Interview with Charlie Andreasson in March 2014
While the negotiation between the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority is stalled again, the population of the Gaza Strip is for the seventh year under the isolation imposed by Israel, situation which is aggravated by the Egyptian choice of closing the Rafah border crossing. This isolation is broken only by international solidarity by means of several direct actions such as the interposition of volunteers (between farmers and Israeli snipers, or between fishers and patrol boat of the occupying navy), as well as the commitment of the activists raising awareness globally on Palestine, the informed chronicles of honest journalists, the projects of medical assistance, and the missions that aim at breaking an illegal siege, which is possible only because of the use of force. Among these we find the attempts of the Freedom Flotilla Coalition, starting with the first boats sailing towards Gaza to the tragedy of the Mavi Marmara in 2010; from the boycott suffered in the Greek ports the following year to the adventure on the sails of the Estelle in 2012. Today a boat is being prepared, which according to the plans of the organizers, should, for the first time since 1967, break the Gaza blockade from the inside and deliver Palestinian products, by sea, to those who have ordered them. Thanks to the financial contributions of many donors in these last few months, an old fishing boat was bought, and recently, thanks to the hard work of Palestinian and international volunteers, it was transformed into Gaza's Ark. Charlie Andreasson, from Sweden, is one of these volunteers. We had the opportunity to interview him.
Where did your desire to work voluntarily for the Palestinian cause come from?
To make the world function there has to be some rules that all nations are obliged to. They go under the names of International law, Geneva convention, human rights, etc. Those rules are made to protect civilians around the world, and it is the responsibility of all political leaders to put a stop to violations against those rules, whoever violates them. But when it comes to Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people our leaders seem to shut their eyes. And when our political leaders don’t take their responsibility we, within the civil society, have to take that responsibility. It’s a question of conscience. You know, at my home I have a mirror on the wall, and I want to be able to see myself without feeling ashamed. If we do not stand up for the Palestinian people, who will stand up for us if we one day will be occupied. It’s about maintaining the values of the human rights, Geneva convention, etc.
Starting with your experience on board the Estelle in 2012, and seeing how this boat was received by European citizens in the ports where it landed, do you think this effort has been fruitful in terms of raising collective awareness regarding the crimes endured by the Palestinians?
Yes, I think so, and that was also a part of our goal. But we have to remember that the majority of those who came to the ports to support us already in some way were involved with the Palestinian issue. At the same time we, together with all those who came to support us, were sending a clear message to the political leaders that they can’t hide anymore, that their voters are demanding them to take action. We can now see that in country after country in Europe the political leaders are taking some actions that they don’t tolerate Israel's land grabbing and apartheid policies any more. I’m not claiming that it’s all thanks to Estelle, but Estelle is part of what made the changing.
How long have you been involved in Gaza's Ark, the latest project of the Freedom Flotilla Coalition?
The idea behind Gaza’s Ark, to send a ship from Gaza to break the siege from the inside out, had been discussed earlier, but it was the Canadians who finally did something with it. One of the organization's founders discussed it with me on board the Estelle, and I was asked about it by Mossad during the interrogation some weeks later. I came to Gaza in April 2013, six month after the Estelle was boarded in international waters by Israeli commando soldiers. The first time to check about the situation and the boat, then I returned in June to start to work for the project, and now I have been here since the end of September.
Have you been able to avail of the collaboration of Israeli human rights activists in this initiative? Do you have a relationship with them?
To have any kind of cooperation with Israelis is suspicious here in Gaza. After all the things that the people here have gone through, it’s understandable. At the same time it’s a pity because it could be fruitful for both sides. However, that does not stop the members of Freedom Flotilla Coalition to have contacts with Israeli human right activist, but from here in Gaza I better not.
You know that cooperative initiatives aimed at both development and emergency actions do exist. Your project seems to include both types in the sense that you work with a long time frame (fundraising, bureaucracy, location of primary materials) but also in a situation of siege (lack of drinking water, blackouts, air raids from F-16s and drones, daily invasions by the Israeli navy). What is it like working under these circumstances?
It’s very frustrating that we can’t do some work just because we can’t find the materials or equipments that are needed. It could be anything from pipes of a certain dimension to bolts. A just in time concept can’t exist here, we have to plan everything very carefully in advance: what is needed, how much, were it can be found, and how long it will take to get it. But this is what the Palestinians have to face every day. Where they can find fuel for their generators or cars. Medicines. Concrete. Building materials. The list can be long.
It makes it very hard to tell the fundraisers when the Ark will be ready, and when we have to change the dates to maintain the confidence among the donors. It makes it very important to show that there is progress even if it sometimes goes slow.
What do you think is the most useful thing that the countries on the other side of the Mediterranean can do to put an end to the Israeli apartheid?
I would say that there are three things that are necessary to put an end to the Israeli apartheid, and here we can learn from the struggle to end the apartheid in South Africa. We have to remember that Israel is dependent on it’s export, and to choose not to buy Israeli product makes a big impact. The second leg is to get companies to withdraw their investments from Israel and to end cooperation with Israeli companies. To get to this point, consumers have to make it clear for the companies that they will get dirty by having any business with Israel or Israeli companies. No company wants to get stains on their logo; it will cost too much to whitewash it. Here the man on the street plays a crucial role, not only as a consumer but also by contacting the companies, writing in the local paper or using social media. The third is to put pressure on the politicians. This is easier then many think. In a democracy the leaders are depending on their voters, and they are listening more closely to what people are saying then it often looks. But everything starts with awareness; without awareness of what is happening in the occupied territories nothing will stop the apartheid.
Gaza's Ark will sail in order to break the illegal Israeli blockade on the freedom to movement for Palestinians, which also damages the economic autonomy of the Strip, forced to depend on external help to survive. Will the products that are exported abroad come from the rest of the Palestinian Territory?
It would be natural to have products from all over Palestine, not only from the Gaza Strip. The problem is that Israel does not allow goods to be transported between Gaza and the West Bank. This is damaging the Palestinian economy in a serious way, and it’s most likely the reason why Israel does not permit trade between Gaza and the West Bank.
How did you feel when the Ark was launched for the first time after the restoration works?
The launching was just one further step to make the Ark ready. It was a step that was like an event, but all small steps, even those that can’t be seen, are likely as important.
Your immediate objective with the Gaza's Ark is to restore to the Palestinian port the possibility of being open to commerce like all of the other free ports in the world. What is your long-term objective?
The export ban under which Gaza is living prevents Gaza, and Palestine, to develop economically. With the possibility to trade and travel, and open up for tourism, Palestine would have its future in its own hands. That is not the case now. When it comes to the human issue our goal is that Palestinians, like all people in the world, will have the same rights as anybody else. Rights that are now denied to them by the occupying power.
As it is shown by Charlie's example, if the democratic governments would represent the most advanced instances of their societies, Palestine would already be free.
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