Sailing again to break the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza

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I've just set foