I am sitting in the airport in Catania, reading the newspaper, heading back home after spending three days with the crew, passengers, and supporters of the ship 'Al Awda', as it prepares for its voyage to Gaza. I am reading 'Il manifesto', the newspaper of the Italian left. for several years, it was not available in Sicily, it has just returned to the newsstands in the past couple of weeks.
There is a headline on the front page: 'Israel and Hamas, on the verge of war'. My experience around the Al Awda gives me a different perspective about the situation. The Freedom Flotilla coalition continues to highlight Israeli scholar Baruch Kimmerling's description that Gaza is today the largest concentration camp in the world. How can we describe the struggle between prisoners and guards as a 'war'? A prisoner's revolt is a more fitting description. And the inevitable Israeli air strikes are not part of a 'war': They are a brutal form of disproportionate retaliation.
Watching and talking about the Al Awda is a powerful reminder of the complete lack of symmetry between the two sides. The activists have been at work since last December to prepare boats to accomplish a seemingly straightforward thing: Sail about across the sea and bring some medical supplies to another country. Sitting on the dock, we struck up a conversation with a pair of French people who spend their summers sailing all over the Mediterranean, going from port to port, from country to country: Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco...they describe it as the most natural thing in the world. But trying to get to Gaza requires, among many other things, trying to find a group of people of international stature (a member of the Swedish parliament, journalists from a variety of outlets, retired U.S. diplomats, Nobel Peace prize winners...), and even then, facing the near certainty of being intercepted by the Israeli navy in international waters, detained, interrogated, and finally expelled. Without being beaten, if they're lucky. It requires hours of legal preparation, and (as I recently learned) having a plan in place to have some point-people plan to set aside their lives for days so that they can stay in contact with the passengers' next of kin to inform them of any developments after they have been detained. And more.
As a U.S. citizen, this is infuriating. Everyone agrees: Israel could not behave in this way without the amount of military, financial, and diplomatic support it receives from the United States. And yet, after every flare-up of rebellion from the prisoners in Gaza, what we hear from our politicians is that 'Israel has a right to defed itself' - which in the real world means: 'The people who operate the largest concentration camp in the world have the right to inflict brutal and disproportionate retaliation against the prisoners'.
The United Nations has issued a report saying that, due to a lack of water purification and public health infrastructure (destroyed by Israeli fighter jets, and impossible to reconstruct because of the Israeli blockade), Gaza will not be livable by 2020. Harvard professor Sara Roy describes the public health situation in Gaza by saying that 'the majority of the children of Gaza are slowly being poisoned.' And yet, since a militaristic Israeli foreign policy (within strict parameters dictated by the United States, directed against the 'appropriate' enemies) is a boon to the military-industrial complex, and the filters that shape media coverage (described by Herman and Chomsky in the indispensable book 'Manufacturing Consent') continue to operate, we get a perverted fairy tale about 'the only democracy in the region' fighting 'terrorists', as well as elected officials who see nothing to gain by raising their voices against any of it.
I spoke with a young Italian on the dock, who shared that his view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is shaped for example by a Netflix show whose name I can't remember, told from the Israeli point of view, in which the heros are Israeli Defense Forces soldiers. And yet, even he expressed admiration for the intentions and the dedication of the freedom flotilla. I wonder if we can collectively pressure our representatives to do the same...
Written by Matteo Tamburini
I grew up in Pistoia, Italy. My father and all his family were Italian. My mother’s family was primarily composed of Irish immigrants to the United States. Lucky to have dual citizenship, I moved to the United States in 1999 to go to college. Since 2009, I have been teaching (and learning) Mathematics at Northwest Indian College, a college chartered by the Lummi Tribe. I have served on the Board of the Whatcom Peace and Justice Center since 2010. My primary cultural commitment is my dedication to study the Afro-Brasilian artform Capoeira Angola, under the guidance of my teacher, Mestre Silvio Aleixo dos Reis, of the International Capoeira Foundation, who I have been learning from since 2008.
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