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Thoughts on the Jewish boat to Gaza

Lynne Segal comments on the significance of an all-Jewish aid boat to Gaza that has been intercepted by the Israeli navy today and receives a message of hope from inside Gaza.

How many warships does it take to intercept one small boat, with 9 unarmed passengers? 10 apparently! One for each passenger, and two for the 82-year-old Holocaust survivor. Did we need yet another boat provoking confrontation on the high seas trying to break the long years of Israel’s blockade of Gaza? Just when a fact-finding mission to the UN Human Rights Council accused Israel of war crimes over its lethal assault on the Mavi Marmara four months ago, another small boat departed on its perilous voyage to Gaza. Captained by Glyn Secker, from Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JFJFP) in Britain, it was co-organized by the German Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East and supported by eleven other groups affiliated to the European Jews for a Just Peace, plus two US-based groups. The symbolic significance of this boat is that it is a Jewish boat, its crew and passengers drawn from Jews around the world, including Israel. But can it make serious political ripples, or will it prove merely another misadventure in the murky waters that never deliver us any nearer to peace between Israel and the Palestinians?

The voyage has been dismissed by a spokesman from the Board of Deputies of British Jews as a mere ‘publicity stunt’, and as a vehicle supporting ‘terrorists and enemies of Israel’, by the secretary general of Germany’s Central Council for Jews. It is certainly hard to shift the passionate polarities within the Jewish population on Israel/Palestine. But for genuine peace activists despair only mounts watching the foreseeable futility of the current round of official peace talks in Washington, as Netanyahu allows the resumption of settlement expansion in Palestinian territory, leaving Abbas with little choice but to resign from the talks. Meanwhile, the ongoing catastrophe in Gaza caused by Israel's continuing blockade is not even under discussion.

Yet, with varying levels of hypocrisy or sincerity, almost everyone agrees that something must be done to end the economically ruinous collective punishment of the population of Gaza. International reports all describe the extreme physical and mental health problems resulting from Israel’s blockade, as demographic isolation results in the curtailment of a multitude of basic human rights, even the right of Gazans to fish in most of their own territorial waters. Israel’s recent announcement that it will “ease” some of the most arbitrary controls over imports for rebuilding the collapsed sewage, water systems, houses and schools from its bombardment of Gaza 18 months ago has yet to make any significant difference.

Something must be done. But what is the significance of one small Jewish boat trying to deliver token humanitarian aid, including musical instruments for young people being helped by the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme (GCMHP)? The GCMHP was founded by the indefatigable peace campaigning psychiatrist and community leader, Dr. Eyad El-Sarraj. Wondering what new I could say in this piece, I emailed Eyad before penning it, asking him what we could possibly hope for from this venture when ‘things only keep getting worse, despite our best efforts to promote peace?’ I did not expect a reply, but to my surprise he responded instantly. Any doubts I had about the expedition were completely dispelled by his moving words, whatever now happens to the boat and its crew, as the eyes of the world look on.

Dear Lynne,

You write to me, and I must tell you that I am very inspired by the coming voyage of a Jewish boat to break the siege on Gaza. I have helped and worked with and received other boats, but this is the most significant one for me, because it carries such an important message. It brings to us and tells the world that those we Palestinians thought we should hate as our enemies can instead arrive as our friends, our brothers and sisters, sharing a love for humanity and for our struggle for justice and peace. I will wait with anticipation to shake hands with them and hold them dear in close embrace. They are my heroes. 

Please, never despair that you cannot bring peace, and never give up work for a just world. When I see, read, and relate to Jews who believe in me as an equal human being, and who tell me that their definition of humanity is not complete without me, I become stronger in my quest for justice and peace. I learnt long ago that there are Jews in and outside Israel who belong with me in the camp of friends of justice and peace. I have always strongly believed that we can live together, that we must live together. We have no other choice except to live together. It is because of people like you, and events like this, that I will never give up on the hope. 

With my best and warmest

Eyad Sarraj
Gaza, Palestine

About the author

Lynne Segal, a member of the Independent Jewish Voices Steering Group, is Professor of Psychology and Gender Studies, Birkbeck College, University of London


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