Ex-Oak Bay resident has Gaza in his sights

Kevin Neish awaits orders on second aid journey to Middle East

Kevin Neish on the Mavi Marmara in 2010

Kevin Neish on the Mavi Marmara in 2010

Despite the bloodshed he experienced during his first failed mission last year, Victoria’s Kevin Neish hopes to be Gaza-bound once again.

His bags are packed and he is waiting for the call to join a flotilla of 10 activist ships attempting to deliver aid to Palestinians in the coastal nation, bounded by Israel and Egypt.

“We’re told to be ready at a moment’s notice” said Neish from a hotel in the Mediterranean. He pledged not to give his location due to security concerns.

It could be several days before the Canadian ship Tahrir departs with 32 Canadians and representatives from several news organizations, including a CBC television crew. While a French ship departed Wednesday, other ships in the flotilla have experienced delays, which activists speculate are politically driven.

Despite passing a safety inspection a long time ago, Tahrir was subject to another inspection by the Greek Port Authority, according to United Press International.

The Gaza flotilla aims to break Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza. The Israel Defense Forces have pledged to stop the flotilla, calling it a provocation and an effort to delegitimize Israel, according to Haaretz.com, an English-language Israeli online news organization.

On Wednesday, Neish completed training in non-violent resistance. That means sitting or standing in the way of the Israeli soldiers, he explained.

“You can’t have anything in your hands that could be misconstrued as a weapon,” he said.

“My plan is to be along the railing when the Israelis first step off the zodiacs.”

The flotilla is carrying medical, school and construction supplies.

Before he left, Neish said a hospital in the region has put out a special appeal for children’s hearing aids.

“Because of all the … explosions and sonic booms (happening) over Gaza, the children are having hearing problems,” he said. “It really brings it in perspective when they ask for something like that.”

On May 31, 2010, Neish made national headlines after Israeli marines boarded the ship Mavi Marmara, which he was on as part of a similar humanitarian mission. Violence erupted and nine activists were killed, including a journalist.

While it was reported that most of the 500 people aboard ships in the flotilla were strip-searched by the Israeli military, Neish was deported to Turkey with his camera’s memory card still hidden in his underwear.

“I’m sure they’re not happy that those photos got off,” he said.

He uploaded his graphic photos to the Internet, claiming credit as the photographer.

For this reason, he suspects he has a red flag on his file. “They’re going to be poking and prodding.”

Neish’s hope is to spend one week in Gaza, where he will lend his experience as a mechanic and waste-treatment plant operator to help fix the ailing sewer system or repair other machinery.

“It will be a step toward a peaceful solution,” he said.

Most likely, however, he’ll end up again detained by the Israeli military before he reaches the shore.

“I imagine it will be a repeat of last year,” Neish conceded. “I’m walking into what could be an extremely violent situation.”

Looking back on his experience last year, he said, “I’m still angry.”

To this day, he suffers from nightmares, likely inspired by his deportation to Turkey.

“I lost all my identification to the Israelis, so I always seem to be reaching for my wallet when I’m in these dreams.”

He’s glad this time around to be one of a number of resident Canadians participating.

“I’m feeling very happy that I’m not alone.”


Political hot potato

• While Israel was widely criticized after its raid on an aid flotilla last year, the country accuses activists of provoking the violence. Kevin Neish and other witnesses insist the activists on board had no weapons and resisted only with objects such as broom handles, pipes and chains. According to the BBC, a four-person UN panel was appointed to investigate in August, but has yet to report back.