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(Los Angeles, August 21, 2014) Six years ago, our two ramshackle boats, Free Gaza and Liberty, were hiding out somewhere in the Mediterranean, battling mechanical problems and bad weather as they slowly and furtively made their way to Cyprus. Thirty of us impatiently waited for the boats (and the 14 passengers and crew already on the boats) to come and get us. We came from 17 countries, from Palestine to Pakistan, from the U.S. to Europe to Australia, our ages from 81 to 22.
Finally, on August 21, 2008, they sailed into Larnaca, Cyprus, and we left the next day, arriving in Gaza thirty-three hours later, bedraggled and seasick but overjoyed.
No foreign vessel had docked in the port of Gaza for 41 years, as Israel tightened the screws of its blockade ever tighter, a 20-year blockade they said was all about security, but we knew was about collective punishment and plundering Gaza, stealing its natural gas.
For one brief shining moment, Gaza had an open port.
Musheir ElFarra was the only Palestinian from Gaza sailing that day. His words should never be forgotten.
It was a great feeling to arrive on that boat, a feeling of freedom that I had never experienced. It was the first time in my life that I had visited home without the humiliation of being questioned or interrogated by the Israelis, without being threatened, having my travel documents thrown in my face, and not knowing whether I would be able to get out or not. It is a sense of liberation I hope every Palestinian will experience one day. I am proud of being one of the first Palestinians from the Occupied Territories to enter Palestine without Israeli permission since 1967.
Now, in these terrible times for the people of Gaza, many of us wonder if our voyage was worth it. Whether the next four journeys when we landed safely resulted in any changes. Whether the brutal attack on the Freedom Flotilla in May 2010 when Israeli commandos murdered ten of our passengers made a difference; whether the world would finally listen to a people who simply wanted what all of us want…freedom.
Today on our 6th anniversary, we remember the promises we made to the Palestinians of Gaza:
- We will return,
- We will take as many Palestinians out of Gaza as we could (we finally took 28, most of them students who are doing very well) and,
- We will let the world know what Israel is doing to an imprisoned population.
As we mark the anniversary of our arrival, the Freedom Flotilla Coalition is already planning another voyage, hopefully in 2014, the International Year ofSolidarity with the Palestinian People.
So to all Palestinians in the occupied territories: We are coming. We have not forgotten you. We will return. We sail until Palestine is free www.freegaza.org