For almost a decade, Israel has maintained a blockade of Gaza and its nearly 2 million people, preventing even humanitarian missions such as the capture this month of the Women’s Boat to Gaza, as Ann Wright describes.
By Ann Wright
Five hours after our Women’s Boat to Gaza, the Zaytouna-Oliva, was stopped in international waters by the misnamed Israeli Defense Force (more appropriately called the Israeli Occupation Force), the coast of Gaza came into view. The Gaza shoreline was starkly visible – for its darkness.
The contrast was startling between the bright lights of the Israeli coast – from the border city of Ashkelon north to Tel Aviv and beyond – to the Gaza coast, south of Ashkelon, shrouded in black. The electricity shortages caused by the Israeli control of much of the electrical network of Gaza condemns the Palestinians in Gaza to a life of minimal electricity for refrigeration, for pumping of water from roof tanks to kitchens and bathroom, and for study. It condemns the people of Gaza to a night, every night, in darkness.
Among those the bright lights of Israel live 8 million Israeli citizens. In the Israeli-controlled darkness in the small 25-mile-long, 5-mile-wide Gaza Strip live 1.9 million Palestinians. The internationally isolated enclave called Gaza has almost one quarter of the population of Israel yet is kept in virtually perpetual darkness by the policies of the State of Israel, which also limits the amount of water, food, construction and medical supplies that go into Gaza.
Israel attempts to keep the Palestinians in yet another type of darkness, by imprisoning them in Gaza, severely limiting their ability to travel for education, medical reasons and family visits — and for the pure joy of visiting other peoples and lands.
Trying to sail two boats in 20 days from Barcelona to Gaza with stops at two ports was fraught with challenges including replacing one boat, Amal or Hope, whose engine failed upon departing Barcelona, readjusting from one boat to another passengers who had flown into the ports from all over the world, replacing things that broke during the voyage including a metal rod shroud by a professional Greek rigger brought to the Zaytouna-Oliva off Crete for an at sea repair of the shroud. (The boat in this video is filled with Greek activists who brought the rigger to our boat and helped replenish our fuel supply.)
During the days on the Zaytouna-Oliva and especially on the last three days, our satellite phones rang virtually continuously with interviews with media from all over the world. Our participants described why each felt it was important to be on the voyage. The exception to media coverage of the Women’s Boat to Gaza was the U.S. media that did not call for interviews and gave very little information to the citizens of the country that most supports Israel and its policies that oppress and imprison Palestinians.
At the end of our 15-day, 1,715-mile voyage from Barcelona, Spain, around 3 p.m. on Oct. 5, we began to see the outlines of three large naval vessels on the horizon. At 3:30 p.m., Israeli naval forces began radio broadcasts to the Women’s Boat to Gaza, crackling with “Zaytouna, Zaytouna. This is the Israeli Navy. You are heading for an internationally recognized Security Zone. You must stop and divert to Ashdod, Israel or your boat will be forcibly stopped by the Israeli Navy and your boat will be confiscated.”
Our Captain Madeline Habib, an extraordinarily experienced captain licensed to command all ships of any size responded, “Israeli Navy, this is the Zaytouna, the Women’s Boat to Gaza. We are in international waters heading for Gaza on a mission of bringing hope to the people of Gaza that they are not forgotten. We demand that the government of Israel end its naval blockade of Gaza and let the people of Palestine live in dignity with the right to travel freely and the right to control their destiny. We are continuing to sail to Gaza where the people of Gaza are awaiting our arrival.”
Around 4 p.m., we saw three vessels coming at high speed toward the Zaytouna. As planned during our frequent nonviolence training discussions, we gathered all 13 women in the cockpit of the Zaytouna. Two journalists of Al Jazeera, who had been reporting daily on the progress of the Zaytouna during the final nine day voyage, continued their filming, while our Captain and two crew members sailed the boat toward Gaza.
As the Israeli fast boats approached, our participants held hands and had a minute of silence and reflection for the women and children of Gaza and our voyage to bring international attention to their plight.
