Tag Archives: Palestine

Gaza's Ark News News

Trivia Night in support of Gaza’s Ark

Help us turn this picture of Gaza's Ark into a reality

Date: 1st November

Time: 7.oopm for a 7.30pm start

Venue: Marrickville, Sydney, NSW

Facebook Event Link: http://www.facebook.com/#!/events/440430162665473/

Free Gaza Australia is hosting an unmissable fundraiser. Bring your friends and colleagues along for anight of progressive trivia (including a bonus Palestine round) in support of Gaza’s Ark > www.gazaark.com

There will be entertainment/live performances and spot prizes

* nibbles provided

* soft/alcoholic drinks will be available for purchase

Tickets in advance: $25 waged/ $10 unwaged/student

Tickets on the door: $30 waged/$15 unwaged/student

Tickets can be purchased by depositing the ticket amount/s and referencing name/s into our:

Bank Account: Commonwealth Bank

Acc. Name: GFF Australia Group

BSB: 062102 Acc. No: 10197185

(insert your name into the reference section and send an email to freegazaaustralia@gmail.com to advise of your payment)

* To assist with logistics if you are organising a team please send us an email advising the names and the number of waged/unwaged tickets you are buying > freegazaaustralia@gmail.com

See you there !

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Gaza's Ark News News

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

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 News

50 aid groups demand end to Gaza blockade

As the inhumane blockade of Gaza enters it’s sixth year it’s not enough for 50 Aid organisation to demand an end to the collective punishment of the Palestinian residents of Gaza, as they have done below. It is high time we demand similar calls from our elected officials – contact Julia Gillard and Bob Carr and express you disgust at their inaction over the illegal blockade > FGA – this article was first published on Ma’an News on the 14/06/2012.

Fifty international charities and UN agencies called Thursday on Israel to lift its years-long blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Marking the fifth anniversary of the siege, the organizations — among them Amnesty International, Médecins du Monde, Oxfam, and Save the Children — joined agencies like the World Health Organization, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights  UNICEF and four other UN agencies in urging Israel to lift the siege “now.”
“For over five years in Gaza, more than 1.6 million people have been under blockade in violation of international law. More than half of these people are children. We the undersigned say with one voice: ‘end the blockade now,'” the petition said.
Israel imposed restrictions on trade to Gaza in 2001 following the outbreak of a Palestinian uprising and tightened them further in 2007 after Hamas took over in the coastal enclave adjacent to Egypt, which also enforces a blockade.

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Occupation News

Co-existence vs. Co-resistance: A case against normalization

In this article Omar Rahman makes one of the best  arguments against normalisation I have ever read, hear hear Omar > FGA – This article was first published Tuesday, January 3 2012 on +972 Magazine

Although the “anti-normalization” debate has been around a long time, its resurgence in public discourse can likely be attributed to two things: the rise of the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement and the beginning of a transitional period in internal Palestinian politics.

Due to the very nature of the BDS movement, everything pertaining to Israel is put under the microscope and scrutinized. Subsequently, any relationship between Palestinians and Israelis is done so in spades. BDS encourages its adherents to look critically at everything they do and everything that is happening around them. It is important to distinguish what works in the service of achieving Palestinian rights and what does not, or even works against it. This is why the BDS movement has produced strict and coherent guidelines for what can be considered worthy of boycott and what constitutes normalization.

Secondly, the era in which Palestinians and Israelis engaged in dialogue under the wider auspices and example of governmental-led negotiations is coming to an end—at least for the time being. We are now at the cusp of a transitional period in Palestinian politics where the lack of a clear strategy and path forward on the diplomatic and resistance fronts is forcing Palestinians to look internally at the state of their own society and political situation. Reconciliation and reform within their fractured political system are desperately needed in order to move cohesively in a new direction. Thus many Palestinians have started to re-examine the logic of their relationships with Israelis and criticize those Palestinians who have benefited immensely from it over the years while others around them have suffered.

When we consider the resurgence of anti-normalization, we must also remember that the post-Oslo period witnessed an explosion in normalization programs and projects between Israelis and Palestinians. Any organization, group or program that had “joint” or “co-existence” in reference to Israelis and Palestinians was instantly given credibility and financing on the world stage. Such programs became extremely lucrative and many people profited with little regard to the actual state of the conflict and its overall deterioration. Even prior to the breakout of the Second Intifada, but largely afterwards, normalization programs lost their relevance. We were no longer in the post-conflict transitional period we thought Oslo had ushered in, and things got worse, not better.

