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Gaza's Ark News

One year after Greece stopped Freedom Flotilla: The struggle to end Gaza blockade continues

BY DAVID HEAP EHAB LOTAYEF > FIRST PUBLISHED JULY 26, 2012 ON RABBLE.CA
http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/canadianboattogaza/2012/07/one-year-after-greece-stopped-freedom-flotilla-struggle-en

One year after the Greek government bowed to pressure and enforced he outsourced Israeli blockade of Gaza, the international movement to challenge the blockade is still very much afloat: we may change our tactics, but not our objectives. Our new campaign to challenge the blockade from the inside out emphasizes the fundamental importance of freedom of movement for Palestinians.

On July 4, 2011 the Canadian boat Tahrir left the port of Aghios Nikolaos (in Crete, Greece) bound for Gaza. After days of waiting for official clearance in the face of increasing bureaucratic and political obstacles, we decided to defy a Greek government ban on Freedom Flotilla departures and simply cast off. There were more than 40 people on board the Tahrir: a wide range of delegates from Australia, Belgium, Denmark and Canada as well as journalists from various countries. Our Greek captain and crew had been replaced for the occasion by volunteers — we were lucky to have among us delegates with professional maritime experience, from engineer to ship’s officers.

We didn’t make it more than eight nautical miles out before the Greek coastguard commandos boarded the Tahrir and took control of the vessel. We were towed back to port where a three people from our group had been arrested (they were subsequently tried and given suspended sentences). The Greeks used minimal force in stopping the Tahrir. They did not interfere with communications nor with media reporting – cameras and live phone interviews were rolling throughout the whole process. Some of the coastguard commandos in fact said they were embarrassed by what they saw as their government’s betrayal of Greece’s traditional Mid-East position.

By accepting to play the role of unenthusiastic enforcers for Israel’s outsourced blockade of Gaza, then-Prime Minister Papandreou was indeed betraying his father Andreas’ historical support for Palestinian liberation. All the pandering to powerful international forces could not of course save the younger Papandreou’s job as PM from the pressures of the austerity agenda, and it remains to be seen whether present or future Greek governments will return to a more independent foreign policy. Meanwhile, we remain more buoyant about our internationalanti-blockade movement than about the Greek political situation.

When the Tahrir sailed again in November, this time from Turkey and with a much reduced delegation (just 12 people on board), we got much further before being captured by the Israeli navy in international waters just 45 nautical miles from Gaza. In stark contract to the Greeks, the Israeli navy began by blocking all communications and throughout did everything possible to prevent journalists on board from doing their work by reporting. By stealing media professionals’ recording equipment, the Israelis showed once again they know their actions are illegal and indefensible.

Despite recognizing that there were no arms or munitions of any kind on the Tahrir and that they would be met with only non-violent resistance, the heavily armed commandos boarded us with overwhelming military force, an act of state-sponsored piracy.

The Tahrir and the Saoirse are still illegally impounded in Israel, along with at least five other boats from different countries which have challenged the blockade since 2009 (after the six successful voyages to Gaza in 2008). We have filed a legal request for the release of our boat and its content but we know the Tahrir faces more delays before we can deliver this gift from Canadian civil society to the Palestinians of Gaza. The U.S. boat to Gaza, the Audacity of Hope has been impounded since last year by the Greek authorities, along with three other vessels.

A few Greek and Turkish boats from the 2010 Freedom Flotilla were finally returned, heavily damaged, from Israeli captivity, and the French campaign Un Bateau français pour Gaza, has filed legally against Israeli authorities for piracy, kidnapping and theft following the illegal capture of their boat Dignité Al-Karama last July. Meanwhile the commercial sailing ship Estelle is making its way from Scandinavia through the ports of Europe to the Mediterranean in order to challenge the blockade. So our international civil society movement against the blockade of Gaza remains very much afloat. Launched in May 2012, Gaza’s Ark is a new campaign in cooperation with organizations and individuals in Palestine, Canada, Australia and the U.S. which aims to build hope on the ground in Gaza in order to sail from Palestine against the blockade. It is not an “aid” project but rather an affirmation of the ability of the Palestinians of Gaza to rebuild their productive export economy, once they regain their freedom of movement. We are funding a boat to be sailed out of Gaza (the only Mediterranean port closed to shipping) by internationals and Palestinians to transport Palestinian products to complete trade deals with international buyers.

