On May 28 (three days before Israel's high seas massacre), Haaretz writers Jack Khoury and Yuval Azoulay headlined, "Hamas: Flotilla shows whole world opposes Gaza siege," saying:
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said "if Israel behave(s) like pirates and attack(s) the international Freedom Flotilla carrying 10,000 tons of (humanitarian) aid for Gaza, then the Palestinians will have won. The flotilla's message is clear and it will reach the entire world."
Indeed so, and more are now coming from over 10 countries, including America. FreeGaza.org updates them. Angered by Israel's May 31 massacre, local initiatives plan their own missions. Their aim: highlight Gaza's siege and shame Israel by bringing aid until it ends.
Established in August 2008, the Free Gaza human rights movement visited Gaza nine times by sea "to break Israel's illegal stranglehold on 1.5 million Palestinian civilians," suffocating under siege.
It hasn't been clear sailing. In 2008, Free Gaza succeeded five times, but were "violently intercepted on the(ir) past four voyages," including the lethal May 31 massacre, killing nine or more activists and injuring many more. One of several earlier articles explained, accessed through the following link:
Free Gaza and its coalition partners are the only organizations that "sent boats directly to Gaza in defiance of Israel's criminal" blockade. They "sail as an expression of citizen nonviolent, direct action, confronting" Israeli lawlessness, together with:
— the European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza;
— IHH – the Turkish Foundation for Human Rights;
— Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief;
— the International Committee to End the Siege on Gaza;
— Ship to Gaza Sweden; and
— Ship to Gaza Greece.
Ahead, missions from growing numbers of countries plan to deliver vitally needed aid, and send a message that Israeli lawlessness won't stand. Here they are, a humanitarian hall of fame.
Its initiative headlines a fundraising appeal: "End the Blockade! A Ship with Medical Aid for Gaza," saying:
"We refuse to stand by inactively and watch as….1.5 million (people suffer) strangulation and starvation," especially in Cast Lead's aftermath. Past flotillas aren't enough. "We want to join the appeal of the 'Free Gaza' campaign and send a ship with medical necessities to Gaza from a European port. This can only be achieved with a great deal of public support…."
They need help to provide it, saying:
"There can only be peace, when human rights and international law (are) respected by all sides. For this, the Gaza blockade must be lifted. That would be an essential step toward more security and freedom for everyone in the region."
On August 31, the Belfast Telegraph headlined, "Plans underway to send second Irish ship to Gaza," saying:
Eight Irish activists were on Freedom Flotilla I. Up to 50 more, comprised of seven pro-Palestinian groups, plan another, and have "launched a fundraising campaign to purchase an Irish ship." Irish campaigner Dr. Fintan Lane said "funds (are needed) to buy the boat, fuel, and to hire a legal team in case of more kidnappings."
The web site FreeGazaIreland.com highlights "Cementing Our Relationship with the People of Gaza," calling on:
"families, schools, hospitals, unions and community centres to buy bags of cement (to help). They will be loaded onto a cargo ship as part of an international flotilla…."
"Let's come together and support the people of Palestine to rebuild their lives and end the siege on Gaza and Israel's devastating occupation."
Scottish activists were aboard Freedom Flotilla I. They're still trying to learn what happened to the stolen cargo. They want it delivered. They want their boats returned. They're pursuing a legal complaint about Israel's attack. They want their personal belongings back, especially videotape evidence for a proper inquiry. They're not intimidated. They're planning another flotilla.
FreeGaza-Scotland.org updates information on their site. They're "hoping to (reach) as many different Scottish groups and people as (possible) to get a boat from here." They're working with Tayside Justice For Palestine that sent medical supplies with the Rachel Corrie in June. They request funding help and contact with "any other groups" that want to help.
USAtoGaza.org updates information on their site. A November 1 press release headlined, "As US Activists Prepare Boat to Gaza, Israel Threatens to Use Snipers, Dogs," saying:
US peace activists are raising $370,000 for a boat to sail in spring 2011 from a Mediterranean port. Called "The Audacity of Hope," it will join an international effort from "over a dozen European, Asian and North American countries," including Canada. Israel, however, threatens deadly force.
The mission's spokesperson, Jane Hirschmann said:
"the Americans would not be deterred by the Israeli threats. Of course, we take (them) seriously. Nobody doubts the Israeli government's willingness and readiness to use force against unarmed civilians. But this is a nonviolent mission on our part, challenging Israel's illegal siege. Gaza remains essentially an open-air prison under a US-backed Israeli blockade."
On board will be clergy, elderly participants, and "Holocaust" survivors – Jews against Israeli injustice.
A November 23 update expressed "shock and outrage" over the May massacre, saying "there had to be a US BOAT TO GAZA." In October, they were invited to become part of Flotilla II to be launched at end of March 2011.
It will be a larger effort, involving more people worldwide, a combined one traveling by sea as well as others "on land vigilant as the boats sail." Besides delivering humanitarian aid, they want Washington held accountable for supporting Israeli crimes.
They also need funds and request supporters contribute.
A collaborative initiative, two Canadian efforts include FreeGazaCanada.org/
They plan to sail in spring 2011 from an East Mediterranean port (likely Greece or Turkey) with up to 40 participants. The team said (at end of October) they were one-third toward their $300,000 goal. "We are counting on your continued support – only together can we achieve our ultimate goal of justice and freedom for all Palestinians in Gaza and elsewhere."
