Indigenous activist joins the Freedom Flotilla to Gaza

Photo: by Freedom Flotilla used with permission

Freedom Flotilla III has set sail for Gaza and on board is respected Queen's professor and Indigenous activist Robert "Bob" Lovelace.

The Flotilla is sailing to Gaza to deliver humanitarian aid and to collect artisanal goods made by Palestinians for sale.

"Every little bit of material aid helps," said Richard Day, spokesperson for Lovelace while he is travelling. "There's that first, very material, goal of bringing medical supplies, of bringing blankets and basic stuff that's next to impossible to get in there."

Lovelace, who is a member of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation, sees a parallel between the settler-colonial occupation of land in Canada and in Gaza. He has referred to Gaza as "the world's largest Indian reservation."

"Canada is a settler-colonial state on occupied Indigenous land and Israel is a settler-colonial state on occupied Indigenous land," said Day. "For Bob, that's a really big part of why he's going."

Lovelace seconded this in a YouTube video he uploaded explaining why he's sailing to Gaza.

"As a First Nation person, issues around decolonization have always been forefront in my life… colonialism is not a novel experience," said Lovelace in the video.

The first boat in the flotilla, Marianna av Göteborg left from Sweden earlier in June and came into port in Palermo, Sicily on June 15. According to the press release from Ship to Gaza, the boat carries solar panels and medical equipment as cargo. It also states the boat itself will be donated to a local fisherman's union upon arrival in Gaza.

As the flotilla begins its journey East across the Mediterranean, Israel will reportedly deny access to "unauthorized boats."

Israel's foreign ministry spokesman, Emmanuel Nachshon, told The Jerusalem Post that Israel delivers aid to the Gaza strip and that sending an aid flotilla only serves to dramatize the situation.

Freedom Flotilla III's hopes to reach its goal, but Freedom Flotillas I and II did not reach Gaza.

The first Freedom Flotilla mission to Gaza in 2010 came to a violent end when Israeli troops stormed the Mavi Marmara, killing nine Turkish activists on board and sparking international outrage.

The Greek government, Day said, revealed the second flotilla to the Israelis while it was sitting in port.

"They were a little naive about the kind of support they might get from the Greek government," said Day. 

For this third attempt, the Freedom Flotilla is being more secretive about its route and exactly how many ships and people are involved. Day would only say the Flotilla consists of three to six ships.

Lovelace departed on Monday, but not before speaking at a Toronto Freedom Flotilla III event about the importance of solidarity between Indigenous peoples in Canada and in Gaza.

Other speakers at the event behind Freedom Flotilla III included Sue Goldstein of the International Jewish Anti-zionist Network and Indigenous activist Heather Milton Lightening.

David Heap, a professor at Western, is another supporter of the Freedom Flotilla movement. 

"While world governments continue to ignore the fundamental rights of Palestinians to freedom of movement, the world's peoples, including civil society movements like ours, cannot forget them," he said in an email interview. 

Heap said that the boat, should it reach Gaza, would not only bring back Palestinian goods for export but also people who have not been able to travel.

"Whether we arrive or not, we are drawing the world's attention to the lack of freedom of movement of all Palestinians, in particular the Palestinians of Gaza," said Heap.

Day also said a Canadian presence on the flotilla is important because it shows not all Canadians are in favour of the way Stephen Harper deals with the Israel/Palestine conflict.

Ship to Gaza's website states its goal is to break the four-year long Gaza blockade.

"The people of Gaza have a right to build an economy. They have a right to fish in the sea. They have a right to use international waters… they have a right to garden and farm in the soil of their homeland," Lovelace said in a YouTube video.

"What I find really inspiring and powerful about Bob is he actually lives the stuff that he talks about," Day said. "He actually walks the talk."

Lovelace has participated in the Freedom Flotilla before, writing about it for rabble.ca.

Lovelace will be updating his Facebook decolonization blog with news about his journey on Freedom Flotilla III. 

 

Megan Devlin is rabble's news intern for 2015. She hails from Toronto, but she's starting her Masters in Journalism in Vancouver. She got her start in journalism working at the Western Gazette where she was a news editor for volume 107 and online associate editor for volume 108.

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