Remembering Divina Levrini, by Dr. Swee Ang, Gerd von der Lippe, Dimitri Lascaris, Mike Treen, Karen DeVito and others.
Dr. Swee Ang: International Women’s Day 2019 was marked by the shocking news that our dear sister Divinia Levrini had passed away. Those of us who were with her on the Freedom Flotilla are stunned. I received a painful voicemail from Gerd von der Lippe in Norway who was so grief stricken that half the message was inaudible except the last bit that she is so young, how can that be, hope she did not suffer…
Later on the news was confirmed that Divina had died.
I had the honour and privilege of meeting this incredibly beautiful and caring young lady in Palermo, Sicily, when the two Freedom Flotilla boats Freedom and Al Awda (The Return), docked in preparation for the last leg of their journey to Gaza. Divina had been with the Freedom from the day it set sail in May 2018, and I had just flown in from London to join Al Awda as ship medic. The delegates and crew of Al Awda and Freedom met on that Monday evening, 17 July 2018, in preparation to be briefed and also to receive two days of intensive training in non-violent resistance in Palermo for the journey.
That young talented singer, beautiful and full of life immediately liven the whole group. At sunset, we sat on the grass by the side of the Palermo Marina and Divina sang for us. Passionate, strong, lovely singing, coming from the very warm and unpretentious well-loved Swedish singer immediately captured my heart.
Personally I was so happy to learn that she was to leave Freedom to join our boat Al Awda as crew. I have never been on a boat before. Al Awda is a converted Norwegian fishing boat, and I spent the first two days on board being very seasick, as seasick as, if not worse than my fellow delegates I was trying to treat. Divina however was on her feet most of the time at the helm on crew duty – steering the boat. From the lower deck where the medical supplies and station were, I occasionally climbed up the ladders to say hello to her and enjoy her lovely smile. “Divina – you OK?” and she will answer with a broad smile, “yes”. The sun, wind and waves all agreed. I felt empowered and reassured. “It is good; we will reach Gaza as planned.”
Divina and I had not discussed politics. I respected and admired her too much to ask her questions, nor was there any need to. There was a deep understanding that, like everyone else on board, Divina loved the Palestinians and would do all she can to support and be with them. People call that solidarity, but Divina and I call it love. Love for a people who suffer so much injustice but yet refused to be wiped out; suffer so much humiliation but remain human; whose lives and communities are brutally crushed but whose resilience inspires all; who are made destitute and stateless yet never lost their dignity. This kind of love, respect and understanding for the Palestinians transcends political discussion and questions and answer.
On the morning of 29 July 2018, Herman our captain told us that we would reach Gaza that evening, but we must also prepare for the possibility that the Israelis would prevent us from doing that. Around mid-day, when our boat Al Awda was in international waters, more than 42 nautical miles from the coast of Gaza, we received threatening messages from the Israeli army warning us that we were trespassing into Israeli waters. Mikkel, the crew member at the helm at that time, replied that we were in International waters and had right of innocent passage according to maritime laws. Mikkel emphasised that we had no business with Israel at all and that we were heading to Gaza with antibiotics and dressings. Three large warships, with dozens of zodiac gunboats and about 200 masked soldiers armed to the teeth were already heading towards us to capture our boat, Al Awda. Much of the events were captured on film by Divina. The events following of how we were abducted and taken prisoners in international waters were in my separate write-up (one of the places it was published: The Middle East Eye).
The six of us women shared a single prison cell with a single “en-suite toilet” in Givon prison in Ramle, Israel. The Israelis refused to give Divina her medicines. She told me and them that she must have those medicines otherwise her condition would deteriorate and destabilise. We pleaded with the guards who seemed to delight in her distress and vulnerability. She was also on hunger strike and would have refused to leave prison to challenge this abduction of our boot and arrest in Israeli courts. After due consideration, she finally agreed to be deported. I can now divulge she agreed to be deported because she said she had to get “footage” out, as she told me this with a grin, saying “We managed to do naughty things”. It was the crucial footage of the Israeli Navy coming for us and in her film footage, the navigation system at the helm tracked that we were 42 nautical miles and in international waters when they arrived in preparation to attack us. It even recorded our chef throwing away all the kitchen knives so that the boat was completely disarmed in preparation for them. We were peace activists. It challenges the version put out by the Israeli media that we were terrorists trying to infiltrate Israel to justify the way they treated us – hijacking our boat and taking all of us prisoners, robbing and confiscating all our personal possessions.
Divina had a heart of gold, generous and loving even under stress and duress. She took on long shifts at the helm so that other crew members could get sufficient rest. She was hit hard by Israeli soldiers when she saw them beating up Herman our captain and demanded that they stop it. It was Divina versus a heavily armed gang of masked Israeli soldiers. They twisted her head, hit her and dragged her away from the scene. They held her down at the back of the boat.
