Freedom Flotilla II launched with Canadian Boat for Gaza

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The humanitarian relief effort to support Palestinians in Gaza got a boost at an event in Montreal on Thursday afternoon which confirmed the participation of a Canadian ship as part of the 15-vessel international flotilla, Freedom Flotilla II.

Quebecers from all political, cultural, social and religious backgrounds launched a united call to join the flotilla to protest the restriction of Gazans to imported goods and resources by the Israeli blockade, which is deemed illegal by a wide international community.

Stephan Corriveau, coordinator for the Quebec branch of the project, said: "The Israeli government wants to starve the people of Gaza and we must stop them; English and French, separatist and federalist, Jew, Muslim, Christian we all agree on the immorality of the Illegal Gaza Blockade."

Corriveau added that the number of places available on the boat will be known once the boat has been selected, and plans for this boat's purchase are under way while the fundraising effort taking place.

Despite not being able to officially announce who would be going on the boat to Gaza until the number of spaces can be confirmed, there were an impressive number of candidates present, representing Quebec and wider Canadian participation in the Freedom Flotilla II.

Gil Courtemanche, the Quebec author and critical thinker, declared that "a blockade is an act of illegal war. It is a crime against dignity and a crime against humanity; it is more then just a crime against an enemy."

Warren Allmand, former Solicitor-General of Canada under Pierre Trudeau and longtime MP summed it up clearly. "When people are in distress we have an obligation to respond."

Pascale Montpetit, a Quebec actress and winner of the Artist for Peace Prize, pointed to the problem that "a lot of people don't know how life works in Gaza. This has to stop and people have to be shown so they can learn and teach others."

Dr. Bachar ElSohl, of the Canadian Muslim Federation, said "the degrading conditions for Gazans leave no one indifferent and was proud to be part of this civil action. Finally justice will be brought to the Palestinian people."

Christian Martel, of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, explained how he had visited the West Bank village of Bi'lin three times, and had seen firsthand the oppression of the Palestinian people. He also realized that the situation with the blockade in Gaza was even worse.

"It is unbelievable that in 2011 there are people who are treated like the Palestinians by the Israeli government," he said.

Raymond Gravel, former Bloc Quebecois MP for Repentigny and a Catholic Priest said "the blockade is an attack against justice and dignity of the human being that has made of Gaza an open-air prison which contravenes all Christian values."

Yakov Rabkin, representing Independent Jewish Voices, described how "Israel claims to talk and act in the name of all Judaism, yet the blockade of Gaza contravenes all Jewish traditions."

Questioned as to how important Canadians should prioritize the Gaza Blockade Crisis, Rabkin responded in kind. "Just as we must not confuse Israeli values with Jewish values, this represents Canadian values and is important for all Canadians. Canada was the first government to boycott the Hamas government in Gaza after their election. It may not be the greatest injustice in the world but it is the most important injustice for Canadians to overcome because of the Harper government's supporting the blockade and Israel."

Ellen Gabriel, an experienced Indigenous representative of Kanesatake said that "when UN nations arbitrarily decide to whom and when the UN Charter applies it results in problems of colonization and assimilation. These are common struggles for not just the Indigenous, but all human beings."

Brian Barton, a representative of AQOCI, a group of 65 NGOs in Quebec, said that "as representative of a group which distributes humanitarian aid worldwide, it enables recognition of global crisis which require our support and the Palestinian people require our support now because of their oppression by the Israeli State."

Francoise David, of the Quebec Solidaire, concluded that "There is no other solution to the Middle East conflict other then good faith negotiations between supported and accepted representatives from two equally represented sides."

Corriveau closed the meeting by explaining how Canadian "political parties don't feel comfortable talking about this situation as they are still too afraid of being labeled "anti-Semites"."

So, while all the big French Canadian news outlets made sure to cover the announcement and were fully present, it appears as if the English news outlets in Montreal are living in the same paranoid fears as our politicians, because was the only English media outlet to have coverage. Even the Montreal-based non-national outlets from the English side didn't make the effort.

Therefore while it will be up to the Canadian people to support the Freedom Flotilla II and spur on their politicians, it appears as if the Canadian people have been saddled with another responsibility as well: to wake the media up and out of their fear in dealing with this situation!

Tariq Jeeroburkhan is a Montreal-based freelance journalist.

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