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International direct action to support the people of Palestine

Wendy Goldsmith is a social worker who lives in London, Ontario. Ron Rousseau is a postal worker in the Yukon, as well as the president of his local of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers and the Vice President for Indigenous peoples of the Canadian Labour Congress. Both of them are involved in the Canada Boat to Gaza and in its international counterpart, the Freedom Flotilla Coalition. Scott Neigh interviews them about the occupation of Palestine, about the siege of Gaza, about the parallels between the experiences of Palestinians and those of Indigenous peoples in North America, and about acting in solidarity.

Over the last couple of months, it has been hard to miss the reports of the Israeli military injuring many thousands and killing dozens and dozens of unarmed demonstrators in the Palestinian territory of Gaza. What is harder to grasp from much mainstream reporting, however, is the context of this violence. Frequently, mainstream articles speak of these deaths without attributing a cause, or talk of "violent clashes" and "two sides" with little explanation, making it difficult to appreciate what is actually happening -- a broad popular movement against colonial occupation – in particular, opposing the brutal blockade that targets the 1.8 million residents of Gaza and demanding the Palestinian right to return to the homes from which they were expelled in 1948 – that has been met by the occupying power, Israel, with open military force. All of the harm and death in the course of the Great March of Return actions in the last two months have been inflicted by Israeli forces on Palestinians.

If resistance to settler colonial occupation is the big-picture context for the current protests by Palestinians and their violent repression by the Israeli state, then an important piece of more proximal context is the eleven year-long Israeli blockade of Gaza. Over that period, Israel has severely restricted the ability of people and goods to enter and leave Gaza, leading many to describe it as the world's largest open-air prison. Food is rationed, to the point where there is significant malnourishment. Lack of access to basic services, including safe drinking water and sanitation, is now "beyond dire," according UNICEF. Electricity is severely rationed, and is often available for no more than a couple of hours a day. Basic items used in health care are constantly in short supply or simply unavailable. Gaza has been subjected to multiple military assaults by Israel since the blockade began, and the blockade has meant that much that was destroyed in those assaults simply cannot be rebuilt. The ability of Palestinians to leave Gaza to visit family, to access education or health care, or for any other reason is highly restricted. The degree of harm and trauma inflicted on the people of Gaza over the last decade by the Israeli state is, to quote Goldsmith, "incredible."

The Canada Boat to Gaza is a civil society group that originally formed in 2010, after one of the larger Israeli assaults on the already-blockaded Gaza strip. Its aim has been to work with groups in many other countries to break the blockade by sea. Between 2008 and 2016, thirtyone boats have attempted to challenge the Israeli blockade and bring humanitarian supplies into Gaza. Over the course of these attempts, five boats have succeeded in reaching Gaza, while the other twenty-six were intercepted by the Israeli military. In many cases, the Israeli military kidnapped and detained Flotilla participants, and in some instances wounded and killed some of them.

This year, the Flotilla is trying again. Four boats will be making the attempt, three sent by the Swedish group that participates in the coalition and the fourth as a joint mission by other international partners, including Canada Boat to Gaza. The boats have already begun their journey, and on their way towards Gaza, they will be making frequent stops in ports to do public education and media events.

Ron Rousseau will be sailing on one of this year's Flotilla boats for at least part of the journey. As an Indigenous person himself, he feels a strong connection to the struggles by the Palestinian people against settler colonialism. He is looking forward to using this action as an opportunity to raise awareness about what the people of Gaza are facing, but also to raise awareness about what Indigenous people in Canada face, and about the connections between the Palestinian struggle and the struggles of Indigenous peoples on Turtle Island.

Image: Modified from an image used with permission of Canada Boat to Gaza.

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Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada, giving you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow them on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact scottneigh@talkingradical.ca to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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