Peaceful flotilla essential step to win freedom for Palestinians

Gaza: l'horreur de l'agression israélienne

Israel's boarding of ships in the 2010 flotilla touched off international protest and debate over whether or not Israel overreacted.
_ Photograph by: REUTERS FILE, The Gazette

(The authors are members of Québec solidaire's national co-ordinating committee. Their names appear at the end).
The unbearable situation of Palestinians living in Gaza has inspired Québec solidaire to raise awareness among Quebecers about the illegal siege imposed by the Israeli government nearly five years ago. In response to this injustice, a 25-metre boat, able to carry up to 50 people, has been chartered: the Canadian boat to Gaza.
This is the result of a civil society initiative in Quebec and Canada, with the purpose of ending the Israeli blockade through non-violent direct action. QS members support this project and will be represented by Manon Massé, our candidate in the riding of Sainte-Marie-Saint-Jacques.
The boat, called Tahrir (liberation in Arabic), will soon join a flotilla of ships from France, the United States, Ireland, Spain, Switzerland, Greece, Turkey and other countries.
On the ground, the civilian population of Gaza experiences a daily denial of fundamental rights. Since 2007, the Israeli government has imposed on them an illegal and inhumane blockade. It is important to note that Gaza is in fact the largest open-air prison in the world; 1.5 million men, women and children are held in it, 80 per cent of them surviving thanks to minimal levels of food brought in through international aid.
Specifically, the blockade prevents imports but also exports of goods in and out of Gaza. The economy of the territory is therefore at a standstill and the people experience shortages of many basic necessities on a daily basis. Through the flotilla, we will attempt to bring in humanitarian aid as well as take away products made in Gaza. With this symbolic action, we want to recognize the right of Palestinians to trade with the world and enjoy basic freedoms.
The urgency of this situation is such that we cannot simply support the peace process, which has been stalled for much too long. It is necessary to act by all peaceful means, including a boycott, so that the government of Israel will change its behaviour. Civil society must mobilize, following the call from Shirin Ebadi, Jody Williams and Mairead Maguire, three Nobel Peace Prize recipients who have expressed their support for this initiative.
The Canadian government could also play a significant part in resolving this crisis, but it disappoints at every opportunity. Its unconditional support for Israel doesn't allow it to act on behalf of Palestinians as well as Israeli civilians. A different policy is needed, because the life, security and dignity of a million and a half individuals are at stake.
Québec solidaire is saddened by the suffering of all victims in this conflict. Israelis also have a right to security. But the siege of Gaza, as well as the numerous bombings of residential areas causing hundreds of deaths, which have been declared criminal by a United Nations investigation, amount to a collective punishment of an entire population. Instead of blindly approving anything the government of Israel does, the Canadian government must promote a durable peace through a just and fair settlement between Palestinians and Israelis.
The open-air prison of Gaza reminds us of the sad precedent of the UN Security-Council-sponsored embargo against Iraq a few years ago. This policy had devastating effects on Iraqi society. We cannot allow the same thing to happen in Gaza.
As many Arab and Muslim countries experience an unprecedented wave of democratic revolutions, we must support this type of popular self-determination. Western governments have supported these peaceful movements when they demanded more freedom in Egypt, Iran or Syria. Why would Palestine be an exception? Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must understand that he has every reason to support a democratic movement in Palestine, since he prides himself in leading the only democracy in the region.
We believe that this flotilla is an essential step toward liberating the people of Gaza because it is a peaceful operation. Therefore, we proudly take part in this historic initiative, which is perfectly in tune with the values shared by all members of our party.
The authors: Régent Séguin, Bill Clennett, Émilie Guimond Bélanger, Françoise David, Amir Khadir, Marilyn Ouellet, Benoit Renaud, François Saillant, Thérèse Hurteau, Lise Boivin, Gilles Cavin and Nadine Beaudoin

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