Handala arrived in Bristol on Monday 10 July making its way up the River Avon and under the iconic Clifton Suspension Bridge. Supporters with flags & banners greeted the boat together with local media as it progressed up through the lock-gates and into Bristol Harbour.
Once past the swing-bridges, Handala was able to dock at a central location in the harbour. Decked in Palestinian flags and colours, the Handala visibly became the centre of much attention and interest during its stay.
A Welcome Rally was organised with live music from a local band of musicians plus a number of speakers including crew members of the Handala, as well as the local Bristol PSC group, and Amber Williams, daughter of the late trade unionist Nina Franklin, who has recently visited the West Bank to see all the good work the Nina Franklin Fund is doing to help schools there.
Throughout Handala’s 10-day visit to Bristol, an information stall was held each day on the dockside next to the boat. During the stay Handala was visited twice by Middle-Eastern TV News crews, including Al-Ghad TV from Egypt, plus a local music radio station.
There was also a busy programme of evening events based at the Palestine Museum & Cultural Centre in Bristol, as well as one in the nearby town of Frome.
On Tuesday 11th The Palestine Museum showed the film The Truth: Lost at Sea about the flotilla that set sail for Gaza in 2010 and was attacked by Israeli forces. After the film there was a live link with a member of the crew of the Mavi Marmara, one of the flotilla ships.
On Wednesday 12th a fund-raising Concert for Gaza was held with musicians Soufian Saithi (Oud and vocals from Morocco) and Nabra (Oud and vocals from Sudan and Germany) with a live link up with young student musicians in Gaza from the Edward Said National Conservatory.
The following day the crew of Handala joined the weekly Vigil for Gaza, which has been taking place every Friday in the centre of Bristol for 5 years.
On Saturday 15th crew member Zohar Chamberlain-Regev joined a panel discussion on “Breaking the Blockade in Gaza”. Also on the panel were Mohammad Tamimi, of Hebron International Resources Network; Ben Jamal, Director of Palestine Solidarity Campaign UK. Also joining via online link were Mohammed Bakri, General Manager, GAZA Union of Agricultural Work Committees; and Mohammed ElSharif , child psychologist working in Gaza with Action for Child Trauma International. The discussion and Q & A afterwards was followed by a meal with the crew and volunteers.
Two local street artists painted a mural along the side of the boat in Palestinian colours. Incorporated into the artwork is Arabic calligraphy spelling out the word Houria which means ‘Freedom’.
The boat was the focal point of many people’s attention. For instance a local mechanic donated a folding bike for the crew to use for local transport when docked at the various ports on their voyage.
On Wednesday 19th we said farewell to the Flotilla with speakers from The Palestine Museum and Cultural Centre, Easton Cowboys Football Club, who have been to play football with teams in the West Bank several times; some cyclists from The Big Bike Ride for Palestine; and brief messages of solidarity and personal insights from several people who have visited Palestine.
The farewell rally culminated with a traditional blessing of the boat by Reverend Kat Campion-Spall, the vicar of St Stephen’s Church – the local ‘sea-farers’ church. As they left, the crew were given a postcard from Bristol to Gaza which had messages of love and solidarity from visitors to the boat throughout it’s stay, to the people in Gaza suffering under the blockade. We then waved farewell to the Handala with a fanfare of Palestinian flags and cheers.