Tag Archives: Gaza

‘Freedom Waves to Gaza’ flotilla leaves Turkey headed to Gaza

copied from my MondoWeiss article here

On Wednesday, November 2, two international ships left the Turkish harbor to carry humanitarian aid through the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

The event, called ‘Freedom Waves for Gaza’,  unites 27 activists from 9 countries, including America, Canada, Denmark, Belgium, Germany and Australia, alongside Palestinians from Bethlehem and Haifa, in a broad-based international movement to break Israel’s illegal and immoral suffocation of the 1.6 million inhabitants of the Gaza Strip. The Irish yacht Saoirse (Freedom), which carries 15 activists, and the Canadian boat Tahrir (Liberation), which holds 12, will attempt to carry $30,000 in medical supplies beyond the Israeli blockade later this week. ‘Freedom Waves for Gaza’ is the 11th attempt by international activists to deliver humanitarian aid through the Israeli blockade of Gaza since 2008.

For more Democracy Now reporting on the Freedom Waves flotilla see here.

As the boats navigate international waters, Palestinian youth activists will parade a large wooden effigy of the aid boats through the streets of Ramallah, while distributing white armbands and ribbons emblazoned ‘Freedom Waves for Gaza’. In addition, they will hold a demonstration outside of the UN office in Ramallah on Thursday, demanding that the UN end its compliance with the Israeli blockade and protect the humanitarian mission.

Indeed, in a letter given to the UN on Wednesday, Palestinian youth insisted that “it is incumbent upon the UN to take urgent steps to protect the boats en route to Gaza and all of the humanitarian volunteers aboard, as well as to declare its support for nonviolent, humanitarian action, designed to do what the UN and its members states have thus far failed to do.”

tahrir boat for web
The tahrir docked in Turkey. (Photo: Lina Attalah)

Organizers of the flotilla mission withheld the news from the world until the boats reached international waters, to prevent Israeli or international sabotage that plagued previous aid attempts. Though the humanitarian vessels departed from Fethiye, Turkey, organizers insist that the Turkish government is not involved with Freedom Waves for Gaza. Says Huwaida Arraf, “because Freedom Flotilla 1 was mostly an international effort, and because with the Mavi Marmara Turkish people were killed, it became mainly a Turkish thing…which detracted from the fact that it really was an international effort. So this time we want to show that it’s not just Turkey, its an international effort.” In fact, no Turkish citizens are aboard either of the two ships.

Freedom Waves for Gaza comes at a time when minor improvements to the situation- such as the opening of the Rafah land crossing from Egypt to Gaza in May- or minor concessions by Israel- such as its allowance of minor consumer goods into Gaza in the wake of the Mavi Marmara massacre in 2010, touted internationally as an ‘easing of the blockade’ (though it led led 10-year-old Gaza schoolchild Abed Rahmen Jadee to lament ‘I don’t want any more snacks or coke. I want a new school’)- have done little to meaningfully alleviate the humanitarian crisis that plagues the 1.6 million inhabitants of Gaza, half of whom are under the age of 16.

Organizer Huwaida Arraf, chair of the Free Gaza movement, stresses that “by reaching Palestinians through their own port, the flotilla defies the dehumanization of a whole population and supports the continuing efforts of the people of Gaza to assert their dignity. The Palestinians will accept nothing less than a total end to the illegal Israeli blockade of Gaza and all forms of violence and discrimination against them.”

The most recent figures published by the UN and international humanitarian and human rights organizations confirm that roughly 75 – 80% of the population rely on international aid in order to survive; 65% live below the poverty line; 52% are food insecure; approximately 40% are unemployed; there are no building materials for much-needed schools and hospitals; 90 – 95% of the drinking water is contaminated and unfit for consumption; seriously ill patients cannot get access to the specialist treatment that would potentially save their lives; and children are suffering untreated post-traumatic stress as a result of the white phosphorous shells used illegally in Israel’s invasion in January 2009.

In its declaration to the UN, the Palestinian youth stated that “in our schools, universities and through our organizations, we are taught about human rights and international law, and yet it seems like Palestinians fall into a class of people upon whom these rights don’t apply. Like the blacks in America a half a century ago, or in South Africa two decades ago, we are victims of an exclusivist ideology and those who tolerate and enable it.”

The declaration continues- “Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit has been returned to his family, removing one of Israel’s main pretexts, albeit not a justification, for its Draconian closure policy.  And while 1027 Palestinian prisoners have been exchanged for Shalit (although 550 have yet to be released), over 1.5 million Palestinians remain caged in the prison that is Gaza.”

During the campaign, Witness Gaza (witnessgaza.com) will be a central information hub, in contact with representative organizations from activists’ home countries. Palestinian youth representatives will be updating the world via Twitter at #PALWaves, as will international activists aboard the ships- unless Israel jams the communications signal, as has occurred in previous flotilla aid attempts.

In Wednesday’s press release, Majd Kayyal, a Palestinian activist from Haifa aboard the Tahrir, insisted that “Israel has caged Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, prohibiting physical contact between us. We want to break the siege Israel has imposed on our people. The fact that we’re in international waters is already a victory for the movement.”

As new Israeli airstrikes are claiming lives in Gaza, and as Benjamin Netanyahu threatens to intensify the bombardments, it is due time to once again bring to the world’s attention what the UN in 2009 called the ‘protracted human dignity crisis’ caused by Israel’s closure of Gaza. Says Huwaida Arraf, “the people of Gaza have called on the peoples and governments of the world to challenge an illegal, immoral, and irrational Israeli naval blockade that has caused, and continues to cause, incalculable human suffering. We are responding to that call. Our primary aim is to overcome the continuing blockade of Gaza through civil resistance and non-violent direct action, and to establish a permanent sea lane between Gaza and the rest of the world.”

