Thursday, July 31, 2008

Humanitarians Attempt to Break Gaza Siege

Al Jazeera writes about a new attempt by humanitarians to break the Gaza siege by boat.
During a news conference in Athens, the group said that they would leave Athens on August 1 to draw attention to the plight of 1.5 million Palestinians suffering from acute shortage of basic necessities from fuel to food.
The project is said to be organized by over 100 humanitarian organizations. 40 people from 17 countries are planning to sail from Cyprus to Gaza in two ships. The names of the ships, the names of the organizers, and the companies transporting the passengers have not been publicized.

This could be because if Israel doesn't want these guys to break the Gaza siege, they won't make a big diplomatic stink, they will just sink the ships while they sit in the harbor.

Al Jazeera also says:
Paul Larudee, one of the event's organizers, said, "Israel says it's pulled out its soldiers from Gaza so they should have no objection to us going there,"

"We have been in contact with the authorities in Greece, in Cyprus and with the Palestinians ... There is no reason to contact the Israeli authorities because we will not be using their territory," the Canadian Press quoted Larudee as saying.
This endeavor is reminiscent of several such attempts made throughout Israel's history.

One of the most famous examples is the story of the Al-Awda (Ship of Return). In 1988, a group of exiled Palestinians and about 130 of their international supporters contracted with a private shipping company to sail in a highly publicized trip to Haifa. Israel first put commercial pressure on the company to cancel the trip. Likewise with other companies that were hired. Later, when the group purchased an old ferry for the trip, "unidentified persons" caused an explosion which sunk the Al-Awda in the harbor.

This event was itself reminiscent of an even earlier attempt by another group. In 1947 the ship Exodus, full of Holocaust survivors, attempt to sail to Haifa and was refused by a British blockade. One passenger on Exodus was even set to sail on Al-Awda.

Another organization, the Popular Committee Against Siege (PCAS), plans to sail from Cyprus to Gaza with 45 people between August 5th and August 10th. (Source)

The siege has lasted two years so far, and was instituted to prevent Gaza from acquiring more arms with which to attack Israel. The siege was tightened in June due to increasing pressure from Israeli citizens to stop the daily missile attacks.

It is difficult to predict the outcome of this endeavor based on the story of Al-Awda, which planned to sail to Haifa, a city clearly under Israeli jurisdiction. As Larudee mentions, Gaza is not part of Israel. However, Israel has reportedly fired upon Gazan fishing vessels during the siege.

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