Importantly, outbound export trade from Palestine cannot be portrayed as threatening anyone’s security. But it does affirm a very basic human right systematically denied to Palestinians by the Israeli occupation: the freedom of movement within as well as in and out of their country. It also supports the Palestinian fishery’s right to operate in Palestinian territorial waters off Gaza for their livelihood, also threatened daily by the same blockade we are challenging.

Five independent human rights experts reporting to the U.N. Human Rights Council reiterated in September 2011 that the blockade of Gaza is illegal under international law. Until the governments of the world take up their responsibilities towards Palestinian civilians and demand that Israel comply with international law, civil society movements like ours maintain our sights steadily fixed on freedom of movement for all Palestinians. Our tactics may change but our course remains the conscience of humanity.

Linguistics professor David Heap and IT engineer & poet Ehab Lotayef are steering committee members with the Canadian Boat for Gaza and Gaza’s Ark. They were on the Tahrir when it was attacked and seized last November and spent six days in Israeli prison before being deported back to Canada.

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Flotilla News

Give back the Tahrir

Since Michael’s return to Australia, Free Gaza Australia [FGA] has been running a political campaign to get our beloved ‘Tahrir’ back from Ashdod, where the Israeli navy took her after illegally taking control of her in international waters in November.

We have sent the following letter to Prime Minister Julia Gillard in an effort to enlist her support for the campaign for the Tahrir’s return and for our Government to reposition Australia on the right side of history and international law, and alongside the overwhelming majority of countries in the world who will not support the ongoing systematic abuse of Palestinian people and denial of their human rights.

You can add your support for this campaign by clicking on the link below and adding your name to the call for the ‘Tahrir’ to be returned to its rightful owners.

http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/give-back-the-tahrir.html

In the coming weeks we plan to contact all Federal Members of Parliament and seek their support as well.

In recent months, we have also been talking to our international partners about our next plans – stay tuned for the news of the next ‘waves’ to Gaza.

Dear Prime Minister,

In early November 2011, we wrote to your Government demanding immediate action, to:

1. Pressure the Israeli government to unconditionally release and facilitate the safe return of Michael Coleman and all political prisoners.

2. Demand the release of the Tahrir and Saoirse along with all personal property, as well as compensation for damages incurred by the act of piracy that the Israeli government committed on the high seas.

3. Ensure that Israel ends its illegal blockade of Gaza to enable freedom of movement for people and goods.” Five days after the Tahrir was attacked in international waters and Michael, all other passengers and crew were abducted; he was released and ‘deported’ to Australia via Bangkok and Melbourne.

On 28 November 2011 we received a woefully inadequate response from Samuel Allen (Acting Director, Levant and Iran Section) of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in which no answers were provided to our principal demands for action.

The Australian Government’s response to the act of piracy committed by the Israeli Government against the unarmed flotilla that Michael Coleman was aboard has been pitiful.

Your regurgitated comments about practical support and partnership agreements are mealy-mouthed apologies, which are grossly inadequate and disproportionate for the Palestinian people whose land has been stolen from them by the actions of the ever-expanding Apartheid Israeli ‘state’.

Providing drip feed of ‘aid’ is not the solution to the plight of the Palestinians and the injustices they experience in Palestine and in forced exile. Your ‘travel advice’ that Australians should not attempt to travel to Gaza by sea is cowardly. The Australian Government should be working with other countries to aid the people of Gaza who demand an end to the blockade and with it their ability move and trade freely.

All governments, including yours, must hold Israel accountable for its defiance of international law with regards to the ongoing collective punishment of more than 1,600,000 Palestinians in Gaza, half of whom are under the age of 16 in what is effectively the world’s largest open air prison.

Instead you persist in platitudes to the Israeli Government and business interests who continue to make their money from the theft of Palestinian lands. Indeed we found your recent attendance at and speech to the Australia Israel Chamber of Commerce extremely offensive when Palestinian people are denied freedom of movement and trade.

We contrast your Government’s actions with the visit to Gaza last month by Deputy Prime Minister Eamon Gilmore from the Irish Republic and his statement demanding an end to the blockade.

It is because of the continuing inaction of governments, including the Australian Government that ordinary people feel compelled to act. When our delegate sailed to Gaza, he did so in the firm belief that the blockade of Gaza by the Israeli Government is illegal and inhumane and should end without delay. In this appraisal we believe that we have the support of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the UN Human Rights Council, the International Committee of the Red Cross. and numerous other human rights organisations.

