The main U.N. aid agency in the Gaza Strip said on Tuesday a lack of international funding had forced it to suspend payments to tens of thousands of Palestinians for repairs to homes damaged in last summer's war.
"People are literally sleeping amongst the rubble, children have died of hypothermia," Robert Turner, Gaza director of operations for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), said in a statement.
We would like to provide a summary of the Gaza's Ark project as it stands now and what we have achieved over the last couple of years.
As you know, our boat was destroyed by the Israeli military during the Israeli assault on Gaza in July, the second time the Ark was deliberately targeted [http://www.gazaark.org/2014/
We will continue our work with our partners in the Freedom Flotilla Coalition to challenge the blockade of Gaza until it ends. We are putting Gaza's Ark on hold for now, until the situation becomes more suitable to resume it or similar work to challenge the blockade from inside Gaza.
Trade not Aid – Palestinian products:
Successful aspects of our ongoing work include the export product promotions and sales which link Palestinian producers in Gaza to solidarity purchasers around the world. Thanks to individuals and organizations in Europe, North America and Australia, we arranged over $25,000 in export contracts for Palestinian producers in Gaza. Of that amount, over $14,000 was for traditional food items, which were recently donated to needy Palestinian families in Gaza with the help of our friends at MECA [http://www.gazaark.org/2014/
Your support is what has brought Gaza's Ark this far. You contributed $341,000 (all figures in Canadian Dollars) to the project. We bought the fishing trawler which became Gaza's Ark for $87,000. Over the period between May 2013 and July 2014 we spent $131,000 modifying, upgrading and refurbishing it which went to the local economy, much of it payments to local workers.
Other expenses (including travel and administrative costs) amounted to $18,000. Professional services (legal, accounting, management and other service fees) totaled $58,000. All Steering Committee members were volunteers none of whom received any payment for their work.
We started the project with $22,000 – mostly money remaining from the Canadian Boat to Gaza Tahrir project of 2011. Main contributions after this came from Canada, $130,000, the US, $57,000 and Australia, $24,000, while our FFC partners contributed $74,000 which included sizable donations from partner campaigns in France, Turkey, South Africa, Norway, Sweden and others.
What will remain, after covering payables and selling some remaining assets in Gaza, is estimated at $45,000 which we will put towards work on the same line we are following since we started in 2010: challenging the Israeli illegal and inhumane blockade of Gaza through non violent direct action such as the FFC's Open Gaza Port (FF3) announced lately.
We will continue to count on your support. Together we will succeed.
Gaza's Ark Steering Committee
Awni has worked as a volunteer with Gaza’s Ark for more than 2 years, in addition to volunteering with groups that help children and youth his native Gaza. He has been admitted to a Masters program in Violence Conflict and Development in London, England in 2015, and he is seeking help to enable him to travel and pay for his studies:
Please visit Awni's web page and offer whatever support you can, both directly and by sharing his appeal with your networks.
In continued solidarity
Gaza's Ark Steering Committee
Four Hundred (400) Palestinian families in Gaza are receiving food packages made up of agricultural products produced in Gaza, thanks to the Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) and Gaza’s Ark international solidarity network.
Israel’s 51 days of attacks on Gaza this past summer killed more than 2000 people, destroyed thousands of homes and apartments, damaged 75 hospitals and clinics, and caused millions of dollars of damage to farmland and civilian infrastructure. Currently more than 100,000 people in Gaza are displaced and an alarming 72% of households are considered food insecure by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Solidarity not Charity
This food distribution will include locally produced food products thereby directly benefitting both the local economy and families in need. Unlike goods which are brought from outside Gaza, this distribution is not subject to permits or authorizations from the Israeli occupation, nor on the ‘charity’ of aid organizations.
MECA is distributing the food packages to 400 families throughout Gaza who are food insecure. The distribution will mobilize and empower grassroots organizations and local volunteers in Gaza to help their communities. MECA partner organizations in Jabalia, Khan Younis, Nuseirat, and Gaza City are assisting in identifying families who are in need and have been overlooked by larger aid efforts.
