A year ago today, our boat, the DIGNITY, made her first voyage to Gaza. She was a beautiful yacht, donated by people who believed in the Free Gaza movement after our first voyage in August. On board were dignitaries such as Mairead Maquire, the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize winner from Ireland and Mustafa Barghouti, President of the Palestinian National Initiative and a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council (MP).
It was to be our second trip to Gaza, one postponed for a month, because we didnÕt have the proper vessel to go in the fall. The DIGNITY was beautiful, shining in the autumn sun as we got ready to go at dusk. http://www.flickr.com/photos/
Four physicians were also going the this besieged territory to access the medical situation in Gaza.
We had made a decision after the first voyage to ask Al Jazeera to come with us on every trip, and they were there with cameras, a reporter and a camerman. They have been on board reporting through storms, sea sickness, and dangers from Israel for every trip since.
As usual, we were frantically working on passenger lists, supplies and media work until the very last minute. Osama Q. and I (we were the designated land team) watched supplies loaded on board, taking up most of the cabin space below. Although we took medical supplies with us, we knew they were only token supplies. Our mission was about breaking IsraelÕs siege of the sea. Our mission was about telling the world that Palestinians didnÕt need hand-outs, they needed their civil and human rights. We have always been a human rights organization, not a humanitarian organization, but we took what we could.
As the vessel steamed out past the breakwall in Larnaca, then took a right turn and headed to sea, I cried. Twenty-seven passengers and crew were going at last. We had promised the people of Gaza that we would return, and we were keeping our promise. Israel, as they did the first time, continued to threaten us, but decided at the last minute they would ignore this voyage. They didnÕt realize a year ago, that we would not stop coming to Gaza.
Three more voyages were successful, taking parliamentarians, physicians, activists and Palestinians to Gaza. Former Representative Cynthia McKinney named her American initiative ÒThe DIGNITYÓ in honor of our boat. http://www.flickr.com/photos/
When the Israeli navy deliberately and viciously attacked the DIGNITY on December 30, 2008, ramming her three times in her side, the boat was so sturdy and the captain so expert, she didnÕt sink with all lost at sea. She struggled into port in Lebanon and was never the same. Like a wounded racehorse that ultimately died of its injuries, she sank in a storm off the coast of Cyprus in May 2009. http://www.flickr.com/photos/
So today, on that anniversary of her maiden voyage, the Free Gaza movement wants to assure those of you who have supported us for over three years. We will return to Gaza, and we will not stop returning until the 1.5 million people there have the right to their own sea lanes without interference from Israel.
Stay tuned for our next voyage. We are coming back.