As the launch of the Freedom Flotilla – Stay Human approaches, increasing numbers of Zionist officials and commentators illuminate the depths of their moral and intellectual bankruptcy by arguing that it is a political – not humanitarian – project.
Ran Curiel, Israel’s ambassador to the European Union, offers an example as good as any other. On May 10, he actually went to the trouble of calling a press conference in Strasbourg to offer this conclusion. “In our view, the flotilla is clearly a political provocation … since there’s no need for a flotilla to aid Gaza,” he said. “You can pass whatever you want to Gaza through normal channels.”
Curiel’s reasoning leaves much to be desired. Nobody seems entirely clear on what can enter Gaza through his “normal channels,” namely the Kerem Shalom Crossing, and a large majority of its necessities continue to arrive at a high premium via tunnels from Egypt. And humanitarian opposition to the siege has always had more to do with its crippling effect on Gaza’s economy than its obstruction of aid. Due to the impossibility of legally importing most goods, or exporting nearly anything, unemployment now reaches 45%, and 300,000 people survive on a dollar a day.
Nevertheless, his conclusion is sound, if self-evident. The Freedom Flotilla is indeed “a political provocation.” Why shouldn’t it be? And when has it pretended to be anything else?
Like its predecessors, from the successful Free Gaza boats of 2008 to the Freedom Flotilla that suffered lethal violence by Israeli commandos in international waters last year, this Flotilla is an unabashed act of solidarity with a people fighting colonialism, ethnic cleansing, and apartheid.
The Flotilla targets the denial of Palestinian self-determination, not a humanitarian crisis. It aims to break the siege, not only because the siege causes hardship for Palestinians, but also because it obstructs their inherent rights to determine their collective destiny, and that of their historic homeland. The goal is not a reliable flow of international charity, or even a functional economy, but rather Palestinians’ sovereignty over their own coasts and territory.
Efforts to obscure these obvious truths, by holding the Flotilla to some other standard that it has never aspired to meet, are part of a Zionist “big lie,” a myth that its tellers hope will carry the weight of truth because its listeners believe it.
Zionists would have us accept that any effort not loyal to their regime must be apolitical and rooted only in charitable impulses. In the narrative they hope to spread through their frequent observations of the obvious, theirs is the only acceptable side, and strict neutrality the only possible alternative. Nothing else may exist within the strict parameters of thought and action they seek to impose.
But let there be no mistake: All of us who are part of the Flotilla effort, in ways great and small, have chosen a side, and it is not theirs. We stand with the people of Palestine in their struggle for equality and self-determination. And unlike architects of Operation Cast Lead and apologists for the Nakba, we have nothing to hide.
Flotilla organizers have hardly kept this a secret. In a June 24 statement, the Free Gaza Movement “reiterate[d] that our effort is not simply about delivering humanitarian aid. The goal of the Flotilla is not aid; it is freedom for Palestinians in Gaza and the rest of the occupied Palestinian territories. As such, there are no ‘established channels’ for freedom – there is only one – an end to the Israeli occupation.”
In more ways than one, Zionists criticizing the Flotilla as a “political provocation” share the mentalities of those who condemned the Salt Satyagraha or the Montgomery Bus Boycott for similar reasons. These efforts were also indisputably political and provocative; salt marchers could have simply paid the British tax, while Rosa Parks would actually have reached her destination more quickly by moving to the back of the bus. That these, too, were “political provocations” is equally obvious, and no less beside the point.
And the point, for the Freedom Flotilla, the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and countless related efforts to rally support for embattled Palestinians, is one of solidarity with a liberation struggle, not charity for helpless victims. As the late Juliano Mer-Khamis told The Electronic Intifada about his own Jenin Freedom Theatre:
We are joining, by all means, the struggle for liberation of the Palestinian people, which is our liberation struggle. Everybody who is connected to this project says that he feels that he is also occupied by the Zionist movement, by the military regime of Israel, and by its policy. Either he lives in Jenin, or in Haifa, or in Tel Aviv. Nobody joined this project to heal. We’re not healers … We are freedom fighters.
His words also describe Flotilla participants, and growing millions of supporters of the Palestinian cause. Yes, our solidarity is political. Yes, it is provocative. And unlike the racism and oppression of Zionism and its enablers, there is nothing shameful about it.