June 26, 2011
By Gideon Levy
It’s late at night in Sodra, a fashionable suburb south of Stockholm, and it’s drinks all around. There’s cheese from Italy and Scandinavian fish on the table; and an extremely alert, diverse crowd is gathered around the table. There’s a well-known Swedish academic whose field of expertise is the history of religion; a lecturer in economic history; and there’s also a young Iraqi who was imprisoned in Saddam Hussein’s era in Abu Ghraib prison and who now works in Sweden’s supreme court.
The house belongs to a former Israeli, Dror Feiler, and this gathering is the Swedish steering committee for the next Gaza flotilla. It is a historic dwelling: In the 18th century, the house served as a beer hall, and then later functioned as an institution for the mentally ill. Hermann Goering convalesced here, at the insistence of his Swedish wife, after becoming addicted to pain medication when wounded during World War I; Vladimir Ilyich Lenin also stayed here, en route to the Russian revolution (he is said to have purchased his famous cap at a nearby street corner ). Now the musician and artist Feiler lives here; after being deported from Israel last June as a result of the first Gaza flotilla controversy, he is no longer allowed to visit his aging mother on Kibbutz Yad Hanna.
Feiler likes to reminisce about his days serving in the infantry’s 50th Battalion, in the late 1960s. He shares his memories with members of the Gaza flotilla. Prof. Mattias Gardell, who also took part in the first flotilla, claims the first two casualties were killed before IDF soldiers boarded the Mavi Marmara last May. They now wonder, in a mood of naive fear, how Israel will relate to them this time. Together with a Swedish-Jewish physician, the daughter of a Holocaust survivor from Hungary who is married to publisher Dan Israel, the group is meeting late at night to plan the next flotilla adventure. Whereas Israelis are wont to describe the flotillas as a Turkish enterprise and a threat, members of this group describe the flotilla as an international, peace-oriented, project.
It’s impossible not to be impressed by this determined group. They will convey 500 tons of cement, a mobile hospital and an ambulance on their boat, one of ten planned for the flotilla. They know there are other ways of bringing these items to Gaza, but they want to remind the world of Gaza’s fate. That is their right, and perhaps even their duty.
Had Israel not behaved with such wanton stupidity, and not attacked the previous flotilla and allowed it to reach the Gaza coast, it’s possible that this new flotilla would not have mobilized – at any event, the eyes of the world would not be peeled as they are now, watching the flotilla closely.
I told members of the group that Israel is determined to attack. One of them has already purchased a bulletproof vest. Israel well understands that these are people are not threats, and that no weapons will be smuggled on the boats. Nonetheless, Israel makes threats, and the IDF naval commandos train for the flotilla’s arrival. The result: Requests to sail on the boats skyrocket, and the flotilla vessels will be jam-packed.
When you meet such people, you understand the terrible international damage Israel inflicts upon itself as a result of its violent behavior. How simple (and just ) it would be to allow these well-intentioned people to reach their goal; in contrast, how idiotic, violent and unnecessary it would be to release the commandos once again, to go after them.
“A toast to the darkness that swooped on the ships … Godspeed to the small, wooden boats,” the poet Nathan Alterman wrote in his “Response to an Italian Captain,” in praise of the ship that broke through the British blockade and brought Jewish immigrants to Nahariya in 1945. And let’s have a toast to the Swedish (or Turkish ) captain, and for the boats en route to Gaza, on a mission no less just; let’s hope that Israel will change its course and, for a change, surprise the world be taking a wise step and allowing the ships’ passengers to reach their destination.
Israel cannot be hurt by any imaginary danger the ships pose. Here from Sweden, at a time when the sun does not set at night, comes a final appeal to those who would block the flotilla: Please, just once, act with prudence, and abide by international law and simple justice. These people have the right to reach Gaza; Israel lacks the right to stop them.
This story is by: