Sailing for Palestine

A Canadian explains why she’s joining the Women’s Boat to Gaza

A social worker from London, Ontario, is part of international effort to challenge Israel’s blockade
Photo: Joseba Barrenetxea

An international Women’s Boat to Gaza will depart from Barcelona, Spain, later this week as part of a journey to the blockaded Mediterranean shores of Palestine. Here’s why one Canadian is joining this defiant journey to challenge Israeli control of Gaza’s shores.

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The times they are a changin’.

Bob Dylan sang about it in the '60s and I sing it today, hoping that positive change is in the wind. I hope for a free Gaza, without walls, without occupation, without restrictions of movement.

The Freedom Flotilla Coalition has been sending boats to break the illegal blockade of Gaza since 2010, after peaceful activists were murdered on board the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish ship that challenged the naval blockade of Gaza. Our goal is always to end the siege.

I can't imagine what it is like to live in fear for your life and way of living every hour of every day.

A lot of people ask me why I am sailing on the Women's Boat to Gaza. It has taken a good deal of time with my partner, talking in our garden, with my three children asking poignant questions and walking my puppy by the river to come up with the many answers that I have to this question. In the end, I am sailing because my conscience tells me to. I am sailing because the United Nations reports that Gaza will be uninhabitable in four years, and this is unconscionable to me.

It was during a long night in 2009, during Operation Cast Lead, as my news feed bombarded me with pictures of innocent children being injured, maimed and killed by Israeli attacks, that I knew I could not be silent. I called my good friend David Heap and together we formed Canada Boat to Gaza, with friends like Ehab Lotayef and Sandra Ruch, who also felt our sense of urgency. We decided to create an organization, Turtle Island Humanitarian Aid, and to join the Freedom Flotilla Coalition.

I could not sit silently in a suburban coma

The coalition is made up of activists from countries around the world. Of note is the participation in this mission of South Africa, whose people know too well the consequences of apartheid. Canada Boat to Gaza has taken a lead role within this international effort to break the illegal blockade. Before the women's boat, we tried to send a boat from within Gaza, called Gaza's Ark, to challenge the blockade from the Gaza shores. That boat was bombed just prior to its sailing, in 2014, and along with the bombing, many hopes were dashed.

But here we are again.

As a Canadian-born woman, I can't even begin to imagine what that would mean for my children. I simply can't fathom walking by bombed-out schools and hospitals, having no running water or electricity, with a high probability of my husband or sons being imprisoned. I can't imagine how difficult it would be to live in the place with the highest unemployment rate in the world. I can't imagine what it is like to live in fear for your life and way of living every hour of every day.

And because I have read and listened and talked with people who understand this reality, I decided that I could not sit silently in a suburban coma. Silence is complicity. Our government is complicit in war crimes. That is a fact. Canada violates international law. That is also a fact. Justin Trudeau, like his predecessor, the notorious Stephen Harper, continues to ignore the most recent attacks on Gaza.

Something that gives me hope is that the Green Party of Canada, with a motion led by justice critic Dimitri Lascaris, has passed a resolution to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, aimed at targeting Israel's economy. This is a significant breakthrough in our current political landscape, and it also can help raise awareness about Canada's own shameful history. Our Canadian government created an apartheid system and called it the “reserve system.” This oppressive system was replicated in South Africa and now in Gaza, the world's largest open-air prison, collectively punished by Israel. Leaning on the lies or easy myths about Canada’s “peacekeeping” past, we hide behind the curtain, turning away when another innocent Palestinian child is maimed or killed.

My kids call me a hippie, because I always speak about truth, justice, and love. I accept the label if it means that together we can imagine a world that is free. In just a few days, I'll be sailing with women from around the world, women of conscience who will raise their voices in solidarity with our sisters in Gaza, to let them know they are seen and heard, to let them know they are not alone. When we reach the shores of Gaza, we will be joined by many women, men and children who will be reassured that, at the very least, the world is watching.

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