Reprinted from Consortium News
For years, Israel has blocked international ships from reaching the isolated people of Gaza, thus denying the 1.8 million embattled Palestinians maritime contact with the rest of the world and the hope that comes from knowing that they have the support of many people across the globe.
With all of the tragedy that surrounds Gaza, including the 50 Israeli military strikes on the Palestinian territory last weekend, we need to remember the exhilaration of the people of Gaza one day in August 2008 when two small international boats arrived to show that the Gazans were not forgotten.
After that, four other shipments reached Gaza along with European land caravans, called "Viva Palestina" that traveled into Gaza through the border with Egypt. However, after Israel's December 2008-January 2009 war on Gaza, Israel forcefully intercepted ships headed for Gaza.
On May 31, 2010, Israel reacted to a flotilla of ships challenging the blockade by launching a military attack on the six boats that killed nine activists on the Turkish ship, Mavi Marmara. Since then, other challenges to the naval blockade have been prevented from taking to sea (Greece 2011) or stopped illegally in international waters, the passengers kidnapped and the boats taken to the Israeli port of Ashdod and the passengers to prison on charges of entering Israel illegally and eventually deported.
The latest challenge to the Israeli blockade of Gaza will be the Women's Boats to Gaza that will sail in mid-September to again demonstrate that we do care about the people of Gaza.
A Tale of Hope
Greta Berlin, co-founder of the Free Gaza Movement, reminds us of the joy of the people of Gaza when the first international boats in 40 years arrived in the Gaza City port in August 2008 by providing the words of Gamaal Al Attar, who wrote:
The sun was shining on August 23, 2008, and everyone in Gaza was waking up in order to get ready for the D Day. It is the day everyone in Gaza has been waiting for a long time; a day we will feel like there some people in the world who care for our suffering. A day we will feel that we belong to the human race, and our brothers and sisters in humanity care for our daily struggles. Scouts from different scout groups had signed up to be in the welcoming committee on the fishing boats. So, we headed directly to the main port of Gaza at 08:00, and, together with policemen who are there to secure the crowds, we boarded the boats and started the trip to the open sea.
Hours of waiting in the boats made everyone seasick, and, by noon, most of our hope flew away with the wind. It looked like the two boats were not coming. We were screwed. All the dreams and feelings that there was someone who cared for us got smaller and smaller as time went on. Jamal El Khoudari (the coordinator for the campaign) spoke at a press conference that the boats had gotten lost and made some excuse. I and the other scouts in Gaza did not want to listen to excuses. The people of Gaza wanted them here now.
The smiles that were on every single face by the morning, the joyful people in the port waiting at sunrise, and the hope of seeing someone who would care for us changed to a huge disappointment. By noon, nearly everyone had left the port and gone back home.
On the way back home, I saw Gaza looking darker than ever, and a small tear escaped from my eye. "It looks like there is no one who cares for us," A boy scout told me. I opened my mouth to tell him that this wasn't true, but I could not find a word to say.
Just like all the scouts, I went home, took a shower, and tried to rest after a long day under heavy sun. All of us were seasick and sick in our hearts as well. I lay on my bed to sleep and forget about humankind. I set my head on my pillow and thought... "We are on our own, and nobody cares."
The Boats Arrive