22 October, 2009
A year ago, our boat, the DIGNITY, made her first voyage to Gaza. She was a beautiful white and silver yacht, donated by people who believed in the Free Gaza movement after our first successful voyage in August. On board were dignitaries such as Mairead Maquire, the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize winner from Ireland and Mustafa Barghouti, President of the Palestinian National Initiative and a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council (MP).
It was to be our second trip to Gaza, one postponed for a month, because we didn’t have the proper vessel to go in the fall until the week before we were leaving. The DIGNITY shined in the autumn sun as we got ready to go at dusk that day. http://www.flickr.com/photos/29205195@N02/sets/72157608508618185/
Four physicians were also on board to access the medical situation in Gaza.
We had made a decision after the first voyage to ask Al Jazeera to come with us on every trip, and they were there with cameras, a reporter and a camerman. They have been on board reporting through storms, sea sickness, and dangers from Israel for every trip since.
As usual, we were frantically working on passenger lists, supplies and media work until the very last minute. Osama Q. and I (we were the designated land team) watched piles of boxes loaded on board, taking up most of the cabin space below. Although we took medicine and medical equipment with us, we knew they were only token supplies. Our mission was about breaking Israel’s siege of the sea. Our mission was about telling the world that Palestinians didn’t need hand-outs, they needed their civil and human rights. We have always been a human rights organization, not a humanitarian organization, but we took what we could.
As the vessel steamed out past the breakwall in Larnaca, then took a right turn and headed to sea, I cried. Twenty-seven passengers and crew were going at last. We had promised the people of Gaza that we would return, and we were keeping our promise. Israel, as they did the first time, continued to threaten us, but decided at the last minute they would ignore this voyage as they did the first one, hoping we might be satisfied and go away. They didn’t realize a year ago, that we would not stop coming to Gaza.
Three more voyages were successful, taking parliamentarians, physicians, activists and Palestinians to Gaza. Former Representative Cynthia McKinney named her American initiative “The DIGNITY” in honor of our boat. http://www.flickr.com/photos/29205195@N02/sets/72157608814881165/
When the Israeli navy deliberately and viciously attacked the DIGNITY on December 30, 2008, ramming her three times in her side, the boat was so sturdy and the captain so expert, she didn’t sink with all lost at sea. She struggled into port in Lebanon but was never the same. Like a wounded racehorse that ultimately dies of its injuries, she sank in a storm off the coast of Cyprus in May 2009. http://www.flickr.com/photos/29205195@N02/sets/72157612017624425/
So today, on the anniversary of her maiden voyage, the Free Gaza movement wants to assure those of you who have supported us for over three years, that we will return to Gaza We will not stop returning until the 1.5 million people there have the right to their own sea lanes without interference from Israel.
Stay tuned for our next voyage. We are coming back.
[See the interview with Cynthia McKinney onboard the Dignity]