There it was...early one January morning...in my e-mail in box: an invitation to apply to be a Passenger on the US Boat to Gaza---part of an International Peace Flotilla with the ambitious mission to end the Israeli blockade of Gaza and to focus the attention of the world on the plight of the people in that beleaguered part of the Middle East.
I filled out the five page application, listing my qualifications, references, considerations, reasons, viewpoints… In February, two organizers interviewed me by telephone. Then they contacted and questioned my personal references. In March I received the welcome news that I had been selected to be a Passenger on The Audacity of Hope. I was thrilled. I continue to be thrilled. It is an honor to have the opportunity to sail for Peace and Justice with other non-violent Peace advocates who decry the politics and persecution that has created an ongoing and untenable situation for the people in that embattled part of our world.
Some history: In 2009, I went to Gaza as part of a Delegation led by Code Pink and hosted by UNRWA (United Nations Relief Works Agency). We went to celebrate International Women's Day with the women of Gaza. This was right after Operation Cast Lead---the over-the-top retaliatory bombing raids by the Israeli Military that destroyed much of the infrastructure of Gaza. It also damaged schools, homes and farmland. It killed more than a thousand people---including hundreds of children. Because Israel controlled all the borders (with some cooperation from Egypt)--including the sea lanes, there was nowhere for people to run; nowhere to hide. This small strip of land is widely known as "the largest open air prison in the world." Very few people in Gaza are free to leave that small strip of land--to seek medical help, to visit family, to pursue education...This collective punishment of the people by the people of Israel must be an illegal act. It is one of many illegal acts being committed by Israel against a whole group of (mainly---okay, I said Mainly!) innocent men, women and children. Children!
During my time in Gaza, I made bread (and friends) with many women and girls in Rafah City. I sang and laughed with scores of children in the ruined town of Jabaliya. Our group met with many representatives of NGO’s. And we saw, first hand, the unacceptable conditions under which families were living. We cried with Mothers, listened to students, grew angry and concerned on hearing about the constant shortage of food and re-building materials and medicines. It is not right for this tragic situation to continue. It is not right that all supplies coming in to Gaza must be monitored by the Israelis---who severely and arbitrarily limit needed or desired foodstuffs from entering the isolated Strip. No pasta one week. No chocolate the next…Never enough medicine. Never.
Having witnessed the unhealthy conditions under which family after family was living (subsisting) and having seen the eager, hopeful faces of the children, I wept. And I said---and I say, “This is not right…Something must be done…Someone must do something…”
I am someone who is moved to do something. NOW! I have the opportunity and I am ready to stand up and to say aloud, to my countrymen and countrywomen and to my government, “This is not right. This must end."
Surely there is a better way to move towards resolving the conflicts that have caused so much pain and hardship to so many, for so long. Not just Palestinians. Israelis too. The whole beautiful region yearns for freedom from fear. We all long for Peace. For Safety. For Clean Food and Water. For Access to Education. And...for the right to worship and celebrate in one's chosen way.
This must come to pass.
Why is Peace so elusive, I wonder? Everyone claims to want to live in Peace. Yet, look at our troubled, suffering world! Surely we do not believe that human nature abhors a peaceful , cooperative community. Where is the Peace we long to have? Is it in the pockets of a few people who want to turn our world into some sort of Plutocracy? From time to time, I recall a jingle I learned in grammar school: “The World would stop if it were run by those who say it can’t be done.” I think about that all the time…Something must be done! Some of us have begun to put ourselves into action---against injustice.
So, now I am packed and ready to fly to Greece (on Monday June 20th) to join a remarkable cross-section of American citizens who will board The Audacity of Hope and sail, with an International Flotilla, on a mission of Peace and Justice. I am putting my body, my eyes and my abiding vision for Peace at the epicenter of the conflict--which has festered far too long. Perhaps my naïvete and “cockeyed optimism” along with the insistent (but always non-violent) voices on board our boat might (just might) move the dialogue a step closer to resolution, reconciliation, celebration. It is clear to me that the ongoing Israeli/Palestinian conflict of bullying and retaliating; of anger, hatred and retribution cannot continue unabated. It has brought debilitating fear and tragedy to virtually all who live in the region. I have the audacity to hope that our voices can be heard and that our true and honorable intentions can be felt, understood…and then perhaps a new and better dialogue can begin.
I know, I know; many have tried and many have failed. Still…
This Mother and Grandmother…dreams of Peace and understanding, of forgiveness and justice.
I repeat a Goethe couplet to myself almost daily. I have done so for years: “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” And so, I go…boldly, proudly, without hesitation to join the other Passengers, the Crew, the Media and Support Staff as we take on this historic initiative…as we walk our talk and as we sail our tale!
May I take your prayers and good thoughts with me?