‘Freedom Waves to Gaza’ flotilla leaves Turkey headed to Gaza; Organizers: ‘It is time to lift the siege of Gaza which deprives 1.6 million civilians of their rights to travel, work, study, develop their economy and be free.’

Israel/Palestine
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(Map created by Benjamin Doherty at Electronic Intifada)

On Wednesday, November 2, two international ships left the Turkish harbor to carry humanitarian aid through the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

The event, called ‘Freedom Waves for Gaza’,  unites 27 activists from 9 countries, including America, Canada, Denmark, Belgium, Germany and Australia, alongside Palestinians from Bethlehem and Haifa, in a broad-based international movement to break Israel’s illegal and immoral suffocation of the 1.6 million inhabitants of the Gaza Strip. The Irish yacht Saoirse (Freedom), which carries 15 activists, and the Canadian boat Tahrir (Liberation), which holds 12, will attempt to carry $30,000 in medical supplies beyond the Israeli blockade later this week. ‘Freedom Waves for Gaza’ is the 11th attempt by international activists to deliver humanitarian aid through the Israeli blockade of Gaza since 2008.

For more Democracy Now reporting on the Freedom Waves flotilla see here.

As the boats navigate international waters, Palestinian youth activists will parade a large wooden effigy of the aid boats through the streets of Ramallah, while distributing white armbands and ribbons emblazoned ‘Freedom Waves for Gaza’. In addition, they will hold a demonstration outside of the UN office in Ramallah on Thursday, demanding that the UN end its compliance with the Israeli blockade and protect the humanitarian mission.

Indeed, in a letter given to the UN on Wednesday, Palestinian youth insisted that “it is incumbent upon the UN to take urgent steps to protect the boats en route to Gaza and all of the humanitarian volunteers aboard, as well as to declare its support for nonviolent, humanitarian action, designed to do what the UN and its members states have thus far failed to do.”

tahrir boat for web
The tahrir docked in Turkey. (Photo: Lina Attalah

Organizers of the flotilla mission withheld the news from the world until the boats reached international waters, to prevent Israeli or international sabotage that plagued previous aid attempts. Though the humanitarian vessels departed from Fethiye, Turkey, organizers insist that the Turkish government is not involved with Freedom Waves for Gaza. Says Huwaida Arraf, “because Freedom Flotilla 1 was mostly an international effort, and because with the Mavi Marmara Turkish people were killed, it became mainly a Turkish thing…which detracted from the fact that it really was an international effort. So this time we want to show that it’s not just Turkey, its an international effort.” In fact, no Turkish citizens are aboard either of the two ships.

Freedom Waves for Gaza comes at a time when minor improvements to the situation- such as the opening of the Rafah land crossing from Egypt to Gaza in May- or minor concessions by Israel- such as its allowance of minor consumer goods into Gaza in the wake of the Mavi Marmara massacre in 2010, touted internationally as an ‘easing of the blockade’ (though it led led 10-year-old Gaza schoolchild Abed Rahmen Jadee to lament ‘I don’t want any more snacks or coke. I want a new school’)- have done little to meaningfully alleviate the humanitarian crisis that plagues the 1.6 million inhabitants of Gaza, half of whom are under the age of 16.

Organizer Huwaida Arraf, chair of the Free Gaza movement, stresses that “by reaching Palestinians through their own port, the flotilla defies the dehumanization of a whole population and supports the continuing efforts of the people of Gaza to assert their dignity. The Palestinians will accept nothing less than a total end to the illegal Israeli blockade of Gaza and all forms of violence and discrimination against them.”

The most recent figures published by the UN and international humanitarian and human rights organizations confirm that roughly 75 – 80% of the population rely on international aid in order to survive; 65% live below the poverty line; 52% are food insecure; approximately 40% are unemployed; there are no building materials for much-needed schools and hospitals; 90 – 95% of the drinking water is contaminated and unfit for consumption; seriously ill patients cannot get access to the specialist treatment that would potentially save their lives; and children are suffering untreated post-traumatic stress as a result of the white phosphorous shells used illegally in Israel’s invasion in January 2009.

In its declaration to the UN, the Palestinian youth stated that “in our schools, universities and through our organizations, we are taught about human rights and international law, and yet it seems like Palestinians fall into a class of people upon whom these rights don’t apply. Like the blacks in America a half a century ago, or in South Africa two decades ago, we are victims of an exclusivist ideology and those who tolerate and enable it.”

The declaration continues- “Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit has been returned to his family, removing one of Israel’s main pretexts, albeit not a justification, for its Draconian closure policy.  And while 1027 Palestinian prisoners have been exchanged for Shalit (although 550 have yet to be released), over 1.5 million Palestinians remain caged in the prison that is Gaza.”

During the campaign, Witness Gaza (witnessgaza.com) will be a central information hub, in contact with representative organizations from activists’ home countries. Palestinian youth representatives will be updating the world via Twitter at #PALWaves, as will international activists aboard the ships- unless Israel jams the communications signal, as has occurred in previous flotilla aid attempts.

In Wednesday’s press release, Majd Kayyal, a Palestinian activist from Haifa aboard the Tahrir, insisted that “Israel has caged Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, prohibiting physical contact between us. We want to break the siege Israel has imposed on our people. The fact that we’re in international waters is already a victory for the movement.”

As new Israeli airstrikes are claiming lives in Gaza, and as Benjamin Netanyahu threatens to intensify the bombardments, it is due time to once again bring to the world’s attention what the UN in 2009 called the ‘protracted human dignity crisis’ caused by Israel’s closure of Gaza. Says Huwaida Arraf, “the people of Gaza have called on the peoples and governments of the world to challenge an illegal, immoral, and irrational Israeli naval blockade that has caused, and continues to cause, incalculable human suffering. We are responding to that call. Our primary aim is to overcome the continuing blockade of Gaza through civil resistance and non-violent direct action, and to establish a permanent sea lane between Gaza and the rest of the world.”

For up to the minute information on the Freedom Waves flotilla:  http://witnessgaza.com/

On Twitter: @PalWaves #FreedomWaves

Ben Lorber is an American activist with the International Solidarity Movement in the West Bank and a journalist with the Alternative Information Center in Bethlehem. Visit his blog at freepaly.wordpress.com.

Editor note: Below is a press release and call to action that was sent out today:

For immediate release, November 2, 2011

TWO BOATS WITH PASSENGERS FROM 5 COUNTRIES (INCLUDING THE U.S.)

HAVE SET SAIL TO GAZA

Organizers say: “It is time to lift the siege of Gaza which deprives 1.6 million civilians of their rights to travel, work, study, develop their economy and be free.”
The Canadian ship Tahrir and the Irish ship Saoirse have successfully reached international waters, initiating the “Freedom Wave to Gaza.” The boats have embarked from Turkey and are on the Mediterranean Sea. In all, the 2 boats carry 27 passengers from Canada, Ireland, U.S., Palestine, and Australia.

Kit Kittredge on board the Tahrir was previously a passenger on the American ship, The Audacity of Hope, which attempted passage to Gaza last July. Kittredge says, “ The only obstacles in our way are Israel’s military and the complicity of the Obama administration but in our sails is the wind of worldwide public opinion which has turned against the illegal blockade.”

Ann Wright retired US army Colonel and former US Diplomat says, “We carry inspiration from the Arab Spring and the worldwide “Occupy” movements that are demanding freedom and justice. Where governments fail, civil society must act. As Americans we are fed up with our government’s unquestioning support of Israel no matter how violent, illegal and oppressive its actions. We will not stand by and watch $30 billion of our tax money committed to buying Israel weaponry used to carry out this illegal occupation of Palestine including the blockade of Gaza.”

Jane Hirschmann added, “Our sailing coincides with UN agency UNESCO’s recognition of Palestine as a member state, defying US threats to cut off $80 million of US funding in retaliation. This shows the growing strength of opposition by the international community to U.S. and Israeli policies in Palestine. We call on the international community to go further and take effective action to lift the siege of Gaza. Hirschmann was one of the organizers this past summer of the U.S. Boat to Gaza, The Audacity of Hope which is still captive in Greece.

Act now!! 
 

BOATS SAILING  NOW TO GAZA! SPREAD THE WORD. 

Israel and the US outsourced the siege of Gaza to Athens last summer by preventing 8 boats in the Freedom Flotilla 2-Stay Human from sailing from Greek ports to Gaza. Despite this we were able to bring world-wide attention to the blockade of the Gaza Strip. Our efforts in Greece only fueled our determination to challenge the imprisonment of the people of Gaza. We said we would continue to sail and so we are!!! 
  
At this moment, two boats are in international waters in the Mediterranean heading to Gaza.  One boat, the Saoirse from Ireland, includes parliamentarians among its passengers.  The other, the Tahrir, carries representatives from Canada, the U.S., Australia, and Palestine.  The U.S. Representative on the Tahrir, Kit Kittredge, was a passenger on the U.S. Boat to Gaza, The Audacity of Hope mission in Athens in July.  A journalist from Democracy Now is on the Tahrir also. Civil society organizations in Gaza await their arrival, and look forward to the delivery of letters collected from thousands of U.S. supporters in the To Gaza With Love campaign.   
  
We need your help to make this mission a success. Please take these actions immediately. 
  
1. Check these websites for updates:  US to Gaza, Irish Ship to Gaza and Canadian Boat to Gaza,  watch  or listen to Democracy Now for live coverage from the Tahrir..  Look for twitter hashtag #Freedomwaves. 
  
2. Spread the word far and wide – send this alert to your contacts. 
  
3. Call the State Department  and the White House- demand that they take immediate action to ensure the safe passage of these boats and to put an end to the siege of Gaza. 
  
Call the State Department: 
      Secretary of State Hillary Clinton 202-647-5291 
      U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro 011-972-3-519-7575 
      Office of Israel/Palestinian Affairs Paul Sutphin 202-647-3672 
      Office of Consular Affairs, Kim Richter 202-647-8308 
  
 and the White House: 202-456-1414 
   
  email President Obama at http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact 
  
Here are some talking points or suggested messaging:  
  
Gaza has been under siege since mid-2006, depriving 1.6 million people of their liberty and basic human rights.  Although the siege has been condemned by the United Nations, the Red Cross, and many national governments, nothing has been done to ease the plight of these civilians.  Civil society has had to act where governments would not.  Two ships with 27 passengers from 5 countries are sailing to Gaza to confront the Israeli naval blockade, and to bring medical supplies and letters of support.  
  
As Americans we insist that our government (which sends Israel $3 billion in military aid every year), demands that Israel insures the ships’ safe passage and ends its illegal blockade of Gaza. There is absolutely no excuse to subject 1.6 million people to collective punishment. Ask your local press to cover this story.  Up-to-date information will be available at www.ustogaza.orgwww.irishshiptogaza.org  and www.tahrir.ca 
  
  
FORWARD THIS ACTION ALERT TO ALL YOUR CONTACTS, PLEASE INCLUDE THE PRESS RELEASE. 
  
THANKS 
FELICE GELMAN, JANE HIRSCHMANN AND ANN WRIGHT

Update:

The Center for Constitutional Rights issued this statement:

Two boats carrying twenty-seven human rights activists from five countries, including the United States, have made it to international waters and are headed to Gaza.  Today, the flotilla set sail unannounced from Turkey with the aim of ending the siege and isolation of Gaza.  The boats are carrying letters from people in the United States to the people of Gaza, as well as medicine.  This latest attempt comes less than six months after the “Stay Human Flotilla” was detained and sabotaged in Greece by local port authorities in response to mounting pressure from the United States and Israel.

