herald

Sunday 21 January 2018

Trevor Hogan: Anxious, sleepless time on Gaza ship, but it's not my safety I fear for

The crew and passengers of the MV Saoirse all huddled into the living space at the back of our cruiser boat last night.

We were there for a live link-up with the hundreds that attended the Let Them Sail march in Dublin.

The rally was organised to show support for the upcoming flotilla to Gaza and to call for the safe passage of all the boats, amid increasing threats and attempts to stop them from sailing. As we heard some of the cheers echo through the phone from Dublin, there were tears on board.

Since my arrival here in the Mediterranean last Thursday, it has been an emotional time. The initial happiness at meeting up with my fellow passengers on board the MV Saoirse was overwhelming. After weeks of nervous anticipation we were together now, united in the knowledge that our journey to Gaza had begun.

There was also huge pride at seeing our ship, the MV Saoirse, for the first time. The Irish tricolour flew high above her as we walked aboard.

But there has also been a degree of frustration. Unfortunately the departure of the flotilla has been delayed. This has primarily been because of pressure put on the Greek authorities by the Israeli and US governments. An Israeli group -- the Israel Law Centre -- has lodged a complaint against the American ship -- The Audacity of Hope -- and has consequently put back our leaving. There have also been threats made against the flotilla by Israeli representatives, supported by Hillary Clinton, saying violence will be used to stop our passage, if necessary.

It was also an anxious time personally, as customs officials delayed the delivery of the rugby gear that had been donated by the Leinster squad and my home club of Nenagh. I struggled to sleep, worrying that the cargo would not make it in time.

But the stress was finally resolved after days of phone calls and letters from various embassies and the IRFU. The hope that, through sport, we can help build on the strong links between Ireland and Gaza is still alive.

The arrival of the gear helped the already strong morale within the group. Any frustration at outside events is vented through the knowledge that our aims are just and that we can help make a difference to a society and economy that has been cut off from the outside world for the past five years. We are confident that we will meet with the other ships of the flotilla in the coming days.

Despite the high morale on board, it has been disappointing to read uninformed criticism of the flotilla. These statements, from the likes of Cllr Richard Humphries, Ruth Dudley Edwards and Alan Shatter are endangering our safety and giving the Israel military, licence to act as they please.

But it is not just about endangering our safety. These critics fail to realise that supporting the people of Gaza -- 80pc of whom are dependent on aid to survive -- does not equate to an attack on the people of Israel. It is time to end this commentary of hatred and bitterness that implies reaching out to the people of Palestine automatically means attacking the people of Israel. It does not. The people of Gaza are our fellow human beings and do not deserve to be collectively punished and placed under a smothering blockade.

At the end of our link-up last night with the people of Dublin, I read out a poem by Palestinian writer Mahmoud Darwish.

A line in this poem, called I Come From There, captures the humanity of the people of Palestine, which the passengers of this flotilla and flotillas in the future, will never forget...

"Born as mortals are, I have a mother

And a house with many windows,

I have brothers, friends,

And a prison cell with a cold window".

hnews@herald.ie

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