As news was released of Israel's attack on the Freedom Flotilla and rising casualties among the passengers, the mood at Gaza's modest seaport grew sombre. Hundreds of civilians including governmental and non-governmental representatives, activists and ordinary Palestinians were waiting anxiously to welcome those on board the flotilla. All were shocked when news of the naval attack was first reported and silence overwhelmed the gathering.
“All the Arab peoples, the United Nations and other international community leaders should intervene and stop such atrocities. Whatever they do against us, we remain steadfast on this land”, said Abdelatif Alzaneen, a wheelchair-bound Palestinian from Gaza City who was among those waiting for the flotilla's arrival.
The Freedom Flotilla of nine ships carried 700 civilian human rights activists and humanitarian aid workers and 10,000 tons of medical and humanitarian aid for Gaza's 1.5 million residents. This included children's toys, wheelchairs, construction supplies, paper, athletic equipment for students, and a variety of medical supplies.
According to Mustafa Abed of the Medical Relief Foundation in Gaza, “The Israeli blockade has prevented the entry of needed equipment for more than 70,000 people with disabilities in the Gaza Strip. We call upon all relevant international federations to pressure Israel to lift the blockade once and for all."
Abed confirmed that the 500 electric wheelchairs the flotilla was carrying would have helped handicapped Palestinians in Gaza, including more than 200 who became disabled because of Israel's December 2008-January 2009 invasion.
Palestinians who were waiting for the convoy to arrive voiced their outrage at the attack. Ashraf Saleh said "We call upon the whole world today to stand by the Palestinian people and defend all those who come in support of such people. What happened is unbelievable."
Representatives of all Palestinian political factions in Gaza were present at the Gaza seaport in solidarity with the activists under attack. Dr. Faisal Abu Shahla, head of the Fatah parliamentary block in the Palestinian Legislative Council stated that Israel has demonstrated disdain for human rights and international law "by attacking those bringing medical supplies to the Gaza Strip."
He added that the United States and President Barack Obama needed to understand that "Israel doesn't need more weapons but rather needs to understand that rules of international law should be complied with by ending its occupation of the Palestinian lands".
The Hamas government in Gaza announced two days of mourning for the "martyrs of freedom”. Dr. Ahmad Yousef, chairman of the government committee for breaking the Israeli siege, stated that there was "no doubt that [what] the Israelis have committed today was an act of piracy and a crime against humanity. We call for bringing Israeli leaders to justice.
"I believe that the Israeli attack on the flotilla will mark the beginning of the end of the [Israeli] blockade as many around the world will start to become more aware of Israel's three-year siege on Gaza."
[Rami Almeghari is a journalist and university lecturer based in the Gaza Strip. Abridged from Electronic Intifada.]