Following Israel's latest military assault on Gaza, civil society groups from around the world say they are moving forward with plans to break the blockade on this besieged strip by sailing a "freedom flotilla" into Gaza Port.
At a meeting in Istanbul, Turkey this week, the international Freedom Flotilla Coalition (FFC) and numerous other groups came to the conclusion that "it is the responsibility of civil society worldwide to sail to Gaza," according to a press statement. They committed to making the voyage during 2014, which has been coined by the United Nations as the "International Year of Solidarity With the Palestinian People."
While the group did not publicly disclose a launch location or date, they announced that they expect participation from civil society organizations across the globe — from Greece to South Africa to Jordan to Malaysia—as a counter to "the complicity of world governments" in the blockade on Gaza.
"Calls to end the blockade of Gaza need to move from words to actions," said Ann Ighe, chairperson of Ship to Gaza and member of the FFC. "We invite all interested citizens worldwide to participate in this initiative in any way you can."
Israel's month-long military assault on Gaza, currently stalled by a tenuous ceasefire, has left at least 1,939 Palestinians dead, 9,886 wounded, over 200,000 displaced, and more than 10,000 Palestinian housing units destroyed or severely damaged. United Nations officials estimate that at least three-fourths of Palestinians killed in Gaza are civilians and one third are children.
Another freedom flotilla—Gaza's Ark, which Palestinians planned to sail from the Gaza Port to break the siege—was one of the many civilian targets hit by Israeli air strikes in July. The shelling, which destroyed the boat, followed a previous attack that partially sunk the boat in April. David Heap, Canada-based spokesperson for Gaza's Ark, told Common Dreams that Palestinian organizers on the ground plan to continue the campaign "once they are able to concentrate on something other than surviving another day."
The 1.7 million residents of Gaza — one of the most densely populated areas on earth—were already living under a U.S.-backed military and economic siege, which has escalated since 2007, cutting off residents from public goods including clean water and medical supplies.
"We are sailing against the sea blockade because there is no possibility of a peaceful future without freedom of movement for Palestinians," said Heap.
Previous attempts to sail against the siege have been met with violent attacks, including a 2010 Israeli assault on the Mavi Marmara ship sailing from Turkey that killed nine people and injured dozens, sparking global condemnation.
"We urge all governments to defend Human Rights and the right of the Palestinian people to freedom of movement, to facilitate the sailing of our ships to Gaza," said Ehab Lotayef of the FFC. "It is their responsibility."