Yesterday, I crisscrossed Gaza in a taxi, scrambling to finish interviews I was conducting for a Global Post article that takes readers on a humanitarian tour of Gaza. As the taxi drove up the coastline alongside an impoverished refugee camp, the driver pointed to a distant smoke tower. “There’s Ashdod," he said. "That’s where the Israelis took the flotilla heroes.” “Really? It looks so close!” I replied stupidly, then got out of the car to take a picture (shown above).
The port of Ashdod, where the first six flotilla ships and now the “Rachel Corrie” are docked, was only a long canoe trip away from where I was standing. This was a jarring reminder of the almost complete lack of interaction between Israeli and Gazan societies. Israel seemed worlds away.
I experienced a similar feeling on the day I came back to Israel from Gaza last month. In the morning, I had been sharing breakfast with friends who've never traveled outside Gaza. In the evening, I was playing volleyball on a gorgeous Tel Aviv beach. Gaza seemed worlds away.
Most Gazans feel profound gratefulness that the world is suddenly paying attention to their suffering. Despite disappointment over the IDF's non-violent seizure of the "Rachel Corrie" ship this morning, excitement and hopefulness are growing, and this sentiment pervaded today's press conference in the Gaza City harbor.
The press conference was attended by about two dozen western journalists from countries including the United Kingdom, France, Sweden, and Denmark. Some journalists from major media networks had flown to Israel and entered Gaza specifically to cover the flotilla story. Large, color banners around the harbor honored the flotilla activists. One banner said, in Arabic and English, “The siege will not continue as long as there are people like you.”
Low-level Hamas officials gave fiery speeches expressing solidarity with the activists and referring to Israel as a “fascist state.” They also extended a special thanks to the Arab and western journalists in attendance and asked them to get out "the truth" about the Palestinian cause. Government officials distributed hundreds of Arabic posters titled "The Honored List: The Names of the Journalists Aboard the Freedom Flotilla." (The photo above shows a group of Gaza City schoolgirls holding these posters.)
An English-speaking, western-educated Hamas advisor named Ahmed Yousef gave non-stop interviews with the media. “As you can see, hundreds of journalists are gathering here,” he said. “It’s a real victory for the Palestinian people. It’s a historic moment….The freedom flotillas will keep coming, and then what will Israel do? Does Israel want to challenge the whole world?”
Yousef (pictured on right) dismissed the significance of Hamas’s raids and closures of six non-governmental organizations in Gaza this week. “The government here is trying to put pressure on Fatah to stop them from doing these things [to Hamas] in the West Bank,” he said. “I believe we shouldn’t be doing these sorts of things, but it’s like a policy of tit-for-tat....I hope the flotilla massacre will help [Hamas and Fatah] to bridge the rift and work hand in hand.”