Peace activist boats sail into Gaza sand

Fatima Najm I Arab News
Publication Date: 
Sun, 2008-08-24 03:00

GAZA CITY: Forty-four activists who set sail from Cyprus in the hope of breaking Israel’s siege of the Gaza Strip are now safe on Gazan sand. “We have shown the world what people can do when they come together. We have shown the Israeli authorities that we will not tolerate their illegal siege of Gaza. We have shown the Palestinian people that activists from 17 countries care about them. We have said to the Israelis this situation is not acceptable, these are not human rights, we won’t allow you to inflict collective punishment on innocent civilians,” said Angela Godfrey-Goldstein, their Jerusalem-based spokeswoman.

A few hours before this report was filed she was in the midst of orchestrating the effort from the port city of Ashdod. “The waves are high, their satellite phones aren’t working nor is the radio, we are in a crisis here, they cannot make radio contact with the boat that has gone out to meet them, they are only two hours away,” Godfrey-Goldstein said at about noon, Saudi time.

The two boats sailed into Gazan waters under Palestinian flags despite threatening phone calls to family members, scrambled communication signals and a hostile letter from the Israeli government informing them that although their “intentions were good” their actions resulted in their support of “the regime of a terror organization.”

The boats began their 30-hour voyage under Greek flags on Friday with activists from 17 countries proclaiming their intention to highlight gross human rights violations perpetrated by Israeli security forces in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and to establish a maritime link between Cyprus and Gaza.

Several embassy officials, a team of lawyers, and thousands of Palestinians waited for them on shore. Fourteen fishing boats sailed out to meet the boats as they approached Gaza, but said they had to turn back because of Israeli gunfire.

Journalist and activist Yvonne Ridley compared sailing into Gazan waters under a Palestinian flag to the “tearing down of the Berlin wall ... now I know how people felt when they tore down those first few bricks. Today is a huge victory of people over power.”

Israel had warned the activists to steer clear of Gaza’s coast but later appeared to have a change of heart, and allow them into Gaza with their cargo of 200 hearing aids and 5,000 balloons.

“They wanted provocation at sea but they won’t get it. We know who the passengers are and what they are bringing with them and so we have no problem letting them through,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Aviv Shiron told reporters.

As the seas became stormy, scrambled radio signals and jammed satellite phones presented the activists with serious challenges: “We are not experienced sailors. As a result, there is concern about the health and safety of the people on board (should) an emergency develop,” the crew told Godfrey-Goldstein.

Israeli security forces have tightened their grip on Gaza since Hamas took control last year. The embargo means only a treble of vital humanitarian aid makes it into the territory. Independent NGOs and aids group say supplies are sporadic and subject to the whims of the Israeli forces.

Among the crew on board the Free Gaza and Liberty are Lauren Booth, sister-in-law of Tony Blair, filmmaker and activist Osama Qashoo, British rapper Aki Nawaz, Riddley, a Holocaust survivor and an 81-year-old Catholic nun.

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