The Alternatives NGO is their financial sponsor, an organization active in supporting Middle East human rights and justice. What they collect will go solely for the mission.
In early November, participant Kevin Neish (aboard Flotilla I) began a cross-country tour seeking support for the "Canadian Boat to Gaza," sailing with Flotilla II. Their members span the nation from Halifax and Montreal to Vancouver. Included are activists, doctors, authors, educators, engineers, unionists, husbands and wives, Christians, Jews and Muslims, committed for social justice.
"The Canadian Boat to Gaza is a project launched by Canadian civil society activists (wanting) Canadian (participation) in the international effort to end the Israeli blockade of Gaza."
They'll challenge Israel's illegal siege, enlist broad support, and increase awareness of Gazan suffering.
Dozens of organizations endorse them, including:
— the Arab Cultural Forum
— the Palestinian NGOs' Network (PNGO);
— Amnesty International Windsor
— the Alliance of Concerned Jewish Canadians;
— the Boycott Israeli Apartheid Campaign (BIAC);
— Canadians, Arabs and Jews for a Just Peace (CAJJP);
— CodePink, Canada; and
— Not in Our Name, among others.
Belgium to Gaza (BelgiumGaza.org) headlines "Set sail to a liberated Gaza, navigate for justice," saying it's a "platform of Belgian organizations and individuals" working to challenge Israel's illegal siege. It uses Flotilla I's motto, saying:
"We people of the world will do what our governments refuse to do!"
It's also in fundraising mode to raise $300,000, asking supporters to be as generous as possible.
"Ship Two Gaza Norway (STGN) is a politically and religiously independent organization for individuals and organizations that work to ensure that international law" applies to Gaza.
It sent other boats in August 2008 from Cyprus with 44 passengers from 17 countries. It succeeded despite Israeli efforts to sabotage it. No one was harmed. One participant on arrival, El-Farra Musheir, a diaspora Palestinian, said:
"For the first time in my life, I came to Gaza without being humiliated, without having to ask Israel for permission. We did it. We (finally) made it. Now others must join us and do (it), too."
Other missions followed, five in all preceding Cast Lead. In December 2008, the Israeli navy rammed the boat Dignity in international waters, causing heavy damage, besides firing machine guns into the water to intimidate passengers on board.
Mission leader, Huwaida Arraf, co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), an activist pro-Palestinian group, later explained her determination to help, saying:
"We cannot sit still and wait for Israel to stop killing people. When the world's countries and international institutions have the responsibility to stop such crimes, (but choose) to be impotent, (then) we, world citizens" must act. "Our common humanity simply requires it of us."
They and others keep doing it despite Israel responding harshly – interdicting, harassing, arresting, imprisoning, killing nine or Mavi Marmara activists, and threatening violence against future missions.
Ship Two Gaza Norway will join Flotilla II. Those wishing to participate should contact them at[email protected].
ShiptoGaza.se stands in solidarity with Gazans. Once funds are raised, it will "send a ship with necessities from Scandinavia via ports in Europe and the Mediterranean to Gaza."
On November 7, spokespersons Dror Feiler and Mehmet Kaplan, both aboard Flotilla I, "will travel to Israel to submit a police report on behalf of all eleven Swedish passengers." A lawsuit was also filed against the IDF, state of Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, alleging "armed robbery and/or larceny, kidnapping, deprivation of freedom and assault."
Asian Muslims to Gaza
On October 4, Haaretz ran an AP story headlined, "Hundreds of activists from Muslim countries planning new Gaza-bound flotilla," saying:
Around 500 activists from "dozens of Muslim countries," including Pakistan, Iran, Syria and Turkey "aim to break the blockage by December 27."
On December 2, they'll leave from India by land, cross Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and Syria, "then try to reach Gaza by sea." The Turkish Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Aid (IHH), bogusly called an extremist Islamic terrorist group, will sponsor the Turkish leg of the trip. IHH provides humanitarian aid "to spread justice and good. (It) fight(s) violation(s) of anyone's basic liberties and human rights (and) perpetuat(es) good anytime and anywhere."
A Final Comment
FreeGaza.org has global volunteers. Besides the above countries, they're in Argentina, Australia, Chile, Denmark, England, France, India, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Poland, Spain, the United Arab Emirates, and elsewhere.
More flotillas are coming until Gaza is free, the siege ended, rebuilding can begin, and what passes for normal life can resume.
Banned from Gaza since November 2006, Haaretz writer Gideon Levy asks "all Israelis to be outraged – or at least understand what is being perpetrated in their name, so they may never have the right to claim: we did not know." That applies everywhere, flotilla activists in the vanguard, galvanizing mass awareness and outrage for justice.
A hopeful sign: On November 26, the International Middle East Media Center reported that (on 11/25) the 30-vehicle "Road to Hope" convoy reached Gaza with aid and 101 activists, including eight Flotilla I survivors.
Egypt tried to obstruct them, then relented. Supplies included medical aid, educational materials and equipment, blankets, toys, and vehicles. Momentum keeps building for sustained help until Gaza's siege is lifted, a hopeful sign indeed.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at [email protected]. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.