FEELING COMFORTABLE WITH OPPRESSION

It has become senseless for Israelis and Palestinians to act like nothing is wrong with the status quo and carry-on with such projects. Normalization may be fine for those bridging the gaps between people in India and Pakistan or Venezuela and Colombia—where the two sides are on equal footing—but not in Israel/Palestine where one side lives under the yoke and chain of the other. When we seek to normalize this relationship by giving each other equal standing and equal voice, we project an image of symmetry. Joint sports teams and theatre groups, hosting an Israeli orchestra in Ramallah or Nablus, all these things create a false sense of normality, like the issue is only a problem of recognizing each other as human beings. This, however, ignores the ongoing oppression, colonization, and denial of rights, committed by one side against the other.

Moreover, normalization creates a false sense in the mind of Israelis that they are working for peace, while in actuality, though maybe unwittingly, they are contributing to the calcification of the status quo. Their energy is misdirected away from root causes and channeled into making the current situation more tolerable—largely for themselves—by helping them to cope with wider injustices occurring in their name. Many Israelis who participate in normalization projects believe that they are detached, that they are not part of the problem, because they have some Palestinian friends or colleagues, even if they are doing nothing to rectify the actual injustices that have been committed by their society daily for over half a century. In the words of Israeli architectural theorist Eyal Weizman in his monumental work on the architecture of occupation, Hollow Land: “The history of the occupation is full of liberal ‘men of peace’ who are responsible for, or who at least sweeten, the injustice committed by the occupation. The occupation would not have been possible without them.”

Likewise, these normalization projects are put on display for all the world to see, so that they may all feel comfortable and say: look, the moderates are resolving the differences in a civilized manner. This is probably why the largest contributors to normalization projects are not Israelis and Palestinians themselves, but rather the international community. These programs work in much the same way as endless negotiations, offering a semblance of progress so that the world may deceive itself without having to take real action.

I do not discount the authenticity of Israelis who desire to see a just peace. Nor do I overlook the importance of meeting your enemy on a human level, of the power of these efforts in defusing tension, mistrust, and misunderstanding. But we can’t ignore the negative impact of normalization given the ongoing occupation and colonial enterprise. We must ask ourselves, what did all the normalizing get Palestinians after Oslo except for deterioration in their circumstance? For all the money pumped into these programs why are there no statistics or data showing they work? Why does no one think to question the effectiveness of normalization, including its proponents, in the case of Mr. Abu Sarah’s article? We can sit back and comfort each other that we are not fanatics or extremists, and that may be all well and good, but the fanatics are determining the reality on the ground while liberals and moderates provide a veneer of normality and progress.

The truth is when we “normalize” relations with Israel and Israelis without bearing to the political situation, we legitimize Israel despite its continued oppression of Palestinians and its colonial policies on Palestinian land. We must remember that the greatest boon in Israeli history came after the Oslo Accords were signed. Many countries around the world that had refused to have “normal” relations with Israel reversed their policies. This false peace opened Israel up to the wider international community, spurring unprecedented growth and trade. By reversing the normalization trend, we strip the conflict of many illusions and niceties in favor of exposing the raw truth.

Mr. Abu Sarah portrays anti-normalization like it is based purely on hate for the “other.” In order to do this he ignores the strongest arguments against normalization in exchange for obscure notions that take anti-normalization to the extreme; such as any instance in which a Palestinian and an Israeli come together constitutes normalization. In my own experience meeting people who are against normalization, I came to understand that Israelis are valued and encouraged to take part in the resistance movement to occupation. As long as an Israeli is working for Palestinian rights and the end to occupation, the cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians is perfectly legitimate and justified. This is the concept of “co-resistance” as opposed to “co-existence,” and should hardly be described as radical.

Yet, Mr. Abu Sarah’s article chooses to harp on these extreme cases at the expense of a serious argument over the topic. In what constituted an extensive blog post, there is little argument discussing why normalization activities are valid and beneficial; rather the entire piece is devoted to portraying anti-normalization as irrational. Some of his claims are true, such as those who use “normalization” as a character attack for dubious ends. But none of that still gets to the heart of the matter. I simply want to know, are we better off today because of normalization projects?

