Victoria resident Kevin Neish knows the risks of breaking Israel’s blockade on the Gaza Strip. Last year as a human-rights observer on a Turkish-owned vessel, the Mavi Marmara, he witnessed a bloodbath after Israeli commandos boarded the ship. Nine passengers were killed and 54 were wounded.
“It was a free-fire zone,” Neish said during a recent interview at the Georgia Straight office. “There was blood dripping down the stairs—and I’ve got the photographs to prove it. So it was just a nightmare, a horrendous nightmare. People that I broke bread with and had tea with just the day before, I watched die in front of my eyes. It was unbelievable.”
Kevin Neish describes the bloodshed after Israeli commandos boarded his ship last year.
The Israelis claimed they had no choice and acted in self-defence against “murderous mercenaries”, according to a report in the Jerusalem Post. The newspaper reported that two Israeli commanders were shot and one was struck over the head with a metal bar. Neish, however, maintained that passengers on the ship were protecting the soldiers. And he claimed that five of the nine passengers were “executed” with bullets fired at close range to the back of the head.
“They got away with a war crime,” he alleged.
Neish recalled being charged with “illegally” entering Israel and taken to jail. “This happened on a civilian ship in international waters with a bunch of aid workers,” Neish said. “If Israel can do that to us, I can’t imagine what they’re doing to the Palestinians in Gaza.”
Neish is one of three British Columbians who will participate in a second “freedom flotilla” to Gaza later this month. He said he’s returning because the “job isn’t done” in persuading Israel to grant freedom to Palestinians living in Gaza.
“I’m going to try to bring them to account in my small way,” Neish commented with a chuckle. “What else can I do? I can’t get into the mainstream media in Canada.”
Two Vancouver residents, Karen De Vito and Irene MacInnes, will also be passengers on the flotilla. According to Neish, it could include 10 to 15 boats and up to 1,500 passengers representing 100 different nationalities. MacInnes has been a key organizer of “The Canadian Boat to Gaza”, which says it has raised $340,000 through donations. The organizers want to bring goods, including medical supplies, to Palestinians, and bring exports from Gaza to the West. MacInnes told the Straight that she and De Vito will be on the Tahrir, which will leave from a Mediterranean port later this month, carrying 34 Canadians.
MacInnes said that she wants Canadians to know that there are 1.5 million people living on a 40-kilometre strip of land, which she described as “an open-air prison”.
“They cannot leave,” she declared. “They are not able to visit family in neighbouring countries.”
Irene MacInnes says she's anxious to join the flotilla to Gaza.
De Vito, who accompanied Neish and MacInnes on their visit to the Straight office, compared their voyage to Gaza to that of the freedom riders who rode buses into the Deep South as part of the U.S. civil-rights movement. “When [author] Alice Walker said, ”˜This is the freedom ride of our era,’ that’s what really made me decide to go on the boat,” De Vito said.
She grew up in New York state, and recalled the depth of discrimination meted out against people of African descent. “I’m old enough to remember my father telling some men to get out of his house because they wanted the neighbourhood to get together to put up some money so that an African-American family could not buy a house on their street,” she said.
De Vito added that she has done extensive research on peace-making and divided societies, and is convinced that the expulsion of the Palestinians from what is now Israel is one of the “unacknowledged atrocities of the 20th century”.
Karen De Vito discusses how books have influenced her thinking about the Middle East.
Israel has justified its blockade as a necessary step to reduce rocket attacks from Palestinians. MacInnes, however, stated that the rockets “are a result of having their freedom taken away”. De Vito said that she doesn’t feel it’s right to launch rockets into Israel, but suggested that one of the motives of people doing this is to remind the world that people are living in Gaza in deplorable conditions.
Both MacInnes and De Vito expressed great sorrow over the lack of educational opportunities for younger Palestinians.
“That is a terrible thing to do to a people: to give the youth no hope,” MacInnes said.