Monday, 7 June 2010

Women in 'Free Gaza' flotilla

The more I read about this flotilla and the Israeli attack on it, the more I see it as a terrible collision between well-meaning (and unsophisticated) human beings and an over-reacting officious military, with an added layer of gender-based misunderstandings.

Today there's more information from two Turkish-speaking Israeli women volunteers - Medi Nahmyaz (30) and Nathalie Alyon (26) - who helped translate for the passengers on the Marmara. It's in yesterday's Haaretz article by Amira Hass: They came from the villages to aid the orphans.

'They came from villages and small towns, not from the big cities, and had responded to calls by various charitable organizations, not necessarily the IHH [Isani Yardim Vakfi, the Turkish charity credited with organizing the flotilla]. Their degree of religious piety varied, say the interpreters. About a quarter of them were women. Only two, including one of the female journalists, were not wearing headscarves.

'Many of the activists were in their fifties, others were over 60. "But even someone who is 45-years-old looks 60, that's how it is in Turkey, especially in the villages," says Alyon.

'Many passengers spoke of coming "to help children in Gaza, orphans, hungry children," or "to bring humanitarian assistance." Alyon and Nahmyaz got the impression that many of them believed before they left Turkey that everything had been arranged and they would reach Gaza. They also did not seem to have broad political knowledge or a distinct ideology.

This picture of elderly, naive, non-bellicose civilians doesn't fit at all with the culture of military questioners. 'The injured were told: "You are suspected of participating in attacking soldiers with cold and hot weapons, participation in a flotilla destined for Gaza, disorderly conduct, endangering soldiers, using a knife, disobeying orders, throwing Molotov cocktails and a hand grenade." And they were asked: How much money did they pay you?

'People were terribly distressed: 'One woman, wearing a black head covering that reached to her knees, put her hand on Alyon's hand and said: "Tell them that 16 of my friends were killed today, so how do they expect me to feel?"

'One woman, in jeans but with a black head scarf, boarded the Marmara with her husband. An academician, she works at a university in a small town in southern Turkey, and participates in taekwondo competitions on behalf of the country. Soldiers who saw her hiding a mobile phone in her bra held her and called Nahmyaz to translate. "My husband is dead," the woman said. Puzzled, Nahmyaz repeated: "Your husband is dead?" "Yes," she replied. "This morning he was shot dead by an Israeli soldier." If she was angry, says Nahmyaz, she didn't show it. That was already late Monday night. Nahmyaz couldn't ask any more questions; she understood the woman wanted to keep her husband's cell phone as a memento.

Significantly, 'The word "friend" turned out to be a translation challenge. "Did you board the ship with friends?" asked the interrogators, and the answer was usually "no," that people didn't know each other. One of the injured who was questioned in hospital mentioned "our friends," and the investigator raised an eyebrow: But he said earlier that he didn't know anyone. Nahmyaz explains. In Turkey people address each other as "friend" - even a stranger, as in Israel we say "my brother," even when not really referring to a brother.

'Nahmyaz says she has a friend who considered joining the flotilla. But as a secular woman the friend was deterred when the flotilla was adopted by the Islamic IHH.'

See the whole article at

No comments: