25. Sometimes, something happens

Following my previous post about threats to the Tahrir, the Canadian boat to Gaza, I wrote to New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton and the party’s foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar, demanding that the NDP take a principled stand in support of Canadian participation in the Freedom Flotilla, as their brave colleague Alex Atamenenko, NDP member of parliament, had already done.  I also wrote to Atamenenko, commending him for his courage and integrity.

From Jack Layton’s office came an automatic response, “…Please be assured your comments and views are valued…”  The usual.

From Paul Dewar’s office came a reply which I regard as semi-automatic: “…The NDP does not endorse the flotilla, but it is necessary to respect people’s right to peacefully protest and the protection and safety of all parties involved must be a priority.  We’ve echoed UN concerns about potential clashes between Israeli forces and activists and urge restraint.”

We urge restraint.  Nice.  Safe, comfortable, ineffectual.  Very NDP.

In the introduction to Our Way to Fight, I convey in short form my own sense of how good change happens:

“An Israeli friend speaks of two world-views, the macro and micro.  To me the macro view is an overview, from the war room, the cabinet room, the CEO’s suite.  The micro view is close up, on the street, on the wrong side of the wall, under the bombs.  [Now I would add, on the boat.]  It is the view of this book.

“Acts of resistance and solidarity are often so small, unless you look closely you may never see them.  At some point a person thinks, I can no longer remain silent.  She risks talking to others, and sometimes, something happens.”

When “something happens,” hardly ever is it due to pressure from above, but almost always from below, popular pressure, from the grassroots.  In a historic referendum this past week, Italian citizens defied all the establishment parties and the corporate media to refuse nuclear power and to ban the privatization of water.  The elites were stunned.  Even activists who’ve organized for years on these issues admitted they hadn’t really believed this outcome to be possible.

Meanwhile, from the plush comfort of Parliament Hill in Ottawa, the New Democrats urge “restraint,” equally, from both the Israeli forces and the activists.  The equation of the two is grotesque.  By nature and purpose, the Israeli military forces are about exactly that, force, unparalleled in the Middle East.  Israeli peace activists told me repeatedly that the only effective restraint on their government would be an effective end to the lavish flow of support from western regimes, which Israeli authorities consistently interpret as carte blanche to do as they wish.  True to form, the Israeli regime is now threatening to use even more aggressive force than it did against last year’s Freedom Flotilla, when Israeli commandos murdered nine activists.

The peace and human rights advocates on the Freedom Flotilla will go to Gaza unarmed, on small boats, and face the most powerful military force in the Middle East, fully backed by the most powerful, aggressive military force on the planet, and its faithful allies, including official Canada.

The last thing Flotilla participants need is more restraint.  They are restraint personified.

What they need is support.  They won’t get it from the elites that hold formal power in Europe and North America.  They won’t get it from the current Secretary General of the United Nations, who shamefully declared the Freedom Flotilla a provocation, thus granting implicit permission for Israeli military aggression.  And, sadly, it is clear now that no useful support can be expected from wannabe elites like the NDP.

That leaves us.

As in all campaigns for justice — women’s and civil rights, anti-apartheid, queer liberation, anti-war, pro-choice, environmental — pressure for justice and peace in Palestine-Israel springs from the ground (or water, in this case), from the grassroots, from us.

Since most of us can’t join the Freedom Flotilla in person, here is a practical way to support the Tahrir, due to sail within the next couple of weeks.

For people in other countries, very likely there is a boat that needs your support.  Check the list of Local Boat Initiatives here.

Please pass on this message or the link to this blog to others.

About Michael Riordon

Canadian writer and documentary-maker Michael Riordon writes/ directs/produces books and articles, audio, video and film documentaries, plays for radio and stage. A primary goal of his work is to recover voices and stories of people who have been silenced or marginalized, written out of the official version: First Nations (aboriginal) youth, Mozambican farmers, inmates in Canadian prisons, traditional healers in Fiji, queer folk across Canada, Guatemalan labour activists. Michael also leads courses, workshops and seminars for community organizations, trade unions, schools, colleges and universities.
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