About 45 people rallied today in front of the Greek visa application office at Purdy's Wharf to show support for the Tahrir, the Canadian Boat to Gaza, which on Monday was prevented from leaving a Greek port--a breach of international law. The Tahrir is part of the Freedom Flotilla II, an international humanitarian mission to Gaza.
The rally featured a live report by Halifax journalist Miles Howe, who has been posting regular updates from the Tahrir to the Halifax Media Co-op.
“Yes!” cheered the crowd enthusiastically when Howe asked “Can you hear me?” Howe addressed the crowd via Skype on a cell phone, amplified on a megaphone. He gave a play-by-play of the previous day’s events, when a special unit of the Greek military boarded the Tahrir and prevented it from sailing, just a few kilometres from shore.
The crowd also heard from speakers representing Canadians, Arabs and Jews for a Just Peace (CAJJP), Independent Jewish Voices (IJV), and the Canada-Palestine Association. Dr. Ismail Zayid of the Canada-Palestine Association argued that the silence of Canada and the US on the issue of Israel's blockade of Gaza effectively makes these so-called "free world" countries collaborators in the blockade, which he noted is a violation of international law and a war crime under the Fourth Geneva Convention (formally known as the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War). Zayid also stressed that the purpose of the Flotilla to Gaza is not simply to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza, but also, and perhaps more importantly, to expose the illegality and absurdity of the blockade itself. Not only are the 1.5 million people of Gaza denied access to necessary aid, but the blockade prohibits all trade, including export of their own products. Even strawberries--hardly a "dangerous element"--are prohibited from being exported, he said.
Jim Guild of CAJJP decried the Canadian government’s official position on the Flotilla, noting that Foreign Affairs minister John Baird called the aid effort “provocative” and “unhelpful,” while noting that he did not urge Israel to respect international law and show restraint in dealing with the international fleet. Last year nine activists were killed when the Israeli Defense Forces boarded the Mavi Marmara, another ship aiming to deliver aid to Gaza.
Herb Gamberg of Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) pointed to an "upsurge in Jewish opinion that is questioning the meaning and historical sense of Israel." He sees this developing perspective as increasingly separating itself from the Israeli lobby and the conventional Jewish view on Zionism that is, he suggested, perhaps even more common in North America than in Israel itself.
Linda Scherzinger, also of CAJJP and fresh from a visit to Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank, reminded the audience not to let the dramatic events off Greece distract from the dire situation in Gaza, which has been under siege by Israel since 2006. Scherzinger pointed in particular to the Israeli assault on Gaza in 2008 and 2009 which left more than 1,400 Palestinians dead, and from which Gaza has had difficulty re-building due to the economic blockade.
Check out Dispatches from the Tahrir for Miles Howe's reports.
With files from Melissa Albiani. Photographs by Christopher Cohoon. For more images from the rally, see "Halifax Shows Solidarity with the Canadian Boat to Gaza."