By Hagit Borer
For 44 years now, the people in the territories occupied by Israel in 1967 have been awaiting their freedom. In Gaza, people have been waiting for five years for a release from the largest world’s open air prison; for the resumption of at least some measure of free movement, for the resumption of risk-free fishing and raw materials, for the re-emergence of commerce and industry. Since Operation Cast Lead, two and a half years ago, they have been also been waiting for the arrival of construction material that would allow them to rebuild their homes, their schools, their hospitals, their infrastructure, destroyed by Israel.
For six months now, and like my 40 fellow passengers, I have been waiting to sail to Gaza. For more than a year, Ann and Jane and Laurie and Helaine and Nic and so many others have been working tirelessly on the US Boat to Gaza. Sometime last winter, our individual efforts came together to become the stream that was to be The Audacity of Hope.
For more than a year now, organizers and passengers in 22 other countries have been working continuously to bring about their own sailing to Gaza. For more than four years, the Free Gaza Movement has been working to bring boats to Gaza. Starting with one boat, and then another, and another, and finally, last year, a flotilla.
Sometime last spring, all these streams came together to become a Gaza-bound river – the Flotilla II: Stay Human River which brought many of us to Greece, where another powerful river is running. That river has emerged from the popular uprising of the people of Greece against the austerity measures imposed upon them by the government of Greece, which were, in turn, dictated by the IMF, largely controlled by US corporate interests, and by the financial institutions of the EU. It is on the back of the Greek population, it appears, that debts incurred through governmental and corporate mismanagement, corruption and greed are to be paid.
On July 1, 2011, the actions of the Greek government have caused our rivers to merge. On that day, just like the people in Syntagma Square, we, too, unarmed and non-violent, faced a disproportionate display of force. We, too, were prevented from asserting our right to protest injustice, when the Greek government decided to confront us with faceless commandos and automatic weapons. When it opted to act, yet again, as an enforcer of dictates originating elsewhere – this time from Israel with the backing of the European Union and the United States.
Our boat was forced back to Athens, and our captain was arrested. But in many important respects, we are very much still on the high seas. Unwittingly, the Audacity of Hope, in its valiant attempt to break away, has become a symbol of standing up to the control and the abuse of the powerful and the mighty. We have become the Speakers of Truth to Power. Already our path has been followed by the Tahrir, the Canadian boat with its brilliant very nearly successful attempt to escape the Hellenic Coast Guard on July 4th, by Guernica, the Spanish boat, whose passengers are now occupying the Spanish embassy in Athens, refusing to leave until granted permission to sail, and by the Juliano, the Greek/Norwegian/Swedish ship. Freshly repaired after being sabotaged on June 27, the Juliano has already forced the Hellenic Coast Guard to allow it to relocate on July 6th, with the continuing hope that it will be able to break away and join the French ship, Le Dignité – El Karameh, in international water. Already, our river has widened and its bed has been deepened by our joint actions with the Greek protesters in marches and demonstrations in Syntagma Square, in front of the Greek Ministry of Citizen Protection, in front of the Israeli and the American embassies in Athens, and in front of the Spanish embassy.
As the Audacity of Hope is now negotiating its passage from the concrete to the symbolic, from the present to history, our river is flowing on, to merge with that of our most recent mentors – the initiators of the Arab Spring in Tunisia, in Egypt and in Yemen, in Libya, in Syria and in Bahrain, who have taught us so much about truth and about power. Every day, the lines of this new and yet-so-old divide are emerging more clearly. Every day, a choice is made by individuals, by institutions and by governments. On our side, there are the people of Palestine, the people of the Middle East and North Africa, the people of Greece, the people of Wisconsin, the people of Portugal and of France, and so many others.
And who is on the other side? Little need be said about the Government of Israel, which has now joined international coercion and systematic lying to its list of accomplishments. Or about the government of the United States, which did not bother to hide from us or from the world its position on our mission. In a much publicized statement, Secretary Clinton practically gave Israel the green light to attack unarmed US citizens. The US Embassy officials in Athens, in turn, sicced the Greek police on our handful of hunger strikers twice on July 4th. But on the other side are also the IMF and the corporate and banking interests which it represents, and many, all too many European governments. How sad that this is the side that the government of Greece has chosen, most recently with its votes on June 21 and June 29, and in its decision to use “all means necessary” to stop our boats.
No, our journey is not over. On August 23, 2008, Liberty, the first ship of the Free Gaza movement, sailed to Gaza, and its 41 activists were the first internationals to enter Gaza by sea in 41 years. Less than three years later, more than 500,000 people volunteered to sail with the Stay Human Flotilla. How many more this week? Next month? Next year? How many more coming by sea, landing in airports, marching at borders? Assembling in city squares and along boulevards? Challenging governments and corporations? Pushing against blockade after blockade? How many more rivers merging to flow to Gaza and beyond?
For our journey is only starting and we WILL be sailing on, audaciously, and with hope.
– Hagit Borer moved from Israel to the United States to study in 1977. She became an American citizen in 1992 and is currently a professor of linguistics at USC. (This article was contributed to PalestineChronicle.com.)