A few weeks from now, fifty Canadians will join with people from a dozen other countries in a new international aid and solidarity flotilla to besieged Gaza. The Canadian boat is named Tahrir, the Arabic word for liberation, as in Tahrir Square.
Israel has been pressuring foreign governments to block their citizens from joining the flotilla, or at least to provide advance excuses for Israel to attack it as it did last year’s flotilla, killing nine participants.
Doing his part for Israel yesterday, newly appointed Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird declared “unauthorized efforts” to break through the siege “provocative.”
“I strongly urge those wishing to deliver humanitarian goods to the Gaza Strip to do so through established channels,” Baird said.
By “established channels” he means Israel. (Though Egypt is finally opening the Rafah crossing to people, goods are still prohibited.) This would be the same Israel which maintains the siege of Gaza that necessitates the international citizens’ flotillas. This would be the same siege, illegal by international law, which the current Canadian government continues to justify. And this would be the same Canadian government which rushed to be first in justifying Israel’s horrific invasion of Gaza in December 2008 that left over 1400 Gazans dead, more than 400 of them children.
During a moving conversation in Our Way to Fight, I ask Dr Ayed Yaghi, head of the Palestinian Medical Relief Society in Gaza: When so many life-basics are lacking, and so much is determined by the occupation forces, how do he and his co-workers set priorities on the ground? He replied, “The first priority is to end the siege on Gaza, to open the borders, to let not only infrastructure materials but all products enter Gaza. We need the international community to put more pressure on the Israeli government to end the siege and the occupation.”
I found The story of a war harrowing to watch, but absolutely riveting. It’s finely made, and essential to appreciate why Canadians and others would risk their lives to help do what our governments so consistently and shamefully fail to do: build effective international pressure on Israel to end the illegal siege and occupation.