While in prison she led us in protest when the prison guards refused to let me attend to Larry Commodore in the men’s wing. Larry was screaming with pain and needed a doctor. The prison guards refused to let me attend to him. We women heard him from the women’s wing and responded. For protesting against their obstruction to medical care, Divina was taken out by the guards to be kept in solitary confinement. But because they knew that Divina was made ill due to the denial of medicines, they put me with her in the same cell in case there was going to be a mishap.
She is a dear sister with the courage of a lion, but the gentle soul of a dove, the voice of a nightingale and the tender loving heart of a nursing mother. When we were taken prisoners she told the guard that due to Israel’s cruelty she would not make the rendezvous with the little boy who was standing on the Gaza coast waiting for her with his balloon to welcome her. He would be broken-hearted. For those of us who has outlived her, it is our duty to reach the shores of Gaza to put our arms round that little child on her behalf.
But I still want to ask you, dearest Divina, why must you go when you are so young, full of life and love? Perhaps deep in my heart, I know she comes from and belongs to a much better world and I must be grateful that I managed to be with her for a fortnight. She has to return to where she belongs and it is up to us who love her to continue the fight for justice and freedom. I also write these few lines for her children and family to let them know how proud we all are of her.
Dr Swee Ang, medic on board the Flotilla’s Al Awda, 2018, co-founder of Medical Aid for Palestinians.
Gerd von der Lippe: a memorial from a friend, shipmate and staying in jail together. I knew her as a friend, activist, singer and advocate for justice in the summer of 2018. We were on Kårstein/Al Awda (The Return) and in the same cell in Israeli jail together.
One morning, one of the guards shouted at me and then hit me hard on my left ankle to get us up out of our beds, injuring one of my hips. Several hours later Divina supported me on our way to a doctor.
To exaggerate my pain, we found out that I should limp, while she was holding my arm. We were, however not on our way to a doctor, but to a new hot cell. In order for me not to faint in our new sauna, I asked Divina to sing with me. We did that so loudly together and so well, I think, that all guards passing heard it and several of them looked towards our new cell. Songs like “Yesterday”, “We are many” (a Scandinavian women’s song), “Who can sail without wind” and “The International”. Singing together with her in a hot cell empowered me and helped me hold on to my identity, because the aim of the guards was to break us and dehumanize us.
I see her beautiful face every day, and I cannot believe that I never will meet her again.
A very sad Gerd von der Lippe, Ship To Gaza Norway and Freedom Flotilla Coalition member.
Dimitri Lascaris: I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Swedish musician and human rights activist Divina Levrini. I met Divina last summer while travelling with the Freedom Flotilla to Gaza on board the sailing vessel Freedom. Divina can be seen in this photograph, which was taken in Sicily shortly before the Freedom Flotilla departed for its final voyage to Gaza. At the conclusion of the final, non-violence training session in Sicily, the trainer asked each of the passengers and crew to “offer just one word for what you take out of this work, to carry us forward.” Divina chose the word “love”.
Dimitri Lascaris is a lawyer, journalist and activist based in Montréal, Canada. He covered the 2018 Freedom Flotilla as a correspondent for The Real News Network.
Mike Treen: We shared the final leg of the journey to Gaza and detention in Israel. She fought every inch of the way with great courage. One of our other trip participants only got urgent medical attention because she kept shouting at the guards until he was attended to. It makes me angry a soul like hers can’t survive this world.
Mike Treen is a trade union leader in New Zealand / Aotearoa who was a participant on Al Awda from Palermo towards Gaza.
On one of our last nights in Palermo, Divina graced us with a song, Brighton Bomb by the Angelic Upstarts. While we can’t see much on this video, Divina’s voice comes through clear and strong:
Karen DeVito: “She walked in beauty” Remembering Divina Levrini.
I remember our first rough weather in the Atlantic, Divina below decks, clutching her pillow, crying that we would all die that night. We sailors told her we’re safe, our ship weighs 29 tons, heeling over in wind is normal, but she said “Ooooh but I’m not a sailor and this is not normal.” I hugged her, she wept.
A few weeks later she was steering the ship through the waves, raising sails, even marvelling at sheet lightning all around us one night. “Better than a disco!”
We were on watch together from 4 to 8 AM and PM. We shared many sunrises and sunsets, conversation and moments of being.
Divina was a very fine citizen journalist, spreading far and wide the story of Freedom and its mission to Gaza.
Dear Divina, brave, sensitive soul, loving sister, funny girl, beautiful in every way, you are cherished and in our hearts forever.
Karen DeVito was crew on board Freedom, from Copenhagen to Naples.