A Canadian boat to Gaza

Al Jazeera speaks to linguistics professor David Heap about the latest attempt by activists to enter Gaza Strip.

Linguistics professor David Heap says Israeli blockade on Gaza is ‘state terrorism’ [David Poort/Al Jazeera]

Two boats carrying 24 peace activists and journalists have set sail towards the territorial waters of the Gaza Strip in the latest attempt to break the Israeli siege on the Palestinian enclave.

For months the activists have been preparing for the flotilla while maintaining a total media blackout in a bid not to draw attention from their host nation, Turkey.

Al Jazeera’s David Poort spoke to Canadian linguistics professor David Heap, who is a member of the steering committee on board the Tahrir, or Canadian boat to Gaza.

What is the scale of this new attempt to break the siege on Gaza?

Here on the Tahrir we have 12 people, both activists and journalists. The activists are from Canada, Australia, Germany and the USA.

The journalists are from a number of different countries, representing Al Jazeera, Press TV, Democracy Now and other – mostly online – publications.

There is a second boat, the Irish boat Saoirse, with a slightly smaller group of passengers. We have left the port of Fethiye in southwest Turkey and are now in international waters. The Irish ship joined us from the same area.

Is this the same group of people who were behind the flotilla that was blocked by Greece this summer?

Roughly, yes. The Tahrir was part of the Freedom Flotilla in June-July that tried to leave from Athens. Much of our delegation consists of the same people. Some of the people could not come, but it is the same organisation.

Why did you choose Turkey for the launch of this new attempt?

The Turkish government has been creating more distance from Israel diplomatically and we know there is support from Turkish society for what we are doing. And our judgment was that the Turkish state would not interfere with us, if we didn’t make too much of a public issue of our plan to depart from there.

That implies that the Turks knew about this flotilla …

I think that Turkey, like any other country, has ways of finding out what people are doing within their borders. But given that our application for departure didn’t declare our destination as Gaza – our stated destination was a port in northern Cyprus, which is not a controversial departure – they do not have to take official notice of what we are doing.

So Turkey can pretend it didn’t know about this flotilla?

Well, we didn’t want to put Turkey in a spot. States do what states have to do. The Turkish government will take its own position with respect to Gaza, with respect to Israel and with respect to the occupation of Palestine. We know that it is evolving in an interesting direction, but if we declared our destination as Gaza; that forces them to take a position with respect to us trying to challenge the blockade by breaking it.

We’ve reached international waters. What is next?

We have some distance to cover between where we are now and Palestinian territorial waters of Gaza – our destination. Obviously we are going to avoid going through Israeli territorial waters. Our plan is to go directly from international waters into the territorial waters of Gaza – within a couple of days. We’re not, at this point, going to state exactly when. We will choose our moment to what is favourable to what we are trying to do.

What would you say to sceptics who might say, “Another flotilla? I’m tired of it!”

I would say that the Palestinians of Gaza are more tired of the blockade than we are tired of trying to break it. As long as they are calling for people of conscience around the world to challenge the blockade – and they said as recently as last month that they expect us on their shores – then I don’t think we should stop. We have to keep challenging the blockade everywhere we can.

This is one of the ways – not the only way – to challenge the blockade.

The blockade is not going to be lifted from lack of pressure. Every light that we shine of the injustice of the blockade makes it harder to maintain. What makes it easy to maintain is when people ignore it and don’t do anything about it.

As with the prisoner exchange: it is not something that happens in a vacuum.

It happens in a context of civil society mobilising to put pressure on governments to do what they should be doing, which is ending an illegal and inhuman blockade.

Isn’t it time to come up with a new way to address this?

Well, the sea is not the only part of the blockade. It is also on the landside of Israel and Egypt.

So it is a complex blockade and we are challenging one side of it. But we don’t forget the other side. The fundamental human right here is about the movement of human beings. While we bring some aid with us to Gaza because they asked us for some specific items, and you don’t go empty handed to this kind of event, our real point is that it doesn’t matter how much stuff gets in.

If you are in prison and you get wonderful meals and wonderful medical attention, you are still in a prison. The Palestinians of Gaza still don’t have freedom of movement until they control at least one of their borders.

What Israel is doing is state terrorism. It is trying to reach a political goal through punishing a population, which is a textbook definition of terrorism.

If they have security goals, they are much better ways to achieve these. The blockade perpetuates the conflict and worsens the situation, for both sides.

Did the recent prisoner swap have anything to do with the timing of this new flotilla to Gaza?

We would be going now whether [Sergeant Gilad] Shalit would be released or not. Again, this is what state entities have to negotiate with each other.

They said they would never negotiate with Hamas, and in fact they did. This is proof that anybody can talk to anybody. When they say they will never lift the blockade, the fact is that someday they will.

David Heap is a linguistics professor at the University of Western Ontario and a member of the Canadian Boat to Gaza steering committee.

Follow David Poort for the latest from the flotilla via Twitter: @DavidPoort

Source: Al Jazeera