Hagit Borer, who was born in Israel but is now a U.S. citizen, explains why she joined with other Americans on The Audacity of Hope in an attempt to challenge the Israeli blockade of Gaza – and describes what she believes the journey achieved despite being turned back by Greek authorities.
By Hagit Borer
For 44 years now, the people in the territories occupied by Israel in 1967 have been awaiting their freedom. In Gaza, people have been waiting for five years for a release from the largest world’s open air prison; for the resumption of at least some measure of free movement, for the resumption of risk-free fishing and for raw materials, for the re-emergence of commerce and industry.
Since Operation Cast Lead, two and a half years ago, they have been also been waiting for the arrival of construction material that would allow them to rebuild their homes, their schools, their hospitals, their infrastructure, destroyed by Israel.
Since January 2011, and like the 40 people who were to become my fellow passengers, I have been waiting to sail to Gaza.
For more than a year prior to that, Ann and Jane and Laurie and Helaine and Nic and so many others worked tirelessly on the US Boat to Gaza. Sometime late last winter, our individual efforts came together to become the stream that was to be The Audacity of Hope.
For more than a year, organizers and passengers in 22 other countries worked continuously to bring about their own sailing to Gaza. The Free Gaza Movement has now been working for more than four years to bring boats to Gaza. Starting with one boat, and then another, and another, and finally, in spring of 2010, a flotilla.
Sometime last spring, all these efforts came together to become a Gaza-bound river – the Flotilla II: Stay Human. That river brought us all to Greece, where another powerful river has been running.
The river that emerged from the popular resistance of the people of Greece to the austerity measures imposed upon them by the government of Greece, and which are in turn, dictated by the IMF, largely controlled by U.S. corporate interests, and by the European Bank.
It is on the back of the Greek population, it appears, that debts incurred through governmental and corporate mismanagement, corruption and greed are to be paid.
On July 1, the actions of the Greek government have caused these rivers to merge. On that day, just like the people in Syntagma Square in the weeks prior to that and in the weeks to come after that, we, too, unarmed and non-violent, faced a disproportionate display of force.
We, too, were prevented from asserting our right to protest injustice, when the Greek government decided to confront us with faceless commandos and automatic weapons.
On that day, when the Greek government opted to act again as an enforcer of dictates originating elsewhere, and this time adding Israel to the mix, the struggle of the people of Gaza against the Israeli occupation and the protests of the Greek people became, visibly, a single struggle.
Our boat was forced back to Athens, and our captain was arrested. But in the weeks that have passed since, it has become evident that in many important respects, we are very much still on the high seas.
The Audacity of Hope, in its valiant attempt to break away, has now become a symbol of standing up to the control and the abuse of the powerful and the mighty.
We have become the Speakers of Truth to Power. Our path was directly followed by the Tahrir, the Canadian boat with its brilliant attempt to escape the Hellenic Coast Guard on July 4; by the passengers of the Guernica, the Spanish boat, who occupied the Spanish embassy in Athens for weeks; and by Le Dignité-Al Karame, which left us with the memorable image of a small yacht with its 16 passengers surrounded, in international water, by four full-size fully armed Israeli navy vessels.
And at our immediate footsteps, the ‘flytilla’ – hundreds of peace activists flying in to Israel, encountering police reaction so out of proportion, even the New York Times called it “excessive.”
Collectively, we have put Israel on the defense. Collectively, we have taken over the writing of the script, exposing Israel for what it is. Even more importantly, we have made our cause a joint one with that of the People of Greece.
The Audacity of Hope is now negotiating its passage from the concrete to the symbolic, from the present to history.
But our river is flowing on, to merge with that of our most recent mentors – the initiators of the Arab Spring in Tunisia, in Egypt and in Yemen, in Libya, in Syria and in Bahrain, who have taught us so much about truth and about power.
Every day, the lines of this new and yet-so-old divide are emerging more clearly. Every day, a choice is made by individuals, by institutions and by governments. On our side, there are the people of Palestine, the people of the Middle East and North Africa, the people of Greece, the people of Wisconsin, the people of Portugal and of France, and so many others.
And who is on the other side? Little need be said about the Government of Israel, which has now joined international coercion and systematic lying to its list of accomplishments.
Or about the government of the United States, which did not bother to hide from us or from the world its position on our mission. In a much publicized statement, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton practically gave Israel the green light to attack unarmed U.S. citizens.
But on the other side are also the IMF and the European Bank as well as many, too many European governments. How sad that this is the side that the government of Greece has chosen, most recently with its votes on June 21 and June 29, and in its decision to use “all means necessary” to stop our boats!
How sad, to watch the proud people of Greece be at the receiving end of Secretary Clinton’s patronizing approval, in her recent visit.
No, our journey is not over. On Aug. 23, 2008, Free Gaza, the first ship of the Free Gaza movement, sailed to Gaza, and the 44 activists on board were the first internationals to enter Gaza by sea in 41 years. Less than three years later, more than 500,000 people volunteered worldwide to sail with the Stay Human Flotilla.
How many more this week? Next month? Next year? How many more coming by sea, landing in airports, marching at borders? Assembling in city squares and along boulevards? Challenging injustice, and pushing against blockade after blockade? How many more rivers merging to flow to Gaza and beyond?
For our journey is only starting and we WILL be sailing on, audaciously, and with hope.
Hagit Borer, who was born in Israel in 1952, moved to the United States in 1977. She became an American citizen in 1992 and is currently a professor of linguistics at USC.