Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

If you’ve been waiting for the right time to support our work—that time is now.

Our mission is simple: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good.

But without the support of our readers, this model does not work and we simply won’t survive. It’s that simple.
We must meet our Mid-Year Campaign goal but we need you now.

Please, support independent journalism today.

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

The Women's Boat to Gaza activists celebrate after their release from Israeli prison. (Twitter/@GazaFFlotilla)

The Women’s Boat to Gaza Activists Are Free and Undeterred

Sarah Aziza

 by Waging Nonviolence

“If you’re listening to this, then you will know that myself and all the women who sailed on the Women’s Boat to Gaza have been arrested and are in detention in Israel.”

These pre-recorded words by Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire open a 2-minutevideo, released October 5, after Maguire and 12 female companions aboard the small sailing vessel the Olivia-Zaytouna were detained by Israeli forces about 40 miles off the coast of Gaza. The women aboard the Zaytouna launched their single-boat flotilla on September 23 under the banner Women’s Boat to Gaza, the latest attempt by theFreedom Flotilla Coalition to break the decade-long blockade of the Palestinian territory. A diverse group of women boarded alongside Maguire, including retired U.S. Army Colonel Ann Wright and Malaysian gynecologist Dr. Fauziah Hasan.

The women were well aware that their chances of actually reaching Gaza were slim. As the group neared the shore on October 5, spokeswoman Claude Leostic told the AFP“the Zaytouna-Oliva has passed the fatal line of 100 miles and everything is going well.” Within hours, however, several Israeli vessels surrounded the flotilla, boarding the Zaytouna and detaining those on board. The Israeli Navy reported that the intervention came after “exhausting all diplomatic channels” and that the detention proceeded without violence.

The women of the flotilla described their arrest as “illegal” and wrote on their website, “whilst the term ‘peaceful’ has been used in some media to describe the attack and capture of our boat, this is inaccurate. Peace is more than merely the absence of physical violence. Oppression, occupation, denial of human rights and taking a boat of unarmed, nonviolent women against their will are not peaceful activities.”

On the Gazan beach that morning, Palestinians prepared to greet the flotilla, assembling with flags and banners on the shore, but the women were taken by Israeli forces to the Ashdod port and later held in Givon Prison.



The use of flotillas to protest the siege in Gaza began in 2008, when a group of activists sought a way to defy the blockade using creative, nonviolent means. The group eventually decided to break the blockade directly by sending a flotilla to the port of Gaza, which had not been entered by an international vessel since 1967. After months of grassroots fundraising and organization, 47 activists representing 17 countries launched their mission in two small wooden boats, the SS Gaza and the SS Liberty. They were able to reach the Gaza port with supplies, including hearing aids for children whose hearing had been damaged in the sonic booms caused by military flyovers.

Subsequent attempts by activists to break the siege have been less successful — and in some cases, tragic. In 2010, the Turkish vessel the Mavi Marmara attempted to reach Gaza with humanitarian aid, but when Israeli forces intercepted the boat on May 31, violence ensued. The clash left nine Turkish activists dead (a 10th would die later, after a years-long coma) and 10 Israelis injured. The event sparked international outcry, but it has not deterred organizations like the Freedom Flotilla Coalition and theInternational Committee for Breaking the Siege of Gaza, from continuing similar attempts to reach Gaza.

The Women’s Boat to Gaza was the first all-female flotilla, and aimed to highlight the role of Palestinian women in the struggle for self-determination and the uniquelygendered effects of the occupation. Before the flotilla, Gazan women shared their perspectives on the siege through videos posted on the group’s site.

The activists also hoped that an all-female crew would be treated with less force, said spokesperson Claude Léostic. “We hope that with women on board they [the Israeli navy] will be deterred from being so violent,”she told Electronic Intifada, adding, “maybe it’s just wishful thinking.”

The women of the flotilla have confirmed their physical safety throughout, and the last of the 13 activists were released Friday. Yet even as they depart, the women of the flotilla have reiterated their reason for sailing: to raise awareness of the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, where 80 percent of the 1.9 million residents rely on aid to survive. The 10-year blockade has crippled the economy, reducing trade to 15 percent of its pre-siege levels, while power outages, food shortages, rampant unemployment and undrinkable water perpetuate a state of crisis.


On their webpage, the Freedom Flotilla Coalition has pledged to continue its efforts “until Gaza is free.”

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

Sarah Aziza

Sarah Aziza is an Arab-American writer, graduate student and activist based in NYC. She has previously worked among refugee populations in North Africa, Jordan and the West Bank. Her areas of focus include immigration, human rights, international politics, feminism and mental health. She is a lover of the story-less-told. Find her on Twitter @SarahAziza1 or

"I'm sure this will be all over the corporate media, right?"
That’s what one longtime Common Dreams reader said yesterday after the newsroom reported on new research showing how corporate price gouging surged to a nearly 70-year high in 2021. While major broadcasters, newspapers, and other outlets continue to carry water for their corporate advertisers when they report on issues like inflation, economic inequality, and the climate emergency, our independence empowers us to provide you stories and perspectives that powerful interests don’t want you to have. But this independence is only possible because of support from readers like you. You make the difference. If our support dries up, so will we. Our crucial Mid-Year Campaign is now underway and we are in emergency mode to make sure we raise the necessary funds so that every day we can bring you the stories that corporate, for-profit outlets ignore and neglect. Please, if you can, support Common Dreams today.


'We Need Action': Biden, Democrats Urged to Protect Abortion Access in Post-Roe US

"The Supreme Court doesn't get the final say on abortion," Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Tina Smith wrote in a new op-ed.

Kenny Stancil ·

Motorist 'Tried to Murder' Abortion Rights Advocates at Iowa Protest, Witnesses Say

Although one witness said the driver went "out of his way" to hit pro-choice protestors in the street, Cedar Rapids police declined to make an arrest.

Kenny Stancil ·

'A Hate Crime': Oslo Pride Parade Canceled After Deadly Shooting at Gay Bar

A 42-year-old gunman has been charged with terrorism following what Norway's prime minister called a "terrible and deeply shocking attack on innocent people."

Kenny Stancil ·

'We WILL Fight Back': Outrage, Resolve as Protests Erupt Against SCOTUS Abortion Ruling

Demonstrators took to the streets Friday to defiantly denounce the Supreme Court's right-wing supermajority after it rescinded a constitutional right for the first time in U.S. history.

Brett Wilkins ·

80+ US Prosecutors Vow Not to Be Part of Criminalizing Abortion Care

"Criminalizing and prosecuting individuals who seek or provide abortion care makes a mockery of justice," says a joint statement signed by 84 elected attorneys. "Prosecutors should not be part of that."

Kenny Stancil ·

Common Dreams Logo