On September 14, the Women's Boat to Gaza set sail from Barcelona on the way to Gaza to draw attention to the Palestinian struggle. Two boats, the Zaytouna and Amal, will carry the all-female crews to Ajaccio, and then to Gaza, drawing international attention to the resistance of the women of Gaza in particular.
Three Canadian women Marilyn Porter, Wendy Goldsmith and Eva Manly will board the Women's Boat to Gaza. rabble spoke with Manly, an activist and community organizer, in a telephone interview on Friday September 16 before her departure on September 20 about the situation in Gaza, why she chose to join the boat and what can be done. This interview has been condensed for clarity and length.
Could you tell me about the significance of the Women's Boat to Gaza?
The Women's Boat to Gaza is an initiative of the Freedom Flotilla, which is an international movement that has been sending boats to Gaza to try to break the blockade for a number of years. The blockade still needs to be broken, and the Freedom Flotilla is determined that they're going to continue to send boats until the blockade is ended, and the occupation is ended.
I think it was Wendy Goldsmith from London who came up with the idea: why not have boats with women only. It's a wonderful way of highlighting the women of Gaza and the impact of the blockade on them, and their resistance and resilience in the face of extreme difficulties.
What is the situation in Gaza right now?
The UN has said that by 2020, Gaza will be unlivable. "Uninhabitable" is I think their exact word. But for a lot of people it already is unlivable.
When the bombings took place in 2009 and again in 2010, 2012, and 2014, each time, infrastructure and businesses and the things that sustain a population have been targeted. Then there's prevention of rebuilding by not allowing building materials into Gaza to restore those pieces of infrastructure.
Water purification, for instance: apparently there is some reconstruction of water purification infrastructure, but there is not enough electricity to operate it. People only have electricity for minimum hours a day, you never know when those will be. The sewage system has been rebuilt, but there's not enough power for it to operate. It's just unimaginable.
Last winter, when there was flooding, I saw images of children being towed to school on rafts, so they wouldn't have to walk through raw sewage. They were taken to school on rafts by their parents. I cannot imagine how people survive, let alone manage, in a situation like that.
Many women are still homeless from the bombardment in 2014. Between 70,000 and 80,000 people are homeless and continue to be.
There's so many people who are dependent on humanitarian aid, and children still suffer from malnutrition. There's a high rate of unemployment: 70 per cent of youth are unemployed, and I think unemployment is about 40 per cent total in the population. [Editor's note: According to Oxfam's May 2016 report, unemployment 43 per cent. The highest unemployment rate in the world.]
Apparently, according to Jewish Voice for Peace, only five per cent of the water is fit to drink, and that would be from water purification. And because there's inadequate electricity to keep the septic systems functioning, there's a real danger now that the sewage is going to poison the aquifer. Once that happens, it will be irreversible, according to reading that I've done.
There's just so many things that cumulatively are a complete nightmare, and none of this is caused by nature. This is human-caused, and deliberate. It's what an American academic named Sarah Roy calls "deliberate de-development."
What is the purpose, or the goal, of the Women's Boat to Gaza's trip?
When people say, why do you focus on Palestinians? Why are you not focusing on human rights issues all over the world? Well we're directly funding what's being done to Palestinians. So we have to answer for it.
Israel always claims that they are threatened by the boats that are sent in by the Freedom Flotilla. They imply that the boats might be carrying weapons, and they are in danger, because they are always the victims. I don't see how 30 women from all over the world, from 15 countries, in two small sailboats, that are too small to carry a lot of cargo, are a threat.
There will be very minimal humanitarian aid, and the humanitarian aid that we can bring is a message of hope and solidarity. It says to the people there, and particularly to the women, you are not forgotten. We will continue to struggle to the end to the occupation, as long as we draw breath.
Our purpose is to bring a message of hope and solidarity. But we also want the eyes of the world to focus on Gaza, not to focus on us. We want to be the way in which the focus gets shifted to Gaza, because people in Gaza frequently feel that nobody is paying any attention to them.
There are so many things going on that make it easy to turn away from what's happening in Gaza, and there has to be some way of bringing attention. Even [Mid-Islanders for Justice and Peace in the Middle East's] standing on the street corner once a month has made a difference, because people stop and talk, they pick up information, they come to events, and there is a gradual shift.
Of course, the attacks on Gaza also shift the international community's attention temporarily to Gaza. But how quickly our eyes turn to other things.
What compelled you to join the Women's Boat to Gaza?
I'm one of those many people who was very reluctant to get involved in the Israel-Palestine issue. One of the things that kick started me was reading a book by Amira Hass, who is an Israeli journalist, and child of Holocaust survivors who came as immigrants, refugees, to Israel. Her book is called Drinking the Sea at Gaza and she was inspired by her own parents, who saw the inhumanity of what was being done back in 1948 and resisted.
Hass grew up in a family of resistance, and she talks about her mother's story about walking to the train to go to concentration camp and seeing women alongside the road watching with "disinterested curiosity." And Hass decided that she would never be a silent bystander, and she in turn, inspired me, to decide that I would no longer be a silent bystander.
