PSP Activist: Why I’m Sailing to Gaza

30 June 2011

By Max Suchan

In the past few months, my family and friends keep asking me why I am participating in the Freedom Flotilla as a passenger on the US boat, the Audacity of Hope. As part of this initiative, 40 of us have gathered in Athens in the hope of sailing towards Gaza in the coming days to challenge the Israeli naval blockade. We will join ten boats in international waters consisting of hundreds of passengers from 22 countries around the world. This second Freedom Flotilla comes a little over a year after Israeli commandos killed eight Turkish and one Turkish-American activist as they were attempting to deliver humanitarian aid on-board the Mavi Marmara when the ship was about 70 miles from Gaza City’s port.

I have little doubt we will be intercepted by Israeli Forces, who have threatened to attack our ships with snipers, attack dogs, and water cannons. I also expect that after we are boarded, we will be arrested, held in Israeli jails, and deported back to the United States. In light of these risks, many of those who are close to me want to know why we are sailing on anyways.

I am sailing because the people of Palestine have the right to determine their own future free from military occupation, economic control, and imposed restrictions. I am sailing because the Israeli maritime blockade of Gaza is part of a wider siege of one of the most densely packed areas in the world in which Israel controls the sea, air space and land crossings, crippling the economy and effectively turning the Strip into an open-aired prison. This siege can only be understood as an act of collective punishment, prohibited by international law under the Fourth Geneva Convention. I am also sailing because as an American, I am painfully aware that my government funds the occupation and directly supports Israeli policies that are designed to strip Palestinians of their basic civil rights. Where our government has failed to act for justice, ordinary people must step up to fill this void.

I am also sailing because the tide is turning, and we as Americans are again presented with a precious opportunity to join with others around the world to challenge oppression. I am inspired by the spirit of Tahrir, of Majdal As Shams, and the popular uprisings against authoritarian regimes in Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria and elsewhere as ordinary people catch courage from each other across borders to take their destiny in their own hands. I have seen that spirit here in Athens too, as those facing years of severe austerity measures occupy public spaces to look to each other for alternatives.

I have never been to Gaza, but I have spent more than a year in the occupied West Bank working to support Palestinian communities organizing in unarmed, popular resistance to occupation. While Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza may be geographically separated, and subscribe to a full spectrum of political persuasio1ns just like any other people anywhere around the world, they do consider themselves part of the same struggle for national liberation. I am also sailing because I know that as an American, I have more access to basic rights and resources that Palestinians living under occupation are denied. It is my hope that we can use our voices to transmit to the media the experiences of ordinary Palestinians, in Gaza and elsewhere, as we know their narrative has been routinely ignored and marginalized.

I am sailing for Ahmed Nasser Samouni, who was around 11 years old, the same age as my younger sister, at the time when he was badly wounded and most of his family were killed by Israeli Forces during the murderous assault on Gaza known as Operation Cast Lead at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009. Reema Abu Lafi, one of the nurses who treated him in Al Quds hospital in Gaza City, recounted his ordeal;

“One of the Samouni family children Ahmed Nasser, 10 or 11 years old, came to us at Al Quds hospital in a very bad condition on January 6th. He had been shot in the chest and needed test tubs. He told us that all of his family had been taken into a room by the soldiers when they came to their house. When missiles hit the house, most of the family was killed. Ahmed’s father is alive, but his mother, sisters and brother are all dead. Ahmed stayed with the bodies of his family members for four days before he was found and brought here. The first thing he asked for was for bread and water. Many family members are still missing but today we will know for sure when all of the bodies come in.

During this three week assault, over 1400 Palestinians were killed, thousands of houses destroyed, and economic and civil infrastructure deliberately targeted in this war of attrition. I am sailing because I know that as an American, my tax dollars paid for the weapons that were responsible for so much destruction and death.

I am sailing for Yousef Ikhlayl, a youth from the village of Beit Ommar in the southern West Bank. Yousef was just 17 when he murdered by Israeli settlers as he was working his family’s land on January 28, 2011. I had met Yousef on several occasions as he was a participant in programs organized by the Center for Freedom and Justice, a center in the village that works to empower community organizing and unarmed struggle against the occupation. Yousef was an enthusiastic participant in photography classes I helped translate on several occasions. The settlers who killed him showed no regard for his humanity and to date none of his killers have been prosecuted by Israeli authorities. It is my hopes that as I sail, it can open up new opportunities to reach more people in the United States, to share stories like Yousef’s and work to ensure that the occupation will never claim another life again.

I sail because the risks I face are nothing compared to what the average Palestinian in Gaza, the West Bank, and elsewhere faces on a daily basis. Palestinians, in their courage and steadfastness, are the real heroes. And I am certain, just as others have overturned their oppression before, that one day they will be successful in defeating occupation. The global tide toward justice is rising, and its time for us to get on board.

Max “Jeff” Suchan is a long-time volunteer with Palestine Solidarity Project.