A year ago, 44 of us saw the coastline of Gaza in the distance, after 30 hours of traveling across the Mediterranean Sea. We were jubilant. We had made it to Gaza. We had actually made it to Gaza. We had really, really made it to Gaza.
We had MADE IT TO GAZA.
From a distance, the shore looked like stalagmites had sprouted across the landscape. Every piece of sand, every section of pier, every chunk of rock was occupied by people. Thousands of Palestinians greeted us, blowing whistles and cheering and high-fiving each other. At first, just one small boat came out to greet us. Then every kind of vessel swarmed around our two small fishing boats, boys jumped in the water retrieving the balloons we had inflated, stuffing them inside their shirts and tying them onto their small boats. The balloons said FREE PALESTINE with a dove and an olive branch on them. They were in the colors of the Palestinian flag… white, red, green and black. Once we saw the shoreline, many of us had started to blow the balloons up, dropping them onto the deck of the boats, a small pool of bouncing color ready to be set free
On the sides of both boats were banners in English and Arabic… WE ARE COMING and END THE OCCUPATION
We motored into port, the flags of 17 countries flying from the halyards, the Palestinian flag the highest of them all.Fishermen climbed onto our boats trying to shake our hands and hug us. At one point, we worried that the boats would tip and toss us all into the port, but, just as our Greek partners had said, these boats were sturdy, even if they were not pretty.
Our seasickness disappeared. Our worry that we would be stopped by the Israeli Navy was gone. Most of us had not slept, and we no longer cared. Some of us women tried to comb our hair and put on lipstick, then realized no one minded that we looked haggard and messy. We had arrived.
The Palestinians of Gaza were overjoyed to see us. They had been waiting three weeks for us. They had waited 41 years for internationals to visit. And they had waited 60 years for Palestinians to return to Gaza without going through checkpoints, immigration and humiliation by Israeli and Egyptian authorities.
Much has been written over the past year about our dedication and determination to get to this small enclave, shut off from the rest of the world by Israel’s draconian blockade. None of that was on our minds or in our hearts that day. For all of us, Palestinian and International, August 23, 2008 will be a day that none of us will ever forget. If we get discouraged, we pull out that memory. When our boats were rammed by the Israeli navy, we remember that day. When our boat was hijacked and our passengers kidnapped and thrown into prison by the Israelis, we are more determined to continue our missions.
We will return. We will come back. We will never forget.