By 4:10 p.m., the Israeli boats had come along side of the Zaytouna and ordered us to slow to 4 knots. The Israeli zodiac vessel had approximately 25 people on board including ten women sailors. Fifteen young Israeli sailors quickly boarded the Zaytouna and a woman sailor took command of the Zaytouna from our Captain and altered our course from Gaza to the Israeli port of Ashdod.
The sailors did not carry visible weapons, although there probably were weapons and handcuffs in the backpacks that several brought onboard. They were not dressed in combat gear, but rather in white long sleeved polo shirts with blue military vests on top and Go-Pro cameras attached to the vests.
They immediately took our individual document belts that contained our passports and stored them below as they searched the boat. Later a second team searched the boat more thoroughly apparently looking for cameras, computers, mobile phones and any electronic devices.
A young Israeli female medic asked if anyone had medical problems. We replied that we had our own medical doctor on board — and the medic said, “Yes, we know, Dr. Fauziah Hasan from Malaysia.”
The boarding group brought aboard water and offered us food. We replied that we had plenty of water and food, including 60 hard boiled eggs that we had prepared for what we knew would be a lengthy journey to an Israeli port after the boarding.
For the next eight hours until after midnight, we sailed and motored with 15 more people on board, a total of about 28 people on the Zaytouna-Oliva. As was typical at virtually every sunset on our nine-day journey from Messina, our crew sang to remind us of the women of Palestine.
Crewmember Emma Ringquist had composed a powerful song entitled “For the Women of Gaza.” Emma, Synne Sofia and Marmara Davidson sang the lyrics as we sailed with the sun setting for the final evening on the Zaytouna Oliva, the Women’s Boat to Gaza with everyone singing the chorus that so aptly described our mission: “We will sail for your freedom our sisters in Palestine. We will never be silent until you are free.”
After arriving in Ashdod, we were charged with entering Israel illegally and presented with a deportation order. We told the immigration officials that we had been kidnapped in international waters by the Israeli Occupation Force and brought to Israel against our will and refused to sign any documents or agree to pay for our air tickets to leave Israel. We were sent to the immigration and deportation processing jail at Givon and after lengthy processing finally arrived at our cells around 5 a.m. on Oct. 6.
We demanded to see the Israeli lawyers that had agreed to represent us and to also see representatives of our respective Embassies. By 3 p.m., we had spoken to both and had agreed to the legal advice to write on the deportation order that we were in Israel against our will. By 6 p.m., we were taken to the deportation jail at Ben Gurion International Airport and Israeli officials began putting our Women’s Boat to Gaza participants and crew on flights to their home countries. The Al Jazeera journalists had been deported to their homes in the UK and Russia the evening we arrived in Israel.
All of our participants and crew, who have now arrived safely to their homes, are committed to continuing to speak out strongly about the conditions in Gaza and the West Bank and demand that Israel and the international community bring Gaza out of the darkness imposed by their policies.
We know our voyage was important to the people of Gaza. The photos of preparations for our arrival and videos that thank us for our efforts have been heartwarming. As the young Palestinian woman said, “It doesn’t matter that the boats are towed (to Israel) and the passengers deported. Just knowing that supporters are still willing to keep trying (to get to Gaza) is enough.”
The long voyage of the Women’s Boat to Gaza was to bring hope to the people of Gaza that they are not forgotten by the international community. The women and men supporting the Women’s Boat to Gaza are committed to continuing their efforts by sending international delegations by boat to Gaza to put international pressure on the Israeli government to change its policies toward Gaza and to lift the inhumane and brutal naval and land blockade of Gaza.
The Women’s Boat to Gaza, the Zaytouna Oliva, set sail from Barcelona, Spain on Sept. 15 to bring international attention to this Israeli-imposed darkness. We sailed with 13 women on our initial voyage, a three-day trip to Ajaccio, Corscia, France. Our captain was Madeline Habib from Australia, who has decades of captaining and sailing experience recently as the Captain of the Dignity, a Doctors Without Borders ship that rescues migrants from North Africa.
