Student - June 28, 2011

Wageningen student joins Gaza flotilla

Wageningen student Chris Verwij wants to draw attention to the 'inhuman blockade' of Gaza. That is why tomorrow he will be boarding one of the ships in the controversial flotilla sailing to the Palestinian territory.

Chris Verweij (centre) during a previous protest (archive photo).
The 19-year-old Molecular Life Sciences student is one of the fifty activists (including twelve Dutch people) on board the 'Open Gaza', a ship that will be leaving the Greek island of Corfu tomorrow to join eleven other ships. The Freedom Flotilla 2 follows a similar aid action a year ago, which ended when Israeli soldiers attacked the ships at sea. Nine Turkish activists died in the attack. This time too, Israel has used threatening language against the flotilla, although the people sailing say they are coming with purely peaceful intent. Resource spoke this morning to Chris Verweij in Corfu. 
What is your role in this action?
'I am sailing with the Dutch-Italian ship the 'Open Gaza', where I will be assisting the doctors on board as a first-aider. I applied on my own initiative and was accepted after an interview with the organization. The people on board our ship all have their own personal reasons for their involvement with Gaza.'

What is your motivation for going? Political? Humanitarian? Looking for adventure?
'My motivation is primarily humanitarian. Although I do have strong opinions about the background to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the main thing for me is that one and a half million people are being punished as a group; they are suffering from a chronic shortage of such things as building materials and medicines because of the illegal blockade. I am not pro Hamas or anti Jew, I am anti having one and a half million people without humanitarian aid.'

The trip with the first flotilla ended with fatalities in Israeli actions. Do you feel this is a dangerous operation and are you all prepared?
'We have all received extensive training in non-violent defence just in case there is an Israeli attack. Last year, it came as a big surprise to the people on the ships when they were violently attacked in international waters with fatal consequences; this time, we are prepared for anything.'

Do you think Israel will take military action again?
'It is difficult to predict what Israel's response will be. We have already experienced a lot of pressure during preparations, both political pressure on Greece not to let us sail and brutal sabotage in Greek waters (the Norwegian-Swedish ship had its propeller sawn off). An attack on the flotilla is certainly a real possibility but we are avoiding every appearance of provocation. We have invited UN inspectors to check the cargo and the media were able to film the training we received.'

Is there understanding among your friends and family (including fellow students) for your decision to take part in this expedition?
'My friends and family support me. Even if they are not in favour of the flotilla, there is still often personal support. The idea of actually doing something about it if you want to see changes in the world is usually met with appreciation rather than condemnation.'

What kind of aid materials are you taking with you? Is it enough to really make a difference to the situation there?
'The cargo varies from medicines to building materials, and from more emotional support (the US ship is carrying letters of support) to toys, for example, for the children in Gaza. Humanitarian aid is never a structural solution but letting civilians suffer as the hostages of a major power goes against all sense of justice. Besides, denouncing the illegal blockade may have a more structural impact. Our flotilla is drawing the world's attention to Gaza and I think that really could have a big effect.'

See also:
www.nederland-gaza.nl
http://twitter.com/#!/ChrisVerweij

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