“This is an innovative and positive example of how people around the world can work in partnership to support Gaza,” says Dr. Mona El-Farra, a physician, activist, and Gaza Project Director for the Middle East Children’s Alliance. “Through this small aid effort, we are helping the local producers as well as needy families in Gaza. These families have been impoverished by decades of occupation and years of a tight blockade; many were also hit savagely by the latest Israeli offensive.”
This humanitarian relief helps support Palestinian farmers and agricultural cooperatives throughout the Gaza Strip who have been paid $14,000 for their maftoul (couscous), date products like awja, debes and makhtom, spice mixes of dugga and za’atar which are used in traditional Palestinian breakfasts, as well as honey and olive oil.
“The Gaza’s Ark project has helped Palestinian women’s co-operatives and eight local associations by making solidarity sales and promoting their products outside of Gaza's borders,” said Awni Farhat, products and endorsements coordinator for Gaza’s Ark.
Salma Abu Mostafa from Abbassan Women’s Cooperative for Medicinal Herbs, one of the producers of the food products, added: “This project helped 67 women who work on their farms in the village of Abbassan to earn a bit of income and empower themselves in the community.”
Gaza’s Ark supporters from Europe, Canada, US and Australia paid for the food as part of an international solidarity campaign aimed at challenging the illegal blockade of Gaza. Individuals and organizations placed orders from Palestinian producers in Gaza and a fishing boat was being rebuilt in the port of Gaza to carry these exports to international markets. The boat was struck by Israeli shelling in July 2014 and destroyed along with thousands of Palestinian homes and other civilian structures. This attack put an end to the plans to sail against the blockade this year, but the international buyers agreed to donate the foodstuffs, originally purchased for export via Gaza’s Ark, to humanitarian relief efforts in Gaza.
Trade not Aid
Gaza’s Ark and MECA believe that the root causes of poverty and unemployment in Gaza cannot be addressed by humanitarian aid alone.
“The Gaza Strip has many high quality products which could compete in international markets, but we need the light of freedom,” emphasized Awni Farhat. “There is an urgent need for opened borders and the lifting of the Israeli blockade.”
In order to enjoy the right to earn a livelihood, Palestinians in Gaza need the international community to guarantee their right to freedom of movement, including to trade freely throughout the region and the world. While lifting the blockade remains Gaza’s Ark’s main objective, this cooperative effort with MECA shows how foodstuffs from Palestinian agricultural producers can help satisfy the immediate needs of Palestinian families and helps to build hope around the idea of a sovereign Palestinian economy.
“With this joint effort, we are sending a message to the world that what we need is our inalienable rights, not charity,” comments Dr. El-Farra of MECA.
Statement from the Freedom Flotilla Coalition
December 8, 2014
The humanitarian situation in Gaza continues to deteriorate. Israel is not being held accountable for the damage it caused during its assault on the strip nor for the commitments it made as a part of the Egyptian brokered agreement to end hostilities. The port of Gaza remains closed and borders remain blocked and Palestinians in Gaza continue to be denied their basic right to freedom of movement. Gaza continues to suffer from the lack of basic supplies and materials needed for daily life let alone rebuilding what Israel damaged during its July/August assault. The International community did not meet the obligations it made to Gaza after the assault either.
In the shadow of these circumstances the Freedom Flotilla Coalition met in Athens on December 6th and 7th to follow up and revise plans for the upcoming flotilla: Freedom Flotilla III: Open Gaza port.
In this meeting, following the previous meeting in Istanbul last August, details were finalized for "Open Gaza Port" (OGP) to sail during the first half of 2015 with a flotilla of at least 3 ships, reflecting the urgency, wide interest and diverse public support to the project and taking into account the above mentioned grave situation in Gaza.
More details about OGP will be released over the coming weeks.
