A highly unusual voyage has just been launched in Scandinavia’s far north. On Saturday August 25, 2018, a remarkable sea voyage with Israel as its final destination set sail from Gothenburg, Sweden.
The ship bears a unique name and inscription that match its unusual mission. The sleek sailing vessel is the Elida V, which means “fast-sailing ship” in old Norse. Like its Viking forbearers, the ship is wind-powered but its crew is moved by a very different spirit. Emblazoned on both its port and starboard sides is the phrase “Sailing for Jesus.” The long cruise from Scandinavia to the Israel’s Mediterranean coast has a two-fold purpose: to show support and love for Israel and to highlight the increasingly desperate plight of Christians in the Middle East.
Activist flotillas and sailing initiatives to breach the blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza enclave from the sea have become somewhat of a sad routine in Israel. Therefore, it is surprising and refreshing that a grassroots sailing-initiative coming out of Sweden, a country not known for overwhelming support of Israel, has a different destination and purpose. Instead of seeking a confrontation with the Israeli navy to cause bad PR for Israel, this mission is intent on recognizing Israel and promoting genuine dialog.
Israel is the natural destination for a ship that wants to show support for the Jewish nation, but if the twin goal is to discuss the plight of Christians in the Middle East, why Israel? Well, there’s really nowhere else to dock. The Elida’s Captain’s Blog compares Israel’s national values and character to a lighthouse in the night surrounded by dictatorships and regimes that trample on human rights.
The proof of Israel’s unique tolerance? Where else in the Middle East would a ship emblazoned with the phrase “Sailing for Jesus” be officially welcomed by a government ministry?
Visiting Israel during the celebratory 70th year of existence as a genuine democracy with a proven track record of co-existence between different ethnic and religious groups is therefore highly appropriate. Furthermore, Israel is the only country in the Middle East where the national Christian population is actually growing. It is sad that activist groups generally take Israel to task when the country battles extremists while protecting its own minorities. This ignores the Muslim-majority nations in the region that actively discriminate and persecute their Christian minorities.
By calling on the Herzliya Marina in Israel, the Elida cruise seeks to highlight and recognize Israel’s unique national achievements and state character while breaking the silence on the plight of Christian communities in the wider Middle East.
The Elida’s Prophetic Calling
Even though the Elida V only just set sail for Israel this weekend, this voyage has long been expected. Ever since the first Elida vessel put to sea in the 1960s, each ship has been painted in a blue-and-white color scheme resembling the blue bars on Israel’s national ensign. Stefan Abrahamson’s father, Lennart, who captained the Elida I, explained to people inquiring of the color scheme that he had received a prophetic message, namely, that one of his future ships would sail to Israel. He believed the prophetic word and therefore painted the ship and every subsequent one in the colors of Israel’s national flag. The Elida V is now underway to fulfill this prophecy.
The Elida’s Political Purpose
Dialog is not easy and depends on your interlocutor, and the Elida’s crew know this. The Elida’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict does seek dialog, but its corner stone is a recognition of Israel’s right to exist before everything else. Theirs is not a hapless blue-eyed effort that hard-nosed Middle Easterners should dismiss. Rather it should be recognized as a deliberate endeavor to show support for Israel’s core values while providing a platform for constructive dialog with people who are willing to recognize Israel’s fundamental right to exist.
Further, the Elida’s voyage amounts to more than just a symbolic gesture. It has a well-thought through practical and political dimension. The kick-off event for the voyage occurs at a pivotal time in the Swedish political cycle, as elections are scheduled to be held shortly on September 9, 2018. Elida’s casting-off event itself involved a political happening, where e.g. Swedish parliamentarian Magnus Oscarsson for the Christian Democrats party took part.
Israel literally parts the political waters in Sweden. Many in the electorate are openly dissatisfied with the incumbent government’s line toward Israel. One of the changes that many voters hope to see after election night is a different Swedish stance concerning Israel.
Engage with and Visit the Elida
The Swedish sailing vessel will be arriving at Herzliya Marina around October 12 for a ten-day-long visit in Israel. There is a standing invitation to visit the ship while it is in port, and if you’re lucky you might even be able to go for a short sail. If you wish to support the Elida or even join one of the other legs in the voyage, you can find more information here under the Captain’s Blog.
A special thanks to Leif Danielsson, who provided photos and background materials for this article.