THE KIDS RETURN HOME

I wish to conclude this piece with an example of normalization from my own history. When I was fifteen years old, I was a participant in the Seeds of Peace program, which brings young teenagers from conflict zones together to a summer camp in the northeastern United States. Although originally set up for Israelis and Arabs, the program expanded over the years to include Greek and Turkish Cypriots, Indians and Pakistanis, and others. In each session there was also a delegation of American teenagers, of which I was a part. This was still prior to the breakdown of the Oslo Accords and the outbreak of the Second Intifada and most believed we were on the path to peace. Teenagers, who for the most part had never met someone from the other side before, would tell stories from their own experience in the hope of making their enemy understand them. Yet, I can still remember feeling at the time that the effort would be somehow wasted when these kids returned home because even I knew that, despite pretenses, there was no real peace on the ground. During my trips to the West Bank to visit my extended family, I would see and feel the military presence that continued to persist in the still-occupied territories. And in the “co-existence” sessions at Seeds of Peace, I would hear from those Palestinians what life still held for them.

The most poignant moment for me, however, was when a Palestinian teenager near the end of the program asked an Israeli teenager if he would still join the army and serve in the occupied territories, to which the answer was “yes”. To me, this said it all. What did this whole program mean if in a few years that Israeli teenager would be sitting at a checkpoint in the West Bank and shoving his M-16 in the face of a Palestinian while asking for his ID? Would it make him a more compassionate soldier serving in an inherently unjust system? When all the fun and games were over, we each returned to our respective societies and things stayed the same.

If these teenagers had returned to a cold peace, it may have been different. They could continue to work to establish more friendly relations between their respective peoples. But for Palestinians and Israelis, they live everyday in a system of imbalance and injustice where one side is oppressing the other through an engineered structure of superiority and subjugation. That is it. Normalization can try to make you forget that fact, but the next time a gun barrel is pointed in your direction, or a cousin is arrested and thrown in prison, or the home of a neighbor is bulldozed, or your relatives in Gaza fall under the bombs, you will be hard pressed to do so.

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Flotilla News

Lee Rhiannon: Call for govt action on Australian detained in Israel

7 November 2011

Call for govt action on Australian detained in Israel

Greens NSW Senator Lee Rhiannon has called on the Israeli government to immediately release Michael Coleman, an Australian member of the Freedom Waves to Gaza Flotilla, who has been arrested by the Israeli Defence Force.

“I have also asked the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to work hard to ensure Mr Coleman is safe and is released without delay,” Senator Rhiannon said.

“It is the Israeli Defence Forces that have acted illegally as the boat Mr Coleman and other Freedom Waves participants were on was in international waters when intercepted.

“University of Western Ontario Professor David Heap has reported that he and Mr Coleman were transported to prison in handcuffs and leg shackles. I understand Professor Heap was tasered.

“I know Mr Coleman and congratulate him for his work in highlighting the destructive Israeli blockade of Gaza.

“I have spoken to Mr Coleman’s father who told me he is pleased with the contact he has had with DFAT but does request that every effort is made to have his son released immediately as he has done nothing wrong.

“Mr Coleman and his colleagues are to be commended for their efforts to deliver $30,000 worth of medical aid to Gaza,” Senator Rhiannon said.

“The United Nations Human Rights Council Inquiry Report of September 2010 found that the Israeli blockade of Gaza is illegal. It is time to end it once and for all,” Senator Rhiannon said.

Contact: 0487 350 880 // lee-rhiannon.greensmps.org.au/

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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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Uncategorized

CALL TO ACTION: We need your financial support now more than ever!

Dear Friends and Supporters,

Earlier this year we were keen to get involved in the Freedom Flotilla 2 – Stay Human initiative. We did not have the capacity to organise a boat on our own so sought and found an international partner – the Canadian Boat to Gaza group. We contributed funds to a shared ownership of the boat (Tahrir) and our ongoing fund-raising is dedicated to that purpose.

The recent appeal by a wide range of Palestinian organisations in Gaza for boats to come to break the blockade has confirmed the continuing importance of the flotilla strategy. Now we are on board the Tahrir again for Freedom Waves to Gaza. We need to raise money to repay a loan that we secured which enabled us to continue our partnership in the Tahrir on this mission, as well as building a kitty to assist with publicity and logistics.

We need your financial support at this critical point and we hope that as supporters of this campaign you will be able to assist in funding this phase of the Flotilla.

Can you donate to the Free Gaza Australia and support the Australian delegation?

We here at Free Gaza Australia are all so proud of our Australian delegate Michael Coleman who is right now on board the Tahrir bound for Gaza! We made a commitment to Palestinians and civil society activists that we would uphold a promise to continue to challenge Israel’s blockade of Gaza. As such we’ve sent along Michael Coleman to take part in the current Freedom Waves to Gaza initiative. It’s an exciting mission, but a dangerous one. Already the Israeli military have said they are prepared to stop the boat Michael is on using any means necessary.

Please support Michael on board the Tahrir.

