Elias Harb interviews one of the leading voices in the movement to bring freedom to the people of Gaza.
Greta Berlin (France/US, English) has been an advocate for justice for the Palestinians since the early 60s. She is the mother of two Palestinian/American children whose father was born and raised in Safad, Palestine and is a 1948 refugee. She has an MFA in Theatre and a bachelor’s in English and, when she’s not working with the Palestinians, has spent the past 32 years teaching engineers and scientists how to design and deliver presentations. In 2003, she volunteered with the ISM (International Solidarity Movement), working in several villages in the occupied West bank as well as manning their media office, then returned to work again in 2003, 05 and 07.
She is one of the founders of the Free Gaza Movement and was on board the FREE GAZA, the first boat with internationals to reach this besieged strip of the Mediterranean in 41 years. She then helped run three more successful voyages to Gaza between October 22 and December 23, 2008 working on the land crew and media in Cyprus, sending more than 50 human rights workers to Gaza on board the DIGNITY. She is available to speak in Europe or the U.S.
In the pre-dawn hours of Monday, May 31, showing a terrifying disregard for human life, Israeli naval forces surrounded and boarded ships sailing to bring humanitarian aid to the blockaded Gaza Strip. On the largest ship, the Mavi Marmara, Israeli commandos opened fire on civilian passengers, killing at least 9 passengers and wounding dozens more. The final death toll is yet to be determined.
Elias Harb interviews Greta Berlin Co-founder of the Free Gaza Movement
Elias Harb: Can you tell us what motivated you to the Palestinian Cause and the Free Gaza Movement and when was the movement founded?
Greta Berlin: I married a 1948 Palestinian refugee from Safad and have two Palestinian/American children. I’ve been part of justice for Palestine since 1967. Once you go and see what has happened to the Palestinians (I call them the final victims of WWII, because they have paid the price for what Europe did to the Jews), it is impossible to leave. I am no longer married, my children are grown, I am still working for justice.
The Free Gaza Movement was founded in September/October 2006. A group of us were trying to figure out how to bring to the attention of the world what was happening in Gaza. One of the people working for justice for Palestine, Michael Shaik, emailed us and said, “OK. I have been thinking about this for a long time but am aware that I’m better at ideas than practicalities, so I’ll outline what I’d envisaged and let the rest of you do the sanity check. My plan was this: – Charter a big boat to sail from New York. Make it clear that its purpose is to “Break the Siege of Gaza” (that can be the slogan of the campaign). It is very important that the boat have a big send off with speeches by important people that will get it as much publicity as possible.” That kernel of an idea is what started the movement (of course, in a much smaller set of boats).
EH: How many times have the Free Gaza movement tried to break the Israeli siege and have you succeeded in getting any boasts into Gaza so far?
GB: The Freedom Flotilla was our 9th voyage. We successfully entered Gaza five times. This attempt was the fourth time we were stopped. If you look on our website under http://www.freegaza.org/en/boat-trips/passenger-lists, you will find the stories and passengers there.
EH: Israel declares that it had the legal right to confront the flotilla from reaching Gaza. Do you think there is any justification in that stance??
GB: Israel has no right to stop us under international law UNLESS it wants to admit that it occupies Gaza. Since Israel says it no longer occupies Gaza and Gaza is free, they have no right to stop us. In addition, the blockade is collective punishment against a civilian population that is WAY out of line. International law, Amnesty International and the International Red Cross have all said the same thing. Israel’s blockade is illegal. The illegal entity in the neighborhood is Israel, not us.
EH: Are there still passengers still held in Ashdod detention camp, and any updates on whereabouts of the missing passengers?
GB: There are no missing passengers, everyone is accounted for. There are no passengers held in Ashdod. There are, however, five very seriously injured passengers still in hospital, two are not expected to live…making the count really 11 murdered.
EH: Israel is saying that those on board the ships were violent terrorists not humanitarians. Israeli Prime Minister went so far to state that the Jewish state is a victim of an Iran-backed campaign to arm the Hamas rulers of Gaza with missiles that could hit Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. What is your position on that?
GB: Silly man. What do you expect from a man who is the head of a country founded on terrorism? Israelis think everyone is a terrorist, because that’s how they got their country originally. The only guns on board those six boats belonged to Israel. As far as the Free Gaza movement is concerned, we are a civilian organization that works with other civilians in Gaza such as PNGO and Al Aksa Hospital. Our cargo was designated for NGOs in Gaza and all cargo was inspected by maritime experts before it left port.
EH: Have there been any suits filed or are there plans for filing suits from countries or passengers of the Flotilla?
GB: Yes, and we are working on filing suits over the next few weeks
EH: Israel seized all cameras and communication equipment from flotilla passengers. Do you know of plans for getting personal property appropriated back from Israel?
GB: We have demanded all equipment and tapes be returned. They stole the equipment, ruined our cameras, shot several journalists who were trying to film the assault (killing one of them). We estimate that Israel stole over a million dollars of computers, cameras and phones. We also insist that our boats be returned. Israel still has our boat from last July when they hijacked it, kidnapped our passengers and hauled them into Israel for a week.
EH: Israel has announced it has eased the blockade on Gaza, Has the humanitarian Crises improved in Gaza, can you update on?
GB: Well, if you want ketchup and chocolate, then the blockade has been eased. If you want to rebuild your society, it has not. The people of Gaza want their freedom, not handouts from the international community. What right do they have to collectively punish a population of 1.5 million Palestinians for resisting occupation and for voting in one of the fairest elections held in the Middle East?
EH: Do you feel the Mainstream Media as a whole was fair in reporting the Israeli Israeli armed forces attack on the Gaza ‘Freedom Flotilla?’
GB: It was better than usual until the Israeli lobby started in on our occupied Congress. In Europe, everyone pretty much knows what Israel did was illegal. Unfortunately, Americans are still being lied to continuously.
EH: It seems pro-Israeli lobbies have succeeded in pressuring most members of U.S. Congress to declare that Israeli had a right to defend itself, despite the massacre of innocent civilians and violations of International law. Do human rights activists have an objective to get around the pro-Israeli support in Congress?
GB: We work on it all of the time. We had people show up at Brad Sherman’s meeting in a Temple (he’s the one who wants to arrest all of us). We had people show up in Congress dressed in prison garb ready to be arrested, people like Col. Ann Wright, Ramzi Kysia, Medea Benjamin. It will take a long time for Congress to shake itself loose from Zionist (both Christian and Jewish) influence.
EH: I read in witness Gaza.com that there is a Libyan boat headed for Gaza, do you have any new information on that Boat. Also are there any plans for a new flotilla in the near future?
GB: We do not have any connection to the Libyan boat since we do not deal with governments who want to send boats. Our organization is made up of people from civil society (although we certainly take members of Parliament) who work civilian to civilian. Yes, we are going again sometime in the fall.
E.H: Lastly, what gives you and all of those associated with The Free Gaza Movement so much courage to continue?
G.B : Hmmmmmm. I always say, “Never underestimate the power of pissed off women.” (but I suppose you want a better answer than that). Of the five founders, four are women. Of the nine members on the interim board, seven are women. Of the six people in the office in Cyprus when the massacres happened, five were women.
Women are a powerful force for justice and always have been.
EH: Thank you Greta Berlin.
This interview can be found on Intifada – Palestine website