Activist boats reach Gaza to breake Israeli siege
Press TV, Gaza
Sun, 24 Aug 2008
A Statement from the International Human Rights Workers Aboard the SS
Free Gaza and SS Liberty, Sailing to Gaza
10am, 23 August, 2008
*At 10am this morning, the Cyprus team of the Free Gaza Movement was
able to briefly speak with our people on board the SS Free Gaza and
SS Liberty. They are all fine, and they asked us to release the
"The electronic systems which guarantee our safety aboard the SS Free
Gaza and SS Liberty have been jammed and scrambled. Both ships are
flying Greek flags, and are in international waters. We are the
victims of electronic piracy. We are currently in GMS P area A2 and
we are relying on our satellite communications equipment to make a
distress call, if needed.
We are civilians from 17 nations and are on this project to break the
siege of Gaza. We are not experienced sailors. As a result, there is
concern about the health and safety of the people on board such an
We are currently experiencing rough sea conditions, and we call on
the Greek government and the international community to meet their
responsibilities and protect the civilians on board our two ships in
This statement is being posted from California because the emails
accounts of the ground crew on Cyprus are not working.
It's hard for me to recall a more difficult night. At roughly 7:30pm
yesterday evening we heard that our ships were experiencing rough
weather as they slowly made their way across the Mediterranean Sea.
At about the same time, we suddenly lost communications with both
our ships. While we knew that the ships were not otherwise damaged,
both Osama Qashoo and myself spent a restless night worrying and
wondering if the Israeli military was interfering with both our
ships' communications and navigations systems. Did Israel have a
small vessel trailing ours, jamming all signals? Were our ships
being "herded" away from their planned course? Were our people safe?
Just now, word finally came through:
Everyone aboard the ships is fine, they're on course, and they're
ahead of schedule. Click on the link below and see for yourselves.
Friends, Israel may be interfering with our ships' navigation
systems, but our people are still navigating, and now they're almost
Ramzi Kysia & Osama Qashoo,
Free Gaza Movement, Cyprus Team
Photos of the arrival of the Free Gaza ships
Blockade-running boat activists tour Gaza Strip
by Mai Yaghi
Sun Aug 24, 2008
GAZA CITY (AFP) - Dozens of pro-Palestinian activists from 17
countries toured the Gaza Strip on Sunday after their two fishing
boats were allowed in despite an Israeli naval blockade of the Hamas-
The group also said it plans to bring 10 Palestinian students to
Cyprus on the return voyage in another bid to highlight Israel's
strict restriction of movement into and out of the impoverished
territory of 1.5 million people.
"We are thrilled to be here," said Greta Berlin, 67, an American
activist and a founder of the California-based Free Gaza movement,
which organised the trip.
"We could not believe it when we saw the shore," she told reporters
in Gaza City. "(It) was one small step for humankind and one giant
step for Palestine."
The 44 activists had set sail from Cyprus on Friday aiming to defy
an Israeli blockade of the territory which was tightened when the
Islamist Hamas movement seized power in June 2007.
Since then Israel has sealed Gaza off from all but vital
humanitarian aid as it aims to put pressure on Palestinian militants
who, before a truce took effect June 19, were launching daily rocket
attacks on southern Israel.
The activists had expected to be stopped by the Israelis, who had
warned them to stay out of Gaza's coastal waters, but on Saturday
Israel decided to allow them through without incident in order to
avoid a public standoff.
The group plans to spend 10 days in Gaza visiting schools,
hospitals, and refugee camps before sailing back to Cyprus with 10
Palestinian students who have been accepted to study abroad but were
prevented from leaving Gaza.
"This is a symbolic mission, and the idea is to break the siege,"
Jeff Halper, the only Jewish Israeli member of the group, told
AFP. "Israel should have no right to control the movement of
The group also met Ismail Haniya, who has led the Hamas-run
government in Gaza since he was dismissed as prime minister by
president Mahmud Abbas, whose forces were routed by Hamas in a week
of bloody clashes last year.
Hamas, which is pledged to Israel's destruction, is considered a
terrorist organisation by Israel, the United States and the European
Halper said he did not attend the meeting with Haniya for fear his
presence would detract from the overall mission of the voyage.
"I don't have any problem meeting with any Palestinian," he told
AFP. "But I'm in Israeli society and I have to choose my battles,"
he said, adding that the decision was based on "keeping the focus on
breaking the siege."
The demonstrators, aged between 22 and 81, include students,
lawyers, doctors and an online poker player.
Mostly American and British, they include Lauren Booth, sister-in-
law of former British premier Tony Blair who is now an international
Middle East peace envoy.
The boats, Liberty and Free Gaza, made the 370-kilometre (230-mile)
voyage from Larnaca port on Cyprus's south coast and carried 200
hearing aids for Gaza children and 5,000 balloons.
