November 2011: Two boats sail out of Turkey quietly heading to Gaza: the Tahrir and the Saoirse. Once in international waters they announce their destination and their challenge to the illegal Israeli blockade of Gaza. The two boats are attacked, boarded and seized by the Israeli Navy in international waters, just 45 nautical miles from Gaza.
October 2012: After a four-month trip in solidarity with the people of Gaza and against the Israeli blockade imposed on the tiny coastal strip, a trip during which it spread awareness and gathered public support in numerous European ports, the sailing vessel Estelle is attacked, boarded and seized by the Israeli Navy. It too, was in international waters, in this case 38 nautical miles from the port of Gaza.
Those two challenges to the blockade of Gaza by sea follow in the steps (or sails) of the Free Gaza pre-Cast-Lead missions in 2008, the 2010 Freedom Flotilla (known for the deadly Israeli attack on its lead vessel, the Mavi Marmara) and the 2011 second Freedom Flotilla which was sabotaged and blockaded in Greece.
Although it is a continuation of those non-violent direct actions against the blockade, Gaza’s Ark is different.
In May 2013, our international solidarity campaign purchased a large fishing vessel in Gaza and work started immediately to convert it into a cargo ship that will carry products made in Palestine to buyers all over the world.
This is the idea behind Gaza’s Ark. Palestinian workers in the port of Gaza are rebuilding a vessel with the help of international experts to challenge the blockade from the inside out.
The work in the port of Gaza is helping to revive a boat building industry that has nearly disappeared due to the devastating effect the blockade had on fishing and shipping in Gaza. The work is planned to take a few months with the goal of having the Ark ready to sail this fall.
The money we are raising is being spent in Gaza, not as aid but as job opportunities and business transactions. Nearly all of the project’s three hundred thousand dollar budget will be spent in Gaza.
In short, Gaza’s Ark is different because it helps fuel the Palestinian economy in Gaza. It is different because it empowers the Palestinians in Gaza to carry out the project rather than waiting for boats to appear at their shores. Gaza’s Ark is different because it encourages producers to produce and manufacturers to manufacture, since they are to be paid for their products by international buyers. It is different because, if seized, it will expose beyond doubt, Israel’s false claim that the blockade is for “security reasons”. How can Palestinian commercial exports pose any conceivable threat to anyone’s security?
But Gaza’s Ark’s success does not lie just in rebuilding a boat and setting sail: it will come with people all over the world who begin talking about the illegal blockade of Gaza and calling for its end. The blockade has been declared illegal by UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, Navi Pillay, by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and by many experts in international law, and yet our governments continue to tolerate and support it. When people all over the world, particularly in countries whose governments support the Israeli blockade, talk about Gaza’s Ark, support its mission and demand the end of the blockade and the end of their governments’ complicit support for the blockade, Gaza’s Ark will have succeeded.
You can help us by letting Gaza’s Ark capture the imagination of everyone you know as it captured yours, and ours. Yes, money is needed to finish the project (we are one third of the way towards the way of reaching our target) and donations are one important way to help. But making people call for the end of the blockade, using the Ark as a tool, will be our real success.
This campaign wins whether Gaza’s Ark sails breaking the blockade or not. We are not just building a boat, we are building hope in a better world – and working hard to help make it happen.
– Ehab Lotayef is on the Gaza Ark steering committee. He was on board the Tahrir when it was taken by the Israeli navy in November 2011, while on its way to Gaza. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.