hearts and homes, sharing their food and shelter, and helping the convoy to carry on.
While there, I met people from all walks of life, of all ages, strangers to each other all united in a common goal. From the young teenager who traveled all the way from America, to the grandmother from Ireland who went on a hunger strike while we were there, the stories are endless. Honestly, it was more than a humbling experience in which a I felt ashamed of myself for not doing more. Indeed, through the iron-will determination of these people and despite the attempts of cowards and traitors to stop them, they broke the siege and reached Gaza.
Now a new convoy is underway. The Free Gaza Movement is a human rights group that in August 2008 sent the first international boats to land in the port of Gaza in 41 years. Since then, it has sailed from Cyprus to the Gaza Strip on several successful voyages, bringing in international witnesses to see first hand the devastating effects of Israeli violence against the Palestinian people. At the same time, Israel committed acts of piracy against their boats breaking the siege and hijacked and kidnapped the passengers in the last voyage and imprisoned them. Yet today, these same people are preparing to break the siege once again via a flotilla of ships, in collaboration with the Turkish IHH organization, the Perdana Global Peace Organization from Malaysia, the European Campaign to End the Siege of Gaza, and the Swedish and Greek Boat to Gaza initiatives. The flotilla will set sail this month in the largest convoy ever to date.
Once again, the majority of people on this flotilla are not Palestinians, Jordanians or even Arabs. Rather, they are conscientious human beings who feel the pressing need to do what is right and alleviate the suffering of others. Even while they embark on this undertaking, they are keen to point out that the true heroes are the people in Gaza, as I was told time and again in Aqaba. Most of them shy away from taking any credit for their actions, and so I hope they forgive me for this writing. Yet truth be told, we can and must learn from them and from the experiences of the past convoys. The only way this is done, is through supporting this flotilla any way we can; through donations, the media, political action in lobbying our governments and other activities. We must rise to the occasion and spearhead efforts such as these in the future.
For more information on how to help the flotilla, please check the following links:
http://www.ihh.org.tr/anasayfa/en/(then go to Account Numbers)
Rifat Audeh is a Palestinian-Canadian activist, co-founder of Michigan Media Watch and former member of the Palestine Solidarity Movement’s Process Committee. He currently lives in Amman.