Boat diary, part 1

Sailing To Gaza
A personal diary (excerpt)


I’m writing from my dirty prison cell. I do not know what kind of prison, where the prison is located. Givat what? I didn’t repeat my question to the drivers, lo ichpat li, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that I write down what happened as soon as possible in order to save as much as possible from the images, words and impressions before they get lost or inaccurate in my memory.

I’m sitting on a dirty broken plastic chair, staring at the lattice of the big blue iron door from where loud noises are coming. Go on writing, don’t get disturbed. But there is still the rocking from the waves and a strange tiredness. Lie down on your bed, rest a while. Rest and write, rest and write.

I’m looking for the lines that I scrawled down during the last hours on board the ship. Here they are:

Tuesday morning. We are entering Gaza waters. Bad news: the toilet doesn’t function any more. And I haven’t been there since yesterday. The men are fastening the banners and hoisting the sail. The peace flags! We have to hurry, they’re coming. “They are coming” were the last words in the diary of a German resistance fighter before he was taken to his execution. I feel we are not going to die.

I was calm and confident. Some agitation, yes, we had to get the flags up swiftly.

Itamar suggests to bundle them. Lillian and I protest, they have to be hoisted up, one by one. Glyn, Lillian and I connect them to the ropes. We run out of strings, how to fasten the rest of the flags? We look into every corner, into our bags for more strings and we succeed. They’re all up now, all 42 flags with 84 doves and more than a hundred names of people who wanted to accompany us. The boat looks beautiful! An old used-up vessel blossoming many-coloured in the calm blue waters. Vish and Eli are circling round the boat in the dinghy to take pictures. Everybody is fascinated.

9.30 One navy boat appears at the horizon in the north.  We put our life-vests on and get seated backboard with our personal belongings and a bottle of water. The two media guys are going to the left and right respectively to document the events that are awaiting us. I’m sitting beside the engine room. Glyn explains to me how to switch the motor off, in order to be ready if he tells  me to do so.

10.00 A second boat sighted, doesn’t seem to move, maybe waiting for us.

10.30 Lillian is coming from the obstructed loo. Nervousness affects the bladder. “Geh du auch Pipi machen!“

 Lillian speaks the Hessian dialect of her parents, she had to leave Germany as an 18-month-old. It’s easier for the men. Securing balance with one hand in another man’s they can pee overboard.

 10.45 War ships are coming towards us. Somebody shouts “Eight ships!” They’re swiftly coming closer. I can discern their faces, young faces, some  handsome.  I try to study them. Unrest is growing around me. Reuven is coming over to me to sit down in the shadow. The sun is too hot on the side where the soldiers are approaching rapidly. Itamar is standing there talking to them. He is speaking the prepared words in Hebrew and English. I hear him saying, “We are peace activists.” Reuven ( who is now sitting on the engine room)  is shouting “Ivrit, ivrit!” He tries to talk to the soldiers, shouting, he’s lost his calmness.

I see Lillian getting uncomfortable and ask Yonatan to change places with her, so she can sit on my left. We hook arms as was settled. I do not hook arms with Reuven,  because he is going to play the harmonica. I wonder if he will be able to. His hurt soul can only shout. Nobody is listening to him“, observes Lillian.

Nor have they listened to Itamar. The soldiers were performing like robots. They did not seem to be able to listen. Shema Israel.

Yonatan signals to Reuven, to play the harmonica, but I realize, Reuven is no more able to. So I start singing We shall overcome, with Yonatan, Lillian and others joining me. We get to the second stanza,“We are not afraid, we are not afraid“.

There is a beautiful Hebrew song, „The whole world is but a small bridge and the main thing is, ha-ikar, lo l-fached, not to be afraid.

Lillian cries, „Look what they are doing to poor Glyn!“.

Lillian could not believe her eyes. „It’s a dream, a bad dream, it’s not reality“, she said to me later when we were sitting in the police car.

They are roughly  pushing Glyn from the helm into the cabin. I cannot see what is happening to him from my position.

While I tried to calm Reuven I watched something unbelievable. I see Itamar lying bent on the floor of the opposite warship, in restraint. „Handcuffed“, I should write, as he was, but in the image that occured to me, the image of the kelbl oifn furl“, he appeared  „gebundn mit a shtrik“.

And I watched something even more cruel. I suddenly hear a penetrating cry and see Yonatan on the floor opposite to me writhing in pain. What is  happening?  

