Dear friends and colleagues,
This letter was written and rewritten four times due to the ups and downs of the last few days. When you receive it, two boats will have left Turkish waters and I am not on one of them. I finalize this letter from a boat returning to port in Turkey. Tears are dry (of joy at success of our comrades and sadness for not being with them). The will is still there and I promise myself to get to Gaza next time.
The boats now in International waters are named Saoirse (http://irishshiptogaza.org/) and Tahrir (http://www.tahrir.ca), Irish and Arabic for Liberty and Freedom. The Canadian steering committee that invited us to join selected 11 from the 36 slated to go because they were unfairly reduced to that number by the Turkish harbor master.
We are very disappointed that 25 of us were left behind. Some of us left behind are trying different ways to catch up and we may still succeed. In fact, if you do not hear from me in 24 hours it means most likely I have succeeded to get on a boat. We hope that those who took the boats do arrive to the besieged strip on the Mediterranean where 1.6 million people are held under and immoral and illegal blockade/siege. A small group of us took a small boat to try to meet one of the boats in waters off the coast but that did not work out (Turkish coast guard and timing). But it was important to try.
I personally wanted so bad to visit many friends in Gaza, some of them I have not seen in years. I wanted to visit Hiam and her family. I last saw Hiam and her mother 10 years ago when we brought her to CT (she was then less than 8 years old) to get a prosthetic eye after she was shot deliberately by an Israeli soldier. Hiam is one of hundreds of children who lost their eyes between 2000-2005 (for her story and pictures, see here. I wanted to visit with friends like Dr. Heidar Eid whom I saw only when he was able to get out of Gaza and I was able to get out of the occupied West Bank so that we can meet in a faraway country in Europe. I wanted to look into the eyes of Gaza children and tell them that we, the human family, care about them. We will keep trying. I figure not trying would be far harder on all of us.
We arrived at Istanbul at the 88th anniversary of proclamation of Turkey as a republic in 1923. Ataturk's Turkey evolved quickly into a modern state at par with other European states. On the news we witness earthquake destruction in Eastern Turkey and I see a beautiful young girl with casts on her legs smiling at one point, sad at another and I do not have to understand the language to understand human tragedy. The damage from this natural disaster is chillingly similar to the damage of the man-made disaster in Gaza: collapsed multi-story buildings, burying dead, injured people.
But Gaza is not allowed to recover.
From Istanbul to Dalaman and then to a small lovely town where we stayed until the launch time. People here are very friendly. They become even friendlier (if that is possible) when they hear I am from Filistin. But then the whole place reminds me of Filistin (especially northern Palestine areas of the Galilee). I take a deep breath and soak up the views of Olives, Citrus, Figs, Almonds, Loquots, mullberies, Jasmine, cactus, old stone terraces, and old men playing cards or backgammon. The colors are so bright, the smells so refreshing, the water so abundant. Smiley, comfortable faces -- the wrinkles of the hillsides reflected on the faces of the old people. The shops, restaurants and hotels are family run and the young are playful and energetic. The evening call to prayer emanates from the mosque. The bicycles all around are never locked and even our hotel rooms were left open much of the time. I feel like I am again visiting North Palestine where my grandmother is from -- a place that was also etched in her face and her memory till the day she died.
Before I proceed any further, I pause to tell you who were most on my mind in the last four days as we went through the ups and downs and countless meetings to come to this point. What was on my mind were victims of the Israeli apartheid state, including these US victims:
1) The 34 sailors killed on the USS Liberty attacked deliberately in International waters in 1967 and the survivors who have later died without ever seeing justice for the murderers.
2) Rachel Corrie, 23 year old American student killed deliberately by an Israeli bulldozer in Rafah.
of their bravery as I watched fellow human beings from 10 countries try, and even compete, to get on boats (some have been to Gaza several times and some tried to
get to Gaza several times). Driven only by belief in our common humanity, I
as a Palestinian cannot help but feel a weight of gratitude for these brave
We had lots of glitches in the past few days here with both bureaucratic and political rollercoaster. I will spare you the gory details because the ultimate goal is Gaza. Briefly, we arrived Saturday and were in meetings Sunday when negotiations started as the boats arrived at docks. Monday we find that we are unable to accommodate all passengers per the Turkish authorities (who were not told our destination). Monday night we had a meeting till nearly midnight.
Tuesday was a an emotional rollercoaster as those selected were approached individually to give their passports. Those of us who were not asked knew then we were not selected. Passport data went to Ankara and further delays. On Wednesday at 11 AM, the green light to go came, but a little later, we heard glitches happening and the authorities were at the dock. When the boats finally left, five of us -- "the crazies" -- raced to our locally chartered boats to try and meet up with them. The cruise Wednesday did not succeed and we had to go back, disappointed. But we hope that our colleagues on the Tahrir and Saoirse will not be intercepted by the navy of the apartheid regime that is enforcing an illegal and immoral siege on Gaza.
We live in an Orwellian world where humanitarian activists are persecuted and war criminals get wined and dined in five-star hotels. We live in a world where, for seeking membership in a cultural and scientific organization (UNESCO) and getting it by a democratic vote:
-- the organization is punished with losing members withholding dues.