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International flotilla sets sail to break Gaza blockade

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Swedish based organisation begins voyage hoping to raise awareness for plight of Gazans

 A screengrab from a youtube clip shows the Estelle, a ship voyaging to break the Gaza blockade from Sweden

A screengrab from a youtube clip shows the Estelle, a ship voyaging to break the Gaza blockade from Sweden

Estelle, a ship voyaging to break the Gaza blockade has begun its journey from Sweden.

This latest attempt to break the siege is organised by the Swedish based Ship to Gaza initiative which is being aided by a coalition called Freedom Flotilla III. Organisations aiding the Ship to Gaza-Sweden umbrella organisation include organisations in France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Canada, the United States, and Australia.

Mikael Löfgren, the media coordinator for the initiative has said that there are organisations “from all over the world but the main coalition is with organisations along the way.”

Estelle is now in Norway after arriving there on Friday. The ship is expected to reach Gaza “sometime within October” said Löfgren.

Throughout its journey the ship will raise awareness of the Gaza blockade. Estelle will make several stops on its way to Gaza in which there will be “speakers, concerts and public festivals providing information about the situation in Gaza.”

Dror Feiler, Swedish-Israeli musician and one of the spokespersons of the initiative, said in a video released by the group “after the two flotillas, we have decided of course that we have to continue because the siege is still on and we have said and we will say it again and again that as long as the siege exists, we will come, and again and again until the siege is lifted totally and permanently.”

Ship to Gaza marks the latest attempt to break the siege on Gaza. In 2010 the Mavi Marmara, which was part of a coalition called the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, was raided by Israeli forces leaving nine activists dead. Following their deaths, there was widespread condemnation of the killings which Israel claimed were done in self defence.

Last year, Freedom Flotilla II – Stay Human which included several ships and activists from all over the world was prevented from going to Gaza by Greek authorities. According to the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), Greece announced that it will prevent the Ships from sailing following “intense pressure from the United States and Israeli governments.”   Ship to Gaza has contributed in both attempts.

Other attempts to break the blockade on Gaza include the Flytilla campaign in which activists attempted to show solidarity to Gazans by flying to Palestine through the Ben Gurion Airport in July 2011, were most were denied entry. The Freedom Waves Flotilla ships which were on their way to Gaza in late 2011 were forcibly taken from international waters to the Israeli Port of Ashdod, according to the ISM.

Löfgren is not at all discouraged by the experience his own experience in Freedom Florilla II. He does not expect a similar attempt to stop Estelle this year. “We hope to create such an opinion pressure on our governments so that we don’t get hindered this year. The situation here in Sweden, the Scandinavian countries and Europe is very positive about the attempt to break the siege. Most people think the siege is destructive. I don’t think any government would dare get in our way.”

Another attempt to break the siege, one that is markedly different from the others conceived of before, it is called Gaza’s Ark. It is an attempt to break the siege from within. The initiative is a joint one by solidarity activists from Palestine Canada, Australia, and the US.

Mahfouz Kabariti, the coordinator of the initiative in Palestine said activists in the group “will renovate one of the boats on Gaza’s shores now in order to allow its owners to export products from Gaza,” he explained. “The people in Gaza are deprived from the right to export their products namely, agricultural products and handicrafts.”

Regarding the possibility that the boat will be intercepted by Israel, as has happened in the past, Kabariti said that “Israel shows no respect whatsoever for international law and claims that these ships have weapons on them, but what weapons?”

He added that, “If the boat is prevented from sailing by Israel, this itself will be a success. It will be a message to the world telling it that Israel still occupies the strip and that it is still exercising a siege on 1.5 million.”

Kabariti believes that the ship will be ready to sail by spring.

 


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