When Boats Brought Hope to Gaza

Israel continues to cut off the 1.8 million people of Gaza from receiving relief supplies from sea, an illegal blockade that will be challenged again this year by the Women’s Boat to Gaza, writes retired Col. Ann Wright.

By Ann Wright

For years, Israel has blocked international ships from reaching the isolated people of Gaza, thus denying the 1.8 million embattled Palestinians maritime contact with the rest of the world and the hope that comes from knowing that they have the support of many people across the globe.

With all of the tragedy that surrounds Gaza, including the 50 Israeli military strikes on the Palestinian territory last weekend, we need to remember the exhilaration of the people of Gaza one day in August 2008 when two small international boats arrived to show that the Gazans were not forgotten.

The Palestinian flag is waved as relief ships arrive in Gaza in August 2008.

Italian activist Vittorio Arrigoni, who arrived in Gaza on the first Free Gaza Movement Solidarity boats, waves the Palestinian flag. (Photo from Free Gaza Movement)

After that, four other shipments reached Gaza along with European land caravans, called “Viva Palestina” that travelled into Gaza through the border with Egypt. However, after Israel’s December 2008-January 2009 war on Gaza, Israel forcefully intercepted ships headed for Gaza.

On May 31, 2010, Israel reacted to a flotilla of ships challenging the blockade by launching a military attack on the six boats that killed nine activists on the Turkish ship, Mavi Marmara. Since then, other challenges to the naval blockade have been prevented from taking to sea (Greece 2011) or stopped illegally in international waters, the passengers kidnapped and the boats taken to the Israeli port of Ashdod and the passengers to prison on charges of entering Israel illegally and eventually deported. 

The latest challenge to the Israeli blockade of Gaza will be the Women’s Boats to Gaza that will sail in mid-September to again demonstrate that we do care about the people of Gaza.

A Tale of Hope

Greta Berlin, co-founder of the Free Gaza Movement, reminds us of the joy of the people of Gaza when the first international boats in 40 years arrived in the Gaza City port in August 2008 by providing the words of Gamaal Al Attar, who wrote:

The sun was shining on August 23, 2008, and everyone in Gaza was waking up in order to get ready for the D Day. It is the day everyone in Gaza has been waiting for a long time; a day we will feel like there some people in the world who care for our suffering. A day we will feel that we belong to the human race, and our brothers and sisters in humanity care for our daily struggles. Scouts from different scout groups had signed up to be in the welcoming committee on the fishing boats. So, we headed directly to the main port of Gaza at 08:00, and, together with policemen who are there to secure the crowds, we boarded the boats and started the trip to the open sea.

A relief boat, the Free Gaza, arrives in Gaza in August 2008.

A solidarity boat, the Free Gaza, arrives in Gaza in August, 2008. (Photo from the Free Gaza Movement)

Hours of waiting in the boats made everyone seasick, and, by noon, most of our hope flew away with the wind. It looked like the two boats were not coming. We were screwed. All the dreams and feelings that there was someone who cared for us got smaller and smaller as time went on.  Jamal El Khoudari (the coordinator for the campaign) spoke at a press conference that the boats had gotten lost and made some excuse. I and the other scouts in Gaza did not want to listen to excuses. The people of Gaza wanted them here now.

The smiles that were on every single face by the morning, the joyful people in the port waiting at sunrise, and the hope of seeing someone who would care for us changed to a huge disappointment. By noon, nearly everyone had left the port and gone back home.

On the way back home, I saw Gaza looking darker than ever, and a small tear escaped from my eye. ”It looks like there is no one who cares for us,” A boy scout told me. I opened my mouth to tell him that this wasn’t true, but I could not find a word to say.

Just like all the scouts, I went home, took a shower, and tried to rest after a long day under heavy sun. All of us were seasick and sick in our hearts as well. I lay on my bed to sleep and forget about humankind. I set my head on my pillow and thought.  “We are on our own, and nobody cares.”

The Boats Arrive

Then my mum came to my room with a smile on her face, ”Jamal, the boats are visible on TV.” Mum said. So I jumped from my bed and asked her, ”When?” She said, “It is just breaking news.” I can’t remember how, when, or why I found myself on a bus going back to the port with the scouts. I can’t remember how we managed to be together again going to the Port of Gaza. We all jumped on board different fishing boats and sailed to the open sea again.

There, on the horizon, I saw three elements: A beautiful sunset, the SS Liberty, and the SS Free Gaza. On the east side of the Port, more and more people from Gaza were gathering. This time, their disappointed faces were not there. We could hear the people laughing high and delighted as they strained to catch sight of the boats.

