The Freedom Flotilla: En Route to Sardinia, The Freedom Takes an Emergency Detour to Algiers

On June 20, 2018, I joined the Freedom Flotilla in Lisbon. At that point, my hope and intention was to travel with the Flotilla all the way to Gaza – or at least as close to Gaza as the Israeli military would permit us to go – and to report on the voyage for The Real News Network.

The Freedom Flotilla consists of four vessels. The first leg of my participation in the expedition was from Lisbon, Portugal to Cadiz, Spain. During this leg, I travelled on the Norwegian vessel Al Awda, which means, in Arabic, ‘The Return’.

From Lisbon to Cadiz, I was joined on Al Awda by fourteen passengers and crew, including Miguel Urbán Crespo, a member of the European Parliament for the Spanish left-wing party Podemos, Lola Blasco, an award-winning Spanish playwright, and Zohar Regev Chamberlain, an Israeli activist who was born and raised in a kibbutz near Nazareth.

After a three-day layover in Cadiz, where the flotilla received a wonderful welcome from the mayor and local activists, I boarded The Freedom, an aging sailboat.

The next destination for the Flotilla was the Italian island of Sardinia, which was nine days away. This was the second-longest leg of the expedition (the longest being the final leg from Palermo in Sicily to Gaza).

On The Freedom, there were twelve other passengers and crew, including Oldoz Javidi, a Swedish actress who is a candidate for the Feminist Party in Sweden’s upcoming national election, Divina Levrini, a Swedish singer-songwriter, and Kristian Svenburg, a Swedish physician. The captain of The Freedom was Jens Marklund, a Swedish seaman who had participated in prior missions of the Freedom Flotilla.

On The Freedom, I was also joined by two Canadian activists: first mate John Turnbull and Karen DeVito. Karen attempted to break the blockade of Gaza on a prior mission of the Freedom Flotilla. On that occasion, she and the other passengers and crew of the flotilla were kidnapped by the Israeli navy in international waters, forced to enter Israel against their will, and incarcerated for several days in an Israeli detention centre before being deported.

Three days into our voyage from Cadiz to Sardinia, I developed abdominal pain. I had never been seasick before and therefore suspected that something else was wrong. Dr. Svenburg examined me and concurred that my pain was likely due to something other than seasickness. By the fifth day of the voyage, the pain had become more severe. At that point, Kristian examined me again and concluded that I might be suffering from appendicitis.

At that stage, The Freedom was about three days from Sardinia. The nearest major port was Algiers, which was less than 10 hours away. Kristian consulted with Captain Marklund. They decided to make an emergency detour to Algiers.

Hours later, I was met at the port of Algiers by an ambulance and taken to a nearby hospital where I was diagnosed with acute appendicitis. The next day, I underwent an appendectomy.

During my recovery from the surgery in Algiers, I was interviewed by telephone by Canadian journalist David Kattenburg. We discussed my participation in the Freedom Flotilla and the reception that I had received from the Algerian authorities. The podcast of our discussion can be heard here:

Below, I have posted some of the more striking photographs and videos of my experiences with the Flotilla.

Two days ago, a physician at the Algiers hospital where my surgery was performed advised me that I am now well enough to travel. As I write this, I am heading to Naples where the Freedom Flotilla is currently docked. Upon my arrival there, I will continue my coverage of the Flotilla for The Real News.

Sadly, however, it is unlikely that I will be strong enough to participate in the final leg of the Flotilla’s mission, which commences on July 19 in Palermo, Sicily.


Mona Lisa.jpg

In the port of Cascais, just west of Lisbon, a local artist adorns the hull of Al Awda with a striking image of a Palestinian Mona Lisa.

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‘Apartheid Israel’ Goes Mainstream: A Conversation Between Dr. David Harel and David Kattenburg

In this excellent interview, Dr. David Harel, the Vice-President of Israel’s Academy of Sciences and Humanities, tells Canadian journalist David Kattenburg that Israel’s occupation of Palestinian Territories is a “disease” and that all Israeli governments have contributed to making peace with Palestinians “virtually impossible.”

Dr. Harel also states that, in the occupied territories, there is “no doubt whatsoever” that Israel is practising “apartheid, there is no better word for it”. (In international law, the crime of apartheid is the second-worst crime against humanity, surpassed in gravity only by genocide.)

Even more remarkably, Dr. Harel urges the Israeli government to negotiate with Hamas and to end the “cruel” siege of Gaza.

He concludes by calling on other states to impose on Israel carefully crafted cultural, academic and economic sanctions before Israel falls into an abyss.

David Kattenburg’s discussion with Dr. Harel can be heard here:

Manal Tamimi: Israel’s Persecution Of Ahed Tamimi Has Only Made Ahed Stronger

Manal Tamimi, Ahed Tamimi’s aunt, came to Cadiz in Spain to show support for the Freedom Flotilla.

For The Real News, I spoke to Manal about the importance of the Flotilla to the Palestinian people.

We also discussed Israel’s incarceration of Ahed.

Manal explained that the Flotilla demonstrates to Palestinians that there are people who continue to believe in justice for the Palestinian people.

She also said that Israel’s persecution of Ahed has only made Ahed stronger and more committed to the defence of Palestinian human rights.

Our conversation can be seen here:


From the Freedom Flotilla, Spanish Playwright Lola Blasco Calls on Artists to Boycott Israel

As the Freedom Flotilla approached Cadiz, Spain, I spoke with passengers Miguel Urban-Crespo and Lola Blasco on the deck of Al Awda, one of the four ships comprising the flotilla.

Miguel is a member of the European Parliament for the left-leaning Spanish political party Podemos. He explains that support for Palestinian rights is growing rapidly in Spain despite the closeness of the establishment political parties to Israel’s apartheid regime.

Lola is an award-winning Spanish playwright who supports the Palestinian call for a cultural boycott of Israel. In 2014, leading figures from Spanish cinema, including Pedro Almodóvar, Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem, faced a strong backlash from Hollywood after they denounced Israel’s horrific assault on Gaza. Lola argues that, despite such pressures, artists have a duty to “prioritize ethics over aesthetics.”

A special acknowledgement to Daniel Ross, a Jewish member of Al Awda’s crew who graciously agreed to translate Lola’s and Miguel’s commentary.

Our conversation can be seen here:

From the Freedom Flotilla, a Candidate for Sweden’s Feminist Party Calls on the World to End Israel’s Cruel Blockade of Gaza

From the deck of The Freedom, one of the four ships comprising the Freedom Flotilla to Gaza, I speak to the ship’s captain Jens Marklund and to Swedish actress Oldoz Javidi, who is a candidate for the Feminist Party in Sweden’s upcoming national election. Jens and Oldoz explain why they are taking part in this year’s attempt to break Israel’s inhuman blockade of Gaza.

Our conversation can be seen here:

After France Condemns Israel’s Killings in Gaza, French Police Obstruct Freedom Flotilla

Several days ago, two boats that are part of the Freedom Flotilla attempted to dock in central Paris, where supporters waving Palestinian flags awaited their arrival. But for no apparent reason, French police aggressively prevented the boats from docking.

One of the passengers on those boats was human rights activist Claude Léostic.

For The Real News, I spoke to Claude yesterday about the French government’s “political harassment” of the Freedom Flotilla and the vast disparity between Emmanuel Macron’s words and deeds.

My conversation with Claude can be seen here: