Will the Freedom Flotilla Sail to Gaza?

Türkiye is under pressure from the U.S. and Israel to block a flotilla from delivering aid and breaking the Gaza blockade, writes Medea Benjamin.

One of three vessels attached to the Freedom Flotilla Coalition docked in Istanbul. (Medea Benjamin)

By Medea Benjamin

Peoples Dispatch

The non-violence training to join the Freedom Flotilla Coalition’s ships to Gaza has been intense. As hundreds of us from 32 countries gathered in Istanbul, we were briefed about what we might encounter on this voyage. “We have to be ready for every possibility,” our trainers insisted.

The best scenario, they said, is that our three ships — one carrying 5500 tons of humanitarian aid and two carrying the passengers — will reach Gaza and accomplish our mission.

Another scenario would be that the Turkish government might cave to pressure from Israel, the U.S. and Germany and prevent the boats from even leaving Istanbul. This happened in 2011, when the Greek government buckled under pressure and 10 boats were stalled in Greece.

With our boats docked in Istanbul today, we fear that Turkish President Erdogan, who recently suffered a crushing blow in local elections, is vulnerable to any economic blackmail the Western powers might be threatening.

Another possibility is that the ships take off but the Israelis illegally hijack these in international waters, confiscate our boats and supplies, and arrest, imprison us and eventually deport us.

This happened on several other voyages to Gaza, one of them with deadly consequences.

In 2010, a flotilla of six boats was stopped by the Israeli military in international waters. They boarded the biggest boat, the Mavi Marmara. According to a U.N. report, the Israelis opened fire with live rounds from a helicopter hovering above the ship and from commando boats along the side of the ship. In a horrific display of force, nine passengers were killed, and one more later succumbed to his wounds.

To try to prevent another nightmare like that, potential passengers on this flotilla have to undergo rigorous training.

We watched a video of what we might face — from extremely potent tear gas to ear-splitting concussion grenades — and we were told that the Israeli commandos will be armed with weapons with live rounds. Then we divided up into small groups to discuss how best to react, non-violently, to such an attack. Do we sit, stand, or lie down? Do we link arms? Do we put our hands up in the air to show we are unarmed?

Glimpses of What May Come

Protesters in Istanbul pray before a demonstration against a Gaza flotilla raid back in May, 2010. (Bektour, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

The most frightening part of the training was a simulation replete with deafening booms of gunfire and exploding percussion grenades and masked soldiers screaming at us, hitting us with simulated rifles, dragging us across the floor, and arresting us.

It was indeed sobering to get a glimpse of what might await us. Equally sobering are Israeli media reports indicating that the Israeli military has begun “security preparations,” including preparations for taking over the flotilla.

That’s why everyone who has signed up for this mission deserves tremendous credit.

The largest group of passengers are from Türkiye, and many are affiliated with the humanitarian group, I.H.H., an enormous Turkish NGO with 82 offices throughout the country. It has consultative status at the UN and does charity work in 115 countries. Through I.H.H., millions of supporters donated money to buy and stock the ships. Israel, however, has designated this very respected charity as a terrorist group.

The next largest group comes from Malaysia, some of them affiliated with another very large humanitarian group called MyCARE. MyCARE, known for helping out in emergency situations such as floods and other natural disasters, has contributed millions of dollars in emergency aid to Gaza over the years.

From the US, there are about 35 participants. Leading the group, and key to the international coalition, is 77-year-old retired US Army colonel and State Department diplomat Ann Wright.

After quitting the State Department in protest over the US invasion of Iraq, Wright has put her diplomatic skills to good use, helping to pull together a motley group of internationals.

Her co-organizer from the US, Huwaida Arraf, a Palestinian American attorney, is a co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement and ran for congress in 2022. Arraf was key to organizing the very first flotillas that started in 2008.

So far, there have been about 15 attempts to get to Gaza by boat, only five of them successful.

Outrage and Internationalism

Palestinian-American attorney Huwaida Arraf was key to organizing the first flotillas that started in 2008. (Pieter Kuiper/Free Gaza Movement via Creative Commons)

The incredible breadth of participants is evident in our nightly meetings, where you can hear clusters of groups chatting away in Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, Malay, French, Italian, and English in diverse accents from Australian to Welsh. The ages range from students in their 20s to an 86-year-old Argentine medical doctor.

What brings us together is our outrage that the world community is allowing this genocide in Gaza to happen, and a burning desire to do more than we have been doing to stop people from being murdered, maimed and starved.

The aid we are bringing is enormous. It is the equivalent of over 100 trucks. But that is not the only purpose of this trip. Arraf said:

“This is an aid mission to bring food to hungry people, but Palestinians do not want to live on charity. So, we are also challenging Israeli policies that make them dependent on aid. We are trying to break the siege.”

