written by Mandie Stout
As I write this, I am looking at a photo taken in early July of some of your children on the beach at the port of Gaza City. The dozen or so kids waved Palestinian and Greek flags, while one child held a sign that reads, "We'll stay here until you arrive peacefully." They were waiting for the boats of the Freedom Flotilla II, which had aimed to set sail in late June to break the Israeli sea blockade of Gaza and to deliver aid.
By now, it's known that the boats did not make it. Most of the flotilla boats were set to depart from Greek ports. However, the economic crisis made Greece vulnerable to outside pressure. Government officials in Israel and the U.S. strong-armed Greece into preventing all flotilla boats from ever leaving Greek waters see Dahr Jamail, July 12, Al Jazeera, effectively expanding the sea blockade across the Mediterranean.
Given what's happened, I want to make sure Gazans know about the nearly 300 people from 22 countries who tried very hard to reach your shores. The U.S. boat, the Audacity of Hope, did attempt to sail in support of those children on that beach in Gaza City and all of Gazan civil society. The boat had 37 American passengers including the acclaimed writer Alice Walker, a retired U.S. military colonel, reporters from reputable U.S. media organizations, activists from all walks of life and one of my dearest friends from my hometown of Santa Cruz.
The passengers wanted to deliver to Gaza 3,000 love letters from Americans. I wrote two of them.
Behind each person who participated in the flotilla stands a supportive home community. We believe that the way you have been imprisoned on your own land is illegal, immoral and indefensible. We do not support collective punishment of the majority of you for the actions of a small minority. You are not alone.
Diligent reporters and aid workers have documented to the outside world that Gazans are routinely subjected to arrest and mistreatment and are at risk of being killed. The risk of death is sometimes by a direct Israeli Defense Force action or may be slower, murderous weapons like malnutrition or the denial of adequate health care. Nearly half of the adult population in Gaza is unemployed and cannot provide for their families. In so many ways, under the blockade, Gazan lives are always on the line.
Gaza, please know that you are part of my family. I send my love to the children most of all, who I pray will live to see a time when playgrounds are in parks and not amongst rubble, when excellent schooling is available to all, and when your families experience lifetimes of peace and economic stability. My love goes out to the mothers, who care for and nurture future leaders who will help to heal Palestine on its journey to independence. To the young adults who are pushing political leaders to engage seriously in peace negotiations, stay strong! You will make a difference!
I pray for your human rights to be protected, for your safety and success. I pray for ingenuity for those who will work toward a peaceful resolution to the conflict that holds you in it's grip, I pray for your healing and your happiness.
Today, a new photo reached my email inbox. It's a poster, hung at a park in a Northern California town. There is a drawing of a boat with the words "Freedom Flotilla III" emblazoned on its side. Below that it reads: "Dear Gaza, Tell your children we'll never stop trying to reach you. Love, the world."
Insha'Allah, may the third flotilla reach your shores, but most of all, may peace and justice come to your land without delay.
Mandie Stout lives in Santa Cruz.