For up to the minute information on the Freedom Waves flotilla:  http://witnessgaza.com/

On Twitter: @PalWaves #FreedomWaves

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Pre-Dawn Raids in Bethlehem and Hebron

At 3 AM this morning we were all sitting around, giddily awake from our indignation over the fact that the top story on the ISM website was a travelogue called ‘the absurdity of feeding kittens in palestine’, written by newcomers, which detailed, among other things, how absurd it was that they hitched a ride from an Israeli settler- something one is never to do in ISM, not only because A.S.A.B. (all settlers are bastards), but also because were a Palestinian to see you in the car with a settler, they may think you are a spy, and it would ruin the trust and solidarity between Palestinians and that region in the entire ISM. How worse, then, for a story advertising such a fact to be given front page status on the website, where Palestinians all over the region, not to mention internationals all over the world, can see it! And how even more absurd that this is the case, when Gaza is under siege! Gaza is under siege, and when the international community comes to our website to learn about what is going on or what is to be done, they see that we are feeding kittens in Palestine, watching a camel be abused by Palestinians and crying, and hitching a ride from Israeli settlers!

We had all just finished demanding that the article be removed, and writing an angry letter to the ISM core, when a twitter feed popped up on someone’s screen- 35 arrested in raids in Hebron, IDF soldiers storming the village. Instantly we called the Hebron ISM flat, woke them up and told them to get out there, though we heard the checkpoints were rapidly closing. The tension mounted- within minutes more feeds were popping up- 50 arrested, 60 arrested…when we heard, about half an hour later, that soldiers also appeared in Bethlehem, it dawned on us that we were witnessing a full-scale assault on the West Bank, and we called everyone in the ISM, woke them up, threw clothes on and got ready to leave to Hebron. If it was true that even 50 had been arrested in Hebron in the course of an hour before dawn, this would still be the largest such operation in 8 years.

Since I am going to get my visa renewed in a week, it was decided that I should stay behind and be the media man, keeping everyone on the ground updated, because an arrest or detention could compromise my chances of getting a new visa. My friend Kyle and I sipped coffee as the sun rose, neurotically refreshing the Twitter pages, translating obscure posts in Arabic with Google translator, texting every bit of information we found to the folks on the ground- ‘soldiers outside information and service offices’; ‘soldiers in the towns of Doura, Beit Ola, Nouba, Yatta, Surif and Al Sammoa’;…reports kept surfacing that ‘Hebron, Bethlehem and Nablus’ were under siege, but we are in Nablus, and repeatedly walked out onto the roof to look on the ground for tanks or soldiers, and saw and heard nothing. Eventually the Nablus news was receded, probably a bit of gossip caused by collective hysteria and incessant re-tweeting.

As the sun was rising, I went out to the roof, every little sound I heard made me jump; insecurity hung over the air, that this beautiful, peaceful mountain town would suddenly be pierced by screams or explosions. Just then, the call to prayer began to blare out of the loudspeaker below my roof, and its cry echoed through the mountains. I was overcome by what I heard in the singing- ‘do not worry; god will protect; this too has come already, this too shall pass, and we shall resist, and bear witness to the terror and the atrocities that are committed on this earth. though we are under siege, our people’s spirit is strong; fear not tanks, nor guns, nor war, remain strong through sorrow, firm your footsteps in this sorrowful world’. my bones shivered to hear such an emotion ring so palpably in the singer’s voice, and echo through the canyons.

here is the report I wrote for the ISM website-

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Just before dawn today, Sunday August 21, IDF forces raided the towns of Hebron and Bethlehem in the West Bank. So far, 120 people have been arrested in Hebron, including at least 70 Hamas leaders.

According to the International Middle East Media Center, after midnight over 100 military vehicles and jeeps entered Hebron from 4 entrances, and raided 6 villages in addition to Hebron City, breaking into homes and occupying the streets, from which Palestinian security services were conspicuously absent. Israeli forces assaulted and detained a Palestinian man during a raid on the home of the Mufti of Bethlehem, in the refugee camp of Duheisha. So far, 2 Palestinians have been wounded by Israeli gunfire in Bethlehem.
Though no statement has been released by Israel concerning the reason for the raids and arrests, they appear to be targeting Hamas leaders, presumably in retaliation for Hamas rocket attacks coming from Gaza in the last two days.A group of ISM activists stationed in Hebron have rushed to the scene, as have ISM activists in Nablus. As of now, mobile checkpoints have been set up around Ramallah and Jerusalem. Gaza was surprisingly quiet tonight, given that it is has been under seige for the last 3 days; apparently, the occupation forces spent the night gearing up to sweep through the West Bank.

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So far, Democracy Now and Al Jazeera have not reported these raids; the only major news outlet seems to be the small Ma’an News Agency.

Needless to say, it is very, very exciting to be caught up in this whirlwind! It seems grim, however, as things look to be getting worse. As I said, an operation this large has not occurred in 8 years, and it has happened overnight, and still continues, and could accelerate in any direction throughout the West Bank. Israel is obviously showing off its might and cracking down, as a reaction against Thursday’s attacks, as a distraction from the social protests that threaten to turn the country upside down, and as a disturbing call to arms and national unity in the face of the UN Palestinian resolution set for late September.

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