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Diary of South African Delegate Leigh-Ann Naidoo on The Women’s Boat to Gaza: Day 6 & 7

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b4Day 11 – 2 October

Sea Day 6

Today watching the sun rise ahead of us a few things have become clearer to me. I have settled into the 4am-8am watch, which means my day begins watching the sun rise in the East, which is the direction we are sailing to Gaza. As i write this i am overwhelmed and grateful for what this mission has afforded me. Mostly this has to do, i think, with solidarity and its relation to the continued role of women in the struggles of the world. I have learned so much from my Maori, Green Party New Zealand, parliamentarian comrade on the boat around the struggles related to land dispossession, violence, racism and the difficult but important question of how to deal with oppression, violence and resistance. 

There have been conversations with the grannies on the boat who have worked for decades in very violent contexts setting up peace processes in Northern Ireland, and resigning from the US government and army to build a movement for peace. The Swedish parliamentarian who was exiled from her home country, Chile and the Spanish activist photographer from the Basque areas. The captain has been a green peace activist and undertaken the most amazing direct actions at sea. The Malaysian gynaecologist who has started three hospitals and does medical operations and raises funds to reduce the waiting time of Palestinians who need life saving operations. The Algerian parliamentarian who is on this mission even as Algeria has no diplomatic relations with Israel, where we are all likely to spend some time in detention in the next few days, and she in particular will have a difficult time getting help.

It is too soon for me to write about all the things that are clarifying. Some of this has to do with the importance of creating, even as it is difficult, opportunities to talk, think, disagree and learn together. That these remain crucial to inform decisive and direct action to resist oppressive situations. And that solidarity, for me, is the ability to struggle with those who are oppressed in one way or another, even if the struggle does not directly affect ones own life. The struggle for the freedom of Palestine may not directly affect many of you reading this, but it does affect us indirectly. Was it MLK who said “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”? Gaza, where we hope to arrive in the next few days, is a serious injustice. An open air prison under an illegal blockade. 

We have another group meeting to discuss the programme for the next 3 days. We also discuss the ideas and practices of non-violence. There are a diversity of experiences and views on the topic but we are clear that the mission we have undertaken is a peaceful one. I wonder how one of the most well funded military forces in the world will respond to a peaceful boat with 13 women on board. Guesses on board are that they will treat us like previous flotillas and stop us when we get 100 miles from Gaza. They will treat us like the terrorists they believe we are. They will come with military boats and big guns. Trained young soldiers to force our boat off course. They will search us and look for weapons that they think we must have. They will interrogate us to try and find out who else was involved in planning this peaceful direct action. They will detain us. And when they are ready, they will deport us.

Those amongst us who have been through this before describe in detail their experiences so we can prepare and be as ready as possible. Or, maybe, they will let us go to Gaza so we can take a message of solidarity.

Day 12 – 3 October

Sea Day 7

I have been so worried about what is going on in South Africa at the moment. There is no access to news on the boat but i managed to get the president and security cluster response to the ongoing shut down protests happening at universities in SA (and the Wits Vice Chancellor’s final letter informing the university community of the security and police coming to open Wits campus). How a liberation party turned majority government can be so obsessed with the threat of regime change is beyond me. For sure there have been and continues to be intervention by powerful nations in the running of smaller ones. But to think and plan to suppress student protests for free, quality, decolonised higher education because you believe students and some NGOs are working as puppets of imperialist forces hell bent on regime change. Really? 

I am thinking about those students and academics in South Africa who continue to struggle through argument and direct action for free, quality, decolonised higher education. The ones who are being labelled as an anarchist minority, ultra-left, third force and as criminals hell bent on destroying education in SA. The ones who will be on the receiving end of the short sighted response from an insecure and paranoid government and the arrogant, cowardly university managements. University managers who cannot see that no-one wants to lose a year of study, but that the implications of allowing the continued privatisation and corporatisation of education has far, far more wide reaching effects. Not to mention the far reaching effects of responding to critique and protest and resistance by placing security personnel at the gates and doors of our universities. 

No one wants to lose a year of study but more than that, we do not want universities to fail at finding creative solutions to urgent issues of social justice. Are the ‘leaders’ of universities really going to turn to police to oversee the process of dealing with conflict? In any case, my thoughts are on the open air prison that is occupied Gaza as much as they are on universities in SA, which seem to becoming more like prisons than spaces for disagreement and engagement.

We are 200 miles from Gaza, which means about 2 more days of sailing. Today we have switched the engine off and are sailing. The feeling of sailing without the motor is one that brings us closer and more connected to the sea which we have been moving on top of. This has been a life changing journey for me and i am sure others on the boat and back home as part of the SA campaign. We have a live feed with Al Jazeera again. We also read a screen play dealing with the connecting of the struggle for civil rights in the USA and the struggle for freedom of Palestine. It is a powerful play that was written in September by an African American actor and writer Kia Corthron. It is called Reunion and is a conversation between an African American and American Jewish woman who were best friends at school together and lost touch and then end up on a park bench catching up and fighting about the conflict in Israel-Palestine. We read the play on the deck of the boat and it highlighted some key questions and sticking points in this terrible struggle. 

One of the crew from Sweden is a music teacher and she has been writing a song about the journey. She started writing the tune and the words on the first leg from Barcelona in conversation with participants. She has continued to write verse two and three over the last few days and we have been practising the chorus. We will probably sing it tomorrow. Music and struggle have always found each other.

Our meeting today covers the interception, possible boarding, arrest, processing, interrogation, transporting and then deporting. We also talk about how we will all get home after the deportation. I decide to go to bed early to be fresh for my 4-8am watch. But also we will probably spend at least 8 hours on our boat with Israeli Occupation Forces before getting to land. Tomorrow we will spend the day cleaning the boat, packing the little things we have, preparing food and water for the big day, which is when we either arrive in Gaza or are taken into custody. 

For SA I wish that the universities find a way to resolve the current impasse without guns and security personnel. For us on the boat, I wish that we make it to Gaza without having to encounter guns and security/military personnel.