Israel’s vicious attacks on the people of Gaza, its blocking of aid deliveries and its targeting of relief organizations have fueled a massive humanitarian crisis. The killing of seven World Central Kitchen workers by Israeli forces on April 1 highlighted the dangerous environment in which relief agencies operate, which has forced many of them to shut down their operations.

The U.S. government is building a temporary port for aid that is supposed to be finished in early May, but this is the same government that provides weapons and diplomatic cover for the Israelis. And while President Biden expresses concern for the suffering Palestinians, he has suspended aid to UNRWA, the main U.N. agency responsible for helping them, after Israel made unsubstantiated claims that 12 of its 13,000 employees in Gaza participated in the October 7 attacks.

Given the urgency and danger this moment presents, the Freedom Flotilla Coalition is entering rough and uncharted waters. We are calling on countries around the world to pressure Israel to allow us “free and safe passage” to Gaza.

In the U.S., we are asking for help from our Congress, but having just approved another $US26 billion to Israel, it is doubtful that we can count on their support.

And even if our governments did pressure Israel, would Israel pay attention? Their defiance of international law and world opinion during the past seven months indicates otherwise. But still, we will push forward.

The people of Gaza are the wind in our sails. Freedom for Palestine is our North Star. We are determined to reach Gaza with food, medicines and, most of all, our solidarity and love.

Medea Benjamin is the co-founder of CODEPINK for Peace, and the author of several books, including Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

This is was first published by Peoples Dispatches.

Views expressed in this article and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

27 comments for “Will the Freedom Flotilla Sail to Gaza?

  1. Charles E. Carroll
    April 25, 2024 at 18:11

    Remember the USS Liberty! Free Palestine!

  2. robert e williamson jr
    April 25, 2024 at 16:58

    The US govmt’s stand here stinks like the rotting flesh smell that permeates the air there.

    These people have gone mad.

  3. Gypsy33
    April 25, 2024 at 09:28

    I would walk through fire for Medea Benjamin.
    If you were to require another volunteer, count me in. I have no fear of death for a just cause.

  4. April 25, 2024 at 06:05

    Your ideal landing spot would be that new jetty, courtesy of the United States. Someone in Washington is bound to consider that a good idea. It would also be the safest option for you brave people. Stay safe Medea.

  5. rjb
    April 24, 2024 at 22:42

    Medea, as has been the case for a long time, I am impressed by your courage, your dedication, and by the direction of your chosen path.

  6. April 24, 2024 at 15:07

    Kudos to you all for attempting to help those who are prevented from being able to help themselves to even feed and protect their children by a cult of bigoted racists hiding behind an ideological mask of monotheistic fantasy.
    As Usual,

    April 24, 2024 at 14:01

    Re: “With our boats docked in Istanbul today, we fear that Turkish President Erdogan, who recently suffered a crushing blow in local elections, is vulnerable to any economic blackmail the Western powers might be threatening,” this is a minor comment in light of the article, but I think you might have the logic wrong here.

    I had the impression that Erdogan’s recent “crushing [electoral] blow” came as a response to Turkey’s apparent inaction on behalf of the Palestinians. In other words, the electoral defeat should be something that makes Erdogan LESS vulnerable to pressure to be on Team USA, rather than MORE.

  8. Jack Reed
    April 24, 2024 at 13:41

    Organizing this from a loyal NATO country that still trades with Israel (despite leader pronouncements) appears to be a rather dubious decision. On the other hand, if they were sailing from North Yemen, I doubt they’d have any government problems on the departure side.

    Code Pink is like Greenpeace. Real big on symbolic actions that never actually change anything. But, I guess its a living.

  9. Deniz
    April 24, 2024 at 13:13

    Turks are far more aware of the nature of Israel than what I see in the West, where it seems the nefarious nature of Israel is just beginning to dawn on them. Can you imagine any organization in the West providing training to defend against Israel? Even the Churches in the West are indoctrination programs to worship Israel.

  10. Fay van Dunk
    April 24, 2024 at 12:55

    Good versus evil that is what the flotilla represents.

  11. Carolyn Zaremba
    April 24, 2024 at 12:39

    Appealing to the U.S. Congress is futile and illogical. They are the war criminals enabling and supporting this Holocaust in Palestine! You are all very brave people, but you still believe there are sane people in the U.S. government. You are mistaken. I speak as an American who started protesting against war in the 1960s. Good luck to you on the ship. Be careful. But realize that the U.S. government will not help you.

  12. susan
    April 24, 2024 at 12:38

    Go Forward With Courage

    When you are in doubt, be still, and wait;
    when doubt no longer exists for you, then go forward with courage.
    So long as mists envelop you, be still;
    be still until the sunlight pours through and dispels the mists
    — as it surely will.
    Then act with courage.

