Subjected to an Israeli-imposed inhuman siege and, as a result, threatened of asphyxiation since that day of 2006 when they had voted massively in favour of the Islamic movement Hamas, the people of Gaza have resisted, thus incurring huge sacrifices, and have not bowed to the threat of famine used as blackmail. The British militant, coordinator of the 5th convoy Viva Palestina (*), which left London on 18 September on its way to Gaza, replies in this interview to the questions of Silvia Cattori.
Silvia Cattori: How would you describe the state of mind in which you set out on this 5th convoy? Haven’t you been scared by the acts of violence incurred during your previous expeditions ? Aren’t you afraid?
Kevin Ovenden: We are not afraid. It is my fourth convoy to Gaza. I was also on board of the Freedom Flottilla. We are aware of the difficulties. They are of two kinds. There are, on the one hand, the logistical difficulties, the unforeseen of the journey, the organisation of the aid, the organisation of the transport, because part of our journey must go by see. On the other hand there are the political difficulties, because of course we face political opposition from some people to delivering aid to Gaza. In particular from Israel, and from those who collaborate with Israel’s immoral and illegal siege of Gaza. So we are aware of the difficulties but we are not afraid. The main reason why we are not afraid is that we are not alone, that we have millions of people who support us; and in France, where we arrived on Saturday, we received a tremendous support. We know that we have a massive support.
Silvia Cattori: Viva Palestina was created in January 2009 by the British MP Georges Galloway in order to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza. Doesn’t your gesture have a political import?
Kevin Ovenden: Our mission is to take aid in a massive way to highlight the political issue. And the political issue is why there is suffering in Gaza. The reason of suffering is not because of a natural disaster, is not like a tsunami, or a flood in Pakistan, it is because of political action by Israel and its supporters, who starve people in Gaza. Our message is that the siege must end. The siege is unjust and unsustainable, and this message must go through. After the attack on the Mavi Marmara, even some politicians, who historically are supporting Israel’s action in everything that it does, have criticized it, for example the British Prime Minister David Cameron spoke recently in Istanbul and he described Gaza as an open air prisoners camp. The Israelis demanded him to correct his words, but he did not.
Silvia Cattori: These convoys and flotillas, which are determined to break the siege that causes starvation to Gaza, have been met with admiration. So far, however, they have had no impact on the Israeli authorities. Isn’t that frustrating?
Kevin Ovenden: No it is not frustrating, because we have to remember that this has been going on for a long period of time, for decades, for more than 62 years. If you take the long term view, it is clear that the public opinion around the world is moving against Israel, not in favor of Israel. You can see this over the course of many years. But if you just look at the last four years, the Israeli attack on Lebanon in 2006 resulted in a military and political defeat and a new understanding in the world of the Israeli aggression. Then there was the attack on Gaza in 2008 to 2009 which led to more support for the Palestinians than ever in the West and put pressure on the people who want to support Israel. And now the attack on the Mavi Marmara has led to a further delegitimization of the Israeli policy towards Palestine. So it is not frustrating: if you consider the long term, things are moving in our direction.
Silvia Cattori: Aren’t such links of brotherhood between Western peoples and Arabs and Muslims that grow around the mobilization in favour of Gaza what Tel-Aviv really fears?
Kevin Ovenden: This is a very good point. I should say this is one of the critical developments between the people of the Middle East, Muslims, and the West, coming together around the world and Israel is very wary of the consequences of this movement. That is why the Israelis and their supporters are attempting to divide this movement, are attempting to defame, to smear this movement, to claim that this movement is « islamist terrorism », things like this. They fear what they call a « red-green alliance ». Red for the historic left in the West, the historical ideal of the left, of liberty, of anti colonialism, the best ideal of the left, and the green not designating environmentalists but green as the color of Islam, of Muslims, of people who are also against injustice and perhaps inspired by religious motivations. So they want to break this alliance and we want to stand with that alliance.
Silvia Cattori: This is the reason why Israel has been putting everything at stake since 2008 to foil your endeavours and to throw division in your ranks by incriminating Muslim participants as it did during the massacre of 31 May(1) against the Freedom Flotilla?
Kevin Ovenden: Yes, you are absolutely right. If you follow the propaganda of the Israelis about the attack on the Mavi Marmara, it is essentially this one : “the people in the boat were not normal people, were not western peace activists ; the people in this boat were Muslims, were Turkish, were fundamentalists, were terrorists.”
I must tell you: I am not a Muslim, and my friend Nicole who was on the Mavi Marmara boat with me, is from New Zealand and is not a Muslim. What they say to divide us is not true.
Silvia Cattori: Don’t you think that the Israeli army is ready to intervene and to make this convoy fail with, unfortunately, the help of Hosni Moubarak?
Kevin Ovenden: We will see. I think that it will be hard for Israel to attack us. We will be on the sea. We will be going in the same waters where the Mavy Marmara was attacked because the Egyptians insist we have to go that way. So unfortunately we must go by sea because the Egyptian authorities say we are not allowed to go to the South. I think it is politically impossible for the Israeli army to attack us.
Silvia Cattori: Israel violates all laws but continues to enjoy impunity. During his Paris visit in April 2010, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had the political courage to qualify Israel as the “principal threat to regional peace” and “the principal cause of wars and miseries in the Middle East”, thus showing total disagreement with the foreign policy of Nicolas Sarkozy and Bernard Kouchner. Is the voice of Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogan an isolated cry?
Kevin Ovenden: I would say that the position of Erdogan is in advance compared with the position of most of those involved but that he is not isolated. Nicolas Sarkozy is the extreme in the West. I gave you the example of David Cameron, who is conservative, from the right, but who is more critical on Israel than was Tony Blair. I think that western politicians can be pushed. Israel and its friends hoped that Erdogan and his political party the AKP would be isolated in Turkey and that the historical alliance between Turkey, NATO, and Israel would be reestablished as strong as it was for so many years. But this is not going to happen. If you look at the most recent developments in Turkey (in September), there was a referendum in which the right wing, the military, and some people who were confused even on the left, all wanted to vote against Erdogan. His measures were progressive - even though perhaps they do not go far enough - but nevertheless they move against the old constitution which was imposed by the military in 1982 after the coup d’état of 1980. 58 % of the votes were in favour of the Erdogan referendum. The position of Erdogan, of the AKP, is stronger inside Turkey. Because it is reflecting the feelings of the Turkish people and politicians in the West and in the East must recognize it. If they think that they can simply deal with people like Erdogan or Hugo Chavez, by military coups, and so on, they make a mistake. They must understand that, if those politicians are there and if they have a voice, it is because millions of people think the same way.
Silvia Cattori: You do not ignore that Israel can count on wide-spread support overseas, particularly the support of sayanims , i.e. those citizens of Jewish faith who, by virtue of self-conflict or of patriotism, collaborate with agents of Mossad and participate in disinformation and destabilization work in order to counter those who work against the policies of the Apartheid Jewish state. Are you aware of this aspect?
Kevin Ovenden: Of course we are aware that there are people who would like to destabilize the movement from inside. We take various precautions, some I will tell you about, some we keep to ourselves. But we examine people, we evaluate who is coming on the boat, we monitor people to make sure that their behaviour will not compromise the convoy.
Silvia Cattori: We thank you and wish you a good trip.
Interview conducted on 20th September 2010, when the convoy Viva Palestina arrived in Lyon.
(*) Viva Palestina is a UK charity with humanitarian goals set up by George Galloway. See here the departure from London of the fifth convoy:
 Kevin Ovenden, 42, is a British citizen of Iranian father, who has survived the massacre that took place on the ship Mavi Marmara on 31 May 2010 in which nine passengers were executed and fifty others were injured at the hands of Israeli soldiers.