Earlier this year a University of Western Ontario student group, Solidarity with Palestinian Human Rights, joined with other community groups, the newly formed London Solidarity Coalition with Palestine, to help raise funds in support of the Canadian Boat to Gaza initiative, a civil society campaign to challenge the blockade of Gaza.
While not specifically an academic issue, the blockade affects students and university staff along with everyone else in what has aptly been called the world’s largest open-air prison. Despite marginal improvements since last summer’s flotilla, aid deliveries to Gaza are still a fraction of what was needed before the blockade was imposed in 2007. As the Israeli and international NGOs have documented extensively, the Palestinians of Gaza have been ‘put on a diet’ by the military blockade, in order to punish them for their electoral choices.
As our colleague, Ziad Medoukh, head of French and director of the Peace Centre at Al-Aqsa University in Gaza, notes, schools supplies, computer equipment and books are still among the goods which are severely restricted and only sporadically available under the blockade of Gaza. Despite high levels of participation in primary-secondary education and healthy enrolments at the five universities in Gaza, the hopes of a whole generation in Gaza are being needlessly stunted due to senseless restrictions, which have nothing to do with anyone’s security. Those who finish their studies and earn scholarships abroad are often caught by restrictions on human mobility, which cruelly curtail travel for academic, medical, commercial or family purposes.
While there is now hope that the Rafah border with Egypt may open (and stay open) for people (though not goods), Palestinians also have the right to free ship traffic through the port of Gaza – the only Mediterranean port which is closed to shipping – and to the use of their own territorial waters. They cannot depend on the whims of a neighbouring country to keep goods and people flowing in and out of Gaza.
Medoukh adds the Palestinians of Gaza are left with “a hope in international civil society solidarity which is organizing throughout the world in order to try, through peaceful actions, to break this blockade, in particular with, the French Boat for Gaza, Canadian Boat for Gaza, International Boat for Gaza campaign – a whole flotilla for Gaza. We in Gaza, given our current situation, are impatiently awaiting the arrival of this international freedom flotilla … with one clear message: the blockade of Gaza must and will be lifted.”
That is part of the reason why we will be aboard the Tahrir when it sails to Gaza as part of the Freedom Flotilla II in late June.
Canadians from different walks of life and different parts of the country, the volunteers on the Tahrir are united in our determination to challenge the blockade of Gaza peacefully, through non-violent direct action. As Pulitzer Prize-winner Alice Walker, who will be on the U.S. boat to Gaza, aptly named Audacity of Hope after President Obama’s book, puts it: Challenging the blockade of Gaza is the Freedom Ride of our era.
David Heap, University of Western Ontario associate professor, French and linguistics, is active with both Faculty for Palestine and Labour for Palestine, as well as the national steering committee of the Canadian Boat to Gaza. Muhammed Hamou is a Western Muslim chaplain, TVDSB International Language site supervisor and secondary supply teacher. They will join more than 30 Canadians on board the Tahrir (see tahrir.ca) this month.