    Ponca Chief White Eagle (1800’s to 1914)

  13. Jon
    April 24, 2024 at 12:29

    Prior to October 7th, 500 trucks of aid per day were going into Gaza. This flotilla is attempting bring the equivalent of “100 trucks of aid” into Gaza by boat. 1/5th of one day’s aid, prewar, when everyone in Gaza wasn’t starving. 15 prior attempts with only 5 successful. Perhaps the increased publicity will help get more aid into Gaza.

    • Tim N
      April 25, 2024 at 10:34

      Yes, the publicly will be important. But the only way it gets reported is if the Israelis do something criminally insane, like sink a ship or board it and kill some people.

  14. Vera Gottlieb
    April 24, 2024 at 12:24

    Only people with no conscience, no integrity, no compassion will attempt to stop this flotilla. Their souls and hands soaked in blood. We shall always remember this cruel act and NEVER let them forget it. Hiding behind the Holocaust to commit sinister acts.

    • WillD
      April 24, 2024 at 21:41

      Yes, that is what Israel with all of its hatred and bitterness has been reduced to – with the help of western powers that use it to cause trouble in the Middle East.

      The flotilla must prepare for the worst case scenario. I hope they set up live streaming cameras all over the ships to broadcast to thre world the Israeli atrocities when they happen.

  15. Megan
    April 24, 2024 at 10:52

    Medea Benjamin is the very best of what this country has to offer. No self- righteousness, no self-agrandizement, just sheer compassionate humanity. A deeply principled woman with courage to match. I am in awe of you, Medea, and I pray for your success and safety, for you are utterly irreplaceable. Sending love and good thoughts to all of you! ??????

    • Michael Weddington
      April 24, 2024 at 13:57

      I totally agree. Thank you Medea.

  16. Drew Hunkins
    April 24, 2024 at 10:42

    “We watched a video of what we might face — from extremely potent tear gas to ear-splitting concussion grenades — and we were told that the Israeli commandos will be armed with weapons with live rounds. Then we divided up into small groups to discuss how best to react, non-violently, to such an attack. Do we sit, stand, or lie down? Do we link arms? Do we put our hands up in the air to show we are unarmed?”

    You are dealing with biblical psychopaths who show no compunction whatsoever in torturing and murdering scores of children in a single afternoon. Look at what was just unearthed under the Nasser hospital — more than 300 Palestinian bodies discovered having been executed with their arms tied behind their backs, including children!

    React non-violently all you want, but when face-to-face with these sadistic Zionist predators, all bets are off.

    • Vera Gottlieb
      April 24, 2024 at 12:25

      Always turning the other cheek just doesn’t work. An eye for an eye…

      • Drew Hunkins
        April 24, 2024 at 22:15

        Definitely true.

    • Jack Reed
      April 24, 2024 at 14:18

      I remember back when I was young, there were always people who acted like they wanted to fight, but what they really wanted was for their friends to hold them back while they make a big pretense of wanting to fight.

      I rather doubt that these people really want to come face to face with sadistic Zionist predators. If they did, they would not begin their journey from NATO. There are countries that would happily let such a ship sail. North Yemen immediately came to mind. Cuba and probably Venezuela as well, because ships have been known to actually cross oceans. Syria still has Med ports a bit further up the coast. I know these days there are two Libyas (thanks Hillary!), so maybe one of them would provide a port? Algeria’s been friendly at least in the UN. For a sailing ship, South Africa could be considered. The Red Sea would of course be safe for such a ship. Why NATO? Looks an awful lot like they want to be held back by their friends.

      • Drew Hunkins
        April 24, 2024 at 22:15

        Excellent comment.

      • Valerie
        April 25, 2024 at 03:43

        Spain too. And Spain is sympathetic to the Palestinian’s plight. Wherever, i hope their mission succeeds.

  17. CaseyG
    April 24, 2024 at 10:30

    You, who are sailing to Gaza, I truly am impressed with you. The US, UK and Israel will obviously try to murder you too. I hope not, but when I see the face of Netanyahu, I see a man without a soul, and Biden you’re catching up to that horrible man in the way you too seem to delight in wars and killing. . The United States of America don’t seem very united about anything.
    I wonder if nations will wake up and see that the coming climate changes might kill all of us on this planet. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the planet’s health became more important than murdering people from other nations.

  18. Geraldine Cowan
    April 24, 2024 at 10:19

    I remember when survivors of the Mavi Marmara came to a meeting in London to tell us what happened to them. I also remember how slow UK was in rescuing their citizens whereas Turkey were one of the first to save theirs. I was Uber impressed with Turkey and even emailed my thanks and congratulations to the government. Is Israel allowed to attack ships at sea? Wasn’t that attack a crime? Piracy?
    Thank you, wear a bulletproof vest and I’ll pray you arrive safely. ???. A safety penguin and a shamrock is all you need! Take care…

  19. Paul Citro
    April 24, 2024 at 08:15

    Thank you for you commitment and your courage.

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