Kevin Neish is scheduled to board a plane for the Mediterranean on Friday (May 21). But it’s not a vacation the 53-year-old Victoria resident is taking.
Neish told the Straight that he doesn’t know when he’s going to be able to return home, and that he’ll be working overseas as a human shield. He’s volunteering with the Free Gaza Movement, which has plans in motion to sail a small fleet of ships to the Gaza Strip.
“I’m looking forward to at least a month, but they’ve warned me, numerous times, that I could be there for many months,” he said in a telephone interview. “They’ve warned me that if I get in—once I get off the ship and the ship leaves—they don’t know when they’re ever going to get back to pick me up.”
The flotilla will consist of eight boats carrying as many as 600 people, Neish said. The ships will be carrying supplies for construction, education, and medical needs.
“Some people might think that the Israeli government has left Gaza but they haven’t,” Neish explained. “They control the borders.”
He claimed that Israeli forces are only letting very limited amounts of supplies into the Gaza Strip, an observation that is backed by the United Nations and reputable media outlets.
In January 2006, Hamas won parliamentary elections in the Palestinian territories. Since then, Israel has enforced a blockade around Gaza, restricting the movement of goods, according to UN reports. In December 2008, Israel launched an assault on the Gaza Strip, killing 1,100 to 1,400 Palestinians. Thirteen Israelis also died in the conflict.
Since then, Israel’s blockade has remained in place and significantly limited reconstruction efforts in Gaza, according outlets such as BBC News.
Neish said that it is possible the convoy he is sailing with will be intercepted by the Israeli navy, and that the group could already be infiltrated by members of the Israel Defense Forces.
“I am sure that within the 600 people, there is going to be spies and provocateurs,” he emphasized. “It is guaranteed.”
But assuming the flotilla makes it to the territory, Neish continued, there will be large solidarity events in Gaza City, after which most members of the Free Gaza mission will return home.
The handful of volunteers that Neish is staying behind with will then get to work on such projects as rebuilding a well in Rafah. They’ll also simply be accompanying Palestinians working close to the Israeli border, hoping that the presence of westerners reduces the dangers of working in such areas.
Neish described his plans calmly, but noted that it is very similar work to what Rachel Corrie was doing in 2003. Corrie, an American citizen, was killed by an IDF bulldozer while attempting to prevent the demolition of Palestinian homes.
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