By Richard Levy
As you will probably know from press reports, our efforts to sail the US boat to Gaza – the Audacity of Hope – has fallen short of its mission.
We had expected to be confronted by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) in Gazan or international waters. Instead, we were confronted with Greek commandos in the waters near Pireaus. As one passenger put it, "Israel has outsourced the blockade to Greece, Turkey and other countries." It gained their cooperation through heavy diplomatic pressure from its allies (most significantly the US) and economic threats. Presently, eight boats headed for Gaza carrying passengers from 22 countries are locked down in Greek and Turkish ports.
Although the intended mission was not accomplished, the stories of the boats’ attempts to sail gained considerable international press coverage and shined a light, once again, on Israel’s morally and legally indefensible imprisonment of the Palestinian people in Gaza.
Israel’s claim that its blockade is for security only is utterly belied by the fact that it blocks building materials (much needed since thousands of homes and hundreds of schools were destroyed during the "Operation Cast Lead" bombardment two years ago), it refuses to allow students to study abroad, people to visit families outside of the zone, to seek medical services outside or to export their goods. Plainly, this is not about security. It is the collective punishment of 1.6 million Gazans because some voted for Hamas.
Israel says that it is now allowing more goods into Gaza (a direct response to the challenge of this and the last flotilla, which cost nine lives) but the flow is in fact a tiny proportion of what is needed and doesn’t begin to ease the estimated 25-45 per cent unemployment in Gaza and a living standard of less than 2 US dollars per day for most Gazans.
But the Palestinians in Gaza who asked our boats to come were not calling for material aid. They want their freedom. The challenge is to lift a heavily armed, brutal military siege that has not only cost 1,400 lives and destroyed the infrastructure of Gaza during the IDF attack of 2009, but suffocates the people day in and day out.
On a personal note, the experience allowed me to work with some of the most dedicated and caring people from all over the country, all ages (22-86), representing different backgrounds and experiences. When our boat broke out from its port and we set sail in violation of Greek orders, there was a moment of elation and excitement that defies description. The shouts, songs and tears amid the banners of hope and love will not be forgotten.
So, we will return to Gaza. We will stay in the struggle until Israel stops its apartheid policies, its land and water seizures in the West Bank, its destruction of homes and olive farms, and its encroachment by walls, barbed wire and checkpoints. We will stay at it until Palestine is free. There will be failures along the way. But as a boat passenger, quoting Becket, urged, we will "try, fail, try again, fail again, fail better." Eventually we will succeed.
Get involved if you can.
– Richard Levy is a civil rights attorney and passenger on the Audacity of Hope. This article was contributed to PalestineChronicle.com.