News / Regina

Political activist and academic David Heap to speak in Saskatoon

Professor of French linguistics at Western Ontario University, David Heap is a typical Canadian university academic — except he’s spent six days in an Israeli prison.

Heap, a political activist, was detained by Israeli forces in November, 2011 for attempting to cross waters into Gaza aboard a Canadian-owned flotilla with medical and educational supplies for the region’s citizens.

Heap will speak in Saskatoon on Thursday amidst a campaign he has organized urging Stephen Harper’s Conservative government to press Israel to release the boat so its contents can be distributed to the Palestinian people.

Israel has blockaded Gaza since 2007, stirring up political tension across the globe. The blockade has hindered Palestinians and Gaza’s citizens’ ability to travel and has economically and politically isolated the region.

Heap said Israel’s intervention in the day-to-day life of Gaza’s citizens is a human rights issue.

“I’ve been very concerned about this situation in Gaza for a number of years,” said Heap. “Palestinians are denied this very basic human right of the ability to travel to leave their homeland and return or to travel within their homeland. To take away hope from a generation of young Palestinians, young people people end up doing hopeless things. The worst thing you could do is kill hope,” said Heap.

Heap was aboard Canadian vessel Tahrir, when the Israeli Navy intercepted the ship roughly 45 nautical miles off Gaza’s coast.

Looming in Heap’s mind was the 2010 tragedy of Turkish flotilla MV Mavi Marmara, where nine activists were killed after Israeli forces opened fire on the vessel. He admitted fearing for his life on numerous occasions throughout the ordeal.

“Any rational person would be afraid of what the state of Israel does not just because what happened to eight Turks and one U.S. citizen on the Mavi but what happens week-in-week-out to Palestinians people are shot by the Israeli government with impunity. That government has shown that it acts in a reckless and irresponsible manner towards civilian human lives,” he added.

Following Heap’s six days in an Israeli jail, he was deported back to Canada where for the past six months he has been rallying to have the Tahrir released from Israeli forces so the ship’s supplies can be distributed to the people of Gaza. The vessel remains under seizure in an Israeli military compound.

Along with his delegates, Heap raised thousands of dollars over a year and a half for the supplies they had intended to dispense in Gaza. An estimated $30,000 in medical aid is still on the ship. Various community groups across Canada were also vocal in the cause and donated money or supplies, as well. Heap is upset over the Canadian government’s minimal intervention in helping retrieve the ship, which he believes is being held illegally.

Heap will travel to Saskatoon to speak on his Israeli experience on Thursday at 7 p.m. at the White Buffalo Youth Lodge before heading east to speak to a Winnipeg crowd on May 22.