Ismail Patel, Chair of human rights NGO Friends of Al Aqsa is to join the Gaza Freedom Flotilla departing this month. He will be joined by 600 fellow passengers and activists who will be leaving from over 40 different countries globally, including Greece, Ireland and Turkey.
The flotilla will be composed of three main cargo ships, loaded with 5000 tons of reconstruction materials, school supplies and medical equipment, in addition to five passenger ships.
The initiative is aimed at bringing desperately needed supplies to the besieged Gaza Strip, which has been under a suffocating blockade for 2 years and 11 months.
Activists on board view this to be an incredibly important voyage intended to remind world powers that the resounding silence from the international community in the face of Israel’s blatant violations, and sheer lack of consideration for human rights is deafening.
Despite urgent cries for an end to the blockade by international aid agencies and the UN, the calls continue to be ignored.
A BBC report from April 2010 revealed the apparent absurdity of the Israeli blockade. Canned tuna is allowed into the strip, though canned fruit is prohibited. Jam is also prohibited, as is coriander.
The basis of the list therefore appears ridiculous to many. Furthermore, following the Gaza offensive in December 2008 which caused the deaths of 1,400 Palestinians and resulted in the destruction of close to 3,500 homes and 280 factories, concrete and construction materials have not been allowed into the strip.
Such measure have meant that much of the destruction caused as a result of the illegal attack remains as it was, since rebuilding the infrastructure of the tiny strip has been disallowed by Israel. The flotilla therefore wishes to challenge this and bring an end to such measures.
Israel began the blockade in 2007 when Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip. Hamas were the party that was democratically elected by the people of Gaza in January 2006, in elections which were widely commended as being even-handed. However, as the democratic choice of the people of Gaza was at odds with that of certain nations, the party was blacklisted and the economic blockade and strangulation began.
Regardless of the political state of affairs, it is the people who will undoubtedly suffer as a result of economic restrictions. Many of the activists on board, aside from their political campaigning and lobbying, feel a personal need to be part of the flotilla. Ismail Patel stated:
“We must challenge the status quo that has been allowed to continue for nearly 3 years where Gaza is concerned. I personally feel that I must do more than the campaigning we have worked so hard on during this time, and this Flotilla gives each activist the opportunity to go to Gaza in person and remind the people there that we do care about their plight and we are doing all that we can to bring this horrendous situation to an end.”
As activists around the world continue to make their preparation before setting out on the risky journey, the Israeli Navy too are reportedly preparing to ward off the flotilla and prevent its entry into the Gaza Strip. Though Israel controls Gaza’s waters, which frequently causes immense difficulties for Palestinian fishermen, there are no legal reasons for the flotilla to be prevented from entering.
However, Israel has in the past imposed great difficulties on activists trying to break the siege through various means such as possible arrest, imprisonment and deportation. The activists are aware of the dangers, but the treatment and lack of respect from Israel simply acts as further motivation for them to continue to work for an end to the blockade and the occupation as a whole.
Ismail Patel is Chair of human rights NGO Friends of Al Aqsa.