Israel: We let protest boat reach Gaza to stymie bad press
(24 Aug) Despite an Israel Defense Forces plan to halt boats bearing
left-wing activists on their way to Gaza, the government decided to
permit the boats to reach Gaza shores in order to avoid a public
relations disaster. Senior political sources in Jerusalem said that
the fact that Israel allowed the boats to reach Gaza "took the wind
out of the sails of the left-wing activists who were seeking to
create a provocation." [This tactic appears to have succeeded. I saw
no mention of the boats on US TV news. It was mentioned in
newspapers, but few read newspapers anymore.] Haaretz has learned
that before the boats sailed, Israel attempted dialogue with the
organizers. After the activists said their goal was to bring medical
equipment to Gaza, the Foreign Ministry sent them a letter offering
to help transfer the humanitarian aid if the boats would not sail.
Activists break blockade of Gaza
(23 Aug) Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Aryeh Mekel said Israel
had decided not to stop the boats from landing in Gaza to diminish
media attention. "We took away the drama," Mekel said. "They came,
they were welcomed, but what will they do tomorrow? They were hoping
for a long confrontation with Israel -- now they won't have it."
Israel: Gaza blockade in place despite ships
(updated 24 Aug) Israel's decision to allow two boats carrying
international activists into Gaza's port on Saturday was a "one-
time" event and did not constitute a decision by the government to
allow sea access to the blockaded Palestinian territory.
The view from the boat / 'Ordinary people can do something'
By Ofri Ilani
Haaretz spoke last night by phone with Jeff Halper, an Israeli
professor who was among the activists who sailed to Gaza.
"We proved that ordinary people can do something and succeed," he
said. "Even Tony Blair can't go to Gaza, but ordinary people with
drive can. The welcome was amazing. There were tens of thousands of
people. People came out in boats and on windsurfers to meet us.
Children swam out to sea and flashed the victory sign. I feel like
we're fresh air entering a prison where a million and half people
"I tell myself: We're in the modern world, the 21st century, and yet
such excitement - over what? Over something we take for granted,
that two boats arrived. Here it's a national holiday. Their
isolation is so complete," he said.
Halper said that Gazans were eager to speak Hebrew with him, and to
reminisce about the years they spent working in Israel. "Our
impression that Gaza is Hamas, that there is only hatred there, is
mistaken," he said, adding that he learned that "we are more of an
obstacle to peace than the Palestinians."
McCartney in Israel
The former Beatles lead singer announces his plans to perform in Tel
Aviv next month
Abu Zuhri: The break siege boats reflect growing European popular
(23 Aug, PIC) Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, on Saturday
said that the two ships that sailed from Cyprus heading to Gaza
carried the important message that the international popular
protests against the siege were escalating. Abu Zuhri told PIC
reporter on board one of the boats waiting for the two ships
carrying international peace activists and medical aid to the Gaza
children that the "bold step on the part of European sympathizers
reflects the growing popular rejection in Europe of the continuation
of this racist occupation at the expense of the Palestinian rights
and interests". He added that it also directed a message to the Arab
rulers that they should assume their duties in breaking the siege on
Gaza especially when they see European volunteers risking their
lives to break the siege on Gaza.
We hit a nerve, says leader of Gaza sail
Prof. Jeff Halper, a former anthropology lecturer at the Ben Gurion
University and the head of the Israeli Committee against House
Demolitions, was the only Israeli aboard the human rights boat which
made its ways to the Gaza Strip shores on Saturday.
In a phone interview with Ynet, Halper spoke about the reasons which
motivated him and other left-wing activists to try and break the
siege on the Strip: "There are people here yearning to live in peace
with us, yearning for freedom.
Palestinians: Leftist boats didn't bring enough food / Ali Waked
Gaza disappointment: Palestinian source tells Ynet local residents
disappointed by small quantities of food brought in aboard
leftist 'peace boats'; some people left beach in disillusioned after
realizing boats were mostly carrying activists
"All these restrictions, they're not just for security reasons,
they're symptomatic to something much, much deeper."
After years in the hub of anti-occupation and pro-peace activities,
Halper decided to enlist the aid of some of his international peace
activists' associates and try and put the sail together.
Halper (R) in Cyprus before sail (Photo: AFP)
The idea, he explained, was motivated by the notion that world
governments in general and the Israeli government in particular, are
not doing enough to lift the siege. His boat an old Greek liner
which was renovated and sailed to Cyprus ended up hosting 43 peace
activists from around the world.
'Acting against injustice'
"I see this port, which was once so beautiful and is now is in
I want to relay to people the life in Gaza, what it's like
for the people who live here," he said.
The sail itself took about 36 hours. "We were pretty cut off (from
the world) while we were on the boat. We were under the impression
that it's going to make headlines around the world.
"I felt a great since of responsibility and empowerment. A lot of
people feel bitter in their everyday lives and here we felt we were
doing something beautiful, acting against injustice. We felt we were
on a mission
and by the response we hit a nerve."
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