Freedom Flotilla boat seized before arriving in Gaza, but N.L. doctor still has hope

A Newfoundland doctor was aboard the Al Awda, a ship bound for Gaza to deliver medical aid. The ship was seized by Israeli authorities, but the doctor still has hope.

Vessel seized by Israeli authorities before it could deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza

Majed Khraishi was part of the Freedom Flotilla last month. (Jonny Hodder/CBC)

It didn't end the way he'd hoped, but Newfoundland doctor Majed Khraishi said being part of a thwarted attempt to bring medical supplies to Gaza with a Norwegian fishing boat still gave him hope.

It also gave him a deep appreciation for fishermen in the North Atlantic.

"It has been really a life-changing experience," he told the CBC's St. John's Morning Show.

"I came back and I felt maybe there is [a] future for our children."

Khraishi was aboard the Al Awda, a former fishing vessel registered under the Norwegian flag, as part of the Freedom Flotilla Coalition, an international organization that aims to challenge the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

Israel says the naval blockade is legal and was set up to intercept the shipment of arms to Gazans. Human rights organizations say the blockade of Gaza is collective punishment under international law and should be lifted.

The Al Awda, the boat Khraishi was aboard for a week on its voyage to Gaza. He served as the boat's onboard doctor. (Freedom Flotilla Coalition/Facebook)

"There is something inhuman going on in front of our eyes," he said of the situation in Gaza, pointing out that the United Nations has said that if things don't improve, the area will be uninhabitable by 2020.

"We're talking about ordinary people, we're not talking about politics."

'Dreams of making the world better'

The Al Awda was part of a fleet of four boats, all bringing supplies to Gaza, making stops in European ports along the way to raise awareness about the blockade and the poor living conditions in the area.

Khraishi is a rheumatologist and a clinical professor in the medical school at Memorial University of Newfoundland and was serving as an onboard doctor.

He joined the boat in Lisbon, in late June, and was on board for about a week. (He wasn't on board when the vessel was seized by Israeli officials.)

With him were about 15 other people from many different countries, he said.

I know people will try again and again, and things will change.- Majed Khraishi

"Frankly when I went, I thought I would see people left from the 60s and 70s like myself, still living the dreams of making the world better," he said.

But he was surrounded by people from across the political, national and cultural spectrums, from Spanish politicians to musicians from Sweden, he said.

"There's no specific background that you know …'Oh, they are all extreme-left people going to do something.' They are people who really want to do good."

They were all crammed into a 60-foot boat, he said, and the close quarters and relentless hard work gave him a new respect for fishermen.

"You are always doing something. I just thought … I can't imagine being a fisherman in the North Atlantic."

Boat seized by Israeli authorities

The boat was seized on July 29 by Israeli authorities 49 nautical miles from the port of Gaza City, according to a release sent by the Freedom Flotilla Coalition.

It didn't reach Gaza and it didn't deliver any supplies.

Khraishi said the news of the seizure made him angry. Many of the people on board were beaten and tasered, he said, including a Canadian citizen — an Indigenous elder from British Columbia. 

The boat and all the medical supples were taken, Khraishi said.

Dr. Majed Khraishi has lived in Newfoundland for 30 years, but still has family in Jordan and the West Bank. (NLMA/Facebook)

 The Canadian government "has been very silent about it," he said.

"You can't imagine. lf that boat was stopped by Iran or Iceland, in Canadian water, and they were beaten — you would have heard far more about it."

"There [are] double standards, to say the least, when it comes to this issue."

'Things change with very small things'

Still, Khraishi has hope.

He feels the flotilla generated a lot of awareness about the blockade and the living conditions in Gaza. Most of all, he said the trip showed him that there are people wiling to fight for change.

"I know people will try again and again, and things will change. And things change with very small things at the beginning," he said.

"I'm not talking about just Palestine ... but the people that are willing to take charge and do things beyond what most of us would have done to make the world better. And there are so many of them across the world. Things will change."

Clarifications

  • We have updated this text to include the following paragraph: Israel says the naval blockade is legal and was set up to intercept the shipment of arms to Gazans. Human rights organizations say the blockade of Gaza is collective punishment under international law and should be lifted.
    Aug 22, 2018 5:09 PM NT