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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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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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Cleaned the slate

Dear Supporters,

Following our fundraising lunch “Cleaning the Slate” in Sydney last Sunday we are pleased to announce that thanks to the support of our many friends, we have now ‘cleaned the slate’. We have repaid all of the money we borrowed in order to participate in Freedom Waves to Gaza last November!

This leaves us clear to raise money for the next venture Gaza’s Ark. This project is focussed on building a boat with Palestinians in Gaza, to help export goods by sea from Palestine. It will give individuals and businesses the opportunity to express their solidarity with the people of Gaza by pledging to purchase particular items, the details of which we are currently negotiating.

We are hoping to raise $10,000 in Australia in the coming month to help in the preparations of the boat and hope that you can dig deep and spread the word to help achieve this ambitious target.

You can help by:

1. Giving your financial support:
Bank: Commonwealth Bank
Acc Name: GFF Australia Group
BSB: 062102 Acc No: 10197185

* Please insert your name into the reference section and send us an email to advise of your donation so we may directly thank you.

2. Giving of your time/skills – contact us to discuss how you would like to be involved: Publicity/Outreach, Fundraising, Media, Social Media, Website development or Planning.

Thank you very much for your support.

In solidarity,

Free Gaza Australia

Post: PO Box 542, Leichhardt NSW2040

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GazaAustralia

Twitter: @GFFAusGroup

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