Nanaimo man sets an example of political courage

It doesn’t pay to be outspoken about the occupation of Palestine. As someone who came into serious political involvement through groups like the Canada Palestine Support Network (CanPalNet), I have experienced this first hand.

Due in no small part to a well-organized lobby that supports the Israeli occupation, and a mainstream media that can be relied upon to smear most any voices of justice for Palestine, we have very few elected officials who will speak the truth when it comes to the Middle East.

Mainstream elected politicians in this country rarely stick their heads above the parapet to state what the whole world knows: Israel’s settlement-building policy amounts to colonization and is a violation of international law; Israel’s siege of Gaza is a gross violation of human rights; and, overall, its occupation of Palestinian lands is a festering wound for the whole world.

There will be no peace in the Middle East without justice. And there will be no justice without political actors willing to take principled positions.

To fill the void of leadership on this polarizing issue, activists and members of civil society from across the country came together to organize the Canadian Boat to Gaza, as part of an international ‘Freedom Flotilla’ movement.

The tall ship Estelle makes a stop on its journey to Gaza
Photo by Jabi Zabala, Flickr

The latest effort from this coalition was a months-long solidarity journey from Sweden to Palestine by the Estelle, a tall ship with an international crew and delegation on board. European parliamentarians from a number of countries took part. Jim Manly, 79, of Nanaimo was the lone Canadian on the ship.

I met Jim at the airport in Vancouver, where a press conference was held before his departure to Italy where he joined the ship to Gaza. Jim was a Member of Parliament for the New Democratic Party in the 1980s, and is a retired church minister. He described a lifetime of social justice work and how he had, for many years, avoided tackling the issue of the Middle East. Once he began to seriously study it, along with his wife and family, he felt compelled to take action.

Here’s a portion of the statement he made at the airport:

Growing public opinion around the world recognizes that the Israeli blockade is not only illegal under International Law, it is also morally wrong. The blockade deliberately denies 1.6 million people of the essentials of life: adequate food, water, and shelter. It denies people the right to make a living through international trade and even trade with their fellow Palestinians in the Occupied West Bank. It denies them the freedom to live with dignity.

If we believe in human rights we must be prepared to take a stand when these rights are so flagrantly violated. It is time for Canadian politicians and the Canadian people to speak up against this illegal and inhuman blockade.

Jim put these words into action. The ship to Gaza sailed from Naples, and early on Saturday morning it was violently intercepted in international waters by the Israeli navy. Tasers were used on a number of the non-violent activists, the ship was towed to Ashdod port and its crew, and everyone on board, was thrown in jail.

At the time of writing this, Jim is still being held incommunicado in an Israeli prison near the port of Ashdod, where the Estelle was towed by the Israeli navy. He may well spend his 80th birthday in prison.

We should all celebrate Jim’s physical and political courage, and wish him a safe journey home. For the Palestinians of Gaza, suffering in what has been described as the “world’s largest open air prison,” we all need to find more of our own courage to speak up against injustice.

Current Members of Parliament in Canada cannot be relied upon as they have not publicly said anything about Jim’s plight, or anything about this latest act of Israeli piracy in international waters.

Jim joins my friend Malalai Joya. She is an Afghan women’s rights activist and former member of Afganistan’s Parliament. As an anti-war, anti-fundamentalist activist and feminist, Joya has paid the price for being outspoken, having survived a half dozen assassination attempts. She says that her own political activism in Afghanistan was inspired by the courage of Palestinian children who faced down the tanks of the occupation forces.

Joya has a favourite saying to describe the lack of political courage she encounters amongst many progressive politicians on her visits abroad: “The silence of the good people is worse than the actions of the bad.”

One thought on “Nanaimo man sets an example of political courage

  1. It’s hard for us to imagine the suffering of the women and children of Gaza, caught between the IDF and the Mossad on the one side and Hamas on the other.

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