As a long-term committed Palestinian solidarity activist, for years Michael has been committed to justice and freedom for the people of Palestine. He has spent tireless hours working with local groups and non-profits in Sydney on solidarity advocacy. He has done voluntary work in Nablus in the West Bank of Palestine for Project Hope, teaching English and music production, and is working on establishing a non-profit incorporated association called ‘Music for the Dark Corners’ to support strategies to challenge the occupation and show solidarity with the Palestinian people. We reckon he’s a pretty solid advocate for our shared vision of a free Palestine!

If you agree, we’d be so grateful for your support at this time.

Earlier this year he took part in the Freedom Flotilla 2 – Stay Human with three other Australian delegates.

At crunch time, along with another peace activist Michael bravely paddled a kayak around the Greek board where the Tahrir was docked, in an effort to help the Tahrir leave port and head toward Gaza. The Tahrir didn’t quite make it but Michael’s resolve to challenge the illegal blockade of Gaza by Israel was only strengthened.

Your financial support will further strengthen this campaign.

The Freedom Waves to Gaza initiative has two boats headed toward Gaza, and Michael is proud to be on board for such an important peaceful civilian-to-civilian initiative to challenge Israel’s ongoing military seige of Gaza. The Freedom Waves flotilla has already attracted media coverage from all over the world, including from Democracy Now and Al Jazeera. We are helping shine a light on how Israel is dishing out collective punishment to 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza!

This is an important awareness raising initiative and you can help support our Australian delegate. Any financial contribution is so appreciated and is vital in helping put crucial pressure on Israel to free Gaza.

Your financial donation makes this exciting Palestinian solidarity campaign possible!

Bank: Commonwealth Bank
Acc Name: GFF Australia Group
BSB: 062102
Acc No: 10197185

Please do let us know if you are able to donate so that we can recognise your important contribution.

Thank you for your support,

Free Gaza Australia

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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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Occupation News

Gaza: The End of Tunnelnomics

Is Hamas’s lucrative underground trade about to come to a screeching halt? May 4, 2011

RAFAH, Egypt — “I recently lost one of my tunnels,” Abu Jawad told me nonchalantly. “An Israeli drone flew by, identifying its coordinates, and within minutes an IDF jet had dropped a precision-guided missile, destroying its exit.”

To Abu Jawad, a Palestinian tunnel entrepreneur and owner/operator of several tunnels, this was another workplace hazard. He cut an imposing figure at over 6 feet tall, with a glaring black moustache and a high-tech hunting vest worn over his traditional galabiyya, with several walk-talkies, pulley grips, and other bits of equipment stuffed in it. “I would fix it for about $10,000, but it’s not worth the re-investment as the Israelis already have its coordinates,” he concluded with a shrug. “I might just have to build another.”

My friend and I had set off from Cairo to the Egyptian-Israeli border hoping to cross into Gaza to report on the state of the border after the Egyptian revolution in January, and to show our solidarity with the Palestinian people. We were now receiving a crash course in Tunnelnomics — the unique capitalist math behind the smuggling tunnels connecting Egypt with Gaza.

Since Israel’s 2008 assault on Gaza, which it termed Operation Cast Lead, there has been a virtual blockade on the territory. Israel and former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s regime allowed only minimal humanitarian supplies into Gaza, and prohibited all other shipments. Israel controls the airspace, sea passageways, and all the land crossings into Gaza — except for the one at Rafah, which straddles the border.

Since the Egyptian revolution, tunnel owners have indicated that it is still “business as usual” along the border. However, there are indications that Egypt’s current rulers, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), are loosening the blockade on Gaza. Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil El Araby said in late April that the Rafah crossing would soon be open on a permanent basis, describing Egypt’s previous policy on Gaza as “shameful.”

But while Egypt sorts out its post-revolutionary politics, Gaza continues to suffer. A report by the World Food Program and the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) found that, since the 2008 offensive, more than 61 percent of Gazans now suffer from food insecurity and rely on humanitarian aid agencies to feed their families. “Restrictions imposed on the civilian population by the continuing blockade of the Gaza Strip amount to collective punishment, a violation of international humanitarian law,” the report argued.

Tunnels, or “lines” as they are known locally, are a profitable business in an otherwise economically impoverished area, both on the Egyptian and the Palestinian side of the border. In Gaza, the tunnels are the lifeline of both Hamas and the approximately 1.5 million people living there. They are used to smuggling supplies, cars, weapons, fuel — even livestock.

