By Ramzi Kysia in Cyprus
“Come, my friends / ‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world. / Push off, and
sitting well in order smite / The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds / To
sail beyond the sunset…”
–TS Eliot, “Ulysses”
Limassol, Cyprus – In a few, short days, the Free Gaza Movement, a diverse group of international human rights activists from seventeen different countries, will set sail from Cyprus to Gaza in order to shatter the Israeli
blockade of the Gaza Strip. I’m proud to stand with them. Over 170 prominent
individuals and organizations have endorsed our efforts, including the Carter
Center, former British Cabinet member Claire Short, and Nobel Peace Prize
laureates Mairead Maguire and Desmond Tutu.
Adam Qvist, a 22 year old student and filmmaker from Copenhagen, Denmark, is
one of the human rights workers sailing to Gaza. He explains his participation
in the project in this way:
“I’m interested in telling narratives and advocating people’s existent
feelings. The idea of sailing to Gaza is kind of crazy, but it’s also very
straight-forward. The whole idea of having just one Palestinian who’s been
forced off their land and who is able to return to Palestine – this is
something that could demolish the whole Zionist venture. And it just has to be
one person. If one person can do it, then others can do it. This project, this
boat, is about giving people the freedom to take responsibility. You
shouldn’t expect something from others if you can’t do it yourself, and
this is true both on a very personal but also on a political level.
“This mission is an amazing opportunity to have a huge impact on this
hard-locked, heart-locked, crisis. I’ve never been to Gaza, myself, but I
know that Gaza is the forgotten little brother of the Middle East, or at least
of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. Everything about this crisis is clearer in
Gaza. The Israeli occupation strategy is much clearer in Gaza, because it’s
not specifically about taking more land. It’s mostly about completely
destroying a people.”
Over two years ago, in an election process advocated by the United States, the
party of Hamas was elected to power in Occupied Palestine. In response, Israel
and the United States imposed a near total blockade on the people of Gaza in an
illegal act of collective punishment.
For more than two years, Israel has blocked Gaza’s access to tax revenues,
humanitarian aid, and even family remittances from Palestinians living abroad.
Predictably, Gaza’s economy has completely collapsed, and malnutrition rates
have skyrocketed. Today, because of the blockade, eighty percent of the people
of Gaza are dependent on United Nations’ food aid just to be able to eat.
This is intolerable.
U.S. Presidential candidate Barack Obama often speaks about the “audacity of
hope.” But hope can never be a passive emotion. Centuries ago, St. Augustine
wrote that Hope has two, beautiful daughters: Anger and Courage. To hope for a
better world is to be angry at the injustices that prevent that world from
emerging, and it requires the courage to stand up and create newer worlds for
Tom Nelson, a lawyer from Welches, Oregon, is sailing to Gaza to seek that
newer world. According to Tom:
“Americans are terribly ignorant of the human effects of what they support. I
think this boat is one of the most effective means of raising consciousness –
particularly American consciousness – about the problems caused by American
foreign policy. Americans have to know the consequences of these policies …
I’m sixty-four years old, my children are grown, and my affairs are in order.
I think about Rachel Corrie, and about what Israel may do to us. I know it’s
risky, but I take a risk when I ride a motorcycle, and I think that if we’re
really going to change things then somebody has to begin putting something on
the line for that change to happen.”
Eliza Ernshire is a thirty-two year old schoolteacher from London. Her reasons
for sailing to Gaza are much the same:
“For years and years – seeing place in the world that were being totally
destroyed, and people that were being totally destroyed by other people and
governments – I thought there’s nothing that I could do. But I realized that
we can change things in small ways, and we have a responsibility to do this.
“No one is paying attention to what’s happening in Gaza. No one is
listening to Palestinians. They are slowly being strangulated by Israel, and no
one is even listening. I can’t sit outside of this and just let it happen …
We as human beings have an obligation to stand up, and I can’t be passive
about it. You can’t stand up in London and just say that you don’t agree.
We need to find ways to connect people in the Middle East, particularly young
people, to people and groups in wealthier countries. Together we can inspire
each other, and together we can be much more than we are alone.”
Eliza speaks a powerful truth. Politicians and pundits often complain that the
conflicts in the Middle East are complex and intractable, but two things are
absolutely clear: One is that the use of violence – and, in Israel’s case,
overwhelming violence – has not helped any side to achieve peace or security.
And the other is that our governments, across our entire world, have completely
failed to do anything productive to address this crisis.
It’s time we the people stand up for ourselves against unjust laws, wanton
violence, criminal blockades, and the hardness of heart that makes these thing
possible. It’s time we stand against fear-mongering and war-mongering, and
build connections, for ourselves, with our sisters and brothers in the Middle
East. Our politicians have long since failed us. Now it’s our turn to stand
up and seek a newer world for ourselves.
Ramzi Kysia is an Arab-American writer and activist, and a member of the Free
Gaza Movement. You can receive regular updates on their efforts to break the
siege of Gaza by signing up for their newsletter. If you’d like more
information, or if you’d like to donate to their efforts, please visit their
website at FreeGaza.org.