Gaza’s Ark: Building Hope

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 Stripimage                         (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.image                       (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.image

“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                                                                    image                                      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:image

"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;image

"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.image

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
http://awnifarhat.tumblr.com/post/98424553006/gazas-ark-building-hope

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