By Susan Schwartz, TMO
The Freedom Flotilla II, named the Stay Human flotilla, will sail for the beleaguered Gaza Strip of the Occupied Palestinian Territory in the latter part of June. The postponement from the originally scheduled March departure date is due to the complex logistics involved in campaigns to raise money for multiple sailing vessels and to outfit them properly and prepare them for their journey. Another factor is the political turmoil in the region, particularly what is happening in Libya and Syria.
The name Stay Human was chosen to honor the late Italian Palestinian activist Vittorio â€˜Vikâ€™ Arrigoni. His recent violent death, under circumstances still in question, left the Palestinian activist community stunned. Tributes poured in from all over the world, and people who knew him and worked with him and were touched by his charm and dedication could only work through their grief by rededicating themselves to his cause.
His favorite expression to his co workers was â€œStay Humanâ€, and thus the flotilla name.
â€œOur message of peace is a call to action, for ordinary people like ourselves, not to hand over our lives to whatever puppeteer is in charge this time round, but to take responsibility for the revolution. First, the inner revolution- to give love to give empathy; It is this that will change the world.â€
Two activists who contributed to this article, veteran human rights activist and International Solidarity Movement (ISM) member, Greta Berlin, and human rights activist, ISM co founder, and member of the Flotilla Steering Committee, Huwaida Arraf, were among the many who paid tribute to â€œVikâ€.
Ms Arraf delivered a tribute at his funeral and Ms Berlin had the following to say: â€œNothing that we can write can capture the man who was so full of the joy of life, a man with the pipe in his mouth and the captainâ€™s hat always tilted at an angle on his head.The man with the big smile and gentle nature, someone who used his physical strength to hold small children in his arms, sometimes several at a time. His laughter and his last comments every time we saw him will ring in all of our ears as we board the boats to return to Gaza at the end of May.â€
In the past the organizers of the vessels have worked with the government of Cyprus. This coming flotilla is and will be working with the Mediterranean governments of France, Spain, Greece, Italy and Turkey.
Ms Berlin urges all our readers to advocate for the flotillaâ€™s safe voyage. People should call their representative, send an email, call the White House, and the State Department and inform them that the American people expect all on board the vessels to be safe.
Most of the monies raised were raised by grass roots fundraising. The only boat scheduled to leave from the United States, named The Audacity of Hopeâ€, was funded in part by activists going into the streets of New York with buckets and asking for contributions. The organizing group bought a 100 foot boat that will support from 50-60 passengers. Most on board will be from civil society with a few notables.
The boat will not carry cargo but will carry messages and letters from the American people, said Jane Hirschmann of the US Boat to Gaza. The relevant web site is: www.ustogaza.org. Americans who want to send a personal message should access the web site to find out the protocol.
Present estimates give the number of ships in the flotilla as between ten and fifteen. A number of the ships represent joint ventures. The ships are nation oriented though they are networks of national organizations and do not represent a government or an NGO.
There will be high profile people aboard these ships including members of parliament. For security reasons many are not currently named. It is known that they will include Colonel Ann Wright, Alison Weir of If Americans Knew, and Code Pink leader Medea Benjamin as well as Rugby star Trevor Hogan. Mr. Hogan has written an opinion piece in The Irish Herald in which he announced that he will be a part of the flotilla and will be aboard the Irish ship to Gaza.
Foremost among the cargo will be construction supplies, equipment for hospitals, water purification systems, and generators. Organizers would also like to be able to bring solar paneling for Green energy so that Gaza might become more independent of Israel for its energy needs. However the costs are prohibitive. Individuals who want to contribute but hold back because the amount they can contribute is small should consider that their donation, along with others, will purchase a part of an important commodity. Please access the following web site: www.freegaza.org/donate.
The International Solidarity Movement (ISM) in Gaza is in need of volunteers, and some of the flotilla passengers may elect to remain in Gaza to work with them. Huwaida Arraf cautions those who wish to remain that pre arrangement must be made with an organization including the ISM. ISM works with fishermen who challenge the limitations that Israel places on their right to move their fishing vessels – and therefore their livelihood – more than a few miles from the Gaza coast. Farmers with ISM help challenge the buffer zones imposed by Israel which zones prevent them from reaching their land.
People who must leave Gaza may be on the departing vessels. Again Ms Arraf cautions that they must have the proper paperwork required by the nations where they hope to be taken as this is an immigration issue that the Free Gaza Movement has no control over. While previous vessels leaving Gaza have dealt with the issue, the permanent opening of the Rafah border renders the issue moot.