New Peace Flotilla to Gaza: A Voyage of Audacious Hope

New Peace Flotilla to Gaza: A Voyage of Audacious Hope

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ATHENS, Greece—Later this week, I will be on board a ship named The Audacity of Hope, bound for Gaza along with 50 other Americans. Part of an international flotilla of about 10 vessels from a variety of countries, my fellow passengers and I will be unarmed. Our only cargo is thousands of letters to the people of Gaza from individuals across the United States. While our goal is to challenge Israel’s blockade of Gaza—and our government’s support for this illegal action—we fully expect the Obama administration to work to uphold our right to safe passage on the seas during our nonviolent peace mission.

My motivation to take part in this voyage grows out of my background. I come from southern Arizona, in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. My mother was born in Ciudad Obregon, Sonora (Mexico); my Tata (or grandfather) was half Yaqui Indian. I am also Jewish. These identities—all of which I embrace—and the histories of atrocities, pain, and struggle that inform them have led me to identify with the dispossessed and the downtrodden.

That I am Jewish is especially relevant in that I am entitled (by a nation-state that is not mine but claims to represent me) to travel to Israel, become a citizen, and enjoy all manner of associated rights and privileges. Meanwhile, the people who are actually from the lands that Israel illegally occupies—Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem—are not citizens of any country. At best, their human rights are highly limited. They are effectively incarcerated, their future one of despair and destitution as long as Israel’s occupation continues.

As a U.S. citizen, I simply cannot sit idle while we as Americans participate in Israel’s siege, occupation, and repression of Palestinians, crimes which are most pronounced in Gaza. Israel, which receives billions of dollars in U.S. aid annually, regularly deploys American weapons and military technology against mostly Palestinian civilians. Israel’s brutal 2008-9 assault on Gaza, which Amnesty International characterized as “22 days of death and destruction,” is just the bloodiest example.

Israeli soldiers frequently fire on Palestinians in Gaza, including children, simply for scavenging for construction materials among the war’s ruins. In 2010, reports Save the Children, Israel shot 26 such children near its boundary, including 16 who were beyond the Israeli-imposed 300-meter no-go zone that extends into the Gaza Strip.

More broadly, Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip creates great hardships for the civilian population. The territory suffers from of one of the world’s highest rates of unemployment—a staggering 45 percent—according to the United Nations agency charged with assisting Palestinian refugees (who make up the vast majority of Gaza’s residents). Also recently, the Gaza-based Al Mazan Center for Human Rights reported that many essential medical supplies and medicines in the territory have simply run out.

Such conditions led Amnesty International and 15 other leading humanitarian and human rights groups about one year after Israel’s assault to declare that the world had “betrayed” Gaza’s civilian population by not taking effective measures to end the blockade. Meanwhile, in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Human Rights Watch describes a situation resembling Apartheid South Africa in its Dec. 2010 report “Separate and Unequal.”

As I write this, I am in Athens, preparing to board The Audacity of Hope. Around my neck I proudly wear a Star of David amulet, one given to me just before I left Arizona by a dear friend and fellow Jewish human rights activist. I wear it—according to the profound feelings we both share—to symbolize the root meanings of Judaism that are not emphasized enough: welcoming the stranger as though you were a stranger; helping free the slave as though you were once enslaved.

Through nonviolent actions undertaken all over the world, led crucially by Palestinians on the ground, the Israeli occupation will one day end. Those of us—limited only by the will to act—who face the unavoidable choice to tolerate or to resist these crimes will determine how long the suffering continues, and a lasting and just peace in Israel/Palestine remains out of reach.

Tucson-based Gabriel Schivone works with the organization Jewish Voice for Peace at the University of Arizona, where he studies literature.