After being kidnapped from international waters, imprisoned in Israel, then deported for being on the Canadian boat to Gaza challenging Israel's illegal blockage of the Gaza Strip in November 2011, I was only more determined to continue challenging that inhuman, unjustified and illegal blockade of a civilian population.
Throughout the months that followed, myself and others put a lot of thought into how to continue challenging the blockade in a peaceful but effective manner. The naval challenges of the Israeli blockade of Gaza had started in 2008, before operation Cast Lead, the attack Israel launched against Gaza which left 1,400 dead in addition to the thousands injured. It continued throughout the years in the form of boats financed by civilians and NGOs worldwide and sailed from Cyprus, Greece and Turkey to Gaza.
After the first few missions reaching Gaza in 2008, Israel started fiercely attacking the boats and the activists on board. The violence Israel was showing reached new criminal heights on May 31, 2010, when it killed nine [10, 1 was an American] activists on the Mavi Marmara in cold blood. But as you can see, these murders did not stop our attempts to challenge the blockade.
In 2012 we decided to challenge the blockade in a new way. We decided to build a cargo ship inside Gaza using whatever resources were available and filling it with local products, purchased and paid for in advance by buyers all over the world. We planned to sail it out from Gaza — challenging the blockade from the inside out.
Gaza's Ark had elements that other blockade-challenging efforts did not. Building a boat in Gaza created work opportunities in an area where unemployment is rampant due to the Israeli blockade. It gave the Palestinians in Gaza a a sense of empowerment by participating in the effort to challenge the blockade rather than wait for international boats to do so. It encouraged trade and manufacturing as international buyers ordered and paid for local products.
Above all, it totally disarmed Israeli claims that the blockade is for security reasons. If Israel would stop it from sailing what would be the rationale? If Israel would stop the Ark, it would be exposed that the reason for the blockade is not security. How does a boat sailing out of Gaza threaten Israel's security?
It seems Israel feared our peaceful plans supported and financed by thousands and thousands of normal individuals worldwide more than we expected or anticipated. On April 29 our boat, Gaza's Ark, was subjected to a terrorist attack and nearly sunk in the port of Gaza just as we were finishing up construction.
But the boat did not sink. We pulled it to shore and started repairing it. Repairs were going well and we were projecting a September sailing date when the current Israeli attack on Gaza started.
Early morning on Friday, July 11, Gaza's Ark received a direct hit by a shell fired from an Israeli naval vessel which badly damaged the boat and started a fire on board. The civil defense and fire brigades could not get to the boat to extinguish the fire quickly enough due to the continuous shelling of the port that night and the boat was completely destroyed.
The loss of Gaza's Ark pales in comparison to the loss of life and injuries the people are facing in Gaza. If we can sacrifice a dozen boats to save one child's life we would without hesitation. But Israel obviously thought Gaza's Ark was very valuable and targeted it specifically.
Israel commits its atrocities hiding behind a smoke screen of lies and half truths, claiming always to be the victim. There is nothing as threatening to Israel as a peaceful project that will expose its lies. Thus it had to kill Gaza's Ark.
We may build another boat. We may not and find other ways to challenge the blockade. Either way we will continue to work hard till the blockade of Gaza ends.
* Ehab Lotayef, a member of the Steering Committee of Gaza's Ark and a spokesperson for the project, is an IT engineer at McGill University in Montreal.