Friday, June 10, 2011

Not Taking No For an Answer. Kevin Neish, The Mavi, and the Freedom Flotilla...Take II

Written by Miles Howe and originally posted by the Halifax Media Coop at

Neish on the Mavi, Holding a Passenger List from an IDF Commando's Backpack. Photo by
Neish on the Mavi, Holding a Passenger List from an IDF Commando's Backpack. Photo by

It has been just over a year since Kevin Neish bore witness to the Israeli Defence Force-orchestrated massacre of nine activists aboard the Turkish ship MV Mavi Marmara, events that shocked the world, and brought an end to last year's Freedom Flotilla and its attempt to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza. Since his return to Canada, Neish has indefatigably criss-crossed the seemingly endless expanses of this nation, speaking to thousands.

At each stop Neish has narrated the harrowing 30 minutes of Iara Lee's footage of the attack upon the Mavi. His decision to relive these moments through video, night after night, has been instrumental in raising funds so that Canada might sail it's own ship, christened the Tahrir, alongside the Mavi, in the quickly-approaching Freedom Flotilla II. The Tahrir's crew, myself included, would undoubtedly welcome Neish's leadership, and mechanical skills, aboard the vessel. But Neish has a prior engagement.

“When I was in Be'er Sheva prison in Israel,” says Neish, “after I was kidnapped by the Israelis...the fellow prisoners that were in there with me...they seemed impressed with the fact that a Canadian would travel halfway around the world to join them. They almost ordered me to join them on the Mavi Marmara, and I agreed, not knowing that there was going to be a Canadian ship.”

Last December, the Mavi returned on her own steam back to Turkey from Israel, where she had been held against Turkish demands since the massacre occurred. Neish was part of a crowd that numbered in the tens of thousands, on hand to welcome the Mavi back home.

The Mavi exists now in that rare-air where inanimate objects, otherwise emotionless, become focal points of remembrance and spirit. She is a mobile shrine to martyrs, and very much a link between the Turkish people, indeed the world's people, and the desire for an end to Palestinian oppression.

“They sailed her back into Istanbul.” says Neish. “Back into the Golden Horn of the Bosphorus. She was surrounded by I don't know how many ships. Everybody was blowing their horns. People were screaming on the gang-rails. There were thousands of people at this park where she pulled up...I don't know what support was like before, but now, it's just a blanket of support from Turkey. The people are 100% behind the Palestinian people.”

“They had 10,000-20,000 people a day, lined up to see that ship.” he continues. “There was this huge line, ten or fifteen people wide, running all the way down the street, just waiting to walk through the ship. People crying...many people crying...just walking through and stopping and crying. They had all the spots where the martyrs had fallen marked with descriptive banners, showing who they were and where they fell.”
For a week in Istanbul, Neish met up with other Mavi survivors. He mentions that he was constantly recognized on the street, treated to the hospitality that befits a returning, if unwitting, hero.

Back in Canada however, the reception has been mixed. According to Neish, the average Canadians he has met on his tours have been outwardly kind, understanding, and supportive of ending Palestinian oppression. Not so the Harper government, who apparently have no interest whatsoever in the crimes against humanity that occurred aboard the Mavi.

“The Harper government, I'm sure they'd have been just as happy if I was still stuck in prison.” says Neish. “No one from the government has approached me. No one's asked me a question. No one's come near me. The only official report I made was for the Turkish government. They asked me to make a report about Geneva Convention violations. I made a two page report for them, and they took my report and presented it to the UN. It's pretty embarrassing when they do it, but my own government doesn't even ask me what happened.”

There have also been threats against his life from less-than-reputable sections of Canadian society.
“The of them sent me a death threat.” says Neish. “He emailed me a death threat while I was still on the ship under attack by the Israelis. I saved that email and sent it to the media...My daughter has gotten some off-emails and some threats. Just low-lives...people lashing out.”

Lockstep Canadian media has also at times been less than kind to Neish, questioning his credibility, and his intentions. But after being besieged on the high seas by the IDF, the bluster of the 'yellow journalists' at the National Post, and elsewhere, must seem like the toothless mewling of so many paper tigers.

“It's good that they're angry.” says Neish. “I wouldn't want the mainstream, right-wing, press to be ignoring what we're doing. It's good that they have to respond...And to some degree, hopefully, it will give us something of a platform. Every time they write an editorial like that, you would think, if fair is fair, they would print a letter from one of a response.”

As for John Baird and his recently-released warning to the crew of the Tahrir, Neish has some blunt words of advice.

“Just ignore John Baird.” says Neish. “What if Rosa Parks had listened to the John Bairds of her day, and had not sat in the front of the bus, where would we be today? What if the John Bairds of the day had had their way with the Freedom Riders going into Mississippi and Alabama?”

“Harper and his gang are a throwback to the race days of apartheid, and Jim Crow laws. They're going to order their citizens what to do...We're in a situation where we really have to count on people to act on their own instincts, on their own moral beliefs, and not try and follow the line of the main media, and the government.”

Kevin Neish, the Mavi Marmara, the Tahrir, me, and the international contingent of peaceful activists that make up the Freedom Flotilla II, sail for Gaza to break Israel's illegal blockade at the end of June.

~ reposted by Sofia Smith

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