Sunday, June 26, 2011

Alice Walker: Why I'm On the Gaza Freedom Flotilla

Alice Walker: Why I'm joining the Freedom Flotilla to Gaza


    Pulitzer prize-winning American writer Alice

    Walker is on board an international flotilla of

    boats sailing to Gaza to challenge the Israeli

    blockade. Here she tells why


By Alice Walker

The Guardian (UK)

June 25, 2011


Why am I going on the Freedom Flotilla II to Gaza? I

ask myself this, even though the answer is: what else

would I do? I am in my 67th year, having lived already

a long and fruitful life, one with which I am content.

It seems to me that during this period of eldering it

is good to reap the harvest of one's understanding of

what is important, and to share this, especially with

the young. How are they to learn, otherwise?


Our boat, The Audacity of Hope, will be carrying

letters to the people of Gaza. Letters expressing

solidarity and love. That is all its cargo will consist

of. If the Israeli military attacks us, it will be as

if they attacked the mailman. This should go down

hilariously in the annals of history. But if they

insist on attacking us, wounding us, even murdering us,

as they did some of the activists in the last flotilla,

Freedom Flotilla I, what is to be done?


There is a scene in the movie Gandhi that is very

moving to me: it is when the unarmed Indian protesters

line up to confront the armed forces of the British

Empire. The soldiers beat them unmercifully, but the

Indians, their broken and dead lifted tenderly out of

the fray, keep coming.


Alongside this image of brave followers of Gandhi there

is, for me, an awareness of paying off a debt to the

Jewish civil rights activists who faced death to come

to the side of black people in the American south in

our time of need. I am especially indebted to Michael

Schwerner and Andrew Goodman who heard our calls for

help - our government then as now glacially slow in

providing protection to non-violent protesters - and

came to stand with us.


They got as far as the truncheons and bullets of a few

"good ol' boys'" of Neshoba County, Mississippi and

were beaten and shot to death along with James Chaney,

a young black man of formidable courage who died with

them. So, even though our boat will be called The

Audacity of Hope, it will fly the Goodman, Chaney,

Schwerner flag in my own heart.


And what of the children of Palestine, who were ignored

in our president's latest speech on Israel and

Palestine, and whose impoverished, terrorised,

segregated existence was mocked by the standing

ovations recently given in the US Congress to the prime

minister of Israel?


I see children, all children, as humanity's most

precious resource, because it will be to them that the

care of the planet will always be left. One child must

never be set above another, even in casual

conversation, not to mention in speeches that circle

the globe.


As adults, we must affirm, constantly, that the Arab

child, the Muslim child, the Palestinian child, the

African child, the Jewish child, the Christian child,

the American child, the Chinese child, the Israeli

child, the Native American child, etc, is equal to all

others on the planet. We must do everything in our

power to cease the behaviour that makes children

everywhere feel afraid.


I once asked my best friend and husband during the era

of segregation, who was as staunch a defender of black

people's human rights as anyone I'd ever met: how did

you find your way to us, to black people, who so needed

you? What force shaped your response to the great

injustice facing people of colour of that time?


I thought he might say it was the speeches, the

marches, the example of Martin Luther King Jr, or of

others in the movement who exhibited impactful courage

and grace. But no. Thinking back, he recounted an

episode from his childhood that had led him,

inevitably, to our struggle.


He was a little boy on his way home from yeshiva, the

Jewish school he attended after regular school let out.

His mother, a bookkeeper, was still at work; he was

alone. He was frequently harassed by older boys from

regular school, and one day two of these boys snatched

his yarmulke (skull cap), and, taunting him, ran off

with it, eventually throwing it over a fence.


Two black boys appeared, saw his tears, assessed the

situation, and took off after the boys who had taken

his yarmulke. Chasing the boys down and catching them,

they made them climb the fence, retrieve and dust off

the yarmulke, and place it respectfully back on his



It is justice and respect that I want the world to dust

off and put - without delay, and with tenderness - back

on the head of the Palestinian child. It will be

imperfect justice and respect because the injustice and

disrespect have been so severe. But I believe we are

right to try.


That is why I sail.


