By Susan Schwartz, MMNS
Readers of The Muslim Observer have followed the odyssey of the freeGaza movement on these pages. After nearly two years of planning, two ships, the SS Free Gaza and the SS Liberty left Lanarca, Cyprus and set sail for the coast of Gaza on August 23. There they were greeted by Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, and thousands of cheering Gazans.
Their arrival marked the first time in more than 40 years that an international vessel docked at a Gazan port and the first time in over 60 years that Palestinians freely entered and exited Gaza.
During their brief but busy stay there they accompanied Gaza fishermen to the 8 mile limit where the fishing boats caught more fish than they had in anyoneâ€™s memory. The Israelis have prevented Gazans from fishing in their own territorial waters in defiance of international law. This prevented the fishermen from feeding their own families with their catch; from selling their catch to earn a livelihood, and forced them into buying expensive Israeli fish. Ships from the Israeli Navy fired on the boats carrying the internationals without injury to the craft or the passengers. The shells tore into the fishing nets or into the surrounding water.
â€œWill you come tomorrow? â€œWill you come and fish again?â€ the fishermen from Gaza asked the internationals.
Shortly after the internationals departed, however, Gaza fishermen venturing out beyond the Israeli imposed limit were not so fortunate. The Israeli Navy fired on them and wounded two, one of whom is in critical condition.
The human rights workers visited hospitals and witnessed first-hand the suffering and death caused by Israeli refusal to let seriously ill patients–including children–leave Gaza for specialized treatment. Patients on life sustaining equipment are at risk because Israel limits the number of hours in which electricity is available to hospitals.
The ships left Gaza to return to Cyprus on August 28, this time leaving nine human rights workers behind and carrying 9 residents of Gaza with them.
Those left behind would monitor human rights violations and do media work.
Paul Larudee of California, a long time peace and human rights activist, and one of the leaders of the freeGaza movement, said: â€œThis endeavor has been a huge success, far more significant and wide-reaching than anyone ever dreamt it could be. It has had obvious beneficial effects in the Palestinian people, but also on Israel. In fairness, credit must go where credit is due–despite threats or obstacles, a responsible decision was made by Israeli authorities not to interfere with our mission and this is a model for the future.â€
The nine Palestinians departing Gaza included children wounded by Israeli military action and family members reuniting in Cyprus. Among the liberated Palestinians are Saed Mosleh, age 10, of Beit Hanon, Gaza. Saed lost his leg due to the actions of an Israeli tank and is being accompanied by his father as they seek medical treatment for his condition. Also aboard are members of the Darwish family who, after four years, will finally be reunited with their loved ones.
â€œI canâ€™t believe weâ€™re finally able to leave for medical treatment,â€ said Khaled Mosleh, Saedâ€™s father. â€œThis is a miracle of God.â€
The primary purpose of the trip was to challenge the Israeli blockade of Gaza and to open up that prison to international teams. The freeGaza human rights workers also brought hearing aid batteries for children impaired by the frequent sounds of Israeli military actions; filters to provide the Gazans with potable water, and some medical supplies. The former two items are forbidden by the Israelis, who have labelled them dual use.
In the wake of this incredible journey, Scottish human rights activists have announced their intention to take a land trip from Scotland to Rafah in mid-November.
The freeGaza movement has announced the beginning of postal service to Gaza. At present all mail addressed to Palestine must go through Israel.The Israelis block mail intended for Gaza on a regular basis. The freeGaza movement has announced that its next mission will carry mail to Gaza and has issued the following instructions for those wanting to participate.
The mail must be placed in an unsealed envelope and must be addressed in both English and Arabic. This letter must then be placed in a larger envelope and addressed to: Family and Friends Mail to Gaza; Free Gaza movement; P.O. Box 5341; Beverly Hills, Ca. 90209-5341, USA. The freeGaza movement asks that you not send valuables, cash or checks.
For readers who do not know anyone in Gaza, a pen pal club has been started. If you wish to be a part of this group, please send a letter in an unsealed envelope and address the envelope with a general description of the person you want to correspond with, e.g. a â€œ12 year old boy in Gazaâ€; â€œfor a teacher,â€ etc. Place that envelope in a larger one and send it to the aforementioned address with the heading: Letters from the World Program. Schools are encouraged to make this a class room effort. Any person from anywhere in the world may partake.
As of this dateline at least four of the humanitarian workers who remained in Gaza have been denied exit.
The freeGaza movement has urged readers to contact the following to protest their incarceration:
US Embassy/Tel Aviv Citizensâ€™ Services: email@example.com
Kyle Kronmiller, US Consulate in Jerusalem: 011 972 0546660673;
US Consulate General, Jerusalem: phone 972-2-6227230/972-2-6253288; Fax: 972-2-6259270; firstname.lastname@example.org;
US State Department: 1-888-407-4747 or 202-647-4000. Then please ask to speak to Kim Richter, Jenny Foo or Brooke Knobel.
The four human rights workers attempted to leave Gaza both through Israel and through Egypt and were prevented from doing so by the Israelis acting alone and by the government of Egypt succumbing to Israeli pressure. After announcing on August 25 that the boats broke no laws, the Israeli government now justifies the continued incarceration of these four by claiming they broke the law.
Anyone in Israel who knows the telephone numbers and email addresses of Israeli officials who can help those left behind, please send them to: SpokaneProgressives@yahoogroups.com (mailto:SpokaneProgressives@yahoogroups.com).
Another trip is planned by the freeGaza movement for the end of September. Money is desperately need by this organization.
To contribute or learn more about freeGaza, visit www.freegaza.org.