Why I’ve joined the flotilla to Gaza

Palestinian struggle against colonialism hits home for former Algonquin chief
Pilar Fernandez / @pilaraymara

Editors' note: Robert Lovelace is on board the Marianne, one of the boats challenging the blockade of Gaza, which was intercepted and forced to the Israeli port of Ashdod early this morning, June 29. Canadian Kevin Neish, from Victoria B.C., was on board. Organizers of the flotilla are calling on the Canadian government to help secure their release from Israeli custody.

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I just couldn't sit around, watch the news on TV and then go on about my business. After all, the Palestinian Nakba happened in the year I was born, and too many years have passed without justice for anyone.

The continual displacement of people, and illegal settlement of land, is an everyday event in Palestine. Much of my life I have worked to protect Algonquin land from Canadian colonial encroachment, and because of that I can’t sit still when the same thing is happening elsewhere. It is important to recognize that colonialism is a worldwide scourge.

So I have joined Freedom Flotilla III, an international effort to break the blockade of Gaza. As the port of Palestine, it is the gateway to economic development and political association with the rest of the world. The Flotilla movement brings focus to these objectives by challenging the Israeli naval blockade and demonstrating a non-violent approach to the heavy-handed, even lethal, enforcement policies of Israel.

The Flotilla movement has attempted to facilitate international trade in Gaza through the export and sales of artisan and farm products. The present ships in the Flotilla intend to bring out exports made in Palestine. Should the Marianne, the ship I’m on, succeed in entering Gaza harbour it will be donated to the local fisher union. The movement supports the idea of trade, not aid.

Economic development needs to be a Palestinian initiative, independent of Israeli administration or permission. At present the Israeli government admittedly attempts to keep Gaza at “the lowest economic level, just above a humanitarian disaster.” Such collective punishment of the entire population promotes only resistance and hostility. The Palestinians of Gaza need an open port and the infrastructure for successful commerce in the global economy. They also need access to their land.

Some people might say it is really none of my business. Aboriginal Canadians have enough problems of their own. They might say that, like the Palestinians, we should be grateful that we are taken care of as wards of the Canadian state. But this only reinforces the comparisons that can be drawn between settler colonialism in Palestine and settler colonialism in Canada. No wonder Canada supports Israel “right or wrong,” as the methods they use to oppress indigenous populations are similar. That’s why I have said that Gaza is the largest Indian reserve in the world.

If only Israelis understood the effects that settlements and partitions will have on future generations, they would see that this is not true nation-building. They need to take a hard look at the human degradation that an extractive settler-colonialism has produced in Canada. Modern nation-states must begin the decolonization process or they will become the victims of their own foolish greed. Colonialism causes poverty, multiplies hatred and results in perpetual conflict. To live well at the expense of others is a very short-term strategy.

In Canada, Aboriginal people know this too well, and settler Canadians who have any moral character are waking up to the human disaster their ancestors have created. Understanding this about Canada, Palestine and Israel, I cannot in good conscience turn my back.

Taking responsibility for a colonial history can be hard. It shakes the very identity that gives settler privilege its rewards. The Canadian prime minister publicly denied Canada’s colonial history less than a year after his apology for the genocidal policy of Indian Residential Schools. Canada was one of four countries which voted against the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples while Israel simply avoided showing up for the vote.

Denial and avoidance render reconciliation useless. Deferral becomes the default strategy in facing the future. When leaders cannot lead, then ordinary people must use direct action.

I wonder if I will be safe as our ship nears Palestinian waters. Past Flotillas have been attacked by the Israeli Defense Forces, and some activists have been killed. Our boats have been sabotaged and the Gaza’s Ark, designed and built by Palestinians with Flotilla support to export trade goods, was shelled and burned by the Israeli navy. I have come to understand that my safety cannot be measured by the degree of privilege that I enjoy but rather by the comparative safety of Palestinian people — children, families, the elderly.

When put in this perspective the logic becomes quite simple. I will not choose to live well on the basis of the suffering of others. As Palestinians and Algonquin people, as human beings, our liberation, after centuries of colonialism, is inseparable.

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