By Greta Berlin and Kathy Sheetz
On the occasion of the Free Gaza movement’s 15th anniversary, we’re posting the eleven videos of our journey. We sailed into Gaza that bright afternoon, August 23, 2008, to the cheers of 40,000 Palestinians waiting for us. These videos show our struggles, our optimism, the strength of Palestinians waiting for us, why we sailed, and how we finally arrived.
We hope you enjoy watching them as much as we enjoyed arriving on that day.
On August 22, 2008, 44 human rights activists boarded two small fishing boats and sailed toward Gaza. In spite of constant Israeli harassment, we entered the Port of Gaza to the cheers of 40,000 well-wishers.
For one brief shining moment, Gaza was free.
Episode 1: We begin with this beautiful send-off from Jane Chesterman Jewell.
Episode 2: We’ve been asked many times why 44 of us were crazy enough to think we could actually sail to Gaza and why we would choose such a risky direct action against the military might of Israel.
We were asked to think about the personal reason we were going. Please share widely as a tribute to the Palestinians of Gaza and those of us who sailed 15 years ago. We hope you enjoy the passionate answers.
Episode 3: Why did we succeed?
We succeeded because we had a tight-knit core that we already trusted, as all organizers had worked with the ISM. In fact, the majority of the 44 passengers were graduates of the ISM. Literally, many of us had faced Israeli settlers and the military when we worked in the occupied West Bank, and nothing…nothing…was going to stop us. We’d already been shot, tear-gassed, arrested and some of us deported. The more they pushed, the more we pushed back.
We succeeded because we never lost sight that our objective was to sail to Gaza. These are just some of the internationals who believed in the dream of sailing to Gaza. George Katsiaficas, Ph.D., Norman Saul, Ph.D. Huwaida Arraf, Co-Founder, ISM, Greta Berlin, Co-founder, Free Gaza movement, Soctt Kennedy. Kathy Sheetz
Episode 4: Our first three episodes talked about why we wanted to sail to Gaza. Every passenger had a personal reason. And those reasons solidified our commitment to each other as well as to the Palestinians waiting for us in Gaza.
But what were we actually going in? This episode shows you what those wooden boots looked like, how they were readied for a trip across the Mediterranean and how small they really were.
Episode 5: The song you hear on this clip was written for us as we got ready to leave. And these are photos of just some of the 44 passengers on board those boats as well as the Palestinians who greeted us when we arrived.
We hope you enjoy this one as it was so joyous.
Episode 6: Listen to the people of Gaza
The first 5 stories were full of joy, anticipation, and frustration as we waited to sail to Gaza. This one reminds us of why we must continue to put pressure on Israel.
During that first trip to Gaza, Kathy Sheetz interviewed Palestinian/American NASA Astro-physicist, Professor Suleiman Baraka. He was waiting to return to the US, and Israel had refused to allow him out of Gaza’s concentration camp. He was finally able to leave because, after our first trip, Israel opened Gaza’s prison gates for a few weeks (to save face). His wife and children were not.
Four months later, during Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli Occupation Forces dropped a bomb on his home, killing his 11-year-old son.
Listen to his plea for humanity… as well as the plea of this little girl at the end of the tape to stop the insanity of Israel’s occupation.
Episide 7: Taking to Hedy Epstein, Holocaust Survivor
“In total by August 2023, at least 208 Palestinians - 36 of them children - have been killed by Israeli fire since the first of the year, a rate of almost one fatality per day.” Why can’t we stop Israeli war crimes? Why can’t we hold their leaders accountable? Why is Israel above international law? What makes Israel that special? Why is the world afraid of Israel? We sailed against all odds of getting to Gaza. Listen to these students in 2008. How many of them are still alive?
Hedy Epstein, “it takes lots of us, hundreds of thousands of us to make changes. But that doesn’t mean that I or anybody else should stop what we’re doing. Because you never know when we will make a difference “
Episode 8: Leaving for Gaza, August 22, 2008. We were ecstatic to leave Cyprus on that foggy, cool day. 44 of us lined up, got our passports stamped, and boarded the two small boats. We faced 32 hours of uncertainty. After all, Israeli supporters, its military, and the government had been threatening us for over a month.
Our joy far outweighed our fear. Once again, we had no idea that over the next day and a half, we’d face a roiling sea, Israel would cut off most of our communications, and thousands of well-wishers thought we had drowned because we couldn’t contact them.
We left anyhow, escorted out to sea by the Cypriot Coast Guard.
Episode 9: All through that terrible night, our two boats rocked, battered by enormous waves, Israel had cut off all communication devices except for Channel 16, which kept saying “They are Lost, they are lost, they are lost.” Passengers were sick. Israeli warships monitored us. When dawn came on August 23, we saw nothing but water, our captains working on compass and walky-talky to guide us toward Gaza.
12 hours later, the shores of Gaza appeared and we kept sailing. Our communications turned back on, and Israel was leaving us alone. We had kept our promise.
We had arrived.
Episode 10: EPILOGUE - Thanks to Roger Waters for the song
We made three promises to the people of Gaza when we left a week later. 1. We would speak about what we saw the week we stayed. 2. We would take as many Palestinians as we could out of Gaza, 3. We would return.
Over the next four months, we honored all three of those promises, speaking of our adventures to people around the world, taking more than 20 Palestinians out on our boats (most of them students who had scholarships), and 3. returning four more times before being viciously attacked. No boat has sailed back into Gaza since December 2008, but it hasn’t stopped initiatives, from the Women’s Boat to Gaza to the Jewish Boat to Gaza to all of the Freedom Flotilla voyages. All have been stopped, passengers arrested, boats confiscated, and supplies stolen by the Apartheid State of Israel.
The boats WILL continue to sail. WE SHALL OVERCOME.
Episode 11: What’s Next?
After having shattered the Israeli blockade of Gaza earlier this week, the Free Gaza and Liberty departed for Cyprus on Auguest 28. We took several Palestinians who had been denied exit visas by Israel, Among them were Saed Mosleh, age 14, of Beit Hanoon, Gaza. An Israeli tank shell blew his leg off and he’s with his father to seek medical treatment. (The last we knew, Saed is doing very well in Cyprus) “I can’t believe we’re finally able to leave for medical treatment,” said Khaled Mosleh, Saed’s father. “This is a miracle of God.” Also on board was the Darwish family, who were finally reunited with their relatives in Cyprus. Here is the final video of this 15th anniversary, set to the stirring music of the Palestinian National Anthem.