But the tunnels at Rafah are an equally precious asset for the impoverished residents on the Egyptian side of the border. The Bedouins who inhabit the Sinai Peninsula were furious that Mubarak, after reassuming control from Israel in 1982, continued to neglect the economic development of the region. Instead, the former president directed billions of dollars of investment toward seaside resorts such as Sharm El Sheikh, where he kept a chic modern seaside residence, while completely neglecting the less glamorous parts of Sinai. The Bedouins, therefore, see the tunnels as a golden opportunity to improve their livelihood in an otherwise economically stagnant area.

“What other opportunities do I have here?” asked Abu Mukhtar, an Egyptian tunnel part-owner. “Open a grocery? Work in a hotel in Sharm El Sheikh? Neither option will make much money. I can partner in a tunnel and make a decent living for myself and my family.”

Like any industry, there are start-ups and well-established businesses. According to Abdel Jawad, the cost of a tunnel can start at $15,000 for a four foot-high by three foot-wide tunnel used to smuggle cartons of cement (resembling more of a hole than a tunnel), and can reach up to $150,000 for a state-of-the art, 10 by 6-foot tunnel used to smuggle cars.

As Rafah is effectively one city divided between two sides, Palestinians and Egyptians enter into partnerships to build and operate the tunnels. Tunnels usually start under a house in Egypt, and end up in a house in Gaza. Each side is manned by an “operations manager” who is in close contact via cell phones and walkie-talkies with his counterpart on the other side. When a delivery comes through, it is either carried or pulled through tunnels with a pulley system. Some tunnels use ropes to lift the cargo up on the Palestinian side, while others even make use of electric elevators.

An entrepreneurial Egyptian or Palestinian can pocket a tidy profit from a tunnel.

A ton of cement can cost between $200 and $300. Cars assembled locally in Egypt, such as the Hyundai Elantra and Chevrolet Cruise, can cost around $2,000. More luxurious sedans like the Honda Accord — several of which we observed cruising around Rafah with no license plates, presumably destined for the tunnel trade — could cost more than $3,000.

The operation is a closely regulated industry, with Hamas appointing a “head of Tunnels Authority” to oversee the operation, maintain quality standards, levy taxes, and impose fines for “illegal” transport of goods and people, meaning transfers unauthorized by Hamas. According to Yezid Sayigh of King’s College London, Hamas earned an estimated $200 million from tunnel taxes in 2009.

The dangers are as great as the potential rewards. Smugglers risk tunnel collapses, Israeli strikes, as well Hamas’s wrath should they attempt to smuggle unauthorized and unregistered cargo. Nonetheless, considering the economic situation on both sides of the border, it is a risk many are willing to take. Material passes through during the night and day; I have witnessed trucks laden with construction materials, such as cement and iron bars, cross Egyptian Rafah’s central plaza only to appear later, empty, having discharged their cargo.

Non-Palestinians trying to get into Palestinian Rafah are vetted by Hamas, which charges a $100 fee to cross. To have our visit approved, we had to submit an email application to our contact in Gaza, who then presented it to the Tunnel Authority. It explained who we are, what we do, and why we were attempting to enter the strip. Our contact returned with a negative response: The authority refused our application out of fear of jeopardizing Hamas’s relations with Egypt’s new government.

Hamas is hoping that its improving ties with the new military government in Cairo will finally bring an end to the blockade on Gaza. High-ranking Hamas officials have been shuttling in for meetings with Egyptian authorities since the revolution, signifying an end to Mubarak’s hostility toward the group. These talks recently culminated signing of a reconciliation accord between Hamas and Fatah, the dominant party in the West Bank.

The shifting political terrain in Egypt may indeed convince the government to reopen the Rafah crossing. Egypt’s newly empowered Muslim Brotherhood is set to make major gains in upcoming future elections. The Brotherhood, which enjoys close historical ties to Hamas, has long championed the Palestinian cause and supports a full reopening of the border.

One potential motive for opening the border, then, may be to take away one of the Brotherhood’s campaign issues and gain popular support by reversing Mubarak’s detested policy on Gaza. El Araby’s announcements have been hailed in the media and have so far resonated very well with the Egyptian people. The prime minister, Essam Sharaf, also visited Sinai at the end of April to apologize publicly for years of neglect toward the region.

The moment may be approaching when Egypt opens the Rafah border unconditionally to cargo and people, thus bringing an end to the tunnel industry. The Bedouin, however, have been promised many things, only to see the government fail to deliver. “We have heard a lot of talk of this before. I will believe it when I see it,” Abu Mukhtar said. “If it happens, I will have to find another job.”

Until that day, tunnelnomics continues to rule in Rafah.

This article was written by Adel Abdel Ghafar, and first published on Foreign Policy on May 4, 2011.

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