Activist shares story of attempt to breach Gaza blockade
CBG note: The final 2 paragraphs of this article are somewhat objectionable from our standpoint. You may want to write to the author. In a report dated Sept. 13, 2011, following the release of the Palmer report, four independent UN Human Rights experts concluded that the blockade of Gaza is illegal: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=11363&LangID=E
It is one of the most complex and controversial situations in the world. The relationship between the Palestinian territories and Israel is such a minefield of politics and emotion that it is routinely referred to as an example of a question with no answer.
But that doesn’t stop David Heap from trying to find that answer.
Heap is a linguistics professor at the University of Western Ontario. But last summer he put down his classroom teaching notes in exchange for a lifejacket and protest sign.
Heap was one of three Canadians who were part of last summer’s Freedom Waves flotilla, a joint effort by like-minded groups in Ireland and Canada to break the Israeli naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Heap and his shipmates were detained by Israel while trying to reach Gaza, held for a week, and then deported home.
He shared his side of that story during a public presentation at St. John’s City Hall Monday night, part of a larger cross-canada speaking tour.
“The goal is to build support in Canadian civil society for the Palestinians of Gaza and Palestinians everywhere. What’s going to change the situation is the people leading the governments eventually following. It’s really about grassroots support,” said Heap following his talk.
During his speech, Heap outlined everything about Freedom Waves, from the purchase of its ship right up until he was deported back to Canada.
Freedom Waves, said Heap, was inspired by the first Freedom Flotilla that tried to break the blockade in May of 2010. Israeli commandos killed nine crew members on one of those ships after a confrontation broke as soldiers boarded the vessel. Several of the commandos were also injured, one of them seriously.
Freedom Waves was inspired by Canadian and Irish citizens involved with Freedom Flotilla who galvanized support for the Free Gaza movement upon arrival home.
Heap was one of the activists onboard the Canadian ship Tahrir, during Freedom Waves, one of two ships that attempted to break the blockade again last year.
The ships were crewed by volunteers from all over the world and each held several international journalists.
The Tahrir first attempted to leave its Greek starting point in July of 2011, but was detained by Greek authorities before it ever made it out of port.
That event was highly published, which Heap credits as being both a blessing for all the media play it got, and a curse because all the pressure it put on world governments to stop the ships from leaving.
The ships were successful in leaving Greece on its second attempt, this one departing on Nov. 2 of 2011. The second attempt was not published until it was already on its way to Gaza.
After about two days at sea, Israeli forces detained both vessels as they approached land. No one was seriously injured, though Heap said he was hit with a stun weapon and roughed up a bit.
After being boarded, an act Heap described as “piracy,” both ships were taken to the Israeli port of Ashdod. After arrival, both crews were detained and questioned.
The people who the Israeli authorities recognized as journalists were released almost immediately, while Heap and the rest of the volunteers were held for six days, and then promptly deported back to Canada and their various countries of origin.
It’s been less than a year since Heap was returned to Canada. He and one of his shipmates are speaking in several engagements across Canada, all in an effort to raise awareness of their cause by engaging social and labour groups, he said.
“It was those links that led to the boycotts and sanctions that helped bring down South African apartheid. That is what will end the blockade of Gaza and bring some measure of justice to the Palestinians,” he said.
While the legality of the Israeli blockade of Gaza is disputed by some nations and international organizations, a United Nations report into the first Freedom Flotilla found the blockade to be legal.
Israel says its blockade is necessary to prevent weapons and materials that could be used to make weapons from entering the coastal region, which is run by the Islamist Hamas movement. Canada officially labels Hamas as a banned terrorist organization.