Charlie from Sweden helps to break the blockade from the inside
Last year, Charlie Andreasson attempted to break the blockade of the Gaza Strip as a hand onboard Ship to Gaza's schooner, Estelle. Now, he is helping prepare Gaza's Ark, which is set to break the blockade from the opposite direction.
Gaza's Ark is an international cooperative effort to break Israel's illegal blockade of the Gaza Strip. The blockade is now in its seventh year, continuing to suppress any possibility of Palestinian exports and traditional fishing industry. Coordinated international efforts have been made, for several years, to send ships to Gaza in order to break the blockade from the outside. The route is now being reversed: This time, a ship will sail from Gaza in order to break the blockade from within, going in the direction of the Mediterranean Sea. "We've got Gaza's Ark for our mission, a 24-meter wooden fishing boat which was purchased from Palestinian fishers," says Charlie Andreasson.In Sweden, Charlie lives on Styrsö in Gothenburg's archipelago, and he usually works as a deckhand for Styrsöbolaget. But since a few weeks back, Charlie is in Gaza City to help work on the boat. Gaza's Ark used to be called ad-Dahoul, and was part of the Palestinian fishing fleet. The Palestinian fishing industry is currently greatly disrupted by the Israeli blockade, which only allows fishing boats to go three nautical miles out (the Oslo Agreement of 1993 calls for a 20-nautical-mile fishing zone). There is no exporting allowed through the naval route. Over the six years of the blockade, the total exports have been less than what was shipped out in just eight weeks in the spring of 2007—a declineof 97 percent. This has had devastating effects on private enterprise and jobs. In a response to that, Gaza's Ark is now being rebuilt into a cargo vessel to be loaded with goods which can be ordered and prepaid for.
"We're going to load up Palestinian export goods and sail out of Gaza to European consumers. That way, we can highlight the absurdity of the export blockade." Charlie's role in the project is to share his professional experience and to help with repairs. Otherwise, the renovations and rebuilding efforts are being led by Palestinians who live in Gaza.
The departure is set for the end of September. There are still tough challenges though, especially in obtaining building materials on the closed-off Gaza Strip. Gaza's Ark is financed by an umbrella organization with the same name which is part of the Freedom Flotilla Coalition. The money to buy the boat was raised through a combination of collections in public places, online donations through the Website and donations from a number of countries. More money is still needed. The coalition consists of several international solidarity organizations, all whom in the last few years have tried to break the blockade going the sea route; among them is Ship to Gaza Sweden. The latest effort was made in October 2012 on the Swedish schooner, S/V Estelle. That time the ship was boarded by masked Israeli soldiers on international waters. The boarding took place 30 nautical miles off of the coast of the Gaza Strip, the ship loaded with humanitarian aid. Charlie, who has been active in Ship to Gaza's Gothenburg branch for many years, was on board as a hand that time too. He was signed on during the entire voyage from Sweden to the Eastern Mediterranean. He has noted both similarities and differences in the work process. "On Estelle, we had more of a non-hierarchical culture, regardless of rank or experience. The work culture is different here; hierarchy and experience weighs heavier." Charlie adds that the lack of materials is much more noticeable in Gaza. Despite that, he has been as warmly welcomed there as he was during the voyage through Europe on board Estelle. "International activists are very welcome here. I feel safe, and have gotten to know people well."
There are many questions about the project, which exact role he plays in it and why hefeels solidarity. Many TV channels and newspapers have also covered the project, several of them Palestinian and most of them from Arab countries. "The point is to hammer home the message to more Palestinians. There is great appreciation for the international presence, but the difficult situation has numbed some people. All they talk about is whether Israel will attack the boat, not about the reactions from the rest of the world. It's obvious that Israel might break international law. That's the situation they're currently living in."
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