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August 30, 2011

Tahrir: The Canadian boat to Gaza

The Canadian Charger

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When the Canadian boat to Gaza, the Tahrir, was boarded by Greek commandos and towed back to port on July 4, the resulting publicity galvanized supporters around the world in their determination to lift the siege of Gaza.

Speaking at an event called Tahrir, The Canadian Boat to Gaza Report Back, in Toronto recently, Toronto film maker John Greyson said he was honoured to have been on that boat as part of a flotilla of activists from 10 nations. He showed a short film of the Tahrir crew making preparations and later of the boat being boarded by commandos and he told the audience that the world needs to be made aware of the affect this brutal occupation is having on Gaza civilians.

David Heap, member of the steering committee for the Committee of the Canadian Boat to Gaza (CCBG) said the Palestinians of Gaza have been deprived of the basic human right of mobility, which is an affront to human dignity. This lack of mobility, he added, has put a stranglehold on Gazans' attempt to earn a living.

“It's the only port on the Mediterranean not open to shipping. It's the only territory in the world where the population doesn't have access to its own coastal waters. The overwhelming majority is dependent upon aid...They want to be a prosperous trading nation, but there's a large area on the border they can't farm because of Israeli snipers and they can't fish.  No country should be dependent on another country's whim.”

Sandra Ruch, Coordinator of Canadian Women Voices for Peace, said she joined the Committee of the Canadian Boat to Gaza because after the tragedy of the Marvi Marmara last year, during which Israeli commandos killed 9 activists, in what Canadian activist and eye-witness Kevin Neish described as a duck shoot, her and her colleagues knew they had to do something to break the illegal siege of Gaza.

Subsequently, Ms. Ruch worked with the CCBG to raise $300,000 between June and the end of December. She described some of the many logistical problems involved in getting 47 activists to Greece, where they had to pretend to be tourists, while awaiting their mission. After purchasing a boat and having it inspected and ready to go, she said a ruling came from a member of the Greek government that no boats can go to Gaza. Ms. Ruch said Greek officials followed up on the ruling by finding numerous pretexts to prevent the boat from leaving harbour.

“Every day they said something was wrong with the inspection. They said we had no hot water and the beds weren't big enough. We decided we would get action by taking the boat out.”

It was at this point that Greek commandos boarded the boat demanding to speak to the captain. Unlike the American ship in the flotilla, the Audacity of Hope, whose captain was arrested on felony charges of interfering with sea-going traffic, the Canadians escaped this fate when all 35 people on board answered: “I'm the captain.”

The 35 people on board were arrested, charged and detained by the port police. However, after they were found guilty, they received suspended sentences, which begs the question: will they be so fortunate next time? And Ms. Rush and her colleagues are in the process of planning the next flotilla to Gaza, as their ship the Tahrir is now out of Greece and in an undisclosed safe location for the time being.

Meanwhile, Bob Lovelace, former chief of Ardoch Algonquin Nation, and an Indigenous Studies teacher at Queen's University, who was on board the Tahrir, inadvertently answered several issues raised by critics of the Gaza flotilla. Mr. Lovelace told the audience that when dealing with the oppressor, you never ask permission.

“If we're standing in solidarity with the Palestinians, never ask for permission to go to Gaza.”

He said he told the international media at a press conference in Greece that as a colonial state Israel faces the same situation as Canada.

“Canada lays claim to large sections of land it has no legal right to. As long as this ideology of colonials is unresolved, the problem will perpetuate on and on and on.”

In his presentation he also gave the counter argument of a common justification for the state of Israel: “a land without people for a people without land,” when he told the audience that, “It’s a myth that Israel created a garden in the desert. There were already people gardening there. What they created is another L.A. (Los Angeles).”

He added that the oft-mentioned idea that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East is also false. 

“It's a myth that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. After going to jail for three months as a political prisoner, I realized that democracy and colonialism can't walk hand-in-hand...This is not just about Israel-Palestine, it's about a worldwide scourge: colonialism affects our environment and our relationships.”

On February 15, 2007, Mr. Lovelace was sentenced to jail for contempt of court for refusing a judicial order to stop his peaceful blockade at a proposed uranium mine site on lands Algonquin First Nations have never ceded title to under any land claim or treaty. The site is at Sharbot Lake, 120 kilometres west of Ottawa.

Meanwhile, as criticism of the people on the Gaza flotilla is ubiquitous in the mainstream press, often claiming they are perpetrating a needlessly provocative action, Khaled Mouammar, president of the Canadian Arab Federation, said they are making a positive contribution toward alleviating a dire situation.

“The most important thing is that they're raising awareness of a dire situation: the siege of Gaza. The immoral siege has been going on for five years now. This (the Gaza flotilla) is a way to show that civil society can make a difference because governments all over the world are failing in their duties, so this is a way to shame them and hope that with all the public pressure they will change and finally bring about justice in Palestine.”

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