Our crewmembers were Emma Ringqvist from Sweden and Synne Sofia Reksten from Norway. The international participants selected to be on this part of the journey were Rosana Pastor Muñoz, member of Parliament and actor from Spain; Malin Bjork, member of the European Parliament from Sweden; Paulina de los Reyes, a Swedish professor originally from Chile; Jaldia Abubakra, Palestinian from Gaza now a Spanish citizen and political activist; Dr. Fauziah Hasan, medical doctor from Malaysia; Yehudit Ilany, political consultant and journalist from Israel; Lucia Muñoz, Spanish journalist with Telesur; Kit Kittredge, U.S. human rights and Gaza activist. Wendy Goldsmith, Canadian social-worker human rights campaigner, and Ann Wright, retired U.S. Army Colonel and former U.S. diplomat were designated by the Women’s Boat to Gaza organizers as co-leaders of the boat.
Other participants who had flown to Barcelona but were unable to sail due to the breakdown of the second boat, Amal-Hope, were Zohar Chamberlain Regev, a German and Israeli citizen resident in Spain, and Ellen Huttu Hansson from Sweden, boat co-leaders from the international Freedom Coalition; internationally recognized non-violence trainer Lisa Fithian from the U.S.; Norsham Binti Abubakr, medical administrator from Malaysia; Palestinian activist Gail Miller from the U.S.; and crew members Laura Pastor Solera from Spain, Marilyn Porter from Canada and Josefin Westman from Sweden. Ivory Hackett-Evans, a boat captain from the United Kingdom, flew to Barcelona and then to Messina from work with migrants in Greece to help find another boat in Sicily to replace the Amal-Hope.
A new group of women joined us in Ajaccio, Corsica, France for the 3.5-day trip from to Messina, Sicily, Italy. Besides our crew, the participants were boat co-leaders Wendy Goldsmith from Canada and Ann Wright from the U.S.; medical doctor Dr. Fauziah Hasan from Malaysia; Latifa Habbechi, member of Parliament from Tunisia; Khadija Benguenna, Al Jazeera journalist and broadcaster from Algeria; Heyet El-Yamani, Al Jazeera Mubasher On-Line journalist from Egypt; Yehudit Ilany, political consultant and journalist from Israel; Lisa Gay Hamilton, TV actor and activist from the United States; Norsham Binti Abubakr, medical administrator from Malaysia; and Kit Kittredge, U.S. human rights and Gaza activist.
A third group of women sailed for nine days and 1,000 miles from Messina, Sicily, to 34.2 miles from Gaza before the Israeli military stopped us in international waters, 14.2 miles outside the illegal 20-mile Israeli imposed “Security Zone” that limits access to Palestine’s only port located at Gaza City. The eight women participants were Nobel Peace Laureate from Northern Ireland Mairead Maguire; Algerian Parliamentarian Samira Douaifia; New Zealand Parliamentarian Marama Davidson; Swedish First Substitute Member of the Swedish Parliament Jeanette Escanilla Diaz (originally from Chile); South African Olympic athlete and university student rights activist Leigh Ann Naidoo; Spanish professional photographer Sandra Barrialoro; Malaysian medical doctor Fauziah Hasan; Al Jazeera journalists British Mena Harballou and Russian Hoda Rakhme; and Ann Wright. Also onboard were the three crew members: Captain Madeleine Habib, Emma Ringqvist and Synne Sofia Reksten.
While the Zaytouna-Olivia sailed to Sicily, our international coalition attempted to find a second boat to continue the mission to Gaza. Despite great efforts, ultimately a second boat could not be fully crewed due to the delayed timeline and many women who traveled from around the world to Messina were unable to go on the final voyage to Gaza.
