The Freedom Flotilla Coalition (FFC) met in Istanbul in the shadow of the latest Israeli aggression on Gaza. We have watched atrocities being committed against an already besieged population. In the two day meeting (August 10th and 11th), the FFC concluded that it is the responsibility of civil society worldwide to sail to Gaza and challenge the Israeli blockade, the source of most problems facing the Palestinian population of Gaza.
We plan to sail to Gaza during 2014, the UN International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People:
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.
Sandra Ruch, with Gaza's Ark and VOW Peace, discusses the new Freedom Flotilla, and the fate of Gaza's Ark, reflecting the ups and downs of Palestine solidarity activism.
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) — Palestinian fishermen in Gaza say they are already seeing the benefits of an extended fishing zone, with thousands of kilograms of fresh produce caught only days after Tuesday's ceasefire agreement.
Fishermen say they have brought home a varied catch of sardines, squid, shrimps, crabs and lax to Gaza's markets since Tuesday, with some varieties of fish unavailable for years due to Israeli restrictions.
From an August 31 Press Release:
On August 31 an Israeli court issued a verdict in the case by Ship to Gaza Sweden against the Israeli government, regarding the rights to S/V Estelle. The verdict is all in favour of Ship to Gaza's complaint.
'The Governments of Egypt and Norway, supported by President Mahmoud Abbas, have decided to co-host a conference on Palestine with a focus on the reconstruction of Gaza. The invitations to the conference, to be held in Cairo, will be duly extended once an agreement on a sustainable ceasefire has been reached as a result of the ongoing talks in Cairo,' said Minister of Foreign Affairs Børge Brende.
'The people of Gaza are suffering, and there is an urgent need for emergency relief. The UN and NGOs have already begun working on this, with the support of Norway, among others. The basic infrastructure must be repaired so that the people have access to electricity, water and sanitation,' said Mr Brende.
Oslo says funds will be given to PA President Abbas, and not to Hamas, and notes international donors conference to take place only after lasting ceasefire reached.
Published: 08.18.14, 10:23 / http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4559789,00.html
Norway has set conditions to the delivery of aid money to reconstruct the Gaza Strip after Operation Protective Edge, namely that the Israeli blockade on the Palestinian enclave is lifted, Norwegian Foreign Minister Boerge Brende said Monday.
"It is the responsibility of civil society worldwide to sail to Gaza."
by Sarah Lazare, staff writer for Common Dreams
A coalition of activists said on Tuesday they would send a flotilla of ships to break Israel's siege of Gaza by the end of 2014, fours years after a similar campaign ended in a deadly raid by Israeli commandos.
"We plan to send the flotilla during 2014," the Freedom Flotilla Coalition, which includes activists from at least 10 countries, said in Istanbul.
The statement was made at a joint conference hosted by Turkish relief agency Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), which sponsored the first flotilla of ships carrying aid to Gaza that was raided by Israeli commandos in 2010.
Thousands of Palestinians are struck in miserable limbo unable to leave or easily enter the Gaza Strip, for study abroad, medical care, work or family visits for the past 7 years. Once again, siege and blockade are causing severe shortages of essential supplies from building materials to medicines in Gaza and generating a sense of despair.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay, has repeatedly condemned Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip, calling it "a direct contravention of international human rights and humanitarian law”.