What is Gaza’s Ark?
Gaza’s Ark is an international grassroots civil society campaign challenging the Israeli naval blockade of the Gaza Strip which has been declared illegal by the International Committee of the Red Cross and by a number of other international bodies through nonviolent direct action, by sailing from Palestine with export products.
The campaign’s goals include empowering Palestinians through a focus on the export economy and trade rather than a dependency on aid. In 2013-2014, the campaign funded the rebuilding of a former fishing boat in the port of Gaza to enable it to undertake a sea voyage from the only Mediterranean port closed to commercial navigation. At the same time, Gaza’s Ark arranged sales contracts for Palestinian export products, whereby buyers in Europe, North America and Australia paid Palestinian producers in Gaza for their export products.
The initiative includes participation from Palestinian civil society in Gaza as well as international solidarity activists from Free Gaza Australia, the Canadian Boat to Gaza, and Americans affiliated with the organizing committees for the US Boat to Gaza and the Gaza Freedom March. Gaza’s Ark is part of the ongoing international Freedom Flotilla Coalition, which sends boats to challenge the blockade of Gaza from the outside.
Gaza’s Ark has been endorsed by a number of internationally prominent figures including Alice Walker, Desmond Tutu, Vandana Shiva and Noam Chomsky as well as hundreds of other individuals and organizations
Why is Gaza’s Ark needed?
Restrictions by the Israeli government on the freedom of movement for Palestinians in Gaza have been increasing for decades; trade restrictions have been imposed by Israel upon Gaza since 2001, with a near total ban on exports since 2007. Goods are only allowed in and out of Gaza through one, severely limited gate on its border with Israel; its airport is no longer functioning and cannot be rebuilt; and ships – including fishing boats – are banned beyond three nautical miles from the Gaza shore (the only Mediterranean port closed to shipping). Together, these restrictions have converted a once-productive economy into a dependent society in which 80% of the population relies on UN handouts to live.
What do you hope Gaza's Ark will actually accomplish, given that Israel has used violence to stop other boats from leaving or entering the port of Gaza?
National governments and international organizations have refused to hold Israel accountable. It is up to civil society to take action on its own. Every step of the way as we purchased a boat in Gaza, refurbished and stocked it, we reached out to international media, human rights organizations, businesses, trade unions and other key civil society stakeholders to raise awareness, educate and mobilize them to action through public endorsements, letters to the editor, social media campaigns, etc. It will take massive, sustained public pressure to push international bodies and governments around the world to force an end to the Israeli blockade. Gaza’s Ark helps create that pressure.
How is Gaza’s Ark different from the flotillas that tried to sail to Gaza?
This initiative has been quite different in many ways:
Gaza’s Ark has been attempting to break the “other side” of the Israeli blockade, which prevents the Palestinians of Gaza from sailing from their shores to fish or export — both needed to support a productive economy. In contrast, the emphasis of the flotillas has been on bringing internationals and emergency aid into Gaza. However the next Freedom Flotilla will focus in part on exports including deals that we are securing with Palestinian producers.
Gaza’s Ark was built in Gaza by Palestinian hands and expertise (with international assistance when requested), and was to carry Palestinian products for buyers who signed contracts and paid for the goods in advance. The entire initiative has been focused on building hope by showcasing skills within Gaza and bringing visibility to the restrictions that prevent the population from sustaining a viable economy.
Gaza’s Ark has also contributed to revitalizing the dwindling shipbuilding industry in Gaza and help ensure the transmission of this disappearing expertise (another effect of the blockade) to younger generations.
Although the initiative has only helped in a very limited manner to alleviate Gaza’s unemployment crisis by paying wages to the boat builders, Gaza’s Ark is not an aid project. It is a peaceful action to challenge the blockade, which Israel unilaterally and illegally enforces on Gaza.
What organizations are involved in Gaza's Ark? Are the organizers of Gaza’s Ark the same as those who were behind the Freedom Flotillas?
In addition to the Palestine Sailing Federation and the Fishermen’s Solidarity Campaign, some of the organizations and individuals working on Gaza’s Ark, such as Free Gaza Australia, Canadian Boat to Gaza and Americans from the organizing committees for the US Boat to Gaza, have a successful track record in fundraising and mobilizing public support to challenge the blockade of Gaza. The international coalition that spearheaded the Freedom Flotillas is still alive and operational as a support organization for Palestine. After the most recent (Freedom Waves) sailing to Gaza in November 2011 by the Canadian boat Tahrir and the Irish boat, Saoirse – both captured at sea by the Israeli navy – coalition members are progressing Freedom Flotilla III, which later this year will challenge the Israeli blockade of Gaza.
