Gaza's Ark attacked, will rebuild and continue to challenge blockade

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Photo: Gaza's Ark

Nobody has claimed responsibility for the explosion on early Tuesday morning, 3:45 a.m. local time that sank the freshly renovated cargo ship called Gaza's Ark, which was under construction and anchored in the shallow waters of the port of Gaza city.

In a press release, David Heap of Gaza's Ark Steering Committee called the attack a "cowardly act of terrorism," and went on to say it was "a reckless and violent attack not only on a boat, but on thousands of supporters and donors worldwide."

The daily Israeli newspaper, Haartez, has since reported that a spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces has declined to comment on the incident.

The ongoing military activity by Israeli Defense Forces in and around the Hamas administered Gaza Strip and their ability to send agents into its major city undetected makes them a target for suspicion. 

"Who [but the Israeli government] would have the interest to end the project and not to sail," said Ehab Lotayef, the Montreal based spokesperson for the Gaza's Ark campaign told rabble.

Challenging the blockade

The international campaign to build and launch Gaza's Ark represents the latest effort to challenge the Israeli military blockade of the Hamas administered Gaza Strip, where as the international agencies, such as Oxfam, have discovered the economy, health and livelihood of the Palestinian inhabitants have borne the most serious brunt.

The 25 metre long middle-sized boat was slated to set sail this summer to carry Palestinian-made goods across the Mediterranean to Europe and other markets.

The construction of Gaza's Ark was largely accomplished by local Palestinian residents in Gaza and they are available for the vessel's restoration, says Lotaytef.

"We were getting close to our target sailing date. We were hoping to do a test sail to make sure the boat [was] ready within a week from now. And we were hoping to sail before the summer," he says.

Anatomy of destruction

"We have a 24 hour guard on the boat," says Lotayef "[The security guard] got a call on his mobile phone, telling him to get away from the boat. 'There is going to be an attack.' I don't know his exact words but 'there is going to be an attack on the boat.'"

Mustafa Abu Awad was the security guard keeping watch on Gaza's Ark during the explosion and has survived without any injury.

Awad stepped off for five minutes, but got back on the vessel when nothing occurred. He figured this was a prank call.

"So he went back to the boat, and an explosion happened and the boat started to sink, and he was not hurt," continues Lotayef.

Fortunately for the organizers of Gaza's Ark the fuel tank onboard was empty, which made the explosion less serious than it might have been.

"Then we would have been in a different situation; we were really lucky for that," says Lotayef.

The police in Gaza are apparently still investigating the incident and so Lotayef cannot discuss the extent of the damage or when Gaza's Ark might be ready to set sail.

"We don't have an assessment of the full scale of the damage. But the one thing is that we are committed to continuing our project, whatever that means."

Rebuilding the Ark; restarting the project

Construction of the Gaza Ark began locally one year ago and it was now "90 per cent" complete before the explosive had been planted underneath the centre of the boat in the water, says Lotayef. 

Currently, $250,000 USD have been raised for the building and launch of Gaza's Ark, which had a projected budget of $300,000. Now, more funds, which are unsolicited, are coming in from supporters following the news reports of the attack, says Lotayef.

Lotayef says the attack on Gaza's Ark had followed a "powerful petition campaign," to denounce the Israeli blockade of Gaza. Among the backers were European members of parliament and retired United Nations employees.

"People are enthusiastic and more determined. Most of the people who supported us, were supporting us despite the slow rhythm [of the] building. The situation in Gaza is difficult. Everyone understands that."

Lotayef suggests that the attack could be a by-product of a "more harsh" approach towards the "whole of the Palestinian people," undertaken by an Israeli government in wake of the announced Hamas/Fatah unity government, following inconclusive talks between Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Fatah dominated Palestinian Authority in the Israeli occupied west bank and Benjamin Netanyahu's Israeli government.

"You can sink a boat, but you can't sink a movement," said Lotayef in a press release.

Paul Weinberg is a Toronto-based freelancer writer who has written for IPS since 1996. He is also a regular contributor to local weekly magazine NOW and specializes in Canadian politics, in particular foreign, security and defence policy. Paul is currently writing a book on the RCMP’s spying on academics in Canada during the 1960s.

Photo: Gaza's Ark

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