For those who may not know of this brave exercise, the Free Gaza ship is about to set sail, from Cyprus to the coastal waters of Gaza. The mission is to break the siege of the tiny enclave known to the world as Gaza.
The Israelis have, since their 'withdrawl' continued to keep borders closed, inflicting collective punishment on the entire population of the Strip. In other words - the Israelis never really left. Sure, they dismantled some illegal settlements they had there, buying off the settlers and of course, relocating them to more illegal settlements in the West Bank, but the Israeli's occupation forces, the IDF, never really left. They control all border crossings, they control the entire coastline, not even allowing Palestinian fishermen to venture out in search of food. They continue their sonic bombardment and overflights, rain missles down in dense civilian areas and generally make life hell for the 1.5 million people who call the strip home.
Further to the above, the Israelis won't let sick and dying people leave Gaza for any kind of medical treatment - they threaten and coerce these sick people to 'inform' on others - then still deny them entry to the West Bank, Egypt or Israel for medical treatment. So far, about 200 innocent people have died as a result.
But I digress, easy to do with this topic.
Without further ado, enter the Free Gaza Movement.
From their Mission Statement:
We want to break the siege of Gaza. We want to raise international awareness about the prison-like closure of the Gaza Strip and pressure the international community to review its sanctions policy and end its support for continued Israeli occupation. We want to uphold Palestine's right to welcome internationals as visitors, human rights observers, humanitarian aid workers, journalists, or otherwise.
Who are we?
We are these human rights observers, aid workers, and journalists. We have years of experience volunteering in Gaza and the West Bank at the invitation of Palestinians. But now, because of the increasing stranglehold of Israel's illegal occupation of Palestine, many of us find it almost impossible to enter Gaza, and an increasing number have been refused entry to Israel and the West Bank as well. Despite the great need for our work, the Israeli Government will not allow us in to do it.
We are of all ages and backgrounds. Back home, we are teachers, doctors, nurses, engineers, truck drivers, youth workers, musicians, secretaries, parents, grandparents, lawyers, students, activists, actors, playwrights, politicians, web designers, authors, international training consultants, and we even include a former Hollywood film industry worker, a former Marine, an aviator, and an explorer. We are Italian, Irish, Canadian, Greek, Tunisian, German, Australian, American, English, Scottish, Danish, Israeli, and Palestinian.
What are we going to do?
We've tried to enter Palestine by land. We've tried to arrive by air. Now we're getting serious. We're taking a ship.
What a wonderful, hopeful and human way to express their dedication to helping end the brutal occupation and collective punishment of the Palestinians in Gaza. Jeff Halper, the sole Israeli on the voyage states here in Ha aretz:
"All the participants on board are very experienced and determined people and they know why they're going in," he says. "The beauty of a non-violent activity is that we win, no matter what. If we break the siege, we win, and even if they arrest us, we win, because this will expose the face of the occupation and prove Israel is still an occupier in Gaza."
Indeed, Mr. Halper. I hope they do manage to weigh anchor at the shores of Gaza. I also hope that no harm comes to any of the brave souls on this endeavour to bring to light the real face of Israeli occupation, for it damages the Palestinians certianly, but the tarnishes the soul of the occupier herself.
Here is the Participant Biographies, from the Free Gaza Movement website. I'm happy to see Hedy Epstein rise to the cause, what a brave honourable woman!
Here's wishing them all luck, clear skies, calm sea and above all - a safe landing in a Gazan harbour.