Prison number (25)121.207, that is me, Gerd von der Lippe, a Norwegian participant on Al Awda (The Return). In total there were 22 people on the boat, of which 13 were selected by the Freedom Flotilla Coalition (FFC). In addition, there were two journalists and seven crew, including four Norwegians.
Why did we sail to Gaza knowing that we most probably would be thrown into an Israeli jail? I have been to Gaza before and I know that people there see themselves as everyday people and how happy they are when we try to visit them to challenge the illegal Israeli blockade with our FFC boats. Our decision this time to bring medical supplies also demonstrated to our friends in Gaza that we are identifying ourselves with the civilians, especially the sick and wounded.
We were attacked by Israeli Navy pirates in international waters, about 42 nautical miles from the port of Gaza and about the same distance from Egypt. After the soldiers boarded our boat, they brutally took control and sailed us to the biggest port in Israel, Ashdod.
One of the many offensive things I witnessed was how the ‘soldiers’ treated the Norwegian flag under which we were sailing. One male ‘soldier’ pulled it down and there were two others around him, as he stamped on it and then left it on the floor. It was terrible to look at. I felt so angry – how disrespectful! It really hurt me. At the time this was happening I was a leader of a group of four vulnerable people, who had agreed to remain seated throughout the military attack on our boat. I was aware of my particular responsibilities and drew upon the two days of non-violence training that we participated in in Palermo before we set off on this final leg to stop me from running towards these ‘soldiers’ and challenging them about their gross disrespect. Some time later, one of my fellow participants Mikkel jumped up and picked up the Norwegian flag and folded it up neatly and placed it near to us. I was a scout leader when I was young and have a great respect towards flags of every nation, including my own. Between 1960 and 1970, I was a member of the Norwegian national athletics team and during that time we also learned to honour flags. I and many of my friends proudly celebrate our national day, 17 May, when I put up several flags in our garden. This conduct of the Israeli ‘soldiers’ was indicative of their lack of discipline and disrespect, something that Palestinian people contend with every day.
When we eventually reached the port of Ashdod, we were forced into a closed military area and subjected to repeated searches. Every time they searched us as so-called terrorists, I was in real trouble, because of my two artificial hips. Their technical devices created terrible noises over my new hips, and they pretended to not understand why. So, I became angry and this created a lot of adrenalin in my body, with the consequence that my blood pressure rose to a dangerous level. As a result, they wanted to take me to a hospital, but I resisted crying out that my blood pressure would be normal if they let me leave this terrible country. In total, we were searched six times, each time by different people in various ways. When two female soldiers searched my clothes, the same thing happened again. I cried out in order not to be afraid – this time so powerfully, that one of the soldiers got scared for a short moment. Her revenge was to go over my clothes several times and then stripping me again, throwing all my gear on the floor. My lipstick, underwear, jumpers, credit card and hat with the ‘ShipTo Gaza’ logo were all scattered on the floor.
When this process was eventually finished, three of us women were forced into a prison car like sheep and taken to Givon prison. There we were subjected to a further search of our body and clothes, and everything except a T-shirt, reading glasses and a pair of pants were taken from me, including hair grips, tooth picks and dental floss which were supposedly dangerous.
They then placed all of the six women who had been on Al Awda in one cell. Supposedly men and women are treated equally in Israeli prison, but this is not accurate. We were treated worse than our male comrades. For example, the men had a fan in their cell which prevented their cell being like a sauna and they were also allowed outside twice a day, as opposed to the women who were only allowed out for one short period each day. The Israeli guards prevented us from being with the men and they seemed to enjoy coming into our cell during the day and at night and making lots of noise. The food was terrible, but not worse than expected. My 75-year old sporting body was sweating like hell in the sauna during the nights and I needed clean water, something that we were only able to get during our short daily exercise outside. One day I was so tired after having slept for only two hours for two nights, that I did not have any energy to go outside – I was nearly fainting. I did not drink the dirty water in the cell and my body dried up. The food we were given was from dirty dishes, which we washed with soap and dirty cold water. Some of us washed the floor to avoid small reptiles in our cell. 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. My non-violent resistance was to shout in a powerful way. “I am a professor and I know my rights!” “I need a doctor!” They promised to get me access to a doctor, but I would have to wait. Several hours later though I was on my way to a doctor with the help of Divina. To exaggerate my pain, although it was not necessary, I limped and she supported me. We helped each other. The day before I had smuggled out her cigarette lighter, and now she really helped me. 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 together 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`, `The Internationale` and an old Norwegian folk song that the guards really hated. This song helped me to sing out in a powerful way. To hear my own voice empowered me and helped me to support my identity, because the aim of the guards was to break us down and dehumanise us. All of us, including the men, supported each other the whole time. When they beat Larry, we cried out: `We have a doctor!` which did not help Larry, and as revenge we were not able to go outside that day and we did not get any lunch. Some of the guards told me that they wanted to kill us, but we knew that they would not dare, because that would have created a media storm like when they killed ten activists on the Mavi Marmara in 2010.
Norwegian crew member Jan Petter and I were in jail five nights, more than all the others. We had expected some help from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, especially as our Norwegian boat has been attacked in international waters. What did the conservative Norwegian government do? They asked the Israeli Foreign Department why they stopped us and how. As prisoners and ex-prisoners we have heard nothing directly from our Foreign Affairs Ministry, only via media that the blockade of Gaza is legal, which of course is incorrect. The UN has stated that the Israeli blockade is a `violation of international law`. Now we have started working on a strategy to mobilise Members of Parliament and others to counter the Norwegian Government. The most important thing for the Freedom Flotilla Coalition (FFC) is to end the illegal Israeli blockade of Gaza. Two million Palestinian people there are living in hell in the largest detention centre in the world. The Israelis are conducting a mass psychological experiment and this is a global crime, which the FFC continues to fight against in a non-violent way.
Gerd von der Lippe is a former champion competitive runner and a professor of sports sociology in Norway. She is a member of Ship to Gaza Norway, and participated on board Al Awda (The Return) in Freedom Flotilla Coalition’s 2018 sailing against the blockade of Gaza and for the Right to a Just Future for Palestine.