On August 23, 2008, for the first time in 41 years, two small wooden boats landed at the port of Gaza, Palestine. Over the next ten years, 30 boats in 18 voyages would attempt to sail there. Five of those voyages organized by the Free Gaza Movement arrived safely on those shores in 2008 before the Israeli military began to violently attack and hijack the boats, arresting passengers, stealing their possessions, and confiscating medical supplies and other humanitarian aid. They attacked the 2010 Freedom Flotilla, murdering ten passengers on board the Mavi Marmara and injuring more than fifty on all 5 boats in that flotilla.
The story of the first voyage into Gaza and the challenges 44 passengers, and hundreds of supporters faced over the two years they organized are presented in this webinar below. Please click on the link to listen to the four organizers, Greta Berlin, Mary Hughes Thompson, Paul Larudee and Vangelis Pissias tell their story.
You will also see three videos of how the boats were prepared, how they sailed into Gaza that momentous day, August 23, 2008, and a trailer for a new movie, Rock the Boat, directed by Kathy Sheetz, one of the videographers and passengers on board the Free Gaza.
We hope you enjoy the 90-minute story of this remarkable first trip.
These are the bios of the participants for this webinar
Moderator: Ann Wright, (US) Ann is a twenty-nine-year veteran of the U.S. Army who retired as a colonel. She served sixteen years in the U.S. Diplomatic Corps. She resigned from the US government when Bush invaded Iraq. She was on board the Challenger One during the 2010 Freedom Flotilla when Israel attacked the boats, and was the boat leader on the 2016 Women’s Boat to Gaza. She also participated on portions of the 2015 and 2018 flotillas. She is a part of US Boats to Gaza and the Gaza Freedom Flotilla Coalition.
Organizers: Greta Berlin, (US, France) Greta has worked for justice for the Palestinians since the early 1960s and was married to a Palestinian Nakba survivor born and raised in Safad, Palestine. She has been an outspoken advocate for the rights of Palestinians and has spoken and written extensively on the issue. She worked with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) in the occupied West Bank in 03, 05, and 07. From 1980 until 2011, she was President of GKB Associates, Inc, a private consulting firm teaching professionals how to design presentations and speak to the media.
After the first boat into Gaza returned, she either organized or was in charge of the land and media team for three of the other successful 2008 voyages and was US spokesperson for Freedom Flotilla I when it was attacked in 2010. She is the author/co-editor of Freedom Sailors, a book about the first voyage. Since her retirement in 2011, she has volunteer-taught English in Morocco, Iraq and Spain.
Mary Hughes-Thompson, (US, UK) Mary was born in England and is a retired TV documentarian and writer living in Los Angeles. A licensed pilot, she owned and flew her own plane for several years.
Beginning in 2002 she worked in Palestine with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) and the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) in the occupied West Bank. In November 2002, she was beaten and robbed in Yanoun Village near Nablus by American-Jewish youths from the illegal Itamar settlement. She was a member of a CPT human rights delegation to Iraq in 2003following the US invasion. After the first successful voyage to Gaza, Mary continued to work in Cyprus as part of the Free Gaza land team and was also part of the media team for the Freedom Flotilla I, handling mostly UK/Australia/New Zealand media.
Paul Larudee, Ph.D. (US) Paul was a Ford Foundation project supervisor and Fulbright-Hays lecturer in Lebanon, and US government advisor to Saudi Arabia and has been on the faculty of several universities in the San Francisco Bay Area, He was an organizer with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) and co-founder of the Free Gaza movement. He was on board the Liberty, one of the two boats that successfully reached Gaza in 2008, and was also part of the 2010 Flotilla attacked by Israel.
He co-founded the Global March to Jerusalem, the Free Palestine Movement and the Syria Solidarity Movement, and went to Syria with delegations led by Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire in 2013 and 2014. He was one of six US observers of the Syrian presidential elections in June 2014.
Vangelis Pissias, Ph.D. (Greece) Vangelis is professor emeritus of water engineering at the Technical University of Athens. From 1996-2000 he was the project coordinator of the first EU Technical Assistance Programme in the Palestinian Occupied Territories.
After negotiating the purchase of the two fishing boats, Vangelis supervised the repairs and outfitting of the boats and was in charge of bringing them safely from Greece to Cyprus. He has been a long-time activist for Palestine and was part of the Greek underground during the time of the Generals in Greece (1967-1974). He was also on board the boats that were attacked in January 2009, May 2010 (Freedom Flotilla I), July 2011 and September 2012. He is currently a member of the steering committee of «Ship to Gaza-GR».
Participants: Musheir El Farra, (UK, Gaza) Musheir was born in 1961 in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip. He is a political and human rights activist, as well as an engineer in the UK.
He is the Chair of Sheffield Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) in England and was a member of the Executive committee of the National Palestine Solidarity in Britain for six years. For 16 years, Musheir has coordinated and supported three children’s centres in Jabalya, Nussairat refugee camps and Khan Younis. He is an active public speaker in Britain for the rights of the Palestinian people and has published articles in several Arab media. He also wrote the scripts, coordinated and narrated three films on Palestine.
Kathy Sheetz, (US) Kathy is a nurse and videographer and, along with her daughter Courtney, a student, focused on social issues in Haiti. Both decided they wanted to turn their attention to Free Gaza’s innovative action to highlight the illegal blockade of Gaza and were passengers on board the Free Gaza.
After BBC declined to use footage of participants for a documentary, she and her daughter felt they needed to make a film with the footage they had, highlighting nonviolent tactics used –including some used by MLK and Gandhi– as well as introducing some of participants who made this historic journey. The film is called “Rock the Boat’ and will be available for viewing after this webcast.
Additional online events will be held throughout May in memory of the passengers killed and injured on Freedom Flotilla I. https://freedomflotilla.org/news/coalition-statements/online-flotilla-events-during-may-2020/
Since the flotilla planned for 2020 has been postponed, we would ask anyone wanting to donate to these trips, to donate, instead to one of the following organizations for Palestine.