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.