In a couple of minutes, those of us on the fishing boats came closer to the Free Gaza, and I saw the peace flag hanging up, and Maria Del Mar Fernandez waving a Palestinian flag and shouting. Suddenly, I saw many kids taking off their t-shirts and jumping into the sea, swimming to the Free Gaza. My small boat got me closer to the boats, and as my feet touched the deck, it gave me a shock. My mind was blown away as I forget every single suffering I had in my life under Israel’s blockade. I moved over to someone who was so calm and a bit away from all the media.

”Hey, welcome to Gaza.” I said with a smile.

I kept repeating these words and getting happier with every handshake. By the side of the cabin, I saw a muscled guy with Tattoos on his arms and a nice cap. ‘’Is he the captain?’’ I wondered. After shaking his hand, I kept speaking to him, and within moments, we became friends. He was this nice Italian guy who had left Italy searching for justice and truth whose name was Vittorio Utopia Arrigoni. I shared the Palestinian flag with him, and we started waving to the media and the tens of thousands of people who came to see the boats in our small port.

For a short period, the boats orbited the port; then it was time to evacuate the boats and to greet our guests on land in Gaza. We scouts stood in a line and saluted the new Palestinians who had come from across the globe with one message, ”Stay Human”.

I will never forget all the small and big hands that came out from the crowds to shake hands with the activists. I can’t forget how tanned the people were after that very long waiting day in the port, but also I can’t forget the spirit in the crowd after those heroes landed on the shore. I remember I went home that day with a charged battery for life and hope.

The two boats weren’t necessarily bringing supplies to the people of Gaza, but they brought what is more important, They brought enough hope for over 1.5 million people who live under the blockade that someday we would be free.

Ann Wright served 29 years in the US Army and retired as a Colonel. She was a US diplomat for 16 years and resigned in March 2003 in opposition to Bush’s War on Iraq.  She was a passenger in the 2010, 2011 and 2015 Gaza Freedom Flotillas.  She is on the steering committee of the US campaign for the Women’s Boat to Gaza and on the International Steering committee.

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20 comments for “When Boats Brought Hope to Gaza

  1. Annie
    August 25, 2016 at 10:48 am

    Gamaal Al Attar words make you aware of how these boats, flotillas, break through the isolation felt by those incarcerated on that small stretch of land, Gaza, but they also make you deeply aware of the profound injustice perpetrated on this population whose land was stolen to atone for the sins of Europe. As human nature would have it, Israeli Jews behave in many ways similar to the Nazi’s of Europe, hell bent on removing every vestige of Palestinian life. Unable to complete their mission they have relegated them to strips of land ignored, or exploited and are able through a system of propaganda, fully funded and implemented by the US, carry out their slow and vial genocide of an indigenous people.

  2. Rick G
    August 25, 2016 at 11:10 am

    Cheers for Ann Wright and the courageous crews of boats to Gaza.
    But only publicity of Israel’s neofascists can be achieved until the US is freed of their control of its elections and mass media.

    The corruption of the US is the base problem. We cannot free elections and mass media from economic power because those are the tools of democracy, which are no longer ours.

    When those in power are as corrupt as those now in Washington, there is no reform. This vain hope must be cast off in order to make progress. Anything that weakens an evil power is the shortest path to reform.

    The problem cannot be solved until there are riots in the US, riots at conventions, and vast demonstrations in Washington, It cannot be solved until neofascist candidates like Hillary get no votes.
    That will not be until activists begin destroying the mass media stations and towers, fighting in the streets, and infiltrating police and National Guard units to be ready to refuse service during civil demonstrations and riots, so that the oligarchy has no power they can rely upon.

    Until then we have only educational efforts, which as often cause acquiescence as rebellion.

    • Nancy
      August 25, 2016 at 7:32 pm

      There are mechanisms in our system of “checks and balances” for constraining our injustices – will no one use them? Bombs away in the name of money and supremacy.

      • John P
        August 25, 2016 at 10:57 pm

        Well Nancy, I have sent many a letter to my government representatives, both local and federal, trying to set the record straight on mistruths, on the persecution of a people (water, education, food, savaging by some settlers on Palestinian homes and crops). I’ve never had an reply even though I admit in those letters that there are admirable Jews who support my statements. There must be a way to get money out of politics, and to break up big media giants. There must be a way to gather a pool of cash for elections and distribute it fairly to the parties running. That cash would be all they can use for promotional advertising.

      • Rick G
        August 27, 2016 at 6:48 am

        Yes there are checks and balances mechanisms, but as you note they do not work. The executive has all of the real power, so Congress can do nothing if the admin does not agree. And both are owned by the oligarchy. The Judiciary has no checks upon it at all, only because the founders thought that it would behave because outnumbered – it was 12 judges then and 900 today. The original idea of checks and balances was naive and does not work.

        A better method would be to have three separate councils at the top of each branch (three bodies of Congress, three admins, three judicial councils), with equal powers, that must vote on each decision.

        But of course, making checks and balances that work has no effect until elections and mass media are protected from economic power.

  3. Drew Hunkins
    August 25, 2016 at 4:40 pm

    As Norman Finkelstein has pointed out recently: Israel has become a violent lunatic state.

    Any civilian boats heading anywhere near Gaza take an enormous risk. The Israeli Defense [sic] Forces will kill innocents without any compunction and with virtually no provocation coming their way. And the IDF assassins will receive cover from a cowed and supine Western press.

  4. E Mckenzie
    August 25, 2016 at 5:23 pm

    The State Department has always been anti- Semitic and anti-Israel. You continue the tradition.Gaza doesn’t want peace, it wants war.

    • Annie
      August 25, 2016 at 10:50 pm

      Good Grief McKenzie!

      Clinton a devout supporter of Israel was the secretary of state. Did you watch her grovel before AIPAC? Anti-Semitic? Anti-Israel?

    • John P
      August 25, 2016 at 11:44 pm

      Excuse me E, but Arafat thought he had peace with Rabin whom he trusted, but a devout settler with a gun put an end to that hope. Arafat was so happy at the termination of the talks, he called Carter to tell him how elated he was to finally have a state. Also all the Arab States and Palestinians came up with a plan including the recognition of Israel and Israel looked the other way.
      How decidedly idiotic and infantile it is for a people to think that a universal God has a chosen people and land for them. But first they have to break the command, thou shalt not kill while being told to kill every man woman and child and the land is theirs. It’s all a fanciful ancient nationalistic fable.
      When Israel left Gaza, it was not to be a gift to the Palestinians, it was done for political reasons, mainly because the Arab population was in time going to exceed that of the Jews, and annexation would have been impossible if it were to remain a Jewish state. It was a prison, where Palestinian crops for export rotted at the exit doors, only Israeli trucks could transport goods through the doors, Israeli water restrictions, Israeli fishing restrictions, Israeli control and profiteering from gas wells off the Gaza shore, and the people were put on what Israeli politicians called a diet. Perhaps you would prefer to live under those conditions. Expectedly, some Palestinians lost their cool and who could blame them. That few fired unguided unsophisticated rockets over the boundary. Hamas has done its best to contain them, but 100% protection is impossible. Meanwhile Israel, with each intervention destroys Palestinian power stations, water sources, hospital equipment and the like, killing large numbers of civilians. Is that something to be proud of?
      As Alan Hart states, Zionism is the real enemy of the people and that is becoming more obvious each month passing. Especially as the statistic show, level headed Jews are leaving Israel, and religious zealots are taking their place. American secrets passed to Israel were given to the Russians in order boost the static or falling Jewish population, with Russian Jewish (no democratic experience) to be posted in the occupied lands. That’s is why Israel is now edging so close to fascism. The nature of the people has changed for the worse, criticism is growing in this more open technological world (news and pictures travel fast), and Zionists are in panic mode. That makes it all the more dangerous.

      • Nancy Keiler
        August 29, 2016 at 1:54 pm

        Mind if I copy this just so I can read it again and again, quite a history lesson, thanks.

    • t.clennon
      August 27, 2016 at 4:10 am

      What planet do you live on, Mr. Mckenzie?

    • Alan
      August 27, 2016 at 10:51 am

      It was the belief of the State Department’s Middle East specialists that statehood for Jews in Palestine would be a calamity. That is not anti-semitism. Why would Gaza desire more of what has cost it so much — war? Gaza wants to live normally. It wants its “right to exist” honored.

  5. Zachary Smith
    August 25, 2016 at 9:00 pm

    The latest challenge to the Israeli blockade of Gaza will be the Women’s Boats to Gaza that will sail in mid-September to again demonstrate that we do care about the people of Gaza.

    Arrange everything you can possibly imagine to stay safe. And good luck on top of that.

  6. bozhidar balkas
    August 27, 2016 at 9:14 am

    Multiethnic and multiracial israel; with dark-skinned shemites [mizrahim and palestinians] comprising about 60% to 70% of its population, ruled by white jews, just a military outpost of mostly the white world?
    And, of course, costing money and adulation, praise, lots of lies for it, and approval of all israel does!!!

    At one time or since ’22 and until ’49, legal and illegal non-shemitic immigrants to palestina were only whites; mostly from european lands.
    Present mix of races, sects, religions, many ethnicities does not bode well for peace, harmony, prosperity, justice, women’s rights/etc., in israel or even, US, NE and ME or any other land or empire; which is ran on personal, ethnic, sect, or religious supremacism.
    Thus expect worsenings everywhere for the ‘less-valued’ women, children, ethnics, nations, people.

