By Shirin Saeidi
Ramzi Kysia is a writer and activist, and one of the organizers of the Free Gaza Movement. Prior to 9/11, he spent two years working on Capitol Hill as a lobbyist for the peace movement, as well as working with Iraq anti-sanction activists around the country in grassroots organizing. Since 9/11, he's spent over three years in the Middle East, including: a year in Iraq with Voices in the Wilderness, a year in Lebanon, as well as several months in Jordan, Syria, Yemen, and Israel/Palestine.
Kysia was co-coordinator of the Iraq Peace Team in Baghdad before and during the 2003 invasion, and headed a project to develop Baghdad Indymedia after the invasion. In recognition of this work he received the Georgetown University Program on Justice and Peace (PJP) 2004 Peacemakers Award. His essays have been published in various newspapers and magazines, including the Houston Chronicle and Denver Post, as well as online with Common Dreams and Counterpunch. He was last in Gaza in Oct/Nov 2008.
Shirin Saeidi is an anti-war activist and a PhD candidate at the University of Cambridge.
SS: Thank you for this interview. You are part of the Free Gaza movement. Can you elaborate on the aims and history of this organization?
The Free Gaza Movement (FG) aims to use the power of civil resistance (non-violent direct action) to physically break through the Israeli blockade of Gaza, in order to draw attention to the human catastrophe this siege has caused, and increase international pressure to shatter the siege once and for all.
FG began in Lebanon, during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war. A group of Lebanese and international activists formed an organization called the Civil Resistance Campaign, combining humanitarian projects in South Lebanon with political actions against the Israeli aggression and in support of Lebanese solidarity. After the bombing stopped in August 2006, Israel maintained a blockade against Lebanon for several weeks. During this time the Civil Resistance Campaign came up with the idea of taking a boat from Beirut to Cyprus to break through the Israeli Blockade, and we also thought to then take the boat to Gaza to break through two blockades!
The blockade in Lebanon ended before we were able to organize a boat, but we continued to work on getting a ship to break the Gaza blockade. The group of organizers expanded to include activists in Australia, Germany, Greece, the UK, and the US. After more than 2 years, we were able to raise enough money to purchase 2 small, wooden fishing boats, and we used them to sail from Cyprus to Gaza in August 2008 - breaking through the Israeli blockade of Gaza for the first time in over 41 years.
SS: What activities has the organization initiated in Gaza?
FG has so far brought in several tons of medical supplies to Gaza, on 5 successful voyages through the blockade, and helped over two dozen Palestinians exit in order to seek medical treatment, attend university, and be reunited with their families. With each voyage we have also brought in international human rights workers and journalists to do long-term human rights monitoring and reporting about the crisis.
SS: Can you discuss local reaction to the movement?
The first voyage in August was extremely emotional. Thousands of Palestinians lined the port to welcome our small ships to Gaza. People cried, to realize that they were not alone and had not been forgotten by the rest of the world.
But with each subsequent voyage, it becomes increasingly important for FG to find more ways to break through this siege and be part of a positive change for the people of Gaza. Our ship is small and, alone, it cannot bring in anywhere close to enough materials to address the catastrophe. We need the rest of the world to follow us, and begin sending ships themselves.
SS: Does there exist interactions with other human rights activists and movements in the region?
FG works closely in Gaza with both the Palestinian NGO Network (PNGO) and the Popular Committee Against the Siege (PCAS). In the rest of the world, we also have working relationships with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions (ICAHD), and several Palestinian Solidarity Committees (PSC).
SS: How many activists of the movement are currently in Gaza and what are you hearing about current conditions the Palestinian people are enduring?
There is currently one FG coordinator in Gaza, Ewa Jasiewicz of the UK, and seven human rights workers associated with both FG and the ISM.
The conditions in Gaza right now are horrific. Because of the siege there are dire shortages of food, medicine, and electricity - all of which are causing incredible suffering and increased mortality. Because of Israel's military aggression, over 350 Palestinians have been killed in just the last few days. These are war crimes, and Israel's illegal and immoral collective punishment of Gaza's civilian population amounts to an act of slow-drip Genocide.
SS: While watching a news conference of Israeli state elites, I could not help notice many fearful faces. Where do you think this stems from? What steps can we take as activists, academics and concerned global citizens to hold the Israeli state accountable for what is considered unprecedented and indiscriminate slaughter of Palestinians?
Israel is an incredibly neurotic nation. Even while they pound Palestinian civilians mercilessly, they continue to believe that they are the victims. Breaking through the national psychosis that Israel suffers from is an absolute political imperative.
We have to find ways to emotionally connect the Israeli people to the human consequences of their violence. And we have to increase the pressure on Israel's government through pushing divestment and boycott campaigns to isolate Israel politically and economically. We need to create a new anti-Apartheid movement that can overcome the timidity too many governments around the world have toward Israeli aggression in the region.
SS: As a long time activist and frequent visitor of the Occupied Territories, what is your analysis of current Israeli bombardment and the political juncture at which the Palestinian people stand today?
Palestinians are the modern world's oldest refugee population. Every year things seem to get worse, and we need to ask ourselves where the road we're traveling on leads? We are on a path to Genocide, to the complete destruction of the Palestinian people. This won't happen today, or tomorrow, or even next year. But this is the path we are on, and if we do not begin to take stronger action it will happen.
SS: How are Palestinians in the region and Diaspora reacting to this developing story?
How would you react if someone was bombing your country and killing your children? People are absolutely outraged, and they have every right to be.
No people in the world would stand still and simply accept their own slaughter.
SS: Much of the world is watching with devastation, including student activists and supporters of a free and independent Palestinian state in Iran. How can we imagine hope beyond the current calamities?
There is always hope. So long as human being live and love and struggle - there will always be hope. We have to organize ourselves and put our energy and creativity into building the social and political structures necessary to create positive change in the world. Fifty years ago black people in the United States were being murdered at will by white racists. Today America has elected a black president. Change is possible if we work for it.
SS: How can we continue the resistance and demonstrate our solidarity with the people of Gaza from where we stand right now?
The correct answer to this question is that people around the world need to do everything they possibly can to make a difference. What that means is up to each of us to answer for ourselves. We have to look into our own lives, and our own hearts, and decide not to accept the world as it is. We have to ask ourselves what we can do to contribute to creating the world as we want it. And then we have to do it.
It's as simple, and as difficult, as just that.
SS: I thank you for your time.
... Payvand News - 01/02/09 ... --