We consider that our assets – the Tahrir, of which we hold a one-tenth share, medical aid we were transporting to give to the people of Gaza and our personal belongings including a satellite telephone have been confiscated illegally by the Israeli Government.

We urge you to actively support our demand that the Israeli Government reloads our medical supplies and our personal belongings and other assets onto our boat and allow us to sail it to Gaza without delay.

We look forward to hearing back from you soon with a considered, positive reply that repositions Australia on the right side of history and international law, and alongside the overwhelming majority of countries in the world who will not support the systematic abuse of Palestinian people and their human rights.

Yours sincerely,

James Godfrey

for Free Gaza Australia

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Flotilla News

VIDEO: Australian delegate on why he’s so determined to try and go to Gaza for a third time

Our delegate Michael is a long-time campaigner for justice and freedom for Palestine, in this video he explains why he is so determined to get to Gaza.

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Flotilla News

Audio update from Australian delegate Michael Coleman

Australian delegate on board the Tahrir for Freedom Waves to Gaza, Michael Coleman, filed this audio update with the Institute for Middle East Understanding earlier today (or Thursday night Tahrir middle-of-the-Medditerraean time).

Listen to what he had to say:

9:48pm EDT: Australian passenger Michael Coleman updates us from #FreedomWaves flotilla (mp3)

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Flotilla News

DFAT legitimises Israeli blockade of Gaza by urging against participation in Flotilla

This just in from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade:

We refer to your email of 3 November that raises issues about Mr Michael Coleman’s presence on a vessel that is currently sailing to Gaza.

The travel advice for Israel, Gaza Strip and the West Bank strongly advises against travelling by sea to the coast of the Gaza Strip in breach of Israeli naval restrictions or participating in any attempt to break the naval blockade.

Further information is available in our travel bulletin on “Flotillas to Gaza” at the following link:

http://www.smartraveller.gov.au/zw-cgi/view/TravelBulletins/Flotillas_to_Gaza

DFAT is committed to providing a high level of consular service to all
Australians in difficulty overseas, in accordance with the consular
charter. This consular support has been provided to Australians
participating in flotillas in the past, and would again be offered to Mr Coleman if necessary.

In the event he is detained by Israeli authorities, the Government of
Israel is well aware of Australia’s expectation that we would be granted early access to him to offer consular assistance.

You can contact DFAT and request they make direct representation to the Israeli authorities urging Israel

to not intervene in the peaceful Freedom Waves to Gaza flotilla. Israel has indicated it intends to stop the boats reaching Gaza.

DFAT Telephone: 1300 555 135 (select option 6)
DFAT NSW Email: dfat.nsw@dfat.gov.au

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Flotilla News

Letter requesting official government support for Australian “Freedom Waves to Gaza” delegate

We wrote this following email to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade asking what official consular support would be extended to Michael if necessary, and requesting represention be made to Israeli authorities urging no interference with the boats currently on course for Gaza.

We are writing to request the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on behalf of the Australian Government make representation to Israeli authorities to allow the boats currently travelling through the Mediterranean Sea reach their destination without Israeli intervention.

The ‘Tahrir’ is carrying 12 people including Australian youth worker Michael Coleman. There is a second boat MV Saoirse also currently on route to Gaza.

We call on DFAT to implore Israel to not intervene or use force or violence against the unarmed peaceful activists and journalists on board these boats.

We request a statement of position from DFAT outlining how DFAT will assist and support Australian citizen Michael Coleman in the event of intervention and/or detention by Israeli authorities.

We also noted the following:
The Israeli military officials have this morning said they will block the two boats from reaching Gaza and a military spokesperson, Lieutenant-Colonel Avital Leibovich, told Reuters that Israel considered these boats a “provocation”.

We have confirmation that DFAT has received our letter and we are now awaiting their response.

Please consider phoning or writing a short email to the Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd asking him to support Michael and the efforts of the Freedom Waves to Gaza boats and denounce plans by Israel to militarily intervene. Contact details:

Minister for Foreign Affairs
The Hon Kevin Rudd MP
House of Representatives
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

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Flotilla News

Palestinian youth march in Gaza calling for international protection of “Freedom Waves” boats

For Immediate Release, 3 November 2011

Who: Palestinian youth in the Gaza Strip
What: March demanding international protection for “Freedom Waves to Gaza” flotilla
Where: Haidar Abdel Shafi Square, Gaza, Palestine
When: 12:30 pm Thursday, 3 November

Palestinian youth will march today in Gaza to demand that the United Nations and international community protect the “Freedom Waves to Gaza” flotilla against Israeli attacks.

