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Life Aboard an International Activist Ship

by Ann Wright

There is nothing easy about planning or conducting an international action, especially with moving parts called ships!  Yet, activists on board keep their spirits afloat!

After delays caused by damaged propellers and broken steering mechanisms, the Gaza Freedom Flotilla now reduced to seven ships is heading for Gaza. 

Yesterday, May 29, 2010, in a major confrontation, the Greek Cypriot government, under substantial pressure from the Israeli government, refused to allow members of the Irish and Scottish Parliament, and other dignitaries, board Challenger 1 that would bring them to the flotilla waiting some 50 miles from Cyprus.  The group travelled to the Turkish Cypriot side of the island and boarded Challenger 1, whose steering had been repaired.

Despite delays and damaged ships, spirit on board the ships is high, particularly on board the Challenger 1 that arrived in the flotilla this morning at 1:30am carrying German members of Parliament, Belgians, Irish and UK citizens, some of whom have been on the three-day odyssey from Crete to Cyprus and now to the flotilla.

In the 36 hours I’ve been on board the 600-passenger Turkish ship, life has developed into a routine of sleeping, eating, watching the horizon.  Virtually everyone is sleep-deprived.  All of the passengers are activists in their home countries.  They have been fundraising, speaking and travelling for months and years for the plight of the Palestinians.  They are seldom without email, computers, mobile calls.  Yet, on board the ship, there is only expensive satellite phone service, if you brought your own sat phone, and satellite internet service on the ship is only for journalists to file their stories about the flotilla.

So, for the first time in many months, very active people have extra time on their hands.  Time for lengthy conversations with activists from the other 50 countries, time for interviews with the considerable media and time for a well-needed nap on the floor of the deck or in one of the passenger lounges. 

The Mava Marmara is a day passenger ferry with no cabins or private areas.   About ninety percent of the passengers come from Muslim countries, mostly Arab-Muslim, but substantial delegations from Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country and from Malaysia. In deference to cultural norms, one lounge has been turned into a women’s only lounge, where women eat, sleep and hold conversations on humanitarian programs, religion and a variety of other topics, as women are wont to do. Women have free run of the ship and participate in all the activities of the ship, but do have a “refuge” from the activity of the ship.

Meals on board an activist ship rather than a cruise liner are basic, but very good. Hot tea and Nescafe are available 24 hours a day as is powdered soups. Breakfast is tomatoes, feta cheese, bread, honey.  Lunch and dinner is from cans—the choices are beef and potatoes, beans and rice stuffed peppers.  Apples and oranges are available during the day.  Snacks of nuts, bread and muffins.  Last night, we had our first hot meal. The IHH staff cooked a meal of grilled meat kabobs, with tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers.

Conversations automatically turn to Gaza. 

Those of us who have been in Gaza, particularly since the Israeli 22 day attack over one year and five months ago that killed 1440, wounded 5,000 and left 50,000 homeless, describe what we saw—the destroyed buildings, lives turned upside down and yet an incredible spirit of the Palestinians to survive the horrific effects of the Israeli attack and long term brutal effects of the three year siege that has made Gaza an “open-air prison.”

Last night, all the passengers on the ship gathered to hear from the leaders of the various groups that had sent materials and delegations.  Turkey, Greece, Kuwait, Bahrain, Malaysia, Indonesia, the United Kingdom, Scotland, Ireland all gave spirited talks about why they have worked so hard to be here.

I’ve just been told that we are going to transfer 4 of us whom have been on the Marmara onto the Challenger 1 so 4 on that boat will be able to come on the big ship.

So, off I go to back to the small boat and then off to Gaza we go, I hope!

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