    Note please that allah, yahweh, jesus, or god are also gods of wars, poverty, misogyny, anger, vengeance, hatred, demonization, massive lying, empty promises, torture and in whom about 4bn believe and obey and we can see that we can only expect worsenings for ‘weakest’ among us!
    100% sure! I have been saying this since three decades past being old!

  7. Bianca
    August 27, 2016 at 11:54 am

    Does anyone have more information on what exactly was signed under Israeli-Turkish deal signed, I believe, in June? It was Russia brokered deal, as Israel’s Prime Minister was a frequent visitor in Moscow, and Russia-Turkey contacts were never essentially diminished following the shooting of a Russian plane. What was leaked has to do with Israel making a deal with Turkey to take on a role of a development coordinator. Israel’s face saving device is to still control SOME of the materials that would be imported for the purposes of the development and reconstruction. Turkey clearly has the respect in Gaza, among leadership and people. Israel could in this manner elegantly get rid of Gaza problem, insure that it is not attacked from Gaza, and solve the international condemnation for the conditions in occupied land. Turkey, naturally, would not be the only, or even the biggest donor. Clearly, other funds will be tapped into for redevelopment, and the political settlement may follow. What has Israel got out of the deal? I do not see them being motivated by the desire to end suffering in Gaza — but only by a solid gain to Israel. My guess is — gas findings along the coast. As Russia and Turkey have restructured their Turkish Stream, it will make Turkey still the only viable energy hub to supply Europe. And since Europe has given up on Russian South Stream — due to its imbecile bureaucracy — it will face a crisis as the Ukrainian pipeline will sooner or later be out of commission. What with the contract issues with Russia, what with a gross neglect of infrastructure. Israel has no use of the riches under its coastal waters, and may want to connect to Turkish hub for future supplies to Europe. Israel lives in an energy rich neighborhood and has no one to sell the gas to — unless it can figure out the path to Europe. At present, all such paths lead through Turkey. And an eventual peace deal in Syria — where Russia and Turkey are key — gas from other regions may try to take advantage of Turkish hub as well, increasing the value of Turkey as an energy transit powerhouse. I would appreciate if anyone has more information on the deal.

  8. Fergus Hashimoto
    August 27, 2016 at 6:08 pm

    Ann Wright writes about a territory — the Gaza Strip – that is governed by a brutally repressive Islamist régime that, among other things, misappropriates foreign assistance intended to alleviate the sufferings of Gaza’s inhabitants in order to wage a hopeless war against a neighbor it will never vanquish, i.e. Israel, while studiously breaching every single provision of the laws of armed warfare and of international law in general.
    Hamas’s founding charter, which it refuses to amend, is saturated with conspiracy theories and superstitious yarns that have no support in the historical record. Moreover Hamas encourages genocide against Jews.
    Hamas has imposed Sharia law on the few remaining Christian inhabitants of Gaza, among other things by forcing Christian schools to segregate their pupils by sex.
    In view of all Hamas’ thuggery, it is absurd to call acts of other parties “illegal”.
    Consortium news should not soil its website with this simple-minded propaganda.

    • richard vajs
      August 28, 2016 at 11:59 am

      Fergus Hashimoto – interesting name (Scotch? Japanese?). Actually you are probably another fascist Israeli too cowardly and too clever to identify yourself as such. You put out the old poisonous Zionist crap that the Palestinians somehow deserve genocide that will be necessary for the Israelis to get their land. And that is the whole purpose isn’t it – wipe out the Arabs so that Jews can have “elbow room” without the inconvenience of having to pay for the land stolen to provide for that?
      By the way, are you really familiar with Hamas’ “founding charter” – I doubt it.

  9. Davo Pietrisone
    September 2, 2016 at 3:56 pm

    Such parallels between the Warsaw ghetto and the Gaza Strip – utterly lost on the Zionists. The real terrorists that are inflicting such immoral harm on the world ?? The US Congress.

  10. Patty
    September 3, 2016 at 6:32 pm

    Best of luck, but probably the best focus would be to rid the U.S. Government of Zionists who perpetuate the war crimes against the Palestinians via funding and arms.OBAMA has proposed increasing aid to ISRAEL in perpetual. Clinton will be worse! Trump is repulsive! AMERICA should be ashamed. It’s history is racist, too.

  11. September 3, 2016 at 6:47 pm

    That day in August 2008 was one that none of us on the Free Gaza and Liberty will ever forget. Gamal’s poignant remembrance is one of many that passengers, crew and Palestinians hold dear to our hearts. Thank you, Ann, for reminding us again that Free Gaza movement got into Gaza successfully five times.

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