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Palestine - Israël: WOMEN’S BOAT TO GAZA - Report from Ann Wright, co-boat leader, retired Army colonel and former diplomat from the United States

Tuesday 25 October 2016, by siawi3

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

Source: sent by:
US to Gaza  gmail.com>
Tue, 18 Oct 2016 07:05:10 -0400 (EDT)

WOMEN’S BOAT TO GAZA

Report from Ann Wright

October 9, 2016

A week ago today I was deported from Israel and was met at JFK airport in New York City by Women’s Boat to Gaza and Palestinian supporters. Seven days later, I am no longer rocking and rolling from 8 days at sea—and I can write this thank you to you all for your kind support to our U.S. campaign for Women’s Boat to Gaza.

Our mission to focus international attention on the continuing illegal Israeli naval blockade through a 1,715-mile sailing journey from Barcelona, Spain, through Ajaccio, Corsica, France, and Messina, Sicily, Italy, and on to Gaza was highly successful. International media covered our trip extensively, particular media in the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Europe. Coverage in the United States was predictably low. With that said, The New York Times has printed five articles about the Women’s Boat to Gaza.

I was chosen by the international coalition to serve as a boat leader for all three parts of the voyage. Kit Kittredge was on two parts of the journey and Lisa Gay Hamilton, a TV actor in the United States, was selected for one leg of the trip. Because one of the boats suffered engine failure, we sailed only one boat instead of two, which resulted in some invited participants, including U.S. playwright Naomi Wallace, not having a spot on the boat. She responded with characteristically good grace, however, and vowed to continue to write plays concerning Palestine.

Those who sailed on the Zaytouna-Oliva were distinguished women from 18 countries, including a Nobel Peace Laureate and four members of Parliament from their respective countries. Captain Madeleine Habib from Australia and our crew, Emma Ringqvist from Sweden and Synne Sofia Renksten from Norway, remained with us for the entire journey, as did Dr. Fauziah Hasan, our medical doctor from Malaysia, and myself.

Barcelona, Spain to Ajaccio, Corsica, France

(September 15-18, arrived morning of September 19, 2016)

1. Rosana Pastor Munoz, member of Parliament and actor from Spain;

2. Malin Bjork, member of the European Parliament from Sweden;

3. Paulina de los Reyes, a Swedish professor originally from Chile;

4. Jaldia Abubakra, Palestinian from Gaza, now a Spanish citizen and political activist;

5. Dr. Fauziah Hasan, medical doctor from Malaysia;

6. Yehudit Ilany, political consultant and journalist from Israel;

7. Lucia Munoz, journalist with Telesur from Spain;

8. Kit Kittredge, human rights and Gaza activist from the United States;

9. Wendy Goldsmith, co-boat leader; social-worker human rights campaigner from Canada;

10. Ann Wright, co-boat leader; retired Army colonel and former diplomat from the United States;

11. Madeleine Habib, Zaytouna boat captain from Australia;

12. Emma Ringqvist, crew member from Sweden;

13.Synne Sofie Reksten, crew member from Norway;

Ajaccio, Corsica, France, to Messina, Sicily, Italy

(September 20-22, arrived Messina, September 23, in morning)

1. Latifa Habbech, member of Parliament from Tunisia;

2. Dr. Fauziah Hasan, medical doctor from Malaysia;

3. Lisa Gay Hamilton, TV and theater actor and activist from the United States;

4. Norsham Binti Abubakr, medical administrator from Malaysia;

5. Kit Kittredge, human rights and Gaza activist from the United States;

6. Khadija Bengueena, Al Jazeera journalist and broadcaster from Algeria;

7. Heyet El Yamani, Al Jazeera Mubasher On-Line journalist from Egypt;

8. Yehudit Ilany, political consultant and journalist from Israel;

9. Wendy Goldsmith, co-boat leader; social-worker human rights campaigner from Canada;

10. Ann Wright, co-boat leader; retired Army colonel and former diplomat from the United States;

11. Madeleine Habib, captain of the Zaytouna from Australia;

12. Emma Ringqvist, crew member from Sweden;

13. Synne Sofia Reksten, crew member from Norway.

Messina, Sicily, Italy, to Gaza

(September 27 through October 5, arriving at Ashdod, Israel, at midnight October 5)

1. Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Laureate from Northern Ireland;

2. Samira Douaifia, member of Parliament from Algeria;

3. Marama Davidson, member of Parliament from New Zealand;

4. Jeanette Escanilla Diaz, First Substitute member of Parliament from Sweden (originally from Chile);

5. Leigh Ann Naidoo, Olympic athlete and university student rights activist from South Africa;

6. Sandra Barrialoro, professional photographer and book author on Palestine from Spain;

7. Dr. Fauziah Hasan, medical doctor from Malaysia;

8. Mina Harballou, Al Jazeera journalist from the United Kingdom;

9. Hoda Rakhme, Al Jazeera camerawoman-editor from Russia

10. Ann Wright, boat leader; retired Army colonel and former diplomat from the United States;

11. Madeleine Habib, captain of the Zaytouna from Australia;

12. Emma Ringqvist, crew member from Sweden;

13. Synne Sofia Reksten, crew member from Norway.

At around 3 pm on October 5, at the end of our 15-day, 1,715-mile voyage from Barcelona, Spain, we began to see the outlines of three large naval vessels on the horizon. At 3:30 pm, the IOF naval forces began radio broadcasts to the Women’s Boat to Gaza. The radio crackled with

"Zaytouna, Zaytouna. This is the Israeli Navy. You are heading for an internationally recognized Security Zone. You must stop and divert to Ashdod, Israel, or your boat will be forcibly stopped by the Israeli Navy and your boat will be confiscated."

