SchNews Friday 29th August 2008
The Israeli military had said that it was prepared to open fire on the unarmed civilian boats, the SS Free Gaza and the SS Liberty. This was not a threat to be taken lightly given Israel’s willingness to shoot internationals who come peacefully supporting Palestinian rights - both Rachel Corrie and Tom Hurndall were murdered by the Israeli army in the Gaza Strip (See SchNEWS 405).
The last half century have been hard on Gaza. Since it was made the reluctant home of some 300,000 refugees from Palestine in 1948 (the bits now known as Israel), Gaza has always been at the forefront of Palestinian resistance. Gaza was where the First Intifada started, and it was in Gaza that the Palestinians’ urban guerilla war persuaded the Israelis to leave, dismantling their settlements and pulling their troops out. Ever the sore loser, Israel simply moved its forces to Gaza’s borders, ensuring that virtually nothing gets in or out of Gaza without their say so.
The noose around Gaza has been tightening year on year. Following the election of Hamas to government, the capture by Palestinian armed groups of an Israeli soldier, and then Hamas’ armed takeover of the Strip, the stranglehold on Gaza has gotten tighter and tighter until now only tiny number of certain types of goods are allowed through. Gazan hospitals are virtually empty of medicine - 107 classes of basic medicines are denied and there’s no fuel for vehicles (and barely enough for cooking). Malnutrition amongst children and adults is reaching shocking levels.
For what it’s worth the UN Palestinian refugees director John Ging has made some harsh comments (well, harsh for the UN), calling the siege ‘profoundly inhumane and counter-productive’ (you don’t say).
A group of dedicated internationals did what they could to send a lifeline and message of solidarity to Gaza. Forty four people (including activists, academics, holocaust survivors and, not to forget, Tony Blair’s sister in law) sailed with the two boats, arriving safely across the 200 miles that separates Cyprus from Gaza, despite having their communication and navigation gear jammed by an ‘outside party’. In the end though, the Israelis decided not to intervene and try to stop the two ships - no doubt in large part due to the seriously bad PR they’d get from attacking a humanitarian mission (again).
The ‘Free Gaza’ movement has scored a major victory in challenging the Occupation and Israel’s brutal siege of the Strip. It has shown that if the will and the creativity is there it’s possible to defy the Israeli brutality and get needed supplies through. Amongst the much-needed medical supplies they brought with them were hearing aids for children deafened by the constant explosions and sonic booms from Israeli warplanes.
The boat’s breaking of the blockade has put Israel on the back foot - either they try and stop the boats and look like bullies in front of the world’s press, or let the boats pass through and admit that international public opinion can have an effect on halting the Israeli state’s actions.
Huwaida Arraf, a longtime Palestine activist who joined the seaborne siege breakers said, “We recognize that we’re two humble boats, but what we’ve accomplished is to show that average people from around the world can mobilize to create change. We do not have to stay silent in the face of injustice. Reaching Gaza today, there is such a sense of hope, and hope is what mobilises people everywhere.”