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Staying Human: A Canadian reports from the Swedish Ship to Gaza in La Spezia

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The Swedish three-masted schooner Estelle arrived in the Italian port of La Spezia on Thursday afternoon, and on Saturday supporters from all over northern Italian came to wish her well on her voyage to Gaza, and fill her sails with the powerful winds of solidarity. 

There were greetings from the Mayor of La Spezia as well as from other municipal and regional authorities, including the mayor of Bulciago (a town near Milan), mother of legendary International Solidarity Movement activist Vittorio (Vik) Arrigoni, who was killed last year in Gaza. Next to a banner that reads "With Vittorio for a free Palestine" Egidia Beretta presented the Estelle with an image of her son.

Some of dockside greeting for Estelle had strong historical resonances. La Spezia and the region of Liguria suffered heavy losses in WWII: this area was among the hardest hit in Italy in terms of resistance fighters who died for freedom as well as political deportees who were sent to concentration and extermination camps for their politics. So greetings to the Estelle from the partigiani (partisans) association ANPI (which includes the Garibaldi international Brigade to the Spanish Civil War as well as those who fought fascism in Italy) were also very heartfelt.

Political deportees from Italy who survived the WWII concentration and extermination camps were among the last prisoners released in 1945. At the gates of the camps they swore to continue the struggle for pace e libertà (peace and freedom) in the name of their fallen comrades, and on Saturday some of the remaining ANED (Italian ex-deportees association) members stood strong with the Estelle to send the same message to the Palestinians of Gaza. Here they are shown with Dror Feiler of the Swedish Ship to Gaza campaign -- whose father border a ship in La Spezia in 1938 with other Jewish refugees fleeing fascism in Germany.

In this context of historical struggles, the classic freedom song Bella Ciao, which commemorates "the flower of the partisans, who died for freedom" was particularly poignant: street-band played (with a guess sax player Dror Feiler) and everyone sang -- for the fallen partisans, for Vik, for freedom in Palestine.

Younger generations were also present, as students from La Spezia arts high-school presented Estelle's crew with t-shirts they had designed to support this voyage of solidarity to Gaza. 

Many of the events this weekend (round-table discussions, meals, concerts) took place at a community centre near dockside, named for Salvador Allende, another international symbol of human sacrifice in the struggle for freedom and justice. There were also many simple informal tributes as well, from regular townspeople and supporters from around the region.

Alessandro, a tug-boat operator from the port of La Spezia, brought the crew this image of la Madonna Nera – the Black Madonna who according to legend came from the Middle East and now watches over and protects fishermen and sailors in the Western Mediterranean. He said he looked forward to saluting the Estelle with a blast from his tug-boat horn on her departure today from the port of La Spezia as La Madonna heads back to the Middle East.

Many supporters in northern Italy and around the world join him in filling Estelle's sails on her way to challenge the blockade of Gaza. On Monday afternoon, after an unusually thorough port inspection procedure (perhaps a result of Israeli pressure on European governments), the Estelle pulled out of La Spezia harbor for her next port of call, Naples. 

Former Canadian Member of Parliament Jim Manly will be on board the Estelle for its voyage from Italy to Gaza. There will be a press conference with Jim Manly Wednesday, October 3, 1:30pm, Vancouver Airport, International Departures, in front of At Bill Reid's Haida Canoe Sculpture. 

David Heap is a Steering Committee member with the Canadian Boat to Gaza and Gaza's Ark. He was on the Tahrir in July and again when it was attacked in November 2011, spending six days in Israeli prison before being deported back to Canada. David Heap in La Spezia with the Freedom Flotilla Coalition. 

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