Madeleine Habib: CommonSpace speaks to the activist captain who tried to break the Gaza blockade

Alasdair Clark

CommonSpace speaks to Madeleine Habib, the skipper who sailed the first all-women mission to Gaza and faced down the Israeli army with tea and biscuits 

LEADING an all women team in an attempt to break the brutal blockade of Gaza, Madeleine Habib faced down the Israeli Defence Force [IDF] with kindness as her boat was boarded by armed troops.

Madeleine Habib has spent her life sailing the globe; doing her best to avoid too much time spent on dry land as she uses her skills to reach places that ordinary ships don’t go, bringing life-saving aid to some of the worlds most desperate people. 

Leading another 12 pro-Palestine women, Habib, the first woman to captain such boat, left from Spain on the 2016 voyage to Gaza, eventually being “kidnapped” by the Israeli military and forced to divert to an Israeli run port 35 nautical miles off the coast of Gaza.

The group were held for over 24 hours before they were deported from Israel and returned to their home nations. Habib and her fellow crewmates had a different experience to other activists who have attempted similar protests, which have often been characterised by violent confrontations. 

Amongst the protestors on the ship was a retired US Army colonel, Ann Wright, who resigned from her senior military role over the US invasion of Iraq and has since been an outspoken peace activist. 

In an interview with CommonSpace at the Beyond Borders Scotland Festival, Habib said her crew members all agreed they would adopt a non-violent approach if they were intercepted by the IDF, something which she has learned the benefit of and advocates for. 

The route taken by the Women’s Boat to Gaza

Habib began her sea-based activism on the famous Greenpeace protest boats which, since 1971, have used non-violent direct action to oppose and publicise the secrets held by international waters, such as the testing of nuclear weapons in the pacific and the destruction of the world’s marine life. 

She has also sailed ships for Médecins Sans Frontières, “Doctors Without Borders”, ensuring life-saving medical equipment and medical teams of doctors, surgeons and nurses can reach people across the world who are isolated from medical help.

The interview with CommonSpace also explores: 

  • Women’s role in political activism
  • How young people today can follow in her footsteps
  • What is the best way for pro-Palestinian campaigners to approach criticism of Israel?

Picture courtesy of The Women’s Boat to Gaza. Broadcast footage courtesy of Beyond Borders Scotland