In light of Israel’s attack on the May 2010 flotilla, which killed nine civilians including 18-year old U.S. citizen Furkan Doğan, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) calls on the international community to ensure the safe passage of the ships through international waters into Gaza and prevent a repetition of last year’s lethal assault by Israeli forces.

Said CCR senior staff sttorney Maria LaHood, “CCR applauds the persistence of civil society to break the siege on Gaza, where Palestinians remain imprisoned and isolated, without access to the supplies necessary to sustain and rebuild their lives.”

The Center for Constitutional Rights also denounced the introduction in early October of House Bill H.R. 3131, in which the sponsors “express gratitude to the government of Greece for preventing the [July 2011 Freedom Flotilla II-Stay Human] from setting sail” and “direct the Secretary of State to…report on whether any support organization that participated in the planning or execution of the [flotilla] should be designated as a foreign terrorist organization.”  The Freedom Flotilla II was a July 2011 attempt by human rights activists to break the Israeli blockade and deliver aid to the Gaza Strip.  As the International Committee of the Red Cross recently stated, “the easing of the closure in June 2010 has had little impact on the daily lives of the residents in Gaza,” and “Israel retains effective control over the Gaza strip, in particular the movement of persons and goods.”  

 CCR issued the following statement:

 

“The Center for Constitutional Rights denounces H.R. 3131 as another example of the increasing use of the word ‘terrorism’ to create fear and stoke irrational response to activism, including the growing use of ‘material support’ charges to punish people for humanitarian activity and expressions of international solidarity or dissent.  The Center for Constitutional Rights has long called for the end of the siege of Gaza and has supported the flotilla efforts, which, at their core, seek to end the isolation of Palestinians living in Gaza.   In May 2011, CCR filed a lawsuit against numerous government agencies, including the Defense, Justice, and State Departments, seeking the release of documents regarding the U.S. government’s knowledge of, and actions in relation to, the May 31, 2010 attack by Israel on a six-boat flotilla in international waters, resulting in the death of nine civilians, including a 18-year old U.S. citizen Furkan Doğan.  It is Israel’s illegal blockade and the May 2010 killing of unarmed flotilla participants by Israeli commandos that should be condemned and for which accountability should be sought, rather than the victims’ attempts to break the siege on Gaza.”  

 

“H.R. 3131 is a disgrace and an attempt at fear-mongering based on the libelous assertion that if you are against the illegal blockade of Gaza, you are a terrorist.  This is yet another attempt to silence the voices of ordinary citizens acting in good conscience.  We will continue to organize and send boats in order to show our support for the imprisoned population of Gaza. We will not be silenced,” said Jane Hirschmann, one of the organizers of a U.S. boat with the Stay Human flotilla to Gaza, The Audacity of Hope.

The July 2011 flotilla was not the first aid attempt to be stopped.  On May, 31, 2010, more than 700 civilians from nearly 40 countries on the Freedom Flotilla I sought to bring aid and supplies to the Gaza Strip, but Israeli commandos intercepted the six-boat flotilla in international waters, killing nine passengers, including one U.S. citizen, Furkan Doğan.  There had been five successful voyages to Gaza in 2008, and all four attempts to reach Gaza in 2010 were forcefully blocked.

Also, Monday, UNESCO voted to recognize Palestine as a full member of the organization, which Center for Constitutional Rights attorneys said demonstrates that the international community increasingly rejects the United States’ isolation of the Palestinian people, and is a small step toward their self-determination.   Because of the vote, the United States is cutting funding to UNESCO. 

The Center for Constitutional Rights is engaged in Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation seeking information about the U.S. knowledge of, and response to, the attack on last year’s flotilla. For more information, please see our case page.  For a factsheet about the illegality of the blockade of Gaza and the attack on the Gaza flotilla, please click here.

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