After its successful participation in Freedom Flotilla Two and Freedom Waves last year, Free Gaza Australia (FGA) in cooperation with its international partners is launching a new initiative: Gaza’s Ark — Building Hope. Gaza’s Ark will challenge the illegal and inhumane Israeli blockade of Gaza that collectively punishes more than 1.5 million Palestinians.
Gaza has “officially” been under an Israeli blockade since 2007, but the restriction on the movement of the population of Gaza began in 1991 when Gaza was first cut off from Israel and the West Bank.
The human costs of this blockade have been well documented, although often not reported. By restricting crucial medical and building supplies and blacklisting large amounts of food items, Israel has made 80% of the population of Gaza dependent on aid.
The virtual ban on exports has caused Gaza’s unemployment to soar to more than 30%. Gaza’s exports are now at just 5% of what they were in 2007.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has said: “The whole of Gaza’s civilian population is being punished for acts for which they bear no responsibility.” The ICRC says the border “closure therefore constitutes a collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law”.
Gaza’s Ark will not only challenge the blockade physically as the “Flotillas” have done, it will also provide investment, training and employment in Gaza. It will promote Palestinian trade with the outside world through the only Mediterranean port closed to shipping.
Gaza’s Ark will be built in Gaza by Palestinian hands and expertise, with international assistance. We hope that building of the Ark will help revitalise the dwindling ship building industry in Gaza and help ensure the transmission of this disappearing expertise to younger generations.
During this process, training will be provided to Palestinian sailors in the use of modern electronic sailing equipment and techniques that have been denied them for years due to the blockade.
Gaza’s Ark trade deals will be secured between Palestinian producers and international businesses and NGOs. Although it will help in a very limited manner to alleviate Gaza’s unemployment crisis by paying wages to the boat builders and providing business opportunities to traders, James Godfrey a member of FGA stresses that Gaza’s Ark is not an aid project.
He says: “It is a peaceful action against the blockade which Israel unilaterally and unreasonably imposes on people living in Gaza. Gaza’s Ark challenges the blockade by building hope on the ground in Gaza, which can support the Palestinians of Gaza to rebuild their economy through outbound trade that threatens no-one’s security.”
Once the Ark is complete and trade deals have been secured a crew of internationals and Palestinians will sail it from the port of Gaza carrying Palestinian products and will challenge the three-mile coastal limit imposed by Israel on residents of the Gaza Strip.
Gaza’s Ark will also work closely with Palestinian fishers to draw attention to their plight. Under the “Oslo Accords”, Palestinian fishers would be “allowed” to sail up to 20 nautical miles off the coast of Gaza. However, this was never implemented by Israel, which allowed only a 12 nautical mile limit. This has since been cut to six nautical miles and now three as punishment for the second Intifada and then as part of Israel’s military assault (Operation Cast Lead) in 2010.
This restriction on navigation and fishing has had a huge impact on the fishing industry in Gaza. Mahfouz Kabariti, Coordinator of the Fishermen’s Solidarity Campaign in the Gaza Strip, says: “The Gazan community needs 21,000 tons of fish annually. In the last year, the total extracted fish from the sea was only 3000 tons.” Gaza now imports most of its seafood — the blockade is slowly turning a generation of fishers into fishmongers.
Gaza’s Ark aims to build hope on the ground in Gaza by providing investment, training and business opportunities. Through non-violent direct action we will also expose the blockade that is collective punishment of the Palestinian residents of Gaza.