“I support the flotilla because Israel says it’s no longer occupying Gaza,” said Rana Baker, a 20-year-old business administration student at Islamic University. “This would include the sea and freedom of movement. But this is not true, and the flotilla will once again prove this and confront a siege illegally imposed upon a mostly-civilian population.”

The gathering will begin in Gaza’s Haidar Abdel Shafi Square at 12:30 pm.

The youth will march by the nearby United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) building before holding a press conference in the Gaza Seaport.

“We support these boats,” said Hussien Amody, a 19-year-old computer engineering student at Al-Azhar University. “We want to prevent any Israeli attacks and break this illegal blockade.”

The demonstration will coincide with a 12:30 pm rally in Ramallah’s Manarah Square.

Contacts:
Rana Baker, (059) 962-5468
Jehan Alfarra, (059) 216-6994
Hussien Amody, (059) 972-5117

The International Solidarity Movement (ISM) is a Palestinian-led non-violent resistance movement committed to ending Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land. We call for full compliance with all relevant UN resolutions and international law.

Statement originally published here.

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Flotilla News

Track the Tahrir as it heads across the sea to Gaza

The Tahrir is currently on it’s way to Gaza.

It is making its way through international waters in the Mediterranean Sea.

Click here to watch the progress of the Tahrir as it sails to Gaza.

On board is Australian delegate Michael Coleman. Michael joins delegates from a number of countries, including Canada, comprised of six journalists, five activists and the captain.

As at 11am (AEST) Thursday 3 November, the Tahrir was in the following location:

This via Electronic Intifada, tracking the Freedom Waves flotilla in real time:

A second boat from Ireland, the MV Saoirse, is also currently in international waters making its way to Gaza as part of the Freedom Wave.

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Flotilla News

Australian delegate: “If you are seeing this I am currently in international waters off the coast of Gaza”

Michael Coleman is the Australian delegate on board the Tahrir which is currently in international waters bound for Gaza as part of the Freedom Waves initiative seeking to challenge the illegal blockade of Gaza by Israel:

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Flotilla News Media Releases

Australian on board Freedom Boat to Gaza

Canadian and Irish ships set to challenge Israel’s illegal blockade with Freedom Waves to Gaza

(0200/3 November 2011 Sydney time)

The next “Freedom Wave” to Gaza is on its way. Sydney based youth worker Michael Coleman (http://freegazaoz.org/delegates/) joins delegates from several countries on the Canadian boat Tahrir as it sets sail for Gaza.

Two civilian boats, the Canadian Tahrir (Liberation), and the Irish Saoirse (Freedom), carrying 27 people from nine countries have successfully reached international waters. The boats are currently in the Mediterranean Sea, preparing to sail for Gaza within a matter of hours.

 

On board, Michael says: “We make this move towards freedom for all of those who have been oppressed and all those in the struggle.”

In July this year, Michael took part in the Freedom Flotilla 2, which attempted to sail from various Greek ports in order to challenge the siege on Gaza. Michael was arrested and charged in Greece for his role in assisting the Tahrir leave port to sail toward Gaza.

Free Gaza Australia spokesperson James Godfrey said: “The Tahrir and Saoirseare now in international waters and hope to reach the shores of Gaza in a matter of days. Our main obstacles now are the Israeli Occupation Force and the complicity of western governments including Australia. The wind of public opinion is in our sails as the people of the world reject this illegal blockade.”

“We demand that the Australian Government takes all necessary steps to ensure Michael’s safety and that of the Tahrir. In particular we call on Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd to make representations to Israel to not interfere in any way with either of the boats as they peacefully sail to Gaza to challenge Israel’s illegal blockade.”

“Palestinian people in Gaza demand their human rights. They call for solidarity not charity. While humanitarian aid is helpful, Gazans are still prisoners with no freedom of movement, in violation of fundamental human rights. The blockade also prevents imports and exports of most goods which stifles economic activity and independence for the people of Gaza.”

The Freedom Waves to Gaza initiative is a non-violent, civil society movement to challenge the illegal blockade of Gaza. Like the Occupy movement, the people of the world are saying ‘no’ to military and economic power taking precedent over human dignity and freedom.

For more information or to interview Michael Coleman on board the Tahrir, contact:

Raul Bassi, 0403 037 376

James Godfrey, 0424 340 630

 

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