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November 20, 2011

Canadian Boat to Gaza: a journey of solidarity

Scott Stockdale

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When Israeli commandos boarded the Tahrir - the Canadian Boat to Gaza - on Friday November 4, it demonstrated once again that Israel is able to act with impunity when it comes to the welfare of the Palestinian people and anyone trying to help them, according to the Canadian Boat to Gaza group.

The Tahrir, which made an unsuccessful attempt to reach the blockaded Palestinian territory this past summer, was carrying medical aid and activists from nine countries when it was intercepted two days after it set sail from Turkey.

Israeli officials have said troops took action Friday after repeated calls for the vessels to turn around were ignored. They said the ships were intercepted peacefully.

However, American journalist Jihan Hafiz, who was on board the Tahrir and was among those detained by Israel despite her press credentials, told a different story. She described the violent takeover of the ship during which guns were pointed at the heads of the boats’ passengers, how they were roughed up, mistreated, strip-searched, and filmed naked. She also told of how the journalists’ equipment was confiscated, in a bid to silence any reporting that might contradict the sanitized Israeli account of what happened during the hijacking of the Tahrir and the MV Saoirse.

Ms. Hafiz also said Israeli authorities ordered her and others not to talk about “anything negative or political” during their brief phone calls to home from Israeli detention.

After Israeli commandos briefly sprayed the Tahrir with a water cannon, they boarded the Canadian ship and an Irish ship. Karen Devito, a retired teacher from Vancouver, and David Heap, a linguistics professor at the University of Western Ontario, were among the 21 activists the commandos arrested.

After her release from five days in detention – the first 48 hours of which were without contact with the outside world - Ms. Devito told of Israeli guards shouting at her and the other detainees and telling them that they were not human. 

“We were lucky because we had consuls looking out for us. Palestinians are held incommunicado for months and there is no one looking out for them.”

She also described Mr. Heap and Australian Michael Coleman being brought off the ship in chains and being hurt after they refused to leave the ship. Calling the seizure an “assault,” Mr. Heap said he is now bruised and limping after being tasered and forcibly removed from the boat, but is “basically ok.”

He said he received a visit from a lawyer and from a Canadian consulate official but he was not allowed to speak with others who were arrested.

After four days in detention, the activists - including Mr. Heap - were brought before a judge and told they could be held in prison for 2 months without charges or trial. To avoid this, the judge told them, they must sign a statement that they entered Israel ‘voluntarily’ and 'illegally’ despite being violently kidnapped from international waters and taken to Israel against their will while trying to reach Gaza.

This the latest of eleven attempts to break the blockade of Gaza via the sea is the result of the continuing inaction of governments around the world, including the Canadian government, that ordinary people feel compelled to act, said Dylan Penner, spokesperson for Canadian boat to Gaza group. 

The Tahrir was carrying medical aid and activists from nine countries when it was intercepted two days after it set sail from Turkey.

Israel sees the attempts to break the sea blockade as provocations and publicity stunts. It said the amount of aid in the small boats used by activists is insignificant, as Israel transfers aid to Gaza daily. But Canadian activists disagreed with that assessment and reaffirmed their intentions to breach the blockade in the future.

“Initiatives like this wouldn’t even be necessary if Israel would finally end this illegal blockade and governments like Canada would stop supporting them in that,” Mr. Penner said.

In a press release the Canadian Boat to Gaza group explained why it undertook its mission to Gaza.

“The reason why those who were detained undertook this journey in the first place was to show solidarity with the ordinary people of Gaza who have lost their basic freedoms as a result of a blockade imposed by the military forces of Israel, and to take action that would contribute to the end of that blockade.”

Meanwhile, at the end of October, a group called Kayakaction for Gaza in Ottawa and Vancouver challenged the illegal blockade saying that it has turned Gaza into a house of horrors, at what it characterized as “the doorstep of the institution that has become one of the most complicit in the world with Israel’s illegal blockade: the office of the Prime Minister of Canada.

A group spokesperson explained.

“We launched a Kayaktivist flotilla in Ottawa and Vancouver to unmask the local accomplices of the illegal blockade. Together, we paddled and portaged to the Prime Minister’s Office to challenge the Harper government’s complicity in blockading Palestinian human rights. The Occupy Ottawa movement joined us to show their solidarity and denounce the occupation of Palestine. People power opposing oppression!”

A spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird issued a statement that said Canadian diplomats are closely watching the situation and are “are liaising with Israeli authorities” in order to provide consular assistance (to Canadian detainees)

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On July 7, 2024 in Toronto, Canada, Dimitri Lascaris delivered a speech on the right to resist oppression.

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