Miles Howe is not your usual businessman, and he is about to embark on a very unusual trade mission.
Howe, founder of Peaceful Waters Trading Company, spoke outside the World Trade and Convention Centre (WTCC) in downtown Halifax today after attending the Doing Business in Israel Workshop. The workshop was put on by Nova Scotia Business Inc. (NSBI) and is in preparation for a Government of Nova Scotia trade mission to Israel that is slated to take place in October of this year.
"The trade mission claims to represent Nova Scotia. Jonathan Levy [Israel’s Consul for Economic Affairs & Trade Commissioner to Canada and a speaker at the workshop] is interested in our offshore drilling technology, and in providing Halifax Harbour with state-of-the-art surveillance and security technology," said Howe. "I do not believe this represents the Nova Scotia that has endeared itself to me."
Howe is disappointed by not only the goods being traded, but also the relationship Nova Scotia is attempting to forge--namely, a relationship with Israel.
Critics of Israel accuse its government of adopting policies that defy international humanitarian law, effectively creating an apartheid state that legislates the repression of Arab Palestinians. In particular, movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza and the West Bank is severely restricted, enforced by a military occupation of Palestine and a wall that the International Court of Justice ruled illegal in 2004.
To express his protest, last week Howe registered Peaceful Waters Trading Company and as a local small-businessperson, attended NSBI's workshop.
But Howe isn't interested in trade with Israel; he's interested in trade with Gaza.
"This workshop completely glosse[d] over the fact that trade is not allowed in Gaza," said Howe in an interview with the Halifax Media Co-op.
Later this month, Howe will try to change that. He and more than 30 other Canadians will sail to Gaza aboard the Tahrir, a Canadian boat that aims to break Israel's blockade on Gaza. The blockade is restricting materials coming into and going out of the region. The Tahrir will carry between $30,000 and $50,000 worth of medical supplies that participants hope to deliver to Palestinian doctors.
Howe says the intent of the journey goes beyond delivering aid, however, to embracing trade with Gaza so people there can provide for themselves rather than be at the mercy of international aid.
"As a peace activist on board the Tahrir, I realized that I had a unique opportunity to develop my own trade mission to Gaza," explained Howe of his idea to register Peaceful Waters Trading Company.
Howe has invited small businesses in Nova Scotia to be part of this initiative by donating goods to bring to Gaza, goods that represent their desire to trade with the Palestinian people.
"The response was astounding," said Howe. "I found myself turning away crates of food and trade goods," as he only has space for sample gifts of solidarity, "literally, what will fit in the bottom of my backpack. It is a drop in the bucket, but it is also an expression of a particular desire from Nova Scotia."
"Thanks so much for the opportunity to express my solidarity with the craftspeople and small business operators in Gaza, Palestine," read Scott Barber, a Halifax potter, from a letter of support he wrote for Peaceful Waters. "Coracle Pottery fully endorses the Canadian Boat to Gaza initiative and the Freedom Flotilla II, 'Stay Human.'"
Jim Guild of the Canadians, Arabs and Jews for a Just Peace, also spoke outside the WTCC this afternoon. He said Howe's largely symbolic trade mission with Gaza represents "real trade, and a far more authentic gesture" of goodwill from the Nova Scotian business community than the Nova Scotia-Israel trade workshop.
"[Israel] could care less whether they buy screwdrivers from Nova Scotia. They want to be able to say that Israel has the support of Nova Scotia." Guild said the workshop is not about trade at all, that it is simply an attempt to "whitewash" Israel's policies, focusing Nova Scotians "away from Palestine and justice and toward Israel as a wonderful place...to do business."
Canadians, Arabs and Jews for a Just Peace distributed a leaflet outside the WTCC to participants attending the workshop. The leaflet contained a Top Ten list of things to consider before deciding to go on the trade mission.
"We're seeing a blockade on goods to Palestine but also a blockade of information," said Tony Seed, owner of New Media Services Inc, who has already experienced impediments to trade with Palestine when his team's Dossier on Palestine, created in 2002, was blocked from entering Palestine, as were emails between New Media and civil society organizations in Palestine.
Howe hopes to open relationships with Palestine that government policies wish to close down--specifically, to "show [people in Gaza] that Nova Scotia does care, and that we're not interested in a provincially sanctioned trade mission to Israel. That there was a counter voice here and that small businesses represented that strongly."
Howe will fill his backpack with salt cod, heirloom seeds, handmade soaps, local honey, preserves, pottery, information and letters of support.
"I aim to present these gifts to the people of Gaza, as a message of support from Nova Scotia businesses, and as a token of their desire to do trade in the future. One of the aims of the Canadian Boat to Gaza is to export products out of Gaza to support the local economy there. I will certainly do my best…to bring samples of trade back to my business friends here."
The Tahrir is part of the Freedom Flotilla II, an international flotilla of 10 boats that plan to deliver more than 1,000 solidarity activists and thousands of dollars worth of aid and medical supplies to Gaza. Last year, a similar flotilla was attacked by Israeli commandos who boarded the Mavi Marmara in international waters, killed nine passengers, injured over 50 and imprisoned all aboard.
Howe is hopeful that the tide is turning and this month's flotilla will be successful.
"I believe we do represent a tipping point, there's over 10 boats, over 1,000 people that have pledged their lives to non-violent activism…I believe we will reach Gaza and we will deliver this aid, and that Gaza can begin a process of rebuilding itself, and it will be a beautiful thing."
Hillary Lindsay and Moira Peters are contributors to the Halifax Media Co-op. Miles Howe will be reporting regularly to the Halifax Media Co-op from the Canadian Boat to Gaza. Visit Dispatches from the Tahrir for updates.
For more information on economic campaigns against Israel, see Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.