The Palestinian people continue to come up with various and ingenious means to serve them in the struggle in which they find themselves. In a narrow field, they also seek constantly to produce alternatives for a conflict that undermines political balance and the regional and international equations.
Through their experience in the struggle to rid themselves of the Israeli occupation, which has oppressed them for decades, the Palestinian people are aware of the appropriate tools and methods to use, depending on the circumstances. They have achieved some interim goals while the ultimate objectives of independence, freedom and their national rights remain on their radar.
While preserving energy and vital resources, they know that they must raise awareness of their struggle, reaching free people around the world; this has positive effects that will ultimately benefit the Palestinian cause. What is happening to the Palestinians is a symbol of the cause of every free and honourable human being championing justice against tyranny, and right in the face of wrong.
In this way, the Palestinian issue becomes an international issue; an affirmation of universal principles, values and rights. This is important, because the Israeli occupation authorities and their allies promote a twisted narrative to suit their own interests, breaking and distorting international laws and conventions in the process. That is Israel’s way to trying to legitimise its occupation and theft of land, identity, culture and history.
An active international Palestine solidarity movement counters the misleading narrative that Israel is the victim in this struggle, a narrative promoted by the pro-Israel Western media. Such solidarity shames Israel, especially in those societies which have embraced it and overlook its human rights violations against the Palestinians, who are, in response, compelled to adopt suitable resistance tactics.
Moreover, strengthening relationships with international supporters, and building bridges with specialist organisations, especially humanitarian and human rights groups, paves the way for a united humanitarian front against Israeli violations and crimes. The possible prosecution of Israeli officials in capitals around the world has troubled Israel in recent years, especially following the string of brutal military offensives launched against the civilians in the Gaza Strip since late 2008.
The International Committee for Breaking the Siege of Gaza plays a leading role in attracting humanitarian solidarity with Palestine. It is an entirely peaceful Palestinian initiative to address the illegal and inhumane land, sea and air siege imposed on the Gaza Strip. The Committee does this by mobilising the international community to take action to end the unjust siege which targets innocent children, women and the elderly.
One aspect of the Committee’s work has been the alliance of civil society groups known as the Freedom Flotilla Coalition. The Coalition has challenged Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip with several flotillas trying to take humanitarian aid to the besieged enclave. Hundreds of solidarity activists from all walks of life have joined the flotillas in a mass expression of their revulsion at the blockade and those behind it, which remains a disgrace to humanity.
Freedom Flotilla I set sail in May 2010. It was hijacked in international waters by Israeli commandos, who stormed the vessels, killing and wounding dozens of the passengers on board the Mavi Marmara, the flotilla’s flagship.
This did not deter the people of Gaza and Palestinians in the diaspora who are the rightful owners of their occupied homeland. Freedom Flotilla II was announced and launched about a year after the attack on the Mavi Marmara. This too carried humanitarian aid and activists, and it was also boarded in international waters by the Israeli navy in what would in other circumstances be deemed an act of piracy on the high seas. The same fate befell Freedom Flotilla III in 2015 and also — while Israel continued with its brutality and disregard for international laws and conventions by intensifying its blockade of Gaza — Freedom Flotilla IV, which was crewed entirely by women.
The international solidarity flotillas aimed at breaking the unjust siege imposed on the Gaza Strip for almost 12 years are part of the broader solidarity movement which has played a pivotal role in keeping a close eye on the suffering caused by the blockade. They have also helped to expose the occupation for what it is in a neutral and open manner, especially in the West, where solidarity activists are humanitarian ambassadors of the Palestinians and their just cause.
Although the flotillas were, more often than not, prevented by Israel from reaching Gaza, the publicity that their hijacking received was invaluable, as it kept the issue in the public eye. Even with all of the other problems affecting the region, the attempts to break the siege of Gaza have kept the issue alive; local politicians obsessed with their own power struggles have been unable to turn the customary blind eye to the plight of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Nor can anyone claim that the Palestinian cause is not central to the search for peace across the region.
Those relief ships which did reach the shores of Gaza — The Liberty, Free Gaza, Humanitarian Relief in Egypt, Hope, Dignity and Qatar’s Al-Karama — stand proud in the pantheon of Palestine resistance greats. However, although Libya’s Al-Marwa, Dignity 2, Lebanon’s Brotherhood, Spirit of Humanity, Freedom Flotilla I, Libya’s Hope, Freedom Flotilla II, Spirit of Rachel Corrie, Liberation and Freedom, Estelle, Marian, Lady Lilly, Hope and Zeitouna may not have made it to Gaza, they should be honoured nonetheless, for they reminded us of the criminal Israeli blockade and the suffering of the Palestinians. At the same time, they pricked the conscience of the international community, which has been largely complicit in the war waged by Israel against Palestinian civilians in the coastal enclave.
The situation in Gaza is now a humanitarian catastrophe as a result of the blockade, and another ship is preparing to set sail for the Port of Gaza. Al-Awda and its crew of activists wants to follow in the wake of its sister solidarity ships which broke the siege. Its name (“The Return”) is a symbolic reminder of the 1948 Nakba — the Catastrophe of the creation of the state of Israel in Palestine —and the silence of the world in the face of the ongoing tragedy that is the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians from their homeland. Israel’s settler-colonialism is the last colonial project in the world, and it is aided and abetted by countries and politicians who really should know better than to allow such an injustice to continue.
The new Freedom Flotilla, of which Al-Awda is a part, will remind the international community that the people of Palestine remain committed to their human and civil rights, including their legitimate right to return to their land. It will reaffirm that successive generations of Palestinians have forgotten neither their homeland nor their identity, which the proto-Israelis had both intended and expected.
Al-Awda and its sister ships will also continue to prick the world’s collective conscience into remembrance of the world’s longest-running and most serious refugee crisis. The Palestinians themselves have not forgotten, and they are determined to ensure that the world has no excuse to claim that it did not know that the Palestinians’ right of return is absolutely legitimate, and that what is happening to them at the hands of the Israeli occupation authorities is an abomination in the 21st century.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.