That group’s participants were Çigdem Topçuoglu, a professional athlete and trainer from Turkey who sailed in 2010 on the Mavi Marmara where her husband was killed; Naomi Wallace, playwright of Palestinian issues and author from the U.S.; Gerd von der Lippe, athlete and professor from Norway; Eva Manly, retired documentary maker and human rights activist from Canada; Efrat Lachter, TV journalist from Israel; Orly Noy, online journalist from Israel; Jaldia Abubakra, Palestinian from Gaza now a Spanish citizen and political activist; boat co-leaders from the international Freedom Coalition Zohar Chamberlain Regev, a German and Israeli citizen resident in Spain, Ellen Huttu Hansson from Sweden, Wendy Goldsmith from Canada; and crew members Sofia Kanavle from the U.S., Maite Mompó from Spain and Siri Nylen from Sweden.
Many members of the Women’s Boat to Gaza steering committee and national and organization campaign organizers traveled to Barcelona, Ajaccio and/or Messina to help with media, ground preparations, logistics and delegate support. Many other local volunteers in each port opened their homes and their hearts to our travelers, participants and support crew.
At each of our stops, local organizers arranged for public events for the participants. In Barcelona, organizers had three afternoons of public events at the Barcelona harbor with the Mayor of Barcelona speaking at the farewell ceremony for the boats. In Ajaccio a local band entertained the public.
In Messina, Sicily, Renato Accorinti, the Mayor of Messina hosted various events in the City Hall, including an international press conference for the departure of the Women’s Boat to Gaza on its final 1,000-mile leg of the journey to Gaza.
The local Palestinian support group in Messina arranged a concert at the city hall with Palestinian, international and local artists. And the Palestinian Ambassador to Italy Doctor Mai Alkaila traveled to Messina to visit the boats and offer her support.
Ann Wright is a retired US Army Reserve Colonel and a former US diplomat who resigned in 2003 in opposition to the Iraq war. She has been to Gaza six times and participated in the 2009 Gaza Freedom March and the 2010, 2011 and 2015 Gaza Freedom Flotillas.
Much respect to these honourable women.
Israel treated these sanctimonious hypocrites with compassion,that they didn’t deserve…Now these heroic women can repeat their bravery endlessly to their grand children ans great grand children….The Israeli Navy should have towed them to Syria in stead…
The Israelis did the right thing..The women on that boat were provocateurs,whose main aim and purpose was to cause trouble for the Israelis….I’m glad that Israel bundled them on to planes and kicked them out of Israel…They should try this stunt in Syria…That is where they are desperately needed….
Syria doesn’t need any help from the women. The little Porta Potti of a nation state directly to the south has been acting as both Air Force and Medical Corps to the head choppers and burning-alive boys.
You see, God’s Favorite People has money to spare for all that because it’s a welfare queen sucking on the US taxpayer.
No, mate. They are honourable women. Israel is not the victim, period.
The BDS is slowly working that America will not be able to circumvent all American Universities are going against the Zionist regime a Matter of time.
I had a dream.
I dreamed that the US 6th fleet with a carrier task force acting as a protective cordon for a large contingent of amphibious landing ships packed with food, medicine and supplies barged through the puny Israeli “blockade”
The landing ships ran up on the beach and disgorged their supplies, while marine amphibious units protected them from land, sea, and air. As the first waves of landing ships left, new waves came in to replace them.
I had this dream several nights ago. In the dream, it happened after a certain “happening”
The US Navy are being made fools of by the Iranians,the US Navy is a toothless lamb…Even the Houthi’s in Yemen fired missiles twice at a US warship with impunity…And the US Navy did not respond…Don’t hold your breath…
The US Navy are being made fools of by the Iranians,the US Navy is a toothless lamb…Even the Houthi’s in Yemen fired missiles twice at a US warship with impunity…And the US Navy did not respond…Don’t hold your breath……..
Thanks to the many courageous Israelis and Jews who were either part of this or who have long recognized and fought for Palestinian rights.
Time will tell, although each second that ticks away may be excruciating for those whose lives hang in the balance.
But the more attention this gets-
and that means awareness in this country because it seems that the MSM in the rest of the world is more mature and responsible than the MSM here, enough pressure will be brought to bear exposing the fact that “leadership” in Israel and the U.S. are horribly wrong and not doing the right thing – Working with the countries in the region to establish viable boundaries for a Palestinian State and an international agreement to protect the sovereignty and security of Israel and Palestine.