Captain Madeline Habib, an extraordinarily experienced captain licensed to command all ships of any size responded,

"Israeli Navy, this is the Zaytouna, the Women’s Boat to Gaza. We are in international waters heading for Gaza on a mission of bringing hope to the people of Gaza that they are not forgotten. We demand that the government of Israel end its naval blockade of Gaza and let the people of Palestine live in dignity with the right to travel freely and the right to control their destiny. We are continuing to sail to Gaza where the people of Gaza are awaiting our arrival."

Around 4 pm, we saw three vessels coming at high speed toward the Zaytouna. As we had planned during our frequent nonviolence training discussions, we gathered all 13 women in the cockpit of the Zaytouna. Two journalists from Al Jazeera who had been reporting daily on the progress of the Zaytouna during the final nine-day voyage continued their filming, while our captain and two crew members sailed the boat toward Gaza.

As the IOF fast boats approached, our participants held hands and had a minute of silence and reflection for the women and children of Gaza and our voyage to bring international attention to their plight.

By 4:10 pm, the IOF boat had come alongside of the Zaytouna and ordered us to slow to 4 knots. The IOF zodiac vessel had approximately 25 on board, including 10 women sailors. Fifteen young IOF sailors quickly boarded the Zaytouna and a woman sailor took command of the Zaytouna from our captain and altered our course from Gaza to the Israeli port of Ashdod.

They took our individual document belts that contained our passports and stored them below as they searched the boat. Later, a second team searched the boat more thoroughly apparently looking for cameras, computers, mobile phones and any electronic devices.

A young woman IOF medic asked if anyone had medical problems. We replied that we had our own medical doctor on board—and the medic said, "Yes, we know, Dr. Fauziah Hasan from Malaysia."

The boarding group brought aboard water and offered us food. We replied that we had plenty of water and food, including 60 hard-boiled eggs that we had prepared for what we knew would be a lengthy journey to an Israeli port after the boarding.

For the next eight hours until after midnight, we sailed and motored with 15 more people on board, a total of about 28 people on the Zaytouna-Oliva. As was typical at virtually every sunset on our nine-day journey from Messina, our crew sang to remind us of the women of Palestine. Crew member Emma Ringquist had composed a powerful song entitled "For the Women of Gaza." Emma, Synne Sofia and Marmara Davidson sang as we sailed with the sun setting for the final evening on the Zaytouna-Oliva, the Women’s Boat to Gaza, with everyone singing the chorus that so aptly described our mission:

"We will sail for your freedom our sisters in Palestine. We will never be silent until you are free."

The sailors did not carry visible weapons, although one suspected that there were weapons and handcuffs in the backpacks that several brought aboard. They were not dressed in combat gear, but rather in white long-sleeved polo shirts with blue military vests on top and Go-Pro cameras attached to the vests.

After arriving in Ashdod, we were charged with entering Israel illegally and presented with a deportation order. We told the immigration officials that we had been kidnapped in international waters by the IOF and brought to Israel against our will and refused to sign any documents or agree to pay for our air tickets to leave Israel.

We were sent to the immigration and deportation processing jail at Givon and after lengthy processing, we finally arrived at our cells around 5 am on October 6.

We demanded to see the Israeli lawyers that had agreed to represent us and to also see representatives of our respective embassies. By 3 pm we had spoken to both and had agreed to the legal advice to write on the deportation order that we were in Israel against our will. By 6 pm we were taken to the deportation jail at Ben Gurion International Airport and Israeli officials began putting our Women’s Boat to Gaza participants and crew on flights to their home countries. The Al Jazeera journalists had been deported to their homes in the UK and Russia the evening we arrived in Israel.

All of our participants and crew have now arrived safely to their homes. All are committed to continuing to speak out strongly about the conditions in Gaza and the West Bank and demand that Israel and the international community bring Gaza out of the darkness imposed by their policies.

We know our voyage was important to the people of Gaza. Photos

of preparations for our arrival and videos thanking us for our efforts have been heartwarming. As the young Palestinian woman said,

"It doesn’t matter that the boats are towed [to Israel] and the passengers deported. Just knowing that supporters are still willing to keep trying [to get to Gaza] is enough."

We of the U.S. Campaign of the Women’s Boat to Gaza thank you for your tremendous support for the mission of bringing international attention to the continuing illegal Israeli blockade of Gaza. We hope you will continue even stronger in your solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza and in the West Bank.

Please continue to follow our work in our Facebook and websites:

https://www.facebook.com/Womens-Boat-to-Gaza-US-Section-996595507080925/

https://wbg.freedomflotilla.org/

A more extensive description of the Women’s Boat to Gaza can be found in Ann Wright’s article "Women’s Boat to Gaza Participants See the Israeli-Imposed Perpetual Darkness on Gaza"

US to Gaza, Women’s Boat to Gaza, c/o Nonviolence International, 4000 Albemarle Street, NW Suite 401, Washington, DC 20016