Written for us by
Maria Elena Delia*
The stalemate continues. On top of the sabotaging of the Greek/Swedish passenger boat, the Irish vessel has now also been damaged. She will be undergoing very speedy repairs over the next few days to ensure she can join the other members of the flotilla in time.
The sabotage attempts aside, there is also a nerve-wracking waiting game going on for the results of the inspections made to some of the boats, most notably Audacity of Hope, the American vessel whose progress has been halted for days now as she awaits feedback. The US Boat to Gaza passengers have displayed particular fearlessness in their determination to join the Flotilla despite the inextricably close links between their government and the state of Israel. In fact, the decision has now been taken to invite all of the media in Athens to inspect the Audacity of Hope as carefully as they wish this evening.
The American ship, which will be carrying with her over 3,000 letters of solidarity to the people of Gaza written by men and women from all over the United States, will be opened up entirely to journalists and photographers who are being invited to inspect every last centimetre of the vessel, her cargo and even the food and medical supplies aboard. The Audacity of Hope's captain, crew and passengers will also be available for interviews and to clarifying any queries or doubts. "Our voyage will be totally transparent and we have nothing to hide. The only thing we want is to cast off and take our letters to Gaza," said passenger Gale Courey Toensing.
The Audacity of Hope was inspected by the Greek authorities on June 27th, after an Israeli association hinted at administrative irregularities. As of today, however, none of the representatives of US Boat to Gaza has received any notification or copy (which in theory is their due) of any official report in this regard. If we add to this already depressing scenario claims made by several Israeli officials that large bags of sulphur were hidden aboard the Audacity allegedly to be used against Israeli soldiers, it's hard to suppress a bitter smile. I know many of these people, some very well indeed, and we've worked side by side for months.
One that springs instantly to mind is 88 year old Hedy Epstein, a German Jew, who was just eight years old when Hitler came to power in Germany. Her family was tragically caught up in the hellish persecution that followed. At 15, Hedy managed to escape to England, as her parents knew this was their daughter's only hope of survival. Hedy never saw either her father or mother again as both died in the concentration camps.
Hedy is a tiny lady who looks like she would blow away in the first puff of wind. She also has a disarming smile and a clear, keen gaze. She exudes an old-world gentleness that seems undimmed by anything, even a 10-hour flight and exhausting jet lag.
In 1982, Hedy, who by now was living in the United Sates, was horrified by news of the massacres of Sabra and Shatila. She found the stories chilling. And they infuriated her so she decided to find out more. Hedy wanted to understand why history was repeating itself, history that had so painfully marred her own life and that was actually being repeated by the very people who should have learned from it.
Since 1982 Hedy has been working to learn and understand, and has worked tirelessly in defence of the Palestinian people.
She made her first journey to the Left Bank in 2003 after years of conferences and plans developed and implemented at a distance. She always talks to me about that trip with the emotion of someone talking about a baptism, an existential turning point. Hedy explained how disorienting it was to be welcomed as a sister, a daughter and a mother by all the Palestinians she met during that first trip. She said: "I felt I was being embraced by that people, I felt at home and that the people who in theory should have been my family, the Israeli population, were light years away from me." That's because Hedy, real family are linked by the soul. We choose them and they may not always be the same individuals that passports and documents might assign us.
So, since 2003, Hedy has been devoting herself with implacable determination to the Palestinian cause. And when she came upon Free Gaza Movement and the plan to reach the Gaza Strip by sailing through international waters to break the Israeli blockade in place since 2006, Hedy decided once again to investigate. She decided she wanted to understand Gaza and the unacceptable motivations behind the collective punishment being meted out so ignobly to its population. However, on the eve of the departure of the boats attempting to reach the Strip, Hedy was attacked while walking home.
That was on June 17th 2009 and, as a result of her injuries, she had to pull out of joining the group. Vittorio Arrigoni, who knows her well, was shocked at what had happened and wrote to Hedy from Gaza, to offer not only his solidarity, support and affection but that of the entire population. The latter, by the way, was already inundating Hedy with emails and letters wishing her well. Vittorio ended his emotional letter as follows: "To all of us here in Gaza, you are an angel who fell into this horrible world by chance." Hedy reminisces on this as she slowly sips a glass of water. Athens is blisteringly hot and she's wearing a black t-shirt with the words "Stay Human" printed on it in dazzling white. The same words echoed on all the t-shirts and caps worn by the Audacity of Hope's 36 passengers.
"At the Gaza Freedom March Vittorio said to me with that impish smile of his that if we hadn't managed to get in, they would have catapulted me into Gaza. I laughed back that I might be quite ready for the catapult yet. I am now. President Obama has proved a dreadful disappointment to me, all of his promises have turned out to be just words. These boats of ours, our attempt, this extraordinary determination by civil society is the true audacity of hope. But if we don't manage it this time...well, I really will be ready for the catapult."
I think of Hedy and I try to imagine her throwing bags of sulphur at Israeli soldiers, and I am infinitely grateful for the kind of grotesque propaganda that of late has given me so much reason for mirth.
* one of the coordinators of the Italian contingent in the Freedom Flotilla.
translated by Mary Hegarty