The MSM helped bring us Donald Trump, a joke, within striking range of the Oval Office and helped defeat the best candidate for sustainability, public engagement and peace, Bernie Sanders would have done everything he could to accomplish a just solution for the Palestinians based on his emotional statements about what is going on.
Things aren’t good right now.
We can all do much better.
At least ConsortiumNews is doing the best it can to cut through the noise.
I hope things get better. But there’s not much evidence yet that all the work bring done for democratic action is making a lot of difference. Discouraging.
These women achieved absolutely nothing with this silly stunt…They didn’t bring anything with them to give to the people of Gaza….A lot of hot air nothing more…
Confiscate the boat and give it to the Israeli Navy to do as they wish with it…..
Since helpless US Navy ships like the USS Liberty are in short supply these days, put the women’s boat to sea and use it for target practice by the heroic Israeli Navy. Start by practicing reconnaissance flights from many angles, then turn on electronic jammers to simulate the 1967 situation and finally start strafing it with cannon fire from aircraft. Drop some napalm bombs on the ship, then hit it with all the torpedoes possible.
They can relive their grandfather’s thrill of trying to sink a vessel with a huge American flag.
Thank you to these women for representing many other people around the world in their concern for people in Gaza.
Thanks so much to all involved in this extraordinary endeavor for the extraordinary people of Gaza. How can Israel continue to do this? What percentage of Israelis are against the Israeli policy towards Gaza?
LOL these pathetic women are a joke. Long live Israel!!!
These women are truly courageous. Ann Wright who wrote the article resigned from the State Department when George W Bush Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld invaded Iraq. Remarkable courage.
If you care about Israel please consider that standing up for human rights for Palestinians would be the humane and honorable thing to do and would give Israelis and Palestinians both a chance.
Please read Bill Bodden’s piece written by Israeli born Avigail Abarbanel linked to in his comment above.
I did email Kerry and called the White house when VFP requested it.
This is a sad state of affairs, and America should distance itself from this overbearing fascist Israeli government. I also could not help but think how with Trumps rhetoric about immigration, how this could be entering America one day. This is total madness and people should not have to live this way.
America should distance itself from this overbearing fascist Israeli government
Not likely in the foreseeable future, Joe. The vast majority of American politicians at the federal level have sold their souls to the Israel Lobby and may be suffering from a political version of the Stockholm Syndrome. Despite Netanyahu’s repeated insults of Obama and the office of the president of the United States, Obama has acted more like a butler in the White House filling up Netanyahu’s shopping bag. And Hillary can be counted on to continue this part of Obama’s “legacy.” There are signs that we might be seeing the beginning of the end of the Israeli abomination but it will be more like an aircraft carrier reversing course than a ski boat making a “U” turn.
Why I left the cult by Avigail Abarbanel – http://mondoweiss.net/2016/10/why-i-left-the-cult/
Bill what a great read, thank you.
I like when Avigail Abarbanel said this,
“When a group of people comes into a territory (no matter their reason), removes the indigenous people and takes their land and resources, it’s called settler-colonialism”. She calls this a crime.
By her standards Joshua would have been prosecuted on war crimes, as he should. What I take away from the Old Testament is people are human, faults and all, and through it all they relied upon God. So be it. I wish the New Testament had more stories of Jesus, instead of only four telling the same story, but whatever.
If this Zionist plan blows up in their face I only hope people such as Avigail Abarbanel rise to the top. Backlash, blowback, call it what you will, but since most don’t know any difference between Zionist and Jewish this could be a real problem, and this mustn’t happened.
I was in Florida this summer when some of my very liberal friends in a very nice way hedged a bit that I may possibly be developing a bit of Antisemitism. They cleverly wrapped it around my sympathic feeling I have concerning the Palestintian people. Anyway, I calmly told them about all the Jewish writers I am quoting from when I (in they’re liberal eyes) bad rap Israel. I told them about meadowweiss, Gideon Levy, etc.