Why is the initiative called Gaza’s ‘Ark’? Is this a Biblical or Qur’anic reference?
We have not intended to make any associations with any faith in particular. An ark is literally defined as a large floating vessel designed to keep its passengers and cargo safe. For us, the name is appropriate because through this initiative, we have desired to build a revitalized feeling of hope for a better future among Gaza’s people, as well as do our small part to assure that their future is a safe one as well. This vessel embodied hope that: The Palestinians of the Gaza Strip can soon live in peace without the threat of the Israeli blockade; Their children will not have to live in fear anymore; All Palestinians can live in dignity; The international community will awake to the plight of the 1.8 million people in Gaza; No more flotillas will be necessary because the Israeli blockade of Gaza will end and the economy of Gaza can once again flourish. Alas in July 2014, the Israelis destroyed the boat, but they can never destroy hope.
What is Gaza's Ark position regarding Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and/or racism?
Gaza’s Ark stands firmly against any expression of racism including anti-Semitism. We believe in full equality between human beings and reject all forms of discrimination and beliefs that lead to them. We oppose all racist or discriminatory ideologies equally, including one rarely spoken of: that which considers Palestinian Arabs lesser people than Israeli Jews, which many within the Israeli and international societies accept and condone.
What goods are you trying to export from Gaza, who do you expect will buy them and what happens if boats are confiscated or destroyed?
We have consulted and continue to consult with producers and manufacturers in Gaza to compile a catalog of a diverse range of products that are representative of Palestinian items available for export. Prior to the imposition of the Israeli blockade, Gaza had a healthy export market, including garments, furniture and agricultural products. In addition, the Palestinians of Gaza are renowned for craft items such as embroidery.
At the same time, we are working with businesses, organizations and individuals around the world who want to facilitate and encourage free and fair trade with the Palestinians of Gaza, and who would gladly purchase from them, if given the opportunity. We have secured and will continue to secure trade deals between Palestinian producers in Gaza and international businesses and individual buyers ensuring that all Palestinian producers will be paid in full for their goods before we sail.
All purchasers of goods to be exported do so knowing that there is real risk that they will be confiscated by the Israeli military, and thus perhaps will not reach their markets. However, the risk is worth the relationships they build and the visibility the project generates.
Will the Hamas government be involved in the project?
This is a citizen-to-citizen initiative. We are working through Palestinian civil society groups in Gaza. The citizens groups in Gaza continue to negotiate and liaise as necessary with the locally elected government to comply with government regulations to facilitate the project’s success.
Who is on the Steering Committee for the Gaza’s Ark project?
A complete list of steering committee members, by country, is posted on this website.
How are decisions of the Gaza's Ark project taken?
Gaza’s Ark’s decisions, positions and policies are taken by the Gaza’s Ark Steering Committee (sometimes referred to as the board) and are not dictated or controlled by any other organizations, groups or coalitions.
Since there is a chance that goods purchased through Gaza’s Ark will not be able to sail to its destination, would the money spent for Gaza’s Ark be better used to send in aid?
No. Aid is only a palliative remedy and does not address the root cause of why the Palestinians of Gaza are in need: the Israeli blockade. Even more, we believe that aid provides a “cover” for the actions of the Israeli government against the people of Gaza, alleviating the consciences of international powers while leaving the blockade in place.
Most importantly, the Palestinians of Gaza themselves have told us they don’t want handouts. Rather, they want the right to be self-sufficient. We have chosen non-violent direct action that will capture the imagination of the greater public and create support for lifting the blockade. We have chosen to undertake non-violent action to draw the attention of public opinion and civil society to the great injustice that is the blockade.
How can I get involved in Gaza’s Ark?
What we need most right now is support for the vessels being prepared to sail to Gaza later this year. Please consider making an online donation now, via the links on this website, either as an individual or from your organization. You can donate directly in Australia or Canada, or via an international link (click here). To get involved in activities to support the next phase of the attempts to break the siege of Gaza you can also write to us (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we will direct your query to your nearest campaign.
You will find answers to many questions about past boats to Gaza, humanitarian law and the blockade of Gaza here .