The decision to be a part of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla was not a difficult one to make. For many years, Friends of Al Aqsa has campaigned to bring peace to Palestinians and despite our successes in raising awareness and lobbying in the UK, Israel has continued to breach international law with impunity. The situation in Gaza is unbearable and reminiscent of the Second World War, when hundreds of thousands of people were herded together like cattle. The only difference here is that we have formulated dozens of international treaties to ensure that this situation never again arises, and yet here we are facing it once more.
The perpetrator Israel is treated as a friend and ally by many governments around the world.
I decided to join the Freedom Flotilla for several reasons. I cannot bear to hear of another child dying in Gaza from a treatable disease, or another family facing a scorching summer living with little protection from the elements. I wanted to help deliver the tonnes of reconstruction materials that will help rebuild homes, schools and hospitals the materials that Israel refuses to allow into Gaza. I also wanted to help deliver school supplies to children and medical supplies to health centres. That is the aim of this mission to bring relief to the 1.5 million people who are suffering under this blockade. This is also an attempt to replicate what the people of Gaza have been doing over the past four years resist with resolute conviction. If the people of Gaza have refused to cower to Israeli brutality then the least we can do is aid them in their legitimate, moral and ethical battle.
As a result, there is of course the challenge to Israel and its illegal control of Gaza's waterways and its siege of the Gaza Strip. However, if Israel intercepts the flotilla, one must question who the aggressor is — 700 humanitarians from over 40 countries or a heavily armed Israeli naval force?
We were due to depart from Antalya on the flagship of the flotilla on Tuesday, May 25, but as with all other carefully crafted plans, we are having to revise our schedule. The boats setting sail from Greece have been delayed and as we all need to travel in a group we need to extend our patience for a further 24 hours before setting sail. Irrespective of when we get under way, one thing that has transpired between each and every one of us who intends to join the Flotilla is that our will-power is ready to match Israel's military might.
Meanwhile, Israel has announced several measures to counter the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. Reports say that half of the Israeli navy has been placed on full alert to confront our peaceful mission to take humanitarian aid to Gaza. They have also readied detention centres capable of holding and interrogating ‘hundreds' of protesters, so one can only conclude they mean to imprison the 700 foreign nationals who make up this contingent.
The greatest concern is the announcement that Israeli ‘citizens' are preparing to sail with hundreds of boats to confront us. This is of concern since this may provide an excuse for the Israeli navy to intervene under the pretext of aiding its citizens. However, this contingent is likely to be made up of the most extreme elements of Israeli society, namely the illegal colonists. The very same ones who shot dead a 16-year-old boy — Aysar Zaben on May 13 this year, because he threw stones at their car. Colonist violence is commonplace in the Occupied Territories and as a result they heap further misery on the Palestinian people. If these are the ones who will challenge the Freedom Flotilla, they will be interested only in maintaining the oppression that allows them to live illegally on Palestinian land. They do not play by the rules and have little regard for life or property that is not theirs.
However, one can raise the legitimate question are these Israelis without uniforms really civilians, or soldiers disguised in civilian clothing? What is clear is that all these threats from a heavily armed naval force against us has simply further strengthened our resolve, and we remain eager to set off sooner rather than later.
Ismail Patel is the chair of Friends of Al Aqsa, UK.