I had always swallowed the idea that this was a complicated issue, far too complicated for ordinary people like me, and certainly contentious. And I didn't want to alienate Jewish friends whose friendship I value highly, and whose friendship I still value highly.
But a friend really clarified the question of whether or not this was a complicated issue. He said, this is all about land, and he took a piece of paper and he ripped it and he said this is 1948, this is the partition. Then he named the dates of more loss of land of Palestinians to Israel. He ended up with what was left of Palestine, which he ripped into shreds and said these are the pockets of Palestinians left surrounded by Israeli roads and Israeli settlements. This is what's left.
It certainly made clear what the basic issue is for the Palestinians and the Israelis who support them.
The first thing I got involved in was organizing with two or three other people some events about Palestine, and out of this we've developed many more links and formed a group called Mid-Islanders for Justice and Peace in the Middle East. We have a vigil on the last Friday of every month, holding signs that say "End the Occupation," "Free Gaza," etc.
I think that one of the most powerful films that I have ever seen, and it was for me a kick in the gut, was a film that was made in that assault in 2008 and 2009, by a young Norwegian filmmaker named Vibeke Løkkeberg. She made a film called Tears of Gaza. She was in Gaza making a film about three kids when the bombs began. And then she and others documented that assault, and put it together as a film. It had a powerful impact on me and I'm sure on many others. It really created the gut-level stuff around Gaza.
Chris Hedges is an American journalist who writes about social issues, and he gave a powerful address in New York City during the 2014 bombardment -- I don't say war because it's never been an equal thing between the most sophisticated American and Israeli weaponry in the world, and rockets that have been characterized by some Israelis as firecrackers but don't do any damage unless they're a direct hit.
And at the end of Hedges' very powerful speech, he says something that really resonated with me: "There is nothing standing between Palestinians and obliteration but us. Those of us who work together to end the occupation is what stands between Palestinians and obliteration."
What is the relationship between the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement and the Women's Boat to Gaza?
I support the BDS movement because I agree with Israelis who say that the only way to change the behaviour of Israel is economic pressure.
BDS is the only thing that will make Israel change its behaviour, and we know that the United States had a military sanctions against Israel in 2005, because Israel was selling the weapons to China that were developed in the United States, and the United States shares all its technology with Israel, Israel has a very privileged relationship with the United States.
The United States wanted them to stop selling things to China that had America science, and when Israel refused to, there was a sanctions against Israel and it really hit the Israelis economically, and so they adapted, they changed their behaviour. So we know it works.
The BDS project as it is now, everybody wants the Palestinians to be engaged in non-violence or to do nothing, presumably, but what are Palestinians to do, peacefully, if even their demonstrations are treated with brutality? People are killed for peaceful demonstrations. And so they called for BDS.
One of the arguments against the Green Party calling for BDS was that they were adopting somebody else's movement. Well, we don't have to adopt somebody else's movement. We can make a decision that what will work is economic pressure.
I was really pleased that the Green Party had the guts to have an open debate on this issue. Because no other party in Canada has done so.
I was at an NDP Convention where the will of the policy panel was clearly that they were going to get support for a boat to Gaza on the agenda as one of the resolutions, and when the final vote came, 50 extra people were called into the room to defeat it. They were marched in to vote against the resolution for the Convention.
I was pleased that the Green Party passed the resolution with an overwhelming majority. One of the things said about the Convention was that it was a small majority, which isn't true. There wasn't even a need for a vote count because there were so few people who voted against it.
I'm really disappointed that there is going to be a revisiting of this issue in December, an exceptional meeting called to change a policy that was passed democratically at the Convention. But the silver lining of that is that it will keep the debate going, and more and more people will learn about BDS.
Now the BDS policy that was passed is not a wide call for BDS, it's a BDS targeting companies that profit for the occupation. Other people are calling for BDS against Israel period.
There are Israelis who say, you have to do that if you want to bring Israel to its senses. And that was what the boycotts were with South Africa -- we boycotted everything. There are many companies in Israel that profit from the occupation. Israeli wines are made in Israel, but the grapes come from occupied territory, so the wine industry is profiting from the occupation.
But the most offensive companies are G4S, who are now busy arresting demonstrators against the pipeline in North Dakota, and also Caterpiller, which provides the weaponized caterpillars which are used for home demolitions in the West Bank, which have accelerated this year.
If you follow the numbers, far more homes have been demolished this year than in previous years. The ethnic cleansing will go on until there's a huge human crime.
We can't count on politicians, but we can count on people becoming informed and taking action.
Sophia Reuss is a Toronto-based writer, editor, and is a recent graduate of McGill University. She's interested in how online media and journalism facilitate public accessibility and conversation. Sophia also writes and edits for the Alternatives International Journal. She was rabble's news 2016 summer news intern.
Photo: flickr/Rumbo a Gaza