Blacklisted activists behind Gaza breakthrough

A group of international peace activists blacklisted and deported from Israel were the organising force behind the August 23 breaking of the Gaza blockade by two activist boats.

One of them was Australians for Palestine spokesperson Michael Shaik. Shaik was deported from Israel in 2003 after trying to return to Palestine to continue his work with the International Solidarity Movement. He had spent three months as media coordinator of the non-violent direct action group.

Shaik told Green Left Weekly that, while other options were considered, breaking the siege was seen as the best way to make the desired impact.

"We didn't want it to be about us [international blacklisted activists]. ... It had to be about the Palestinians and their struggle". Shaik explained. "There are two big struggles in Palestine at the moment — one is against the wall [and] the other is against the siege on Gaza."

Also impacting on the decision to attempt to break the blockade was how Israel would respond.

"We wanted to put Israel in a position where Israel would have to decide whether to let us through or not. It was really a lose-lose situation for them", he said.

The action received considerable support from around the world. In Gaza, the ships were coordinated with the help of the Popular Campaign against the Siege and several Palestinian NGOs.

But despite the fact the voyage was supported by the League of Arab States, Shaik believes that many Arab nations were left red-faced after the international ships docked in Gaza, with many nations deciding to support the voyage only after grassroots support grew in their own nations.

"Many Arab states put Palestine in their too-hard basket", Shaik said.

The ships received media attention around the world, even breaking into mainstream media in the US and Australia. Shaik believes the voyage shows the continued value of non-factional, non-violent means of taking on the criminal Israeli state.

"We are only a few people that were massively up against it. We can only hope to drill holes in the siege. It shows we are not helpless", he said.

Another voyage to deliver medical aid is setting off from Yemen and a second Free Gaza Movement voyage is also planned.

Despite the breakthrough, Shaik was sceptical about whether he would be able to return to Palestine in the near future. "I'd like to. But I don't think it will happen until Palestine is free", he said.

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