By Gale Courey Toensing
Robert Lovelace, former chief of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation and a professor of Indigenous Studies at Queen’s University in Canada, is a passenger on Canada’s Boat to Gaza. The boat attempted to leave Greece for Gaza on July 4 but was stopped by the Greek coast guard. The U.S. Boat to Gaza was the first to attempt to leave Greece on July 1 and was also stopped by the Greek authorities.
The boats are participating in the second international Freedom Flotilla that aims to break Israel’s illegal blockage of the tiny Palestinian territory on the Mediterranean coast that is sandwiched between Israel and Egypt. The flotilla is a coalition of nonprofit, nongovernmental organizations from more than half a dozen countries that will soon sail through international waters to Gaza to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza. The first flotilla which sailed last year ended in tragedy when Israeli commandos boarded the Turkish boat, the Mavi Marmara, and killed nine activists, including an American citizen.
Israel imposed the sea blockade on Gaza in 2006 after Hamas candidates won a sweeping victory in what was certified as a clean, democratic election by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who was an election monitor.
“We need to open the port, we need to open the gates for the Palestinian people and allow civil society to grow and prosper. It is the only salvation from the effects of colonialism,” said Lovelace, who described colonialism as a “worldwide scourge.”
“The blockade of Gaza is just another extension of cold war politics that go back into the 17th and 16th centuries. It’s a scourge on the environment and the relationship of human beings to the earth. Democracy and colonialism cannot walk hand in hand!” Lovelace said, receiving a round of thunderous applause from the several hundred people who packed the union hall where the press conference took place.
Lovelace described Gaza as “the largest concentration camp in the world.” The 1.5 million Palestinians living in Gaza are subject to a tight Israeli siege that controls the borders, air space, and sea approach. Gazans do not have the freedom to leave their territory for medical treatments, to visit family abroad, to study or for any other reason without the permission of the Israel government, which is most often denied. A recent U.N. study found Gazans have an unemployment rate of 45 percent.
“Gaza is the largest Indian reserve that I’ve ever seen. It’s time to recognize that the Palestinian people have the right to self determination,” Lovelace said.
“The Palestinians fit the definition of indigeniety. Some people will argument that the Old Testament gives property title to only one group of people, but that land has been the homeland of many peoples who can lay claim to owning the land. I think that may be the solution to the peace process that those people who have cared for the land and are willing to care for the land and treat it as Mother Earth, and respect the replenishing cycle of the land–those are the people who should be considered the indigenous people of that land,” Lovelace said.