Inspiring Front Line Activism- Building Hope for Palestine

By: Tiffany Goskey, August 2, 2012

A couple Tuesdays back, I had the opportunity to sit down with Sandra Ruch, an international human rights activist, Coordinator for the Canadian Voice of Women for Peace, and a member of the Gaza’s Ark Steering Committee .

Sandra Ruch

Since 2004, she has been heavily involved in human rights work, advocating for the rights of the Palestinian people. Her involvement in social justice activities started with helping new immigrants become established in Canada. But, it was her experience in Palestine that sparked her passion for anti-occupation and anti-Zionist activism. Her involvement became very personal as the events she witnessed conflicted with her views of Judaism.

All her life Sandra was a Zionist activist, leader of a Zionist youth group at 13, later as a member of an adult Zionist organization and as a Hebrew Sunday school teacher. After WWII – Israel became the safe place for the Jewish people to reside. She whole heartedly believed in the rhetoric. Essentially, Zionists believe that Israel should be there for the Jewish people – and they don’t see it as a racist statement.

Sandra was born 8 years after Israel became a country and so it made sense to her. She believed that the army was there to protect. As a woman of faith, she thought the Israeli government were following the principles of Judaism: healing the world, acts of loving kindness, and obligations of charity. Additionally, the Ten Commandments are fundamental in Judaism – such as condemning killing. Sandra lived in Palestine for 2 years and witnessed a total disregard for human rights. She saw crimes against humanity; murder and theft by the Israeli army.

Because Sandra saw it personally – she can speak about the things she experienced. She was appalled by the human rights violations and the lack of respect for humanity. It was the catalyst for her work – however, she would fight for anything that disregards human rights and disrespects humanity. She has focused on this area because it is directly related to her personal experience living in Palestine.

Her work and life is now for the Palestinian people. The ones displaced in the diaspora and in Palestine. But, this dedication has created a riff with her siblings as they no longer speak to Sandra. She has lost much of her spiritual family as it has been difficult to find a temple for support. Many Zionists cannot understand why she engages in this type of work. Additionally, the arrest in Greece on the last trip with the Canadian Boat to Gaza could have resulted in jail time for 3 years. These events coupled by Sandra’s 2 year absence have been very trying on her family.

Although, many within the anti-occupation community have become her new brothers and sisters, she acknowledges the sacrifices that must be made in order to continue with her work. She is not afraid to be arrested – but outside of the activist community it is sometimes difficult to understand this level of commitment.

The most important element in whatever you are working on, be it activism or something related to your passion, Sandra believes you should follow your own heart. You must do what you need to do. Live authentically. You can never please everyone – so you must do what you think is right for yourself, and the rest will follow. Sometimes life is not an easy road, but when you overcome the barriers, and stay on the journey, your life will be meaningful and full of hope.

Sandra’s triumphs are in every aspect of her work. These triumphs have fueled her passion and continual commitment to this cause. Just starting a project and seeing it to completion is a personal triumph.

In 2005, the Women in Black, a world-wide network of women committed to peace with justice and actively opposed to injustice, war, militarism and other forms of violence, had a conference in Jerusalem. There were 700 female participants from around the world. It highlighted the occupation but didn’t make the news. However, it was such a powerful and meaningful experience to be around so many brilliant women who came to share their perspective on the occupation.

The next triumph came when the movement planned the Gaza Freedom March and 1500 people came to Cairo to attend the march. The Egyptian government locked them down – but they worked together. It was a catalyst for the movement. Then after the massacre of the Mavi – they went to the street and started a hunger strike in front of the Israeli consulate in Toronto. Every media in Toronto came out to cover it. It was a great awareness event. Did it take 9 people to be murdered? Yes, but it got the word out about the atrocities. Within a month, they announced the Canadian Boat to Gaza. Massacre on the Mavi – was in May 2010. They announced the boat in June/July – raised $400,000 even though the original goal was $300,000.

Sandra went to Greece, figured how to buy a boat, and hired a captain who happened to be the first one to break the siege. Then she arranged for the 47 people to attend. She coordinated the logistics while in Greece – hired lawyers, listened to Greek partners – there were a lot of sleepless nights worrying about the decisions made.

Through these experiences Sandra has learned that every person must truly believe in the work they do. Then connect with people who have strengths in different areas to build upon your passion. She states that they were the only boat to get out of Greece. They made it to Turkey and then sailed to Gaza. The difference this time is that they are going to refurbish and build the boat in Gaza – which is why Gaza’s Ark is such an apt name for the project.

Essentially, the issue is that Gaza has been under an Israeli blockade for over five years.  This means that the local fishers cannot feed their families or fish for trade. According to International law – Palestinians would have the rights to 12 nautical miles from shore. The Israeli government would only allow 6 miles. But, since the massacre, it is only 3 miles. This water is overfished, polluted, and their infrastructure is collapsing. Now the fishermen – are putting high powered lights on their boats to attract the fish. But, it is super dangerous – one person has been electrocuted. The Israeli army has been known to shoot anyone within 1 in a half mile off the shore.

Is the UN doing anything? Not really. According to Sandra, John Ging from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency has made statement after statement but not much has been done. The Gaza’s Ark team know their boat will be captured again. But, it’s the statement they are trying to broadcast to the world – to demonstrate how Israel is not supporting the Palestinian people and making up their own rules. For example, the Tahrir was in international waters when it was captured last year. It was brought over to Israel. The authorities made their team say that they entered Israeli waters illegally when they didn’t.

The Israeli government tells the world that Palestinians want to kill all the Israeli’s. This is absolutely untrue. The Israeli government enforces what food items can go in and out of Palestine, and what people can eat – essentially they have put them on a collective diet. Some items such as chocolate and tomato sauce have been banned. It’s a form of oppression.

Gaza’s Ark will carry local trade items, and distribute them to the world for sale. This is to help the local people work around the occupation and be able to feed their families from their earnings.

If someone is interested in getting involved – Sandra suggests checking out Gaza’s Ark website http://gazaark.org/ and endorse the project. Then donate to support the funding of the boat. Are you willing to go to your MP to state you don’t support this? She says “that it is important to get the message to the political leaders as that is where the power lies. You make sure in every election – you vote. Then – join the team. Get on a committee. Find out where your strength is – and join us. You will find great pleasure in working on something that you are passionate about”.

Sandra for a Just Peace

http://inspiredactivist.wordpress.com/

Inspiring Front Line Activism – Building Hope for Palestine

By: Tiffany Goskey

A couple Tuesdays back, I had the opportunity to sit down with Sandra Ruch, an international human rights activist, Coordinator for the Canadian Voice of Women for Peace, and a member of the Gaza’s Ark Steering Committee .

Sandra Ruch

Since 2004, she has been heavily involved in human rights work, advocating for the rights of the Palestinian people. Her involvement in social justice activities started with helping new immigrants become established in Canada. But, it was her experience in Palestine that sparked her passion for anti-occupation and anti-Zionist activism. Her involvement became very personal as the events she witnessed conflicted with her views of Judaism.

All her life Sandra was a Zionist activist, leader of a Zionist youth group at 13, later as a member of an adult Zionist organization and as a Hebrew…

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