Back when I was in elementary and junior high school, damn nearly 50 years ago, I had a good friend named Steve.

Steve was a pretty good guy to hang around with because he was brave, built like a two-door refrigerator and could be counted on to look out for his weaker friends, like me.

Also, he had a really interesting family. His dad was a union guy, and he had a white pickup truck — and, remember, this was back in the day when nobody’s dad drove a pickup — with a bumper sticker that said “STAMP OUT INJUNCTIONS!” Steve’s dad was a crab fisherman by trade, a union man by conviction, so he stuck up for his weaker friends too.

I liked hanging around at Steve’s place because it was interesting and because I was always made welcome there. His mom served us homemade root beer (pretty bad) and fresh crab right out of the pot (pretty good). She used to watch the park across the street from their house with his dad’s binoculars and phone the cops whenever a grownup bothered the kids, so I guess you could say she stood up for people too.

Steve had a little brother named Kevin, who as I recall was a pretty quiet kid.

Well, a lot of years have passed, but Steve emailed me the other day to say he was worried about his little brother, who’d gone missing on a boat trip. You can probably see where this is going by now, because it turned out that Kevin, pretty much like his dad and mom and big brother, was prepared to stand up for people who need protecting.

I’m talking about Kevin Neish, of course, who was on one of those boats trying to bring food, medicine, blankets and shelter to the people of Gaza when the Israeli Navy dropped in, shooting their machine guns at people who were “armed” with wooden sticks and deck chairs. Deck chairs, for heaven’s sake! Now there’s a threat!

Now, I’m not going to recite the history of the occupation of Palestine. And I’m not going to repeat all the reasons why the medieval siege of Gaza is barbaric, stupid, criminal and counterproductive. You all know where to find that information, and you all know whether you agree or disagree with me.

But I do want to say this: it’s been pretty easy for me these past few years to ignore what’s been going on in Gaza. After all, it’s far away, it’s scary to speak up for people you don’t know when you think about what you might be accused of and what friends you might lose, and, above all, I didn’t know anybody there.

Except that now I do. So when I see our disgraceful prime minister standing there with a smug smile on his face as he supports the prime minister of the country that has been occupying and besieging Gaza, I see him supporting someone whose soldiers attacked my friend’s kid brother.

It puts things in a different — and I would suggest quite useful — perspective. It makes it personal.

Four years ago, when our prime minister’s No. 1 pals and their air force were bombing the hell out of Lebanon, a large number of Canadians got caught in the crossfire. But the Conservative party’s anger machine tried to paint those Canadians as something less than real Canadians. Well, to give the government its due, it did send a boat for some of them while the rest of us went back to sleep.

But how are they going to dismiss Kevin Neish? That he’s naïve? We’ve all heard that one — but I don’t think so. I think he and his comrades had a pretty good idea of what might happen and they were willing to take the risk. That he has a weird foreign name? Uh, like, it’s from Scotland. That his mom and dad were Commies — well, there was that photo with Fidel on their mantelpiece, and you could read about that in the Globe and Mail on Monday.

Probably, with their friends in the mainstream media, they’ll just try to ignore him.

But here’s the thing. Kevin Neish was willing to put his life on the line for the people of Gaza. And I think a lot of us who have kept our lips zipped for fear of what might be said about us need to speak up now and say enough. This takes infinitely less courage and entails infinitely less risk.

I agree with Robert Fisk of the Independent, who wrote on Monday that while our leaders in the West — moral pipsqueaks like Stephen Harper and Michael Ignatieff — are too cowardly to do anything about what’s been happening in Gaza, the rest of us are starting to realize what’s going on. “The world is tired of these outrages. Only the politicians are silent.”

And I was extremely relieved to learn that Kevin was not harmed in the Israeli Navy’s murderous raid on the Gaza relief ships. I’m sure Steve is breathing more easily. I look forward to welcoming Kevin back. He’s a Canadian hero.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, Alberta Diary.

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe...