I am honored to be a part of the latest international citizen effort to break the Israeli and Egyptian governments' siege of Gaza. This week, hundreds of persons from 20 countries will challenge the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza in an eight ship flotilla.
An international coalition composed of Free Gaza Movement, European Campaign to End the Siege of Gaza, the Malaysian humanitarian organization Perdana and the Turkish non-governmental organization Humanitarian Aid Foundation (IHH) is sending three cargo ships and five passenger vessels to Gaza from Ireland, Greece and Turkey.
While the citizens mobilize, their governments are receiving intense diplomatic pressure from the Israeli government. On Monday, May 17, 2010, Naor Gilon, the Israeli Foreign Ministry deputy director general, told the ambassadors of Greece, Ireland, Turkey, and Sweden that the attempt to break Israel's blockage Gaza " is a provocation and a breach of Israeli law," and that "Israel has no intention of allowing the flotilla to enter Gaza," according to a ministry statement.
Arabic-language news station Al-Hurra reported that "about half of the Israeli naval forces will participate in an operation that was approved by the cabinet" and that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak will supervise the operation. Israel will prevent the boats from reaching Gaza "at any price," an Israeli security source told the Ma'an news agency.
Three ships are leaving Turkey, including a 600 person passenger ship and two cargo ships filled with humanitarian supplies such as medical equipment, pre-fabricated homes and construction supplies to rebuild housing for 50,000 persons destroyed in the 22 day Israeli attack on Gaza in December, 2008 and January, 2009. The passenger ship left Istanbul on May 22 to a tremendous send-off from thousands of supporters!
Two ships will depart the Athens, Greece port of Piraeus and two more ships will depart from the Greek island of Crete. The cargo ship Rachel Corrie, purchased by Perdana, the Malaysian humanitarian organization, loaded with medical supplies and cement, is on its way from Ireland and will meet up with the flotilla off the coast of Gaza. The ship is named for activist Rachel Corrie who was run over and killed by the Israeli military driver of a huge Caterpillar bulldozer that was knocking down homes of Palestinian families in Rafah, Gaza in March, 2003.
I am in Athens, Greece to assist in the briefings for passengers and crew on the two ships departing from Piraeus and then will fly to Crete to board a Free Gaza ship to sail to Gaza.
Free Gaza has attempted to sail 8 ships into the Gaza port in the past two years. Five ships have gotten into Gaza and three have been forced back by the Israeli navy including one ship that was rammed and almost sunk by an Israeli patrol boat.
An incredible amount of work is taking place in the port of Gaza. Workers are digging out the area along the pier in anticipation of the arrival of the cargo ships. No cargo ships have been unloaded in Gaza in 43 years since the port was closed by the Israelis after the 1967 war.
As the flotilla leaves Greece and heads across the Mediterranean to Gaza, please follow the historic flotilla by a live-feed link that will broadcast live footage of this historic voyage.