‘Proud to have shone the spotlight on Gaza’, says solidarity boat captain

October 20, 2016
Madeline Habib. Photo: Free Gaza Australia.

The Australian captain of a women-crewed boat, which tried to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza last month, firmly believes the mission was worthwhile.

“The Women’s Boat to Gaza managed to reignite the spotlight on Gaza and on the terrible conditions that the Gazan people suffer”, Madeline Habib told Green Left Weekly.

“It is so easy for the plight of Palestinians to be forgotten in the face of the war in Syria. But the truth is that there is more than one way to wage a war,” Habib said of the giant and illegal concentration camp into which Israel has turned Gaza.

Among the 13 women on the Zaytouna-Olive were Irish Nobel Peace Prize recipient Mairead Maguire, New Zealand Greens parliamentarian Marama Davidson, Algerian MP Samira Douaifia and former US Army Colonel Ann Wright.

The boat was 35 nautical miles from the coast of Gaza when Israeli naval gunships intercepted it on October 5. It was towed to the port of Ashdod, and the women jailed and then deported.

Israel has imposed an illegal 100 nautical mile “exclusion zone” on Gaza, flouting the internationally accepted boundary of 12 nautical miles.

Habib said: “The cruel and unjust blockade of Gaza is causing 1.8 million people to live in conditions that the United Nations say will be uninhabitable by 2020. That is only three years away.

“I believe the voice of the people of Gaza needs to be heard. What’s happening in Gaza is a violation of human rights. It’s inhumane and it’s an insidious kind of warfare.

“Of course we are disappointed that we didn’t reach the shores of Gaza. However, I am sure that the disappointment is felt much more strongly by the people of Gaza who were waiting for us.”

Wendy Goldsmith, a Canadian living in London and one of the coordinators and spokespersons for the Women’s Boat to Gaza, agreed the effort was “very worthwhile”.

“While our goal is always to break the illegal blockade of Gaza, we know that a substantial part of our work is before and after the boat sails — promoting the project and building connections with like-minded individuals and groups internationally and in particular in Gaza,” Goldsmith said.

Goldsmith told GLW that they were now documenting the participants’ accounts, including what happened when they were illegally intercepted and forced to Ashdod.

“We also need to tell the stories of the women, men and children who were waiting for Zaytouna to arrive on the shores of Gaza.

“We also need to continue to build the incredible connections that we have made worldwide so that next time, our impact will be even greater.

“Even though the Amal [one of the Freedom Flotilla boats] didn’t sail, we were successful in delivering our message of hope to the world’s largest open air prison where people, mostly under the age of 20, are struggling to live.”

The Women’s Boat to Gaza, in which several Israelis took part, was supported by the Coalition of Women for Peace in Israel.

“We continue to reach out to our Israeli brothers and sisters who wish to see an end to human rights violations by their government,” said Goldsmith, adding that the Freedom Flotilla Coalition is already discussing future missions.

For Habib, the mission was a “symbol of hope”.

“We were an assurance that the world has not forgotten Gaza. It would have been wonderful to meet these strong resilient people face to face”, Habib said.

Habib, who lives in Hobart, is a long-time social activist, including helping rescue refugees from the Mediterranean Sea.

Speaking about the future, Habib said: “It will take the actions of many people and many voices to break the blockade of Gaza.

“I am proud to have raised my voice and to have been a part of the united call to end the blockade.”

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