Freedom Flotilla Coalition members:
Canadian Boat to Gaza
European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza
Freedom Flotilla Italia
International Committee for Breaking the Siege on Gaza (ICBSG)
Rumbo a Gaza
Ship to Gaza Greece
Ship to Gaza Norway
Ship to Gaza Sweden
also participating in the project:
Palestine Solidarity Alliance – South Africa
Miles of Smiles
Life Line Gaza – Jordan
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The Foreign Ministry has denied that Israel banned a Norwegian doctor from entering the Gaza Strip, but confirmed that he has indeed been banned from entering Israel.
A life ban was reportedly imposed on doctor and activist Mads Gilbert from entering Gaza, but according to spokesman Paul Hirschson, he was banned only from Israel, for security reasons.
The Steering Committee of the Gaza Ark project would like to publicly express our gratitude to Swedish volunteer Charlie Andreasson for all his assistance to the project over the last year.
As the dust settles in Gaza after the latest Israeli massacre of Palestinian civilians, we at Gaza’s Ark have been renewing our contacts with our Palestinian partners and producers.
Firstly we are inquiring about them, their families and any losses/damages to their businesses that may have been sustained in the latest Israeli aggression. Please read this report from Awni Farhat, the Product Coordinator for Gaza’s Ark, about the impact of Israeli attacks on two of them, the Palestine Association for Development and Heritage Protection and El Sawaf carpets: http://www.gazaark.org/2014/
Gaza’s Ark is more than a project; it is the building of hope for Palestinian artisans, traders and exporters through peaceful action against the blockade of the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip (Gaza’s Ark before the attack)
For the last two years, with financial and logistical support from friends around the world, Palestinian workers had been transforming a 25 metre long fishing boat into a cargo boat to sail out of Palestine from the port of Gaza, carrying Palestinian products and passengers in defiance of the Israeli blockade. The project endured many difficult challenges and obstructions that delayed its planned sailing. The boat was nearly ready to sail in the spring of 2014, until an explosion was detonated on the boat at 3.45am on April 29th. Extensive damage was caused. (Gaza’s Ark after it was attacked on 29 April 2014)
Gaza Ark’s organizers remained determined after this attack and continued to work on the project, repairing the damage and setting a new sailing timeline for this September. The boat was on track for her September sailing when the Israeli offensive began in early July, which killed more than two thousand people, injured thousands more and caused massive destruction across the Gaza Strip, with damage to homes, factories, hospitals and other civilian infrastructure.
On 10 July, Gaza was on fire. I remember that night as though it was yesterday. The sounds of F16 attacks surrounded us, and the radio reported that the Israeli navy was firing on the seaport. At about 2am Gaza’s Ark was hit by a missile and was quickly engulfed in flames. The bombardment was so severe that the Civil Defense firefighting crews were unable to enter the seaport. The Ark was burned to a skeleton.
“The Gaza’s Ark was attacked in the midst of the Israeli offensive to ensure that news of its destruction was lost in the larger story of the war in the western media. Publicity of the attack would have proved to the international community that Israel will do whatever they can to prevent exports from Gaza and to stop Palestinians from developing their economy. Ultimately, that’s the main reason for the siege. Current exports are only 3% of the 2006 amounts. When you consider the siege you think about how hard it is to import materials and goods, but in fact the blockade on exports is far more harmful to the economy.
“Even after a year here it is hard to really experience the Palestinian struggle and suffering, because I know in my head that I can always go back home. I have another life that I can one day return to, but for Palestinians this is the world’s biggest open air prison. They can’t leave. People have been trying to escape, paying money to be smuggled to Europe on death boats. People wonder why they would risk their lives, and their children’s lives, but its proof that the situation here is hopeless. There is no future, just death and destruction all around. The world turns its back on what is happening here, as Israel continues its violence in violation of international law and basic human rights.”Charlie Andreasson Charlie Andreasson, activist with Ship to Gaza – Sweden and volunteer worker and Quality Control Manager on Gaza’s Ark 2013-2014.
