In the spotlight thanks to notoriously courageous voyages for liberty, the international Freedom Flotilla Coalition is a grassroots solidarity movement consisting of campaigns from all over the world. The aim? Working together to end the illegal Israeli blockade of Gaza. “We have a right to a just future for Palestine and we are ready to do whatever it takes – within the law – to protect this right,” Youssef says.
The world is increasingly gaining awareness of this scourge on humanity and the spotlight is being directed at governments violating international law and moral codes of conduct.
Right To A Just Future For Palestine
Formed after the 2010 flotilla mission, the Freedom Flotilla Coalition coordinates action between numerous local campaigns that have joined efforts against the siege of the Gaza Strip. The coalition represents the fight for human rights regardless of race, gender, religion or citizenship. It is a nonviolent movement, with no political affiliation. “We will not be silent any longer,” Youssef says.
The Pain Of The Past
Youssef Sammour was born in Dubai to Dr. Khalil Sammour and Samira Kobti. Only newborn babies in 1948, his parents became friends in the Dbayeh refugee camp east of Beirut where they both grew up. Youssef heard stories of his parent’s struggles during the Nakba and their life in the refugee camp. With financial support from family members, his parents both managed to attend University and leave the camp behind for a better life. “Hearing their stories opened my eyes to the human rights issues that exist in this world. It made me eager to make a difference somehow.”
You cannot continue to victimize someone else just because you yourself were once a victim – there has to be a limit.
― Edward Said
A Leap Of Faith
I am grateful to my parents for making the decision to move to New Zealand, growing up there was an incredible experience. It taught me the importance of cultural heritage and to be proud of my Palestinian roots. In New Zealand they are proud of their Maori legacy and celebrate it. Kiwis are collective in nature and think of their community as a whole, as should we all.
Hopes For A Future for Palestine
Youssef went on to study structural engineering and did his masters in Yacht Engineering in Auckland but has nevertheless always been passionate about the cause and was desperate to do something to help. He contacted the Freedom Flotilla Coalition and to his advantage they were looking for crew with sailing experience for this years voyage. This was an ideal fit for his skill-set. He joined the sailing yacht ‘Freedom’ in Amsterdam on June 1st 2018.
I’ve always loved the sea and like to seize any opportunity to go sailing, this was perfect for me.
So once they set sail from Amsterdam, Youssef visited ports in England, Spain, Portugal, Algeria, Sardinia and Italy. He sailed four hour shifts every twelve hours, for 45 days. “It was a fantastic experience, I met some amazing people from a range of backgrounds, religions and races. We were all united for the single purpose of liberating the two million people living in the largest open air prison in the world.”
How much longer is the world willing to endure this spectacle of wanton cruelty?
― Bertrand Russell
At times the sea was quite rough, fortunately I’ve to this day never been seasick. It was exciting to see new places, but also to bring awareness to the situation.” At each port the mayor, members of parliament, UN reps and local pro-Palestinian organizations who helped encourage people to support and fundraise the journey greeted them. “It was exhilarating and exhausting both mentally and physically.
The End Spells The Beginning
Youssef ultimately ended his journey in Palermo, Sicily (the last stop before the fleet of ships attempted to sail to Gaza) with the advice that it would be dangerous for him as an Arab to continue on the final leg.
He also didn’t want to risk his chances of not being able to visit Palestine in the near future, given the automatic 10-year travel ban that is usually imposed by the Israeli government.
The journey fueled me by deepening my commitment to stand up for human rights, it also boosted my optimism. I met amazing people who do this every day and it was extremely humbling.
Never Give Up
Carrying roughly 6,000 Euros worth of medical aid, the ships continued to Gaza but were seized in international waters and towed against their will to Israeli ports. Youssef’s friends and fellow crew members were tasered, beaten up and deported with the 10-year travel ban.
They took our ships and confiscated all the humanitarian aid which is currently still in their possession.
Once he has had a chance to visit Palestine and explore his ancestral homeland, Youssef says he would sail again with the coalition in a heartbeat.
It’s so easy to be caught up in the negativity of the everyday grind also known as the modern – capitalist – consumer based – corporate world. We forget there are good people out there fighting everyday for our humanity. We need to support them and each other in any way we can.
For now, Youssef is making a move to Oman to help promote his friend’s Dhow tourism business. He plans to return to New Zealand eventually. He concludes:
What draws me to Palestine is neither nationalism nor patriotism, but my desire for justice, my obligation to speak up and my refusal to just go about with life as if nothing was. It’s impossible for me to ignore what the poet Wordsworth once called the ‘still, sad music of humanity’.
Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, Tanya knew that Palestine was her symbolic homeland. Always curious about her identity and connecting with her roots, she was eager to strengthen her ties to the Levant and traveled the region, desperate to learn more. It wasn’t until her first trip to Palestine that she became spiritually and emotionally connected.
She studied Political Science and Sociology at the University of Toronto. She then moved to the UAE, supporting numerous NGOs related to children’s welfare in the region. When she had her own family, she created the My Olive Roots platform in the hopes that her children and the Arabs diaspora would have a place to connect, learn and preserve their roots. Tanya enjoys discovering humanist stories and exploring the connection of food and art with culture.