Al Awda (The Return)
Palermo, Italy. Chants of “Free, Free Palestine” greet the arrival of Al Awda, a 19-meter boat. The mayor gives a stirring speech and the activists are introduced. 71-year-old Dr Ang Swee Chai stands out by virtue of her small size. Dr Ang says that even if the boat is hijacked by Israel, the mission will bring hope to the Palestinians.
In the next two days, the activists attend classes in non-violent resistance. Ann Wright describes her experience on the solidarity mission of 2010. That year, 10 activists were killed when Israeli commandos stormed their passenger ship, the Mavi Marmara.
July 22. Al Awda sets sail. The rolling of the boat is extreme for those not used to the sea. Simple activities such as walking, eating, and going to the toilet become difficult. Dr Ang and several others suffer from sea sickness.
Halfway through the journey, the atmosphere intensifies as Al Awda sails closer to Gaza. The activists conduct rehearsals and discuss what to do when they come face-to-face with the Israeli navy. The discussions give us an idea of how the confrontation will play out.
July 29. 60 nautical miles from Gaza. The phone rings with the warning that Al Awda is trespassing into Israel. The accusation is repeated over and over. Deckhand Mikkel replies each time that the boat is in international waters, and that “we have no business with Israel”. The activists put on life jackets and move into position. On the horizon, Israeli warships surround the boat.