The Gaza Strip is one of the most densely populated regions in the world with over 4,500 people per square kilometer. It has been in a dire economic crisis due to the brutal Israeli blockade since June 2007. The blockade is collective punishment – a violation of international humanitarian law against the 1,800,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. It has severely limited the export industry of Gaza and has caused an ongoing humanitarian crisis for residents.
After the military attacks ended last month, I visited one of our producers, the Palestine Association for Development and Heritage Protection (PADHP). Its director, Anwar Abu Maliha, told me:
"The war has affected our work badly and all our programs were stopped. Israel intended to destroy Palestinian institutional structures and the infrastructure of Gaza, and to bury the heritage of Palestine by bombing many ancient buildings and archaeological sites, such as the old mosque in Gaza City. We are committed to continuing projects that help Palestinian associations, which work to maintain our Palestinian heritage and crafts. Israel needs Gaza to be blockaded – they will never open our borders. It’s fundamental to the occupation. They work hard every day to efface our traditional dress, our culture, our heritage, our history and our handicrafts. I remember in the 1970s, the Israelis gathered all the looms in Palestine and burned them, and they stole our traditional dresses and embroidery.”
I also talked to Samera Qarmot, who provides for her extended family with her income from her job at the PADHP. I asked her about the war;
"The first day when they started bombing we were inside the association. We heard three F16 explosions nearby and they hit a house in Beit Lahia with two artillery shells. One hit the yard outside and the other one hit the children’s activities room but it didn’t explode. We got out of the building, feeling that what happened in 2008 and 2012 was happening again.”
Later I visited Mahmoud Al Sawaf in Al Shujiya. He owns the El Sawaf Carpet factory which has operated in the Gaza Strip for over a century. On all of the previous occasions that I have met with him he has always been an optimistic man, full of hope. But this time he was full of sadness after the destruction of his home in the attacks. Five floors of his apartment building were bombed, making 30 people homeless and destroying a storeroom full of thread, materials and looms valued at approximately $75,000. As I walked to visit him, I saw that all the adjacent houses were also destroyed.
Al Sawaf said:
" It’s not just a war, it’s an earthquake. They wanted to devastate Gaza as much as they could by destroying building, factories, mosques, hospitals and even the schools. Winter is coming and we urgently need to rebuild houses. Most of the materials that are now buried under the rubble were supplies that I had saved since before the blockade began and the export market collapsed. We hoped that the borders would open again and we could once again produce our work and export it out of Gaza. Then the war came and destroyed those last hopes. To Gaza’s Ark I say that we appreciate your work and are sorry for your loss. Somehow you helped Palestinian producers to take a breath when the Israelis blocked even the air. You helped let us dream of freedom and open borders.”
Watch Al Sawaf's statement here : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MCt1rroDnxk
“Will we ever have a chance to break the siege?? For the last two years I dreamed of that moment when I would watch Gaza’s Ark sail from our port with Palestinian products, internationals and Palestinians onboard, sailing out from Gaza for the first time in decades. Gaza’s sea port is one of the oldest ports in the world, yet it has been blockaded as a transport route since 1976. Israel destroyed Gaza’s Ark, but it can never destroy the hope that we carry inside ourselves.”
Awni Farhat, Products Coordinator – Gaza’s Ark
Nearly a week after a ceasefire agreement that was believed to include the partially lifting of the blockade on Gaza, no restrictions have been eased, say humanitarians and border guards.
NGOs are eager to increase aid to the Palestinian region after a 50-day Israeli bombing campaign left over 2,000 dead, thousands wounded and much of the enclave’s infrastructure in ruins, but access rules continue to present huge challenges.
While the exact terms of the ceasefire agreement, reached last week between Israel and various Palestinian factions, have not been released, it was widely reported that Tel Aviv committed to easing its border sanctions in exchange for a cessation of hostilities, while Egypt, too, was expected to ease its blockade.