To Gaza with Dignity

The tiny Dignité/Karama, sailing under a French flag, left Corsica on 25 June, and has been chugging along for the past weeks mostly in Greek waters. Its last stop was the Greek island Kastellorizo on Saturday, after which it headed south. The 16 passengers on board view themselves as representatives of the entire Freedom Flotilla II: Stay Human. The rest of the Flotilla’s ships have all been detained in Greek ports, some sabotaged, others on technicalities, and when that failed — the withdrawal of their flags.

According to Greta Berlin of the Free Gaza Movement (FGM), the Dignité was only allowed to leave Kastellorizo when it told Greek coastguard officials it was heading for Alexandria, Egypt, not Gaza. By Sunday night, it was nearing the Egyptian city of Port Said but came to a stop and then changed course, heading for Gaza after all. The captain, Zacharia Stylianakis, decided that Egypt’s political turmoil would make a visit there unadvisable, that it was perfectly legal to go to Gaza, so why not?

By Tuesday morning it was 50 miles away from the Gaza Strip when an Israel Navy ship started trailing the yacht and threatened to attack it if it entered the blockaded waters. Soon three gunboats were surrounding it. Of course, it was finally intercepted by the Israeli navy and taken to Ashdod port.

The delegates on board include French Communist Party firebrand Jacqueline Le Corre, ex-Euro parliamentarian Jean Claude Lefort, as well as representatives of the stymied Canadian, French, Greek and Swedish Flotillers. Israeli journalist Amira Hass, is reporting for Haaretz, and there is a team from Al-Jazeera TV.

Hass is author of ”Drinking the Sea at Gaza” (1999), a heart-wrenching account of Gazan society from the late 1980s through the mid-1990s. She lived in, and reported from, Gaza during the 1990s and now lives in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Her book recounts the 1948 expulsion and flight to Gaza, and how village structures and traditions were reconstructed in the crowded camps of Gaza. “Even if most Gazan refugees are now ready to accept the political consequences of losing their land, emotionally they will always see the villages as home.”

That the Dignité chose Kastellorizo, in the far east of the Greek archipelago near the Turkish mainland, as its launch pad to break the siege is no coincidence. Many Kastellorizans fled the Nazis during WWII, finding refuge in Gaza. The present mayor of the island, Paul Panigiris, was born in Gaza, and he and his fellow islanders are staunch supporters of their besieged brothers. Their support for the Dignité was no doubt an important factor in “convincing” the Greek official to let it proceed.

The Dignité is not just the remnants of Freedom Flotilla 2, as depicted in the mass media, but a first wave of others. Its passengers were treated with respect by the IDF, even offered cookies and tea in Ashdod. A far cry from last year’s PR fiasco for Israel. According to Free Gaza, “it is a message to the Israeli government, to the international community and to the besieged people of Gaza: The Free Gaza Movement and the coalition of Freedom Flotilla II are not giving up until the inhumane and illegitimate blockade of Gaza is lifted.”

Eric Walberg is a journalist who worked in Uzbekistan and is now writing for Al-Ahram Weekly in Cairo. He is the author of From Postmodernism to Postsecularism: Re-Emerging Islamic Civilization and Postmodern Imperialism: Geopolitics and the Great Games. Read other articles by Eric, or visit Eric's website.