Gaza's Ark—a freedom flotilla aimed at breaking the Israeli blockade from within this besieged strip—was rocked by an unidentified explosion last month before it ever left the Gaza Port. Yet organizers announced Monday they intend to overcome severe damage sustained to the boat's hull, and a history of sabotage against similar flotillas, to sail the ship this Autumn.
"The future plan is to continue our efforts and prepare Gaza's Ark to be ready for sailing at maximum by late September," said Zaher Birawi, member of the International Committee to Break the Siege of Gaza—a founding organization of the Freedom Flotilla Coalition, in an interview with Common Dreams. "We will not stop trying our best to break the siege of Gaza using all peaceful means."
The decision emerged from a two-day meeting of the Freedom Flotilla Coalition, held in London, during which organizers committed to do the estimated two months of repair—at the cost of $30,000—needed to get the ship into the necessary condition to sail.
While the cause of the late April explosion is still unknown, Gaza's Ark released a statement on Monday declaring, "[I]t is well known who enforces the blockade on Gaza and who doesn't want it challenged. Preliminary results of the investigation and inspection by our partners indicate that the materials which were used in the attack are not readily found in Gaza."
Jointly organized by Palestinians living in Gaza—including the Palestine Sailing Federation and the Fishermen’s Solidarity Campaign—and international solidarity organizations, the vessel was constructed by Palestinians and initially slated to embark in June on a voyage through international waters carrying Palestinian goods and people from Gaza and around the world.
"The goal is to challenge the ongoing, illegal Israeli blockade and focus worldwide attention on the situation in Gaza and the complicity of the governments that support it or look the other way," according to the organization's website.
The explosion follows numerous attacks on vessels attempting to break the siege, including a 2010 Israeli assault on the Mavi Marmara ship sailing from Turkey that killed nine people and injured dozens, sparking global condemnation.
Since 2007, Israel—with U.S. backing—has intensified its blockade of Gaza, trapping and isolating its population of 1.7 million people. The siege has strangled the local economy, forcing 80 percent of all people in Gaza to rely on humanitarian aid, and has cut residents off from essential goods, including clean water and medical supplies.
"We will continue our campaign to break the siege by sea using Gaza's Ark, and by land using convoys from Rafah to Gaza and the petition we launched recently to put some pressure on political decision makers to stop this illegal siege," said Birawi.
He added, "We are full of hope that we can do something for the people of Gaza. If we did not have hope, we would have nothing"