Canada's boat to Gaza must go

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We have to send a Canadian boat to Gaza -- even more than ever

Two months ago, Ehab Lotayef, a member of the Canadian Boat to Gaza Committee, wrote a short article, "We have to send a Canadian boat to Gaza." Since then, a number of events have taken place that makes Lotayef's stated imperative even more urgent.

Another flotilla boat has been hijacked by Israel in yet another act of state piracy committed in international waters. The all-Jewish crew of the boat included an ex-IDF soldier and an 82-year-old holocaust survivor.

A host of flotilla boats are expected to set sail for Gaza over the next 12 months, separately or in groups -- estimated at over 40 -- characterized in the Israeli press as "the mother of all flotillas." When asked if the Canadian government would come to the defence of a Canadian vessel if it was hijacked on the high seas, Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon said the rules set by Israel, not international laws of the sea, should be followed, thus further legitimizing Israel's illegal blockade of Gaza.

The Canada Boat Gaza Committee, with support from organizations and individuals across a broad spectrum of Canadian society -- from Christian, Jewish and Muslim backgrounds -- has targeted $300,000 for a campaigning boat -- not including the aid cargo, largely expected to be donated. Recently, the committee was happy to announce a third of its goal has now been reached.

Three overseas visitors to Canada in the past weeks delivered pointed messages to Canadians, about the rapidly deteriorating international reputation of the country under the Harper government -- easily equalling the public relations nosedive experienced by the U.S. under George W. Bush -- and about the urgent need to break the siege of Gaza as quickly as possible.

Gideon Levy, the noted Israeli journalist for the newspaper Haaretz, acclaimed worldwide and vilified at home, put things in perspective when he toured Canada three weeks ago, noting there are five million Jews in Israel who support Israel's occupation of Palestine and 6.7 billion people in the world who oppose it, an unimaginably mammoth ratio. Levy drove home the point that our government is aligning itself with and supporting the largest pariah country in history.

The second international visitor, speaking almost two weeks ago, was former British MP George Galloway, finally able to come to Canada after a court ruling the previous week overruled government interference in the immigration process, which led to him abandoning his attempt to enter the country. Galloway succinctly hammered the final nail in the coffin of Canada's reputation, pointing out that we live in the only country in the world whose government supports Israel's blockade of Gaza. Even the Obama administration has stated the blockade of Gaza must end whilst Canada continues to remain silent.

Last month, a third visitor paid a visit to Canada from Gaza, Omar Almajdalwi, representing DanChurchAid, a Danish humanitarian NGO. He had meetings with government officials in Ottawa who stayed with him longer than was scheduled and seemed sympathetic to what he had to say but Almajdalwi obviously has had abundant experience in these situations. "They are friendly and attentive but then leave and do nothing."

Almajdalwi lives in the same Gaza neighbourhood as Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, temporarily resident in Toronto, whose three daughters notoriously were killed during the Israeli invasion of Gaza by tanks that fired directly into the windows of his family residence. Omar paid a brief visit to Abuelaish's Toronto home in order to take things back with him for members of Abuelaish's family in Gaza. Despite the geographical connection, Omar, in conjunction with most activists, regrets the doctor's reluctance to campaign against the Gaza blockade whilst in Canada.

Almajdalwi was asked if he felt the $300,000 being raised would better be spent on buying aid for Gazans -- what the Israelis would allow in -- instead of purchasing a boat and bringing it in that way. Almajdalwi was adamant -- Gazans are not looking to be maintained on welfare by the world. Breaking the siege was the most urgent task at hand. He urged us on in our endeavour with as much speed as we can muster and left saying, "See you in Gaza."

So it is now more imperative than ever that Canadians sponsor a Canadian flotilla boat to Gaza to break the siege. Lotayef wrote: "it has fallen to Canadian civil society and civil society organizations to take a stand." The Canada Boat Gaza website contains an extensive Q & A section that answers many questions about the project. There is also a place to donate money to help send the Canadian boat to Gaza, as well as to submit suggestions for naming the boat, and for signing up for receiving the latest news about the project.

As George Galloway has said, the siege will end, must end. Canada can help redeem its tarnished reputation by rejoining prevailing world opinion and ultimately becoming part of the winning team.

Austin Whitten is a member of the Canada Boat Gaza Committee.

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