"When governments don't act people must"
Recently I attended a meeting on a very warm summers evening with a group of people packed into a small upper room of a local cafe.
We were all gathered to hear James Godfrey and Sharyn Lock speak about the latest Freedom Flotilla 111 and its mission to sail into Gaza port.
The last flotilla in 2010 had seen the deaths of 10 peace activists.
Sharyn had participated in the last flotilla to be able to land safely in Gaza in 2008. The latest news on the flotilla as we were meeting was that the lead boat the Marianne of Gothenberg had been boarded in international waters and at that point they had no official word on the crew.
James spoke about the occupation of Gaza, as he said in one evening the history of this area is complex and should be looked at further; sadly there is much to read from the 67 years of conflict.
This information is from the 'International committee for breaking the siege of Gaza'.
Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, 70% of whom are refugees, have lived under a draconian siege imposed by Israel since 2007. The Israeli authorities unilaterally control the entry and exit of goods and people by land, sea and air, with the exception of the civilian Rafah Crossing with Egypt. Some basic humanitarian goods are allowed to enter into the Strip, but never enough, while other necessary goods are entirely forbidden. People also cannot exit and enter Gaza freely, not even for commercial and humanitarian purposes. All of these restrictions are why many, including UN officials, have referred to Gaza as an "open air prison".
Since the beginning of the siege, Israel has also launched three protracted military assaults on Gaza: in 2008/2009, 2012 and 2014. Each of these attacks has worsened Gaza’s already dire humanitarian situation, with tens of thousands of homes, schools and office buildings destroyed.
There has been several freedom flotillas since the occupation, Sharyn an independent midwife from Gaza was on the 2008 Florilla that managed to land in Gaza to a rapturous welcome:
"You could see smiles on their faces like flowers blooming".
This breaking of the siege brought long hoped for joy, even if it was to be short-lived.
In 2006 in a democratic election and much to the disdain of the Israeli government saw Hamas win to become the leading party. For Israel they saw this group as a terrorist organisation. And because of this they then instigated the blockade with an almost total lock down on this small enclave.
Today the average age in Gaza is 18 after 3 conflicts 2008, 2011 and the latest in 2014 where over 2,000 were killed.
After 9 years of this blockade the majority of the people were aged 9 when Hamas were given power to rule Gaza; the continued collective punishment is against thousands who it would seem are not responsible for the fury unleashed upon them on a regular basis by Israel.
Some information on the situation
100,000 people in Gaza are displaced
The border is controlled by Israel at the Rafah crossing into Gaza where they limit and control the food, power, communication and water, plus all goods for building.
Only 5% of the promise aid of 5.4 billion has been given to Gaza to date
Sadly after last conflict there are now:
Chemicals in water meaning much of the water is unfit for human consumption.
57% of people are food insecure.
There is a major problem with untreated sewage.
Unemployment at 43% of the population.
Power outages in Gaza with limits to electricity of 12 hrs a day or less.
12 trucks only per day let into Gaza with aid
The fishermen of Gaza should have at least 6 nautical-miles (NM) to fish, this is often limited to 3NM. For the fishermen sadly the fish nearer to shore are smaller and not as mature, their catch is not as profitable and certainly not as good for the consumer. They are often targeted and shot at by the Israeli troops who patrol this area. Even more tragic is that these same fishermen have even lost their lives.
The history of each of the freedom flotillas has been fraught with sabotage of the ships and equipment, people being followed and harassed.
In 2010 the ship known as the Mavi Marmara set sail to Gaza as lead boat in the freedom flotilla. This voyage was met with tragedy when 10 peace activist were killed by the Israeli forces. Even though this was a crew who offered - Non violent resistance, this was sadly not reciprocated. To this day no one has been held accountable for these killings.
In 2014 the Gaza Ark a change of direction, this was the idea to build a boat in Gaza. They used local experts to work on the 24 metre fishing boat, refurbishing and filling it with locally sourced products to export out of Gaza.
This idea led to a lot of hope in Gaza and there was even a products list on the Gaza ark website.
The end of April 2014 saw the first test run which showed a problem with the propellor. The team got back to work with a view to sail in September 2014. Sadly on the 11th of July the boat was bombed by Israel. The only other place that was directly hit was the memorial to the Marvi Marmara and the 10 people who had lost their lives.
The team did not make a fuss because sadly lives were obviously more important, the accountant working on this project lost his brother during the conflict. And many others were deeply affected. The significance of these two bombings do continue to raise questions; was this a deliberate action by Israel?
The latest Freedom flotilla 111 had 47 sailors from 17 countries participating. The lead ship, the Marianne of Gothenburg, had been stopped in international waters that day and at the time of the talk the team still had no official news on where and how the crew were. The news was only reporting the official storyline given by Israel.
Sadly the crew of the Marianne were arrested and taken to Givon Prison in Israel. There was no loss of lives but tasers were used on the crew when Israel boarded the ship. The other ships in the flotilla returned home.
The ongoing way to help the Palestinian people peacefully will continue with those who work for the freedom flotilla continuing to find ways to break the siege. Plus the Boycott Divest and Sanctions group which is also a way to make big business think before trading with Israel. This certainly worked in South Africa to bring an end to the terrible system of apartheid.
A year after the last conflict raising awareness of the Palestinians and their plight continues.
I for one am thankful for these groups doing courageous acts to do this very thing.
The journey to see a free Palestine continues.