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Gaza Freedom Flotilla: Interview with a Boat Guardian

The following interview took place on May 27-28, 2015. The interviewee is "Roland" (not his real name), a peace activist who is helping to guard the boats of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla from possible sabotage while they dock in Brest, France. The interviewer is Michael R. Burch, an editor and publisher of Holocaust and Nakba poetry who is also a peace activist and the author of a peace plan, the "Burch-Elberry Peace Initiative."

M: Roland, please tell us your personal story. How did you come to be involved in protecting the boats of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla? Do you love danger, or is there a greater cause?

R: The danger in this case was very limited. Guarding a boat going on a humanitarian mission as important as this one, along with other dedicated people, is a real pleasure. You want to do it right. You don't want to be the one who was dozing off when the propeller was dismantled by a diver, so you stay alert and keep each other that way. But it's a work of love, and love is the prevalent atmosphere among the people who do it.

M: What led you to want to be part of this mission? How did you come to support the Palestinian cause?

R: I watched Norman Finkelstein as he swept the floor with a Danish Zionist news anchor and decided that I wanted to see the occupation with my own eyes. So I spent a summer in Palestine with ISM, and since then I've had no doubts as to who were the victims and who were the perpetrators in this one-sided "conflict."

M: Do you think Israel is being honest about its intentions? I came to the conclusion that Israel has been ethnically cleansing Palestinians in order to steal their land and water sources. Do you agree with that assessment, or do you see things differently?

R: Yes, one has be blind in order to miss the pattern of Israeli policies from 1948 till today. On the ground, in Palestine, it is very evident what is going on. So-called progressive Zionists like to depict the occupation as a series as unfortunate but necessary and occasionally unreasonable policies that are not connected, and this Hasbara strategy is extremely effective. The complexity that Israelís friends want to point out is the backdrop of the larger pattern of ideologically motivated ethnic cleansing―not the other way around―and some of the best descriptions of this pattern come from Jewish Israelis like Miko Peled and Jeff Halper.

M: In his book Obstacles to Peace, Jeff Halper discusses how Israel "frames" the discussion to suit its goals and purposes. Do you see the Flotilla as a legitimate way to present an alternate viewpoint?

R: I'm not a spokesperson for the Flotilla, but privately, I support any attempt to draw attention to the siege of an entire population, and the Flotilla is classic non-violence. It does what every decent human should be allowed to do, just like whites and blacks sitting in a restaurant together in Alabama, and leaves it to the other party to reveal their ends by displaying their violent means. What could be more legitimate?

M: Do you see the Flotilla as a non-violent action against racism and oppression?

R: It is first and foremost a human rights statement trying to uphold basic humanitarian principles. We can disagree on one or two states, as Palestinians or concerned citizens of the World, but the basic principles of justice is where everybody should be onboard (excuse the pun), so that's really the most important thing.

M: I like to say that peace requires justice, and justice requires equality. If everyone would get "on board" with justice and equality, we could live in a more peaceful world. But right now the world has very dangerous hot spots, due to horrendous injustices and inequalities. Soon the Flotilla will be sailing into one of those hot spots. Do you fear for the safety of the people on board?

R: It is dangerous to go on the Flotilla, but Israeli journalists talked about how Israel "lost" the world in the Marvi Marmara massacre [in which nine peace activists were killed in international waters by Israeli commandos]. I don't think they'll do something similar―and as we know, they almost never kill white people like most of the people on the current Flotilla. An Israeli soldier once told me and a bunch of Israeli activists "Stop or I'll shoot!"' Nobody stopped, because we knew he wouldn't do it.

M: Do you think lighter-skinned European peace activists may be safer than darker-skinned peace activists from Turkey?

R: There is no doubt about this at all. Killing Ashkenazi Jews or western activists has been extremely rare: there's only a handful of examples, which reflects Israel's colonialist culture in which even dark-skinned Jews are routinely victimized in various ways, including evictions [i.e., ethnic cleansing].

M: And of course Palestinians get the worst treatment of all. I hope everyone on the Flotilla is safe, but the odds would go down considerably if they were Palestinians, don't you think?

R: Since Palestinian fishermen are routinely fired upon, and humiliated, having their boats shot out from under them, and have even been forced to jump in the water and drown, watched by Israelis, yes we can be sure about that!

M: I truly hope the Flotilla is successful in helping to change that, and I thank you for the work you're doing to help protect the boats. Is there anything you would like to say to our audience, and to the larger world, in closing?

R: Well, we all have the opportunity to support this project through social media. Attention is the great mover of things in this capitalistic world, and all you have to do is to give the Flotilla and the Palestinians a little attention and energy, and you're part of moving global opinion.

M: Thanks, Roland. I really appreciate your time, and thanks again for everything you're doing for equality, justice and peace.

R: Thanks, Mike.

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