As long as Palestinians are denied human rights 'Freedom Flotilla' will sail

Richard Sudan
Richard Sudan is a London-based writer, political activist, and performance poet. His writing has been published in many prominent publications, including the Independent, the Guardian, Huffington Post and Washington Spectator. He has been a guest speaker at events for different organizations ranging from the University of East London to the People's Assembly covering various topics. His opinion is that the mainstream media has a duty to challenge power, rather than to serve power. Richard has taught writing poetry for performance at Brunel University.
ARCHIVE PHOTO: Activists gesture from the "Stefano Chiarini" ship, which is part of the "Freedom Flotilla II", during a demonstration against the Greek authorities' ban on Gaza-bound ships on the Greek island of Corfu July 2, 2011. (Reuters / Marko Djurica)
By the time this article is published, the last remaining activists aboard the 'Marianne', part of this year's Freedom Flotilla campaign, will have been released after being deported by Israel following their illegal imprisonment for a number of days.

One of the activists on board the 'Marianne' was tasered when Israeli forces intercepted the ship and took control of it by force, despite claims from the Israeli authorities that the event was 'non-violent' and 'uneventful'.

It's perhaps questionable to even refer to the sequence of events as activists being 'arrested' culminating in their 'deportation' from Israel, given that the Marianne was illegally boarded in international waters, and was on a humanitarian mission. The destination of the boat was never meant to be Israel, the destination was always Gaza, and therefore those who were arrested were forcibly taken to Israel against their will. They had no choice in the matter. ‘Deportation’ seems an inaccurate turn of phrase. Perhaps 'capture' and finally 'release' would be a better way to describe what transpired.

The reason for the launch of Freedom Flotilla Three, or FF3, was simple. The campaign set out to deliver humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza, who are living under occupation as part of the wider occupation of Palestinian land. They are dealing with a real humanitarian crisis, but it is not acknowledged, nor is it met with any action from Israel, other than violence. This remains the case, despite the fact that Israel, as the occupying force, has a legal obligation to address the humanitarian crisis under international law.

READ MORE: Freedom Flotilla: ‘Tasering my friend Charlie was an act of terrorism’

Through our efforts to deliver humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza, the campaign also sought to highlight the occupation and humanitarian crisis itself, while also acknowledging the fact that Gaza remains blockaded and is little more than the world's largest open air prison. Israel claims that there is no blockade or siege of Gaza, nor that there is a humanitarian crisis, despite the fact that both the blockade and siege of Gaza is recognized by the vast majority of governments around the world, and virtually every human rights organization worth its salt.

The crisis is very real, is extremely serious, and is made worse and compounded by the fact that Israel routinely bombs the Gaza Strip, treating the tiny piece of land as a testing ground for its sophisticated weaponry.

So the campaign of FF3 is very important in practical terms, with the aim of bringing aid to those that need it, but also in terms of highlighting the issue for those who may not be familiar with the 'conflict'. Wars make the news, but the daily suffering of Palestinians does not, or rarely does. When the media are doing their job and reporting on campaigns like FF3, the profile is at least lifted as to what is happening in Gaza, even if only momentarily.

And the campaign is also important to those Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip. A small gesture it might be, but at least knowing there are some in the West who are at least trying to reach their shores carrying vital aid offers some sort of solidarity with them.

READ MORE: Israel intercepts & escorts Gaza flotilla flagship, RT columnist aboard

So what of this year's campaign?

Of the five ships loaded with humanitarian aid prepared for the voyage to Gaza from various destinations in Europe, four of them successfully departed. Three eventually turned around and sailed back to Greece in an effort to avoid a direct confrontation with Israeli naval forces. Another ship, the 'Marianne,' was intercepted and taken to the Israeli port of Ashdod after refusing to turn back in an effort to break the siege.

The boat I was due to join in Crete, which had planned to join us from Athens, had been allocated as one of those which was to try to break the siege. In other words, to continue if ordered to turn around by the Israeli Navy with a view to facing the Israeli Navy if necessary. In the end, our vessel never left the Greek port at Athens, the reasons for which at this point remain unclear. What we do know is that the local port authorities were determined not to let our boat leave, and while the official reasons for this are pretexts centered on the vessel’s seaworthiness, claims have also been made suggesting the boat was sabotaged providing a basis for such pretexts.

Given the previous attempts of Freedom Flotilla vessels to leave Greece in 2011, which resulted in the Greek military caving to pressure from Israel by preventing one boat, 'The Audacity of Hope' from leaving Greek waters, this certainly seems a possibility.

From my own experience of my group being followed by several cars while traveling to reach the destination we were initially supposed to set sail from, the above explanation would not surprise me. It's clear that resources were allocated by Israel in an attempt to intimidate us, and to try to ascertain the location of our boats’ departure point. Perhaps they succeeded.

READ MORE: If Israel was a democracy, Freedom Flotilla would be allowed to Gaza

But we succeeded as well in making Israel use resources to follow the Freedom Flotilla campaign. The fact these resources were allocated in following us, flying aircraft in order to trail Marianne, and eventually deploying the navy to intercept the ship are in themselves small victories.

Attempts to reach Gaza's port in the past have been limited and have often ended in violence and sometimes bloodshed.
Each attempt by the Freedom Flotilla to break the siege of Gaza - even with small sailing boats and former fishing trawlers - has attracted an ever-growing group of activists who join the campaign from all walks of life, including politics, the arts, media, and also humanitarian aid workers.

The diversity of the participants who take part in the Freedom Flotilla campaign is consistent with the fact that more and more people around the world are realizing what is happening in Gaza - as are more and more governments. However, the simple fact that the siege of Gaza remains, in complete disregard of international law, demonstrates that past efforts have not been enough. Efforts must be increased to break the blockade of Gaza for good, and to free the rest of the West Bank and remaining Palestinian land which is occupied.

The response by the Israeli media is enough to tell us that the Freedom Flotilla works and is a peaceful means of challenging the blockade of Gaza (peaceful at least from the standpoint of the activists taking part), in much the same way as the BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions) movement is a way of taking practical measures to challenge the occupation of Palestine, which are peaceful, and in complete compliance of international law.

July marks the one year anniversary of the war waged by Israel on the Gaza strip. Hundreds of Palestinians were killed including many children, while homes and neighborhoods reduced to rubble. This state of affairs must change if there is to be any chance for a lasting peace in the Middle East. Freedom Flotilla to Gaza aims to change that state of affairs by highlighting in Gaza what much of the media either ignores or reports on untruthfully. If the world wakes up Palestinians might have a chance of a future, one which they themselves can decide without the fear of being punished for simply wanting to be masters of their own destiny.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.