After the Arab Spring, it’s time for a Palestine Freedom Summer

By Derrick O’Keefe || June 21, 2011 |

Today is the first day of summer, and it’s now only a matter of days before the Canadian Boat to Gaza sails towards Gaza from a port in the Meditarranean.

After almost a year of determined organizing and fundraising across the country, the Canadian Boat is ready to join the international ‘Freedom Flotilla 2,’ which will include about 10 boats carrying over 500 activists from around the world.

More than 30 Canadians will be on board The Tahrir, the ship named after the symbolic centre of the inspiring uprisings of the Arab Spring.

Pulitzer-winning author Alice Walker will be on the U.S. boat, The Audacity of Hope. She has called the flotilla activists ‘the Freedom Riders of this generation,’ a reference to the civil rights movement tactic of having blacks and whites ride together on buses to challenge the racist segregation practices in the U.S. South.

The Freedom Rides began 50 years ago, in 1961. Several years later, this expanded into a Freedom Summer, a massive effort with out-of-state volunteers converging on Mississippi, risking their lives to organize voter registration in defiance of the Jim Crow racism of the day, which was backed by extremist militias, local police and state officials.

Today’s flotilla activists risk their lives to defy an illegal sea blockade and the Israeli siege that has made the Gaza Strip an open air prison for its 1.6 million inhabitants — part of a larger apartheid-like system enforcing the oppression and dispossession of the Palestinian people.

The Freedom Riders, like the flotilla activists of today, put themselves at risk to highlight injustice and to stand on the right side of history. Then, as now, courageous activist efforts can play an important role in galvanizing world public opinion.

The Conservative government’s foreign minister, John Baird, has denounced the Canadian Boat as ‘a provocation,’ implying that any violence and military force used by Israel against the flotilla will be the result of the simple non-violent action of attempting to deliver humanitarian goods to Gaza.

These are provocative and profoundly irresponsible statements by the Harper government.

While the Harper government is part of leading a violent bombing of Libya in the name of ‘humanitarian intervention,’ they demonize and excuse threats of violence against this true humanitarian intervention, the flotilla to Gaza.

The Canadian government stands today on the wrong side of history. In fact, shamefully, they have earned the ignominious distinction of being the most uncritically pro-Israel government in the western world.

This makes it all the more important that people in Canada stand on the right side of history, with the Freedom Flotilla and with the long-suffering people of Gaza.

The public’s response to the Canadian Boat to Gaza has been very encouraging, with over 200 organizations and many more individuals endorsing the effort. Activists in many cities and towns are organizing emergency response support for The Tahrir and the rest of the flotilla.

If you have not yet added your name and made your contribution — now is the time.

After an Arab Spring, it’s time for a Palestine Freedom Summer.

I will be helping to curate the Boat to Gaza’s blog here at, and in addition to that you can watch the website — and follow @CanadaBoatGaza and @TahrirCanada on Twitter — for action alerts and regular updates on the flotilla’s progress. This summer, there will be report back events in cities across Canada and, hopefully, many more creative public actions to protest the siege of Gaza.

derrick's picture

Derrick O’Keefe is a writer, editor and social justice activist in Vancouver, BC. Derrick is the co-chair of the Vancouver StopWar Coalition and the Canadian Peace Alliance, the country’s largest network of anti-war groups. He is the co-writer of Afghan MP Malalai Joya’s political memoir, A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Who Dared to Raise Her Voice, and the author of a forthcoming Verso book on Michael Ignatieff. Derrick served as’s editor from 2007 to 2009. Topics covered on this blog will include the war in Afghanistan and foreign policy, Canadian politics, media analysis, climate justice and ecology. You can follow him at


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: