Irish and Canadian ships challenge Israel’s illegal blockade with Freedom Waves to Gaza
Press Release from the Irish Ship To Gaza campaign
Responding to an urgent call for international solidarity from 46 civil society organisations in Gaza, an Irish ship MV Saoirse and a Canadian ship Tahrir have successfully reached international waters in the Mediterranean Sea on a mission dubbed Freedom Waves to Gaza. The boats, two civilian vessels carrying 27 passengers from seven countries, are currently en route to Gaza, Palestine. They will sail from international waters directly to Gaza, and will not pass through Israeli territorial waters.
This is the 11th attempt to break the siege of Gaza via the sea, with five missions arriving safely in Gaza between August and December 2008. The remaining six were violently intercepted by Israel. In May 2010, Israel attacked passengers participating in the first Freedom Flotilla in international waters, killing nine civilians and injuring over 50. Israel’s actions were widely condemned and led to protests around the world. Efforts to bring a second flotilla to Gaza were thwarted by the government of Greece last July following pressure by Israel and Western governments. The Irish vessel, MV Saoirse, was sabotaged while in port in Turkey when its propeller shaft was gouged in a manner almost identical to damage suffered by the Swedish ship. The Irish ship has since been repaired, with funds raised via small donations from Irish citizens in all of the 32 counties. In total, the Irish Ship to Gaza campaign has raised over 140,000 Euro for its mission, a clear sign of the depth of support among ordinary Irish people for the beleaguered people of Gaza.
Throughout the week Palestinian activists in the West Bank and inside Israel will be organizing solidarity actions with the Freedom Waves to Gaza, including a presence outside the UN compound and rallies across West Bank towns. Israel has intensified its aerial bombardments on Gaza in the last few days, killing at least nine people, underlining the need for international solidarity initiatives such as this one.
“The Freedom Waves to Gaza emerged from the Freedom Flotilla initiatives,” says Irish Ship to Gaza organiser Fintan Lane from on board the MV Saoirse. “While the Freedom Waves to Gaza will be delivering some much-needed medicines, our primary goal is to help free Palestinians from their inhumane isolation in what is in effect an open air prison.”
Also on board in this civil society to civil society initiative are delegates from Canada, Australia, the US, Greece, Palestine, Poland and Egypt. “We have just entered international waters and hope to reach the shores of Gaza in a couple of days. The only obstacles in our way are Israel’s military, but international public opinion is behind this effort, and so is civil society in Gaza.”
“The Palestinians living in Gaza want solidarity – not charity. They have made it clear to the world that their primary demand is for freedom. While humanitarian aid is helpful, Palestinians are still prisoners with no freedom of movement,” adds Ehab Lotayef, the Canadian boat organizer. “Israel’s illegal blockade prevents not only imports into Gaza, but exports as well. And the blockade prevents Palestinians from moving freely between Gaza and the West Bank, in violation of fundamental human rights.”
The Freedom Waves to Gaza initiative is a non-violent, civil society movement the primary aim of which is to end the illegal Israeli blockade of Gaza. Bios of the MV Saoirse’s 15 passengers and crew are available at at http://irishshiptogaza.org/.
There will also be various media outlets reporting on developments aboard the Tahrir, including Al Jazeera and Democracy Now. A press conference will be held tomorrow at 11:30 a.m. in Dublin.