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June 2011, Week 4

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Sat, 25 Jun 2011 14:58:48 -0400
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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

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jun/25/alice-walker-gaza-freedom-flotilla

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
head.

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:
alicewalkersgarden.com/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
Hamas."

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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