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Rachel Corrie’s humanity lives on in Gaza’s Ark

* Article by Michael Coleman, aka one half of the kayaktivists, edited by Greta Berlin and James Godfrey and first published on Green Left Weekly on Thursday, August 30, 2012http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/52095

Rachel Corrie, 2002

Rachel Corrie was born on 10 April 1979, and raised in Olympia, Washington, USA. She was the youngest of Craig and Cindy Corrie’s three children. Cindy describes their family as “average Americans, politically liberal, economically conservative, middle class”. However, even as a young girl, Rachel’s commitment to human rights was clear, when in grade five she stood in front of an auditorium full of adults and talked passionately about her dreams for the future, giving her now famous “I’m here because I care” speech.

After graduating from college at 23, Rachel’s commitment to human rights took her to the Palestinian enclave called Gaza, to a small city called Rafah  – about as far from Olympia as humanly possible. In Palestine, Rachel volunteered with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), bearing witness to Israel’s daily violations of international law against the 1.4 million people who lived there.

Rachel’s main purpose in Rafah was to try and prevent the Israeli Occupation Force [IOF], from demolishing Palestinian houses along the border with Egypt to create a “security” zone. At the time, the Israeli military had demolished 1,700 homes in Rafah, an action human rights groups claimed was collective punishment. On 16 March 2003, Rachel Corrie died trying to protect a Palestinian home from demolition, when she was crushed by an IOF bulldozer.

Rachel Corrie faces down a bulldozer in Gaza

Shortly before her death, Rachel said that “I feel like I’m witnessing the systematic destruction of a people’s ability to survive”. Unfortunately since 2003 the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip has only deteriorated, and the collective punishment now targets the entire population of the Strip. All of Gaza’s now 1.6 million residents, the majority of whom are children, have been under an Israeli blockade since 2007 ‘officially‘. However the restrictions on the movement of the population of Gaza began as far back as 1991 – when Gaza was first cut off from Israel and the West Bank. The blockade is clearly an act of collective punishment, something the International Committee of the Red Cross has pointed out, stating that “the whole of Gaza’s civilian population is being punished for acts for which they bear no responsibility.”

The effects of the blockade are well documented. During the past five years when the blockade has been in full effect, the United Nations and the World Health Organisation have reported that the Israeli Military has killed or injured over 10,000 Palestinians residents. 70% of the population is now reliant on aid organisations for their basic human needs such as food, shelter or medical care. 90% of Gaza’s water is now undrinkable; due to a sanitation system that was rendered inoperable by the IOF during Operation Cast Lead. Gaza’s hospitals have faced constant chronic shortages of drugs and equipment for years, while fuel shortages cause power cuts of up to 18 hours a day.

Last Tuesday, the Corrie family’s decade long struggle for justice for Rachel was dealt a blow when the Haifa District Court ruled that her death was an accident, for which she was responsible. Despite the judge’s decision perpetuating the myth that her death was a tragic accident, the case shed light on Israel’s breaches of human rights and the impunity enjoyed by its military.

However people of conscience around the world have not been deterred by Israel’s murder of Rachel Corrie or the many murders that preceded and followed it. In fact as it has becomes blatantly clear that the only route to a free Palestine is through civil society initiatives like the ISM, the Free Gaza movement, the flotillas, flytillas and other global civilian projects, the numbers of people around the world standing in solidarity with the Palestinians, both in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, has only increased.

The latest creative strategy for challenging Israel’s illegal blockade of Gaza is Gaza’s Ark. Gaza’s Ark will not only challenge the blockade physically – it will also build hope on the ground in Gaza by providing investment, training and employment. Gaza’s Ark will also promote Palestinian trade with the outside world through the only port on the Mediterranean that is closed to shipping. Indeed, as James Godfrey of Free Gaza Australia stated: “Gaza’s Ark affirms our belief that the Palestinians of Gaza can rebuild their economy through outbound trade that threatens no-one’s security.”

The legacy and spirit of Rachel’s humanity lives on in projects like Gaza’s Ark and always remember as Cindy Corrie stated following the verdict: “I don’t think that Rachel should have moved. I think we should all have been standing there with her”. The Corrie’s are a truly inspirational family who have both my condolences and gratitude.

Corrie Family awaiting the verdict
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Gaza's Ark News

‘Gaza’s Ark’ to challenge Israel’s illegal blockade

This article was first published in Green Left Weekly on Friday, July 13, 2012 and was written by Michael Coleman.

After its successful participation in Freedom Flotilla Two and Freedom Waves last year, Free Gaza Australia (FGA) in cooperation with its international partners is launching a new initiative: Gaza’s Ark — Building Hope. Gaza’s Ark will challenge the illegal and inhumane Israeli blockade of Gaza that collectively punishes more than 1.5 million Palestinians.

Gaza has “officially” been under an Israeli blockade since 2007, but the restriction on the movement of the population of Gaza began in 1991 when Gaza was first cut off from Israel and the West Bank.

The human costs of this blockade have been well documented, although often not reported. By restricting crucial medical and building supplies and blacklisting large amounts of food items, Israel has made 80% of the population of Gaza dependent on aid.

The virtual ban on exports has caused Gaza’s unemployment to soar to more than 30%. Gaza’s exports are now at just 5% of what they were in 2007.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has said: “The whole of Gaza’s civilian population is being punished for acts for which they bear no responsibility.” The ICRC says the border “closure therefore constitutes a collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law”.

Gaza’s Ark will not only challenge the blockade physically as the “Flotillas” have done, it will also provide investment, training and employment in Gaza. It will promote Palestinian trade with the outside world through the only Mediterranean port closed to shipping.

Gaza’s Ark will be built in Gaza by Palestinian hands and expertise, with international assistance. We hope that building of the Ark will help revitalise the dwindling ship building industry in Gaza and help ensure the transmission of this disappearing expertise to younger generations.

During this process, training will be provided to Palestinian sailors in the use of modern electronic sailing equipment and techniques that have been denied them for years due to the blockade.

Gaza’s Ark trade deals will be secured between Palestinian producers and international businesses and NGOs. Although it will help in a very limited manner to alleviate Gaza’s unemployment crisis by paying wages to the boat builders and providing business opportunities to traders, James Godfrey a member of FGA stresses that Gaza’s Ark is not an aid project.

He says: “It is a peaceful action against the blockade which Israel unilaterally and unreasonably imposes on people living in Gaza. Gaza’s Ark challenges the blockade by building hope on the ground in Gaza, which can support the Palestinians of Gaza to rebuild their economy through outbound trade that threatens no-one’s security.”

Once the Ark is complete and trade deals have been secured a crew of internationals and Palestinians will sail it from the port of Gaza carrying Palestinian products and will challenge the three-mile coastal limit imposed by Israel on residents of the Gaza Strip.

Gaza’s Ark will also work closely with Palestinian fishers to draw attention to their plight. Under the “Oslo Accords”, Palestinian fishers would be “allowed” to sail up to 20 nautical miles off the coast of Gaza. However, this was never implemented by Israel, which allowed only a 12 nautical mile limit. This has since been cut to six nautical miles and now three as punishment for the second Intifada and then as part of Israel’s military assault (Operation Cast Lead) in 2010.

This restriction on navigation and fishing has had a huge impact on the fishing industry in Gaza. Mahfouz Kabariti, Coordinator of the Fishermen’s Solidarity Campaign in the Gaza Strip, says: “The Gazan community needs 21,000 tons of fish annually. In the last year, the total extracted fish from the sea was only 3000 tons.” Gaza now imports most of its seafood — the blockade is slowly turning a generation of fishers into fishmongers.

Gaza’s Ark aims to build hope on the ground in Gaza by providing investment, training and business opportunities. Through non-violent direct action we will also expose the blockade that is collective punishment of the Palestinian residents of Gaza.

Please follow the Ark’s progress online at our new international website > http://gazaark.org/

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