Free Gaza! Aid boat prepares to break Israeli siege

IssueMarch 2009
Feature by Kathy Laluk

The Free Gaza Movement is, at the time of going to press, preparing to break the Israeli siege on Gaza again. They hope to send a cargo ship (with building supplies and medical equipment), and a passenger boat (with at least 50 passengers), and are appealing for funds to enable this to happen. Whether or not they succeed in acquiring additional boats, they will be des Spirit of Humanity, which was turned back by Israeli gunboats in January, intends to depart for Gaza in mid-March.

The two previous Free Gaza expeditions, on 29 December and 15 January, were broken off after Israeli gunboats threatened and fired on the boats about 90 miles from Gaza.

The SS Dignity was actually rammed three times on 30 December, severely damaging the wheelhouse and part of the upper deck (see last issue for a picture).

Derek Graham, a first mate on the voyages, said Free Gaza needed to send boats to Gaza, and send a message to the community — that the movement is serious about rebuilding the region.

Viva Palestina

Meanwhile, MP George Galloway’s aid convoy, Viva Palestina, lost thousands of pounds of donations after news broke that members had been arrested under anti-terror laws.

Lancashire police halted three vehicles, which were taking aid and medical supplies to Gaza, and arrested nine men under the Terrorism Act as they drove down the M65 to the start of the journey. The rest of the 100-vehicle convoy departed without the nine and, at the time of going to press, had reached Morocco.

The nine volunteers were released without charge; Galloway is calling for an investigation. The convoy has received warm welcomes on their journey so far, even in Algeria, which opened its Moroccan border for the first time in 15 years to let the group pass. A spokesperson said the group remains optimistic about entrance into Gaza via the Egyptian border.

The siege

Liberal Democrat member of the European Parliament Chris Davies, the only British politician to enter Gaza during the most recent Israeli onslaught, pointed out on 16 February that although 500 lorry loads of food and other supplies are needed each day in Gaza, Israel was at that time allowing only 130 to pass through checkpoints controlled by its troops.

Only 15 types of goods were being permitted by the Israelis with everything else banned, he added: “Paper for schools, nappies, water purifying tablets, concrete for rebuilding, they are all prohibited. The normal life of a big city is impossible.”

Nearly 90% of the population in Gaza is dependent on food aid; key public services are facing serious shortages of basic materials; Gaza’s agriculture and industry have been laid waste, deepening poverty, hunger and unemployment. The Israeli siege is stopping even concrete from entering the territory.