Since the middle of this month, I have followed with great interest, anticipation, anxiety and hope the imminent sailing of the Women’s Boat to Gaza attempting to break the siege; a step on the road to freeing the people of Gaza Strip from their huge prison. I also followed up on the escalating popular and official demonstrations against the incarceration of the Iranian/Canadian writer – the great Montreal-based anthropology professor of 30 years who is currently retired – Dr. Homa Hoodfar, since she was imprisoned on June 6th, 2016; as a step on the road to her freedom from captivity.
I found a strong connection between the two subjects: adherence to the principles of public and private freedom, and the need to achieve human justice.
The Freedom Flotilla Coalition (FFC) announced the launch of the “Women’s Boat to Gaza” Project to commemorate International Women’s Day on March 8th, 2016, and its intent to sail towards the besieged Gaza strip mid September 2016, and that it would reach its target in the beginning of October to break the siege on the Strip and shed light on the struggles of Palestinian women, wherever they may be, against the Occupation.
Participating women in the project declared that their immediate goal is to break the siege on Gaza, and the bigger goal is to support the right to travel for Palestinians everywhere, and that they support Palestinian rights guaranteed by international conventions: “Ending the Israeli Occupation and colonization of all Arab lands, dismantling the Apartheid Wall, and returning Palestinian refugees to their homes, as stipulated in United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194.”
We held our breaths while following the two women’s boats, “Amal” (hope) and “Zaytouna” (olive) as they were getting ready to set sail from the shores of Barcelona, Spain to the shores of Gaza on September 17th, 2016, while thinking about the Barcelona Peace Park which was destroyed by the Israeli Occupation during their attack on Gaza Strip in 2009, and which was rebuilt in 2010.
While Amal stumbled, Zayotuna set sail carrying 13 women from Arab and foreign countries, who had strength, principles and tenderness all at the same time. These women carried the concerns of the women of Gaza and the hopes and pains of the women of Palestine in general, as well as their demands for freedom, justice, humanity and dignity, as they set sail on their difficult journey with noble goals.
The WBG reached the shores of Ajaccio, France on September 19th, and then Messina, Italy on September 23rd, and will set sail in a week in the hope of reaching its destination, Gaza Strip, on time.
Among the women on the boat is the American Producer and Theater Actress Lisa Gay Hamilton, who talked about her reasons for joining the sailboat, and expressed her admiration of the bravery of the women in Gaza, as well as her pride to be sailing to Gaza with such wonderful colleagues. She also expressed her great interest in the effect of war on women, mostly education, health and other aspects of life: ““I’m here because some 1.8 million Gazans are trapped in what is often described as a giant open-air prison. I’m here for the 299 women and 551 children who were killed in the 2014 assault, and for the over 40,000 pregnant women deprived of basic reproductive health services as a consequence of the blockade and the devastation caused by war. I’m here because the siege on Gaza, violates the Geneva Conventions prohibition on collective punishment. I’m here because my president just increased U.S. military aid to Israel from $3.1 billion to $3.8 billion per year over the next ten years, with no limits and no mention of the situation in Gaza. I’m here because, despite some easing of the restrictions, the blockade is responsible for high unemployment, food insecurity, an infrastructure badly in need of repair, and an ongoing medical crisis. We are not here to bring “aid” to the people of Gaza, but to contribute to an international effort to break the siege. I take to heart the words of another formidable woman, the Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif: “The world treated Gaza as a humanitarian case, as if what the Palestinians needed was aid. What Gaza needs is freedom.
One woman who will join our crew for the final stretch to Gaza is my dear friend, playwright Naomi Wallace. Fierce as well as fearless, Naomi reminds me that we are also here in defense of free artistic expression.
Recently the Public Theater in New York was forced to cancel a production of “The Siege,” a play about five International Solidarity Movement activists forced to take refuge in a church in Bethlehem during the Second Intifada in 2002.
I hope our trip might contribute to breaking the tacit American blockade of Palestinian art and artists.”
International campaigns were launched in solidarity with Homa Hoodfar straight after she was incarcerated and placed in solitary confinement at Evin Prison in Tehran, while on a trip to visit family. The campaigns grew after her continuous detention without specific charges, and not allowing her to see family members or her lawyer. They grew even more after the reasons for interrogating her were announced on June 24th: dabbling in feminism and security matters.
Academics from different countries around the world joined together in solidarity with Professor Hoodfar, not to mention students, human rights organizations and some governments for fear of a current in media and politics that targets female activists deeply researching women’s causes and striving to develop and improve women’s political, social and cultural status of women.
The 65-year old writer devoted her life for enlightening academic work, which only revealed and nourished this queen of critical thinking. Her work aimed at improving women’s status, while instilling values of gender equality, especially in Muslim societies, and her writings are witness to her proclaimed thoughts. Through her research on Muslim women, she broke stereotypes and revealed the richness and diversity of women’s characters.
In one of her articles, “The Veil in Their Minds and On Our Heads”, which relied on oral interviews with hundreds of Muslim Canadian women, she noted that” Muslim women who choose to wear the veil do it for many reasons, and not because they come from families or cultures that force them to wear the veil. Many chose to wear the veil to oppose their families’ wishes.”
Beloved Gaza, the women are coming
May there be safety and security for them and for you