Keeping Gaza in Our Hearts

As expected, Freedom Flotilla III ended last week as it was intercepted by the Israeli Navy in international waters -- a piratical and aggressive act against a ship solely carrying the flag of another state, Sweden.

The flotilla arrived after three long years of tension regarding the blockade of Gaza. The previous two, Freedom Flotilla II (the "Marmara") and the last attempt held in 2012, both faced the same pressures and manoeuvers practiced by Israel in order to prevent them from arriving in the region. This time, just as back then, Israel succeeded in hindering the departure of three ships, including the "Marianne", where I was together with Dr. Moncef Marzouki, the former president of Tunisia as well as numerous European activists and journalists.

Before summarizing the experience and its learnt lessons, one has to clarify that the Gaza Freedom Flotillas and the previous attempts to break the Gaza siege are complex and costly operations that always require a lot of preparation work as well as facing difficult challenges such as sovereignty, international law and so forth.

The brutal and bloody end of the first flotilla resulting in aggression committed by the Israeli navy against the "Marmara" ship has had a great impact on the two following attempts to break the siege. Generally speaking, the most challenging issue which the organizers usually face is the ports of departure to Gaza since departure requires the approval of the respective state willing to stand against the international pressures, especially Israel's and its allies. For instance, during the specific flotilla which I have just recently took part in, the departure from the Greek port was not easy despite the support and solidarity of the Greek leftist government towards the mission and the Palestinian people. In light of the severe economic situation in Greece, the Greek government faced great pressure that hindered our departure to meet "Marianne" at sea.

Another issue concerning the flotillas in general is the need for a ship's crew that is committed to the mission's goals and that can have the ships at its disposal; that is instead of renting ships from commercial companies with specific interests that are subject to the merchant marines' laws. In the past years flotillas have been subjected to the supervision of international organizations in Europe, Canada and America; therefore the difficulties and obstacles that stood in the way of the flotillas have gradually increased.

The first stated goal of the flotilla I participated in was to break the siege and reach Gaza. This was not accomplished; but does it mean that the we failed? Despite the great political and logistic obstacles that organizers had to deal with and the flotilla's inability to break the siege, there were many strategic achievements that can be of great benefit in the future.

First of all, placing the Gaza siege anew on the international and regional agenda for at least a week at a time when international attention was drawn away from the Palestinian case in general and the Gaza situation in particular; all of this has happened in the midst of the tragic reality of the Arab world, the international preoccupation with Iran's nuclear file and the ongoing negotiations for the termination of the agreement. Nevertheless, one should remember that breaking the "informative" siege in itself is just a simple blow against Israel, which the Israeli right-wing always tries to exploit as means of propaganda.

Secondly, the flotilla has succeeded in abolishing the Israeli narrative, according to which the freedom flotillas are in fact terrorist missions with terror supporters participating in them and that they are all run by Hamas and its allies. To demonstrate its claims, till this day Israel refers to the first flotilla as an act of terror even though the whole ordeal ended with the killing of activists by the IDF. However, in the case of the flotilla I took part in, "Marianne" and its peaceful passengers on it invalidate the Israeli claims; therefore, it has been definitely established that the flotillas in general are an international legal and legitimate political act aiming to break the siege, motivated by the moral and humane refusal of imprisoning 1.8 million Palestinians. This achievement will lead to intensifying and enhancing the future flotillas.

Thirdly, flotillas have unveiled one of Israel's major and most sensitive weaknesses: the frailty of its international status and its mental and psychological entry into a state of defense as if powerful warships were heading to its shores. This time, a small fishing vessel has touched a very sensitive point in the Israeli body, and therefore the Israeli nervous reaction was as severe as the pain. Despite the obvious improvement in the country's strategic status, a modest flotilla with a few dozen activists has put it into a crisis and a state of defense in addition to its involvement in a diplomatic crisis with Sweden, let alone the legal liabilities that the relevant Israeli military commandants are bound to be subjected to abroad.

Fourthly, the mentioned small fishing vessel has unveiled the obsessive Israeli fears. The ship was intercepted by 13 naval vehicles (that were clearly visible); let alone the underwater and aerial vehicles. This might be not listed among the flotilla's achievements; but it is definitely important on the informative level.

At last, the last flotilla has demonstrated that the Palestinian case is still a major moral issue in the international arena alongside the international support it gains and the opposition to the occupation. The infinite determination and commitment of the international activists and organizers are very impressive, constituting a strategic treasure that should be utilized in the international arena to boycott and punish Israel for its crimes reflected in the ongoing siege, occupation and aggression

I believe that much can be done to improve the management of the freedom flotillas. This is the mission of our devoted partners who are investing much effort with minimum resources. As to our responsibilities, we have to cooperate with them, provide consultation and take part in the planning and implementation processes, instead of being only on board. This is the least we can do to keep Gaza in the center of the international agenda in the future.