Palestine: Ship to challenge Gaza blockade

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Reprinted from Ma'an News. Visit http://www.maannews.net.

A small shipping vessel will set sail for Gaza from Cyprus on August 5, expecting to be illegally detained as it enters Gazan waters.

The waters off the Gaza Strip are patrolled by Israeli naval vessels, and Israel enforces a "fishing Limit" that is 11.1 km from the Gaza shore.

There will be 60 people aboard the Free Gaza vessel including a Holocaust survivor, a survivor of the Palestinian Nakba, and members of the Palestinian diaspora.

Legally, the group says there should be no problem passing the line since Israel formally "disengaged" from the Gaza strip in 2005 and should no longer control its airspace and territorial waters.

The trip organisers think one of four things will happen to the ship. It may be stopped as it crosses or approaches the barrier marking the international waters boundary, in which case the crew is prepared to stay on board for at least two weeks in protest of the illegal halt of passage.

A second possibility is that the ship will be allowed to pass into the area, and will be stopped in the territorial waters. In this eventuality the crew expects to be arrested. A third possibility is that the ship will be sunk by the navy.

The final option is that the ship actually makes it through to the Gaza port near Gaza City in the north of the strip.

According to Holocaust survivor and crew member Hedy Epstein, in the event that they can get through to Gaza they will "open the port, fish with the fishermen, help in the clinics, and work in the schools".

What Epstein hopes to do on this journey is to "remind the world that we will not stand by and watch 1.5 million people suffer death by starvation and disease".

Coordinator of the Popular Committee Against the Siege, Palestinian Legislative Council member and lawyer Jamal Al-Khudari, said that he hopes the arrival of the ship in Gaza will mean an end to the siege. He emphasised that the ship has a right to enter the local waters and Gazans have the
right to host their guests without Israeli intervention.

Opening a port in Gaza would allow residents to export agricultural products, and gain control over the goods and material brought into the region. Currently, all crossing points are controlled by Israel and Egypt.

The truce between Hamas and Israel was supposed to see the blockade and restrictions on essential goods lifted, but food, medical supplies, cement and fuel are still only trickling in.

The ship was invited to Gaza by the Palestinian Red Crescent Society in the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Medical Relief Society, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights and the Gaza Community Mental Health Program.

Support for the initiative was provided in part from the US Carter Center and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu.