Toward Tahrir: All aboard the flotilla for a free Palestine

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A year and three weeks ago, Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was in Ottawa, meeting Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the wake of the lethal attack by Israeli commandoes on the international Freedom Flotilla.

The Ottawa Palestine Solidarity Network had already planned a protest of Netanyahu's arrival -- but the murder of nine activists and the injury of dozens more aboard the 2010 flotilla, while Harper glad-handed with the man responsible, transformed a protest against Netanyahu and Israel's war crimes and occupation into something more.

At the time, we could feel it in the Ottawa streets that this moment was an important turning point. Indeed, from coast to coast, many were beginning to have the same idea.

The time had come for a Canadian Boat to Gaza.

Within six weeks, veteran Palestine solidarity activists from coast to coast began meeting regularly to turn this idea into a reality. Fast-forward 11 months and we are preparing to sail the Tahrir (Arabic for "liberation") in Freedom Flotilla 2 -- Stay Human, alongside ships from many other countries, in an international effort to break through the cruel and illegal blockade of Gaza.

And here I am, at an undisclosed location in Eastern Europe, preparing to sail aboard the Tahrir.

John Baird has called the flotilla "provocative." But he also thinks vote mobs are "disconcerting," so it's best to take this opinion with a few grains of sea salt.

But why sail with a flotilla toward what could well be a hostile response from the Israeli military? Why take the risk of being violently attacked by the fourth largest military in the world?

In the simplest terms, because we have a responsibility and a right to do so and Israel has no right to stop us. There are many reasons why we need to keep sending Freedom Flotillas to Gaza.

Here are just a few:

• The blockade. Collective punishment of a civilian population is illegal under international law. Period. This is what the government of Israel is doing to the people of Gaza by hermetically sealing them in what has become known as the world's largest open air prison. And the federal government led by Stephen Harper is complicit in this illegal deprivation of freedom for the 1.4 million Palestinians in Gaza.

• The impunity. There are those who argue that it's unfair to single out Israel for condemnation. Yet they tend to be the ones who are singling Israel out. They are singling it out for exemption from international law. We are simply demanding that international law be applied equally to all nations, including Israel. The question is not why is Israel singled out. The question is: why does it get away with it?

• The responsibility. Because the international community has failed to act. Because the responsibility to protect shouldn't be a government euphemism for bombing civilians to serve Western strategic interests; it should be a call to action for social movements to stand up for those living under occupation, oppression, and tyranny. And if the international community fails in its obligation to protect Palestinian human rights, someone must.

• The possibility. Perhaps one of the most important reasons to continue the flotilla strategy is that it's working. Some paid with their lives last time and the blockade is not over, but with each flotilla we are one wave closer to ending it. Over 200 organizations and many more individuals have endorsed the Tahrir and its mission. People and organizations from coast to coast have generously contributed over $340,000. We have already drawn much needed attention to the injustices being inflicted on the people of Gaza. The movement is already bigger than it was before -- and the flotilla has not even sailed yet.

And this is why Netanyahu and Harper are worried. This is why the world's fourth largest military has been training for months to take on a fleet of used boats carrying nonviolent civilians armed with nothing more than humanitarian aid, compassion, and yes, perhaps just the tiniest bit of chutzpah.

Will they attack and kill the human rights activists aboard this flotilla? This question weighs heavily. This time I'll be on one of the boats with many people I know and have worked closely with.

A wise man once said, "There comes a time when we must choose between what is right and what is easy."

It's been easier for the world to be bullied by the war criminals who run the government of Israel than to do what is right and hold them accountable. With Harper defending the criminality of the Israeli government at every turn, as Canadians we have a moral obligation to act. This is why a Canadian Boat to Gaza is necessary.

With Netanyahu claiming to speak for all Jews everywhere, Jewish Canadians have a double responsibility to say loudly and clearly that what both of these governments are doing is not in our name. This is why groups like Independent Jewish Voices were formed.

And this is why I am going on the Canadian Boat to Gaza. Because there comes a time when you have to stand up to a bully and say, "no more."

That time has arrived for Palestine.

Ya basta. Kefaya. Assez.


Dylan Penner is a co-founder and steering committee member of Independent Jewish Voices and the Canadian Boat to Gaza. You can follow him on Twitter aboard the Tahrir as it sails with Freedom Flotilla 2 -- Stay Human at @DylanPenner. Follow CBG at @CanadaBoatGaza and @TahrirCanada. Flotilla hashtags: #Canada4Gaza, #flotilla2 and #FF2StayHuman. Regular updates will also be available here.

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