Boarded, arrested, impounded, sabotaged and finally shelled from the sea — the Canadian Boat to Gaza and Gaza’s Ark have not given up. Amid the hot-war conflicts today, peace activists are still at work, bringing attention to people who seek liberty and self-determination.
In the Spring of 2015, Freedom Flotilla III will sail, again.
When the Idle No More movement arose spontaneously, one of the first international communities to recognize the struggles of Indigenous peoples in Canada were Palestinians. Caught in the stifling grip of colonialism also, Palestinians understood why people long discriminated against would take to the streets. Palestinians have recognized how important international witness can be for themselves and other colonized peoples.
While Aboriginal Canadians see some merit in this kind of recognition, they continue to fear aligning themselves with international solidarity movements. Seldom do they look over the walls of their own disentitlement to ally with other peoples similarly oppressed. There are some outstanding exceptions but generally we continue to subscribe to the oppressive ideology that tells us not to get involved, or else.
Aboriginal people in Canada and Palestinians have a lot in common.
Take for example Canadian policy. The present government in Ottawa perpetuates the “us and them” narrative for both Palestinians and Aboriginal people.
In service to divide and conquer strategies, Ottawa supports illegal Israeli settlements in Palestine and unrestricted resource exploitation on Aboriginal homelands. Their logic is that Aboriginal people and Palestinians have inferior land rights, their cultures are backward and violent, and they are both disappearing peoples.
Conveniently, Ottawa sides with Israel, the colonial power. To challenge Israel’s claim to legitimacy would undermine Canada’s own dominion over Indigenous nations. The result is that the West Bank continues to shrink in size and viability, while Gaza has become the largest Indian reserve in the world.
Reserves and Aboriginal communities in Canada have limited access to self-sufficiency and many still boil water to avoid becoming sick: drinkable water in Gaza has become increasingly rare due to bombing and the blockade, while industries and other infrastructure have been systematically destroyed by the Israeli occupation.
The illegal blockade of Gaza is the “or else.”
Since 2007 Gaza has been blockaded. Access and egress for 1.8 billion people by land, sea and air has been denied. A buffer zone inside Gaza, policed by Israeli snipers, prohibits Palestinian farmers from reaching their fields. Fisherman are restricted to a three mile limit so a once-viable fishery has all but collapsed.
Everything and everyone that goes in and out of Gaza is monitored by Israeli security forces.
While restrictions on movement go back for decades, the Gaza blockade was tightened after Hamas, the political party of the insurgency movement, was democratically elected to govern Gaza in 2006. The “or else” is collective punishment for demanding self-determination.
When Aboriginal politicians and treaty organizations in Canada assert traditional power they are marginalized and defunded.
More and more people understand the dynamics of colonialism and realize that much of the violence in the world is rooted in historical oppression. There is still room for peaceful activism. There is still reason for Indigenous peoples and their allies around the world to demonstrate that change is going to come, that liberation and self-determination are what make people healthy and happy and a prosperous world is one that maintains equity and balance in what the earth offers.
The Freedom Flotilla movement has demonstrated how diverse peoples can come together, share resources and challenge dangerous oppression.
Even when the Mavi Marmara was attacked and Israeli Defence Forces murdered ten activists five years ago, the movement continued. Freedom Flotilla II mounted another attempt to challenge the sea blockade and experienced political manipulation and sabotage.
On November 4, 2011 the Canadian Boat to Gaza “Tahrir,” was illegally seized in international waters by Israel. Canadian and International activists were roughed up and arrested. The Tahrir was impounded. The Canadian government called it a private matter and refused to get involved.
Gaza’s Ark was born out of the same “never give up” attitude. Organizers and supporters recognized that empowering Palestinians and demonstrating the need for an open port were principal objectives of the movement.
In 2012, the Canadian Boat to Gaza shifted to rebuilding a seaworthy ship in an almost defunct Gaza shipyard, working with farmers and artisans to connect them with offshore investors and markets, and restoring hope through local employment. The idea was to sail out of Gaza with locally produced cargo to promote economic development.
By Spring of 2014 the Ark was almost ready to go. On April 29 saboteurs blew up the Ark in Gaza harbour. Still hopeful and with supplies and cargo purchased the ship was taken onto land for extensive repairs.
On July 11 the Israeli Occupation Forces finished it off with a direct hit while shelling the port of Gaza. No one expected that helping Palestine gain its freedom would be easy.
Every effort counts. Like Indigenous resistance in the Americas, Palestinians know that they are involved in a long-term struggle. Just like round dances demonstrated freedom, the Flotillas also have had an impact.
As Palestine asserts its statehood and more and more nations call for recognition and an end to occupation the time for liberation draws nearer. For every boat that sails challenging the blockade, people seeking peace and justice come closer together. The bonds of colonialism become weaker as Indigenous people and their allies work together for a better future.
Follow peace this spring. Follow Freedom Flotilla III. Whether you are an Indigenous Canadian or an ally, bring your presence to the movement to free Palestine. Engage individuals and groups around you and encourage them to join you in following the courageous crews who will be challenging the blockade again.
Gather together in your cities, communities and on Reserve and cheer as the boats reach their destination and load Palestinian goods for export. Let Canada and the world know that your freedom and your children’s futures are linked together with people who struggle for freedom everywhere.
Robert Lovelace is a Continuing Adjunct Lecturer at Queen’s University in the Department of Global Development Studies. His academic interests include Aboriginal Studies, Re-indigenization and De-colonization. Robert is an activist in anti-colonial struggles. In 2008, Robert spent 3 ½ months as a political prisoner for his part in defending the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation homeland from uranium exploration and mining. Robert is a retired chief of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation. He lives in the Algonquin highlands at Eel Lake in traditional Ardoch territory.