In Preparation for Gaza Flotilla, Passengers Briefed on How to Face Israeli Soldiers

Gaza-bound: Why exactly would a 70-year-old need this?

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Amira Hass
Amira Hass

SOMEWHERE IN GREECE - We're in the lecture hall in which the people sailing on the Tahrir, the Canadian ship taking part in the Gaza-bound flotilla, are being briefed.

The Tahrir passengers are asked to decide: "Where would you prefer to be when the [Israeli] commandos commandeer the ship?"

Israel Navy forces approaching the Mavi Marmara bound for Gaza, May 31, 2010.Credit: Reuters

Based on the experience of previous Gaza-bound boats, with the exception of the Mavi Marmara, the lecturer presents the options. "On deck you will be exposed to a few minutes of physical violence from the soldiers that will feel like a few hours," he says.

"From previous experience, the soldiers, en route to the captain's cabin, will step on people's heads. You won't move, but they'll see you as the aggressor. The commanders know very well that we're not armed. But the simple soldier has been brainwashed, and he'll be afraid."

I take a look at the other people in the room and ask myself, "Why do they need this?"

The oldest person planning to sail on the Canadian vessel is a 77-year-old American woman (not a 69-year-old one, as I mistakenly wrote in yesterday's article - not even referring to this particular woman ). There's also another woman and a man over 70, who both smilingly corrected my mistake as well.

There are nine other passengers in their sixties, and many others between 40 and 60.

So why are they doing this?

"I'm appalled, as are many friends and colleagues, by the conditions in Gaza and by the silence of the international community regarding the ongoing blockade in Gaza," says Lyn Adamson, trying to explain why they are taking this calculated risk.

Adamson, 59, a Quaker from Toronto, is active in a number of social justice advocacy groups.

"In the absence of effective action by the international community to pressure Israel and Egypt to change their policies ... we, at the grass roots, must take action," she says.

The instructor continues to list the positioning options, noting that up on deck the air will be clear because tear gas dissipates quickly.

"By contrast, in a closed cabin, there won't be direct exposure to the soldiers' violence, but the tear gas chokes you and disorients you," he says.

Once the Israel Defense Forces' boarding is complete, the tow to Ashdod could take seven hours or more, with the soldiers sitting on deck among the activists, say those who experienced last year's flotilla. They may not let you use the bathroom.

What then? That's a good question.

Experience has shown that the female soldiers are rougher than the male soldiers. Experience has also shown that some soldiers try to be nice, the instructor stresses.

"It's true, even though I only saw their eyes," says a woman who took part in last year's flotilla. "They were and remained masked. But a few of the soldiers blinked their eyes in a way that I interpreted as friendly, as a desire to calm us down."

Another instructor says that some of the soldiers might curse the passengers.

"If you tell their commander that you see their commandeering the ship as an act of illegal kidnapping, that's legitimate," he says. "But don't curse back at them. That's one of the red lines."

The "red lines" include several rules of behavior that were included in a written pledge of nonviolence, which all participants had to sign.

The rules include: "No initiating physical contact with soldiers, no jumping in the water, no throwing objects at soldiers, no starting fires, no using fire extinguishers against soldiers, no use or display of objects that could be misconstrued as weapons (cameras, etc. excepted )."



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