Maybe someday I’ll tell you about my Italian Grandmum and how she clutched her rosary beads crying and praying that God would bring an end to Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini. My Italian Grandpa accompanied a stone cutter apprentice of his who chiseled a marble cane and they together presented it to FDR. They wanted a good home to raise their children. At that time Italy wasn’t that place. Grandmum always spoke English in her American kitchen because she wanted to belong. They never quit being Italian, because that could never have happened, but my Grandparents just started becoming American, and they made it work.
Just as there were many more Italians who didn’t support Mussolini, I know there are as many Jewish people who are not all satisfied with what Israel has done to the Palestintian’s, and including the whole Middle East. We all should be careful how to distinguish between the two of these nationalist conditions.
And I should just shut the hell up…sorry I got caught up in it once again.
Peace to all!
Don’t hold your breath waiting for the moderator at the next and, mercifully, final “presidential” debate to ask Clinton and Trump about this or any similar event related to Gaza and the West Bank.
What do the nice polite pirates plan to do with the ship? Sell it? Trash it to the point of worthlessness and give it back? Or something else?
If the US congress had a speck of guts, the cost of crimes like this would be subtracted from the welfare payments to the little shithole of a nation-state and given to the victims.
To Ann Wright and her colleagues:
God bless you all for bringing much-needed attention to the plight of the Palestinians.
The US Congress has plenty of guts to spare……No wonder they favour Israel….Israel is the only Free and Democratic state in the ME….Israel is the safest place on earth for Muslims Jews Christians palestinians and what have you..
No, it’s not. Actually if you are an Arab in Israel, you are mistreated every day; you cannot win in court no matter what the circumstances. You can build a nice house and furnish it after being given the proper permits, then you will be denied the last permit, a residency permit, so the house sets empty until a Jew calls it abandoned and takes it. If you have never been out of the West Bank and you go to Israel for a day, you can be accused of belonging to a car theft ring, go to court, be found guilty (of course) and be sentenced to prison for two years (and be abused there). If you are a little kid in a school in Ramallah or any town in the West Bank, you can be skunked-bombed regularly. It’s awful, or you can be shot if you go near any IDF soldier. You are hissed at on the streets in Israel. Even Jews who speak up for Palestinians or march against the wars on Gaza (which the IDF always starts, contrary to what you’ve heard), you will be followed home, your identity discovered, your place of employment found and your employer will fire you when the right-wingers, hard-cord Zionists, show up and complain about you. I actually saw an IDF soldier shoot a Palestinian young man, then plant a knife by his body. I could write for hours about what I’ve seen there and in the West Bank. But, guess what, every time I asked an Israel if he/she ever goes to the West Bank, he/she recoils in horror. “Oh, no, they hate us.” or “Oh, no, never, they want (or would) kill me. NOT TRUE. Israel is no more a real democracy than is the USA, and the USA backs all Israel’s nefarious actions. Just amazes me. Now, when Hillary becomes president, she will bomb Iran at the behest of Israel, and if she won’t, Israel will bomb first, and then (for some reason I never understand), the USA will join in, feeling forced to do so. I feel unsafe in Israel and happily safe in Gaza or the West Bank, and I’m not a Muslim not Arab. BTW, the Israel Jews are not Semitic (having come from the US, Russia, Canada, Europe). In fact the only people who are Semitic are the Arabs. PS. If you don’t know the IDF is the terrorist group, not Hamas, you haven’t been researching and paying attention to real journalists, rather than MSM.
Hyperbole….This sounds like it has been taken straight out of the Hamas and the plo,propaganda machine….If given half a chance most of Israel’s Arab neighbours would gladly move to live in Israel…They know a good thing when they see it….Apparently they know more about the conditions of the Arabs in Israel than you do..
Anybody reading the little troll’s output might be interested in this compilation of quotes. Years ago I plodded through them (google wasn’t as protective of Holy Israel back then and the job wasn’t so difficult) and found that approximately 3/4 of them are verifiable and true. The remainder are either taken out of context or are totally made up out of thin air by KKK/Nazi types.