NZ journalist’s first reports from Freedom Flotilla III

26 Jun

FullSizeRender1The ‘Marianne’ – one of the Flotilla ships with two Kiwi journalists on board to observe & document the international mission to challenge Israel’s blockade of Gaza.

By Ruwani Perera, MaoriTV ‘Native Affairs’, 26 June 2015

FullSizeRender       Aboard the Flotilla

Māori Television was invited to join “Freedom Flotilla III” as Media to document the latest attempt to break the Israeli imposed blockade on Gaza and reach the Gaza Strip. These Freedom Flotillas have been going for 5 years and aim to highlight the plight that the 1.8 million Palestinians are currently living in.

The invitation from “Kia Ora Gaza” was a rare opportunity to try and find out what life is like for these people.

Our boat, the “Marianne of Gothenburg”, is a former Swedish fishing vessel and will be our home during this voyage. Many of the crew started in Sweden in May, and have been sailing for almost two months. The crew onboard are predominantly Swedish, captained by Joel Opperdoes.

This is a global effort with passengers onboard from Canada, Spain and Norway to name but a few.

My cameraman and I are joined by another Russian journalist from RT and a newspaper columnist from Sweden.  The age range is also diverse – the oldest members are over 70 years old and many of the peace activists are no strangers to flotillas of the past, like Kevin Knish from Canada. This is his third flotilla mission and it’s very much unfinished business for this peace activist. He was onboard the first flotilla, the “Mavi Marvara”, in May 2010 when the Israeli Navy boarded the ship, killing 8 Turkish activists and he’s determined to keep trying to break the land, air and sea blockade that’s crippling the people of Gaza.

We boarded the “Marianne” in the Italian port of Messina, Sicily, and the plan is to rendezvous with other boats in the Mediterranean Sea, enroute to Gaza. There was a glitch with one of the other flotilla boats, the Greek ship “Juliano” which suffered damage to its propeller. A replacement vessel was being found.

After five days onboard we are a tight group, the dimensions of the ship do not afford any privacy, but shared experiences like the rough seas create an instant bond. Even though our job is to report on what we observe during this sailing trip, we have our roles onboard and are not spared from the cleaning duties roster.

Being in the middle of the “Med” is an experience  of its own – there are very few times we see land, instead it is 360 degree views of blue sea as far as the eye can see. One of the highlights on our travels was seeing a school of dolphins swimming along next to us – a really special moment.

We are now five days into our trip and are waiting on word on the other boats’ progress. The Captain is keeping us within international waters, which is to keep the “Marianne” safe from interference from any other countries. Every day we do practice security drills planning for scenarios that may or may not happen. We heard comments in the news a few days ago from Israeli President Netanyahu who spoke about the “terror flotilla” – the phrase is ridiculous to the passengers onboard.

And so we continue on, without knowing  what will happen once we approach Israel’s exclusion zone, but all united in one goal – to make it onto land in Gaza.

Kia ora Gaza
Māori Television was invited to join “Freedom Flotilla III” as Media to document the latest attempt to break the Israeli imposed blockade on Gaza and reach the Gaza Strip. Native Affairs Reporter Ruwani Perera  joins other international journalists on board the flotilla. [Native Affairs website].

Ruwani’s follow-up report, 26 June 2015:

Kia ora from Crete

Ship to Gaza docked at wharf

It’s a two and a half day trip from where we are now to the shores of the Gaza Strip.

Onboard feelings are subdued. There’ve been articles written in the media today which argue both arguments.

Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs director Dore Gold has written to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressing his concerns that the Freedom Flotilla are breaching the maritime blockade Israel has placed on the area. Gold sees the flotilla’s actions as provocation, fuelling tensions in the area. He adds that Israel has no interest in a confrontation but will enforce the blockade meant to stop arms being smuggled into Gaza.

On the other side General and Former Chief of the Israeli Military Intelligence is calling for the Israeli Government not to intervene with the sailing convoy which doesn’t carry weapons.

I have been around the Marianne, all 20 feet of her and have not seen weapons hidden away. The activists here are focussed on drawing attention to the plight of the Palestinians.

It’s hard to maintain momentum when much of the past two days has been waiting on other boats in the flotilla.

We just received news that our planned rendezvous with contacts in Crete were meant to meet us and handover supplies. Greek Police in Crete have stopped the small tender and will not let it out of Greek territory waters. We are in international waters. Stalemate.

Now there’s doubt hanging over the other boats in the flotilla and questions around if they will be allowed to leave.

There’s a lot of tension onboard and the Captain has to make some big decisions.

As well as supplies, we were also going to collect some new passengers. The ex-President of Tunisia and a delegate from Israeli TV were meant to join us. This would have been politically beneficial for the flotilla.

The Captain has set a course for Gaza when we do that is still a question to be answered.

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