Israeli pirates versus peace activists on the high seas
POLL POSITION | Right now my friend Michael is locked up in an Israeli prison for trying to travel to Gaza. So is London resident and Press TV journalist Hassan Ghani.
RIGHT now my friend Michael is locked up in an Israeli prison for trying to travel to Gaza.
So is London resident and Press TV journalist Hassan Ghani.
Last week they joined other peace activists and journalists from around the world on board two boats that set out from a port in Turkey, travelling across the Mediterranean Sea, with Gaza as their intended destination.
The boats were part of the “Freedom Waves” initiative, which sought to challenge the ongoing military blockade of Gaza by Israel. Gaza is a region populated by 1.5 million men, women, and children. It is currently locked down and occupied by Israeli military.
Israel says it does this for “security purposes”, to protect its borders and people. But in the last week alone nine Palestinians were killed by Israeli airstrikes, not the reverse.
This is what those on board the freedom boats to Gaza hoped to draw international attention to. On Friday evening we received news that the Freedom Waves boats had been intercepted and boarded by the Israeli Navy. It is worth pointing out that while this outcome is not surprising, it is illegal.
The boats were in international waters when the Israeli military captured them. The Israelis shot high-pressured water cannons at the boats, smashing windows and causing considerable damage.
Despite all activists and journalists on board being unarmed and peaceful they were assaulted by heavily armed Israeli military. One man, a university professor and father of two from Canada, was tasered.
The military took all those on board the boats to an Israeli prison. We didn’t hear from Michael for the next 36 or so hours. Communication remains restricted.
We now know that although battered and bruised, Michael is doing as well as can be expected, and we expect he will be deported back to Australia.
Despite Michael being an Australian citizen illegally detained in an overseas country, our political leaders have shamefully ignored his case. When it comes to being in trouble overseas, it seems that unless you’re a teenager caught with pot in Bali, you’re not on the national political agenda.
Letters to foreign minister Kevin Rudd have gone unanswered, and others from around the world report similar situations with their own supposed representatives in parliament.
The fact that Australian political leaders from the two major parties are so unwilling to speak out against Israel is unsurprising. In fact, one of the key reasons Michael made his dangerous and courageous journey is because of the determination the Australian government has shown in avoiding condemning Israel for its ongoing enforcement of apartheid like policies against Palestinians.
Initiatives like Freedom Waves bring attention to the fact that Palestine is not free, rather it is aggressively occupied by a foreign military and reliant upon aid. But Palestinians don’t want charity, they want solidarity from civil society, to call on governments to condemn Israel and urge an end to the occupation.
“Conflict in the Middle East,” it’s that age-old issue that beauty queens wish to remedy and dinner table discussions dismiss as forever ongoing. But we can free Palestine, if we decide to speak out instead of waiting for our politicians to do it for us.
As Professor Stuart Rees Director of the Sydney Peace Foundation said in a message of support for Michael: “Without brave and principled citizens taking a stand – as you have done in being part of the freedom flotilla for Gaza – politicians and other ‘leaders’ will continue to think that brute force must be the hub of domestic and foreign policies.”
He continued: “But you and other courageous people have shown there is a human rights based, non violent alternative to the continued violence by those governments and armies which remain indifferent to human rights.”
Michael will no doubt soon be free, but the people of Palestine remain in the world’s largest open air prison. Israel has been holding an entire people to ransom for far too long, we must now send a clear message to Israel that enough is enough. The Freedom Waves will continue to come, until Palestine is free.