Thousands of Palestinians line Gaza Port to welcome Free Gaza boats
Free Gaza boats in Larnaca, Cyprus
Free Gaza supporters in San Francisco
Free Gaza supporters in San Francisco
Former Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh came to welcome the Free Gaza activists. He said, “We call for more activities to break the unfair siege imposed on our people.”
As the Free Gaza boats approached Gaza Port, Palestinian boats went out to greet them. Jamal al-Khodari, head of the Popular Committee to End the Siege, was on one of the boats. Going out to thank the visitors for breaking the siege of Gaza, he said, “This is a great moment to see people supporting our cause to show solidarity with us and to tell the world a message that the unfair siege imposed on the Gaza Strip should end very soon.”
The international activists had been preparing for this historic voyage for over two years. They sailed in two small Greek-flagged fishing boats in a bold attempt to break through the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza which bars any ships from entering or leaving its ports. The boats were renamed SS Free Gaza and SS Liberty, the latter in memory of the 34 U.S. Navy sailors killed when Israel forces attacked the ship during the Six Day War in June 1967.
The 350-kilometer journey from Cyprus to Gaza took nearly 36 hours. The voyage was challenged by rough seas, approaching storms, and apparent jamming of the boats’ communications. The human right activists accused Israel of jamming their communications. Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Arye Mekel denied the charges.
In response to Israeli threats to intercept and board the boats, residents of the San Francisco Bay Area demonstrated their support for the Free Gaza activists on Thursday, 21 August 2008. They gathered in front of the office of Senator Diane Feinstein at One Post Street in downtown San Francisco to demand that members of Congress use their power and influence to protect the non-violent human rights activists in the event that the Israeli Navy moves to intercept the boats.
With mounting media coverage in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and on the global Internet, it has become increasingly clear that any Israeli attempt to deal with the boats military would not go unnoticed around the world. The Internet “chatter” on the subject was a clear demonstration that the Free Gaza boats had attracted worldwide attention, and that the Internet was playing a crucial and revolutionary role in levelling the playing field between common people everywhere and the fourth most powerful military in the world.
In the end, the Israeli government decided to avoid a potentially embarrassing confrontation at sea by allowing the boats through to Gazan waters. It is widely believed that many Western diplomats quietly advised Israel to back down from its threats, while avoiding public comments.
All passengers had been carefully screened to ensure that no firearms of any kind were brought onto the boats. This was not only a challenge of purely non-violent civil disobedience to the Israeli naval blockage of Gaza, but it also provided a way for Israel to back down by ultimately acknowledging that the activists and boats did not pose any threat whatsoever to the security of Israel.
The astonishing success of the Free Gaza project has lifted the hopes of the nearly 1.5 million Gaza residents that the siege of Gaza can and will be lifted, and that this will pave the way for a just and peaceful solution to the 60-year-old conflict.
“Free Gaza Boats Arrive in Gaza,” Indybay, 23 August 2008, http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2008/08/23/18529017.php.
“Can International Activists on two Small Boats Break the Siege of Gaza?”, Indybay, 18 August 2008, http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2008/08/18/18527427.php.
Sharat G. Lin