Family, friends and supporters started clapping when they saw Jim Manly walk off the airplane Thursday afternoon at Nanaimo Airport.
Holding hands with his wife Eva, the former Vancouver Island Member of Parliament came into the airport’s arrivals area, embraced his son Paul and spoke to the media, as a large group of supporters watched.
Manly, a 79-year-old retired United Church minister who served as an NDP Member of Parliament for Cowichan-Malahat-The Islands from 1980-88, was aboard the marine vessel Estelle when it was boarded by Israeli officials in international waters near Egypt on Oct. 20 on its way to Gaza carrying aid and solidarity.
He was held in Israeli custody for three days before being deported Oct. 23 and put on a flight to Toronto.
Manly, a former Ladysmith resident who now lives in Nanaimo, left from Vancouver Oct. 3 to join the Estelle in Italy Oct. 4. Others aboard the ship included members of parliament from Norway, Sweden, Greece and Spain.
The Estelle had two goals — to reach Gaza with humanitarian aid and to break the Gaza blockade, explained Manly.
“The people on that boat were totally committed to non-violence; they were also totally committed to seeing the blockade against Gaza lifted,” said Manly. “That blockade is immoral, it’s wrong, it’s illegal, and Canada should not be supporting it, Israel should be lifting it, the people of the world should be rioting against it. The result of that blockade is that there’s a chokehold on the economy of the people of Gaza.”
The Estelle carried humanitarian aid, mostly cement for rebuilding, but also some play equipment and balls, as well as an anchor from Canada, which was to be used for a boat to be rebuilt in Gaza, which would attempt to carry trade goods to the outside world, explained Manly.
“It was a privilege to be on the Finnish sailing ship Estelle as the representative of the Canadian Boat to Gaza and Gaza’s Aark movement, and it was good to know that the members of that movement were working night and day to make our voyage a success,” Manly said in a prepared statement.
On Oct. 20, the Estelle was attacked in international waters by Israeli gun boats, boarded and taken over by Israeli soldiers, according to Manly.
“They weren’t quite sure how they were going to get on board our sailing ship because we were a sailing ship and totally unarmed, but eventually, they came on board,” he said. “We were committed to non-violence, but we were also committed to resisting their coming on board and taking over; we weren’t going to just roll over and play dead.”
Eleven members of the crew, including two seniors citizens, were tasered for their non-violent resistance, according to Manly.
The Estelle’s crew members were taken prisoner, brought into Ashdod, interrogated and taken to prison for three days before being deported for “having entered Israel illegally,” according to Manly.
“In prison, although we were subjected to indignities, we were not treated badly,” he said.
As he addressed the media and the crowd of supporters, Manly was asked if he had any regrets or if he was now more proud of being part of the Estelle crew.
“I have absolutely no regrets,” he said. “I’m very proud of the people who worked in Canada to support me, I’m very proud of the people who were aboard the Estelle along with me and their commitment to justice and to non-violence, and I’m very proud I was able to be a part of that.”
“We are proud of you Dad!” Manly’s son Paul called out, as the crowd clapped.
Manly says he doubts he would do this again, but he would “certainly support it happening again.”
“I’m going to be finding other ways of giving my support, but I don’t particularly think I will be doing that sort of venture again,” he said. “We have to find creative ways of finding an end to that blockade, and we will continue to work on that.”
Manly thanked his wife Eva, son Paul and all the other people who worked in support of the mission.
“Without them, this would have been kind of a futile gesture, but with their work, it’s something that’s going to accomplish something really important,” he said. “So I want to thank them on behalf of the people of Gaza and on my behalf personally.”