This was quite unexplicable. Later, when the atmosphere cooled down, I asked Rami and he explained to me that Yonatan  received electroshocks. I didn’t even know such  macabre things existed in the army (though I know them from my former experience as a nurse in psychiatry).

Reuven is getting distraught when he sees his harmonicas spread on the floor, surrounded by heavy soldiers’ boots. He cannot sit any more, he has to get up. I can’t keep him back. I am worried that his emotion will inflame the atmosphere and lead to violence. I therefore address the soldier standing next to him: „He’s nervous, he’s a Holocaust survivor“.

Maybe silly naive words, but they brought about a turning point in the atmosphere. The  helpless-looking young soldier nods, when our eyes meet. A slight touch of a timeless meeting.

Reuven is collecting the scattered harmonicas into a plastic bag. He sits down beside Rami and is soon calming down. Rami and I exchange relieved glances. Rami, a quiet character with a solid body , has a soothing effect on all of us.

Another soldier asks me, „Would you not rather sit inside?“ „No“, I reply, „I have to watch what is going on. I have to look into your faces, to assure myself that you are human beings. Isn’t it crazy that we are afraid of each other?“  This soldier, he too, nods (did I hear a „yes“?) and I see his face changing from a rigid expression to a more relaxed one.

I’m looking around the boat, trying to retain the incredible image, the tremendous display of force: eight warships, some with cannon balls, approximately 7-10 soldiers on each boat, our backboard crowded with around seven soldiers besides us (where only five passengers were allowed to sit), and a mighty warship in the distance – to encounter nine peaceful activists. What madness!  If people in Germany, the EU and the US would only know that they are also financially attributing to this insanity! (And to much much worse atrocities!) Where are the true friends to take ast partIsrael – sick from the Holocaust and hundreds of years of suffering – by the hand, guide her to the mirror and tell her to take off that insane nasty cruel mask; help her to be Israel  ha-jaffa?


Excerpt from last part (5)

Someone is calling me into an office for questioning. The female officer points to a chair. I draw it closer to the desk, to my interlocutor. Her hands gesture repellently: away. Her voice sounds haughty.

She is studying my passport, finds the two Israeli stamps:

  • You have been twice in Israel, what did you do there?
  • I was times without number in Israel. I worked in a kibbutz …
  • You – in a kibbutz?
  • I worked in a moshav …
  • You - in a moshav?
  • I studied at the Hebrew University in a …

She interrupts, waving my Palestinian passport: How much did you offer for this? I try to explain her my trip with Freegaza: We were given the passport as a gift.

  • Why did you do this for Hamas?
  • I didn’t do this only for the Palestinians, - for the Israelis as well.
  • Don’t tell me such a thing!
  • Then don’t ask me.
  • There will be others who are going to ask you.

She might be right.

  • Come on, what kind of a deal did you do? Which Hamas-groups are you in contact with?
  • I didn’t do any deal and I’m not in contact with any Hamas-group.

She seems to be angry about that. I cannot give her the triumph of a successful conviction. She tries her last card. She points to an information sheet on my rights, in English: read that. Then she takes another, longer one, in Hebrew: sign this.

  • To sign my confession? I don’t sign anything before I have spoken with my lawyer.
  • Go! She shakes her head, as if disgusted: For Israel! Shame upon you!


So things are when you get into a prison: High walls, barbed wire. The reception: impersonal, the medical check: friendly. The electronic finger print. the search of bags. the sorting of everything that is not allowed in the cell. I explain some things they are interested in, the antenna, the harmonica, the tambourine, - tufim Mirjam, you know our history?

- Why did you do this, the female ward aks. I try to explain, it’s all so different when you are in Gaza, it’s different from here. You should go there to see …

- I would be afraid not to get out alive.

The ward and her male partner are guiding me to the cell. The young man is bantering with his colleague: Oh Susannah!

Don’t you cry for me.


I close my eyes in the sun, nearly close. Suddenly a startled animal is chasing close by, hastening across the terrace toward the woodily hill. – A deer, some guests are shouting with emotion. Kmo Ajal. Jischtachawäh, la, la la -1 the dance instructs the dancers to stop here. Just a second they are standing still. Time is standing still. As years ago, when Rabbi E. often came to visit us, and took me with him finally, and let me go again, in deep, vast, immeasurable love.

The Jewish seal he gave me to take along. No fool can ever remove it.