On August 23, two boats carrying international activists broke the siege of Gaza by landing in Gaza's harbour. The boats have since left again, leaving some of the activists behind, and taking some Palestinians with them back to Cyprus. However the activists plan to return to Gaza on September 22 – amongst other things, delivering mail to the Palestinians. In this post, we look at some Gazan reactions to the breaking of the siege, as well as accounts by the activists.
Heba is not sure what the future holds, but is happy the boats came at all:
The freedom ships made it to Gaza. It is a small victory that counts so much. So much solidarity, love, and hope were shipped directly to our hearts by the arrival of the peace groups to Gaza shores. […] So much courage, commitment and belief were displayed in this journey coming all the way from Cyprus to besieged Gaza. Has the siege ended? Surely it has not, though hope is always there. However, just the gesture – of thinking about Gaza people and of actually moving from passive sympathy to proactively deciding to take this journey to tell Gaza people that they are not alone, their voice is heard , their story is known, and they deserve unlimited support – is worthy of great respect.
The international activists have been trying to support the Palestinians in whichever way they can. Dr Mona El-Farra gives an example:
The success of the Free Gaza Movement gave us some hope for the future, it was a small act, but great and courageous too; a few determined, strong activists did the miracle. In an unprecedented voyage, the first boats to arrive from international waters to Gaza shores in 41 years. A lot of work can be done to make the change, to ring the bell, to wake up the deaf, silent and blind international community governments. What is happening in Gaza under the siege and the occupation is not only a human rights violation, it is a war crime.
I was with the Free Gaza Movement and the re-constituted Gaza International Solidarity Movement at Erez crossing last Sunday (the northern border between Gaza and Israel) to make pressure and let one of the patients out for treatment. We succeeded in the end but the hard question is, why should it take all these extravagant efforts to let one patient in great need for emergency surgery out of Gaza????????????
Some activists also accompanied Gazan fishermen out to sea, as the International Solidarity Movement reports:
On the 1st September 2008, the first day of Ramadan, several volunteers with the Free Gaza Movement and the International Solidarity Movement accompanied a small fleet of seven fishing vessels from Gaza City port. … The fishing fleet reached approximately nine miles offshore and began trawling along the Gazan coast, well within international limits. Usually the Israeli Navy prevents Gazan fishing vessels from accessing beyond six miles and in many cases only three miles, by attacking the boats, sometimes lethally, or by arresting the fishermen. However, this day’s fishing resulted in a highly successful catch due to the ability to access richer fishing grounds further offshore.
However, Israeli Naval gunboats fired warning shots at the boats:
One activist, Vittorio Arrigoni, gave an account of what happened:
When at a distance, estimated by our fishing boat’s captain, of seven nautical miles from the coast, we dropped our fishing nets and started fishing, the Israeli warships rushed to reach our position. One of the warships positioned at a distance less than 200 metres alongside of our fishing boat, opened fire in our direction at least four times during the day. It was intimidating fire directed into the water, but some bursts almost touched the hull of our boat. A cannon shot almost reached us. Making attempt of obtaining a radio contact was useless. Soldiers on the Israeli warship ordered, with the use of megaphones, the area evacuation. And after that they were shooting. Sometimes they were shooting before having been ordered.
Vittorio Arrigoni's blog in Italian can be seen here.
The Free Gaza boats plan to return later this month:
On September 22nd the Free Gaza Movement will return to Gaza to demonstrate that the sea lanes between Gaza and the rest of the world have been permanently opened, and we're going to take the mail with us! Currently, all mail sent to Palestinians from abroad must first be delivered to Israel. Mail is regularly blocked by Israel and prevented from being delivered to the people of Gaza. We believe that the mail must go through, so we're going to take it in ourselves.