The Chicken Chronicles: A Memoir by Alice Walker is

published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson. A longer version

of this article appears on Alice Walker's blog:


After the excitement of the Arab Spring, has the

Palestine issue slipped out of view, asks Emine Saner


Just over a year ago, in the middle of the night,

Israeli commandos boarded a Turkish ship in

international waters just off the coast of Israel,

opened fire and killed nine activists. The Mavi Marmara

was one of six ships in the Freedom Flotilla, which was

attempting to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza, and

the actions of Israel's military brought widespread

international condemnation.


This time, as Freedom Flotilla II sets sail over the

next week, with 10 ships carrying many of the same

activists who travelled last year, including Swedish

writer Henning Mankell, American human rights

campaigner Hedy Epstein, and writer and academic Alice

Walker, the Israeli government's response will be

closely watched.


This week Ron Prosor, Israel's ambassador to the UN,

wrote a letter saying: "Israel calls on the

international community to do everything in their

ability in order to prevent the flotilla and warn

citizens . of the risks of participating in this type

of provocation." The purpose of the flotilla, he said,

is "to provoke and aid a radical political agenda". He

later added: "We are very determined to defend

ourselves and to assert our right to a naval blockade

on Gaza."


"The threats of violence won't deter us," says Huwaida

Arraf, one of the flotilla organisers. "Nobody is going

in to this lightly, but we feel it has to be done.

Israel has to realise its violence against us is not

going to stop our growing civilian effort to challenge

its illegal policies. The size of this flotilla, the

number of people involved in organising it, even after

Israel killed nine of our colleagues last year, is

testament to that."


She says half a million people applied for the few

hundred places: depending on how many of the 10 boats

are seaworthy in time, there should be around 400

people on the flotilla.


The campaign began in August 2008, when 44 activists on

two small fishing boats set off from Cyprus and managed

to reach Gaza. Later that year, the Free Gaza Movement,

as it became known, organised several other voyages,

usually sending single boats containing small but

symbolic supplies such as medicine and toys, and

volunteers, including doctors, lawyers and politicians.

Amid allegations of violence and hostility from

Israel's naval forces at sea, the activists decided

they would need to send a flotilla, and after months of

fundraising and negotiating with NGOs from other

countries, particularly Turkey, several ships met in

the Mediterranean sea in May last year with the

intention of reaching Gaza.


"We didn't make it to Gaza and we lost a lot of

colleagues," says Arraf, "but one of the things that

was achieved was that people realised what Israel's

policies meant, and the violence Israel was using to

maintain them. We think our action will put pressure on

Israel to end its blockade on Gaza, and we hope the

respective governments of all the people participating

will take action and do what they should be doing,

instead of having their nationals putting their lives

at risk like this."


There is a danger, says Chris Doyle, director of the

council for Arab-British understanding, of the

Palestinian issue being overlooked - in the west at

least - as focus shifts to countries going through the

extraordinary changes in the Arab spring. "There is a

danger that people forget how important this issue is,

and that it is boiling. It is still an unresolved

issue. At a time when international politicians -

Obama, Cameron, Sarkozy and others - are concentrating

so much on other areas of the region, the issue of

Palestine has not gone away."


"Everyone has been so amazed and shocked at the beauty

of the Arab revolutions, seeing these incredibly brave

and wonderful citizens, that it quite naturally seizes

the attention, but at the heart of the Arab revolutions

is Palestine," says Karma Nabulsi, an academic and

expert on the Middle East. "I would say it hasn't been

properly covered in the west, but Palestine is central

to what people - the Arab media, the people who are

participating in the Arab revolutions - talk about all

the time."


So where does Palestine fit into the Arab spring? Doyle

says: "A Palestinian spring is more than possible. Many

senior people within Fatah and the Palestinian

authorities have been saying this is the way to go

because the negotiations are not seen as credible, and

they will have to adopt different tactics. I think

that, on the one hand, those tactics could be against

the Israeli occupation, but also it represents a threat

to the Palestinian authority itself, both to Fatah and



The flotilla "gives people heart and encouragement,

that the struggle for freedom has friends and

supporters", says Nabulsi. "What the flotilla did last

year, these plucky little boats, was bring the entire

world to look at what [the Israeli government] were

doing. Not just because of the brutality of the

response of the military, but it shows how simple

gestures get to the heart of the issue - breaking

through the silence and the siege, and all the things

that seem so big and impossible to do. They did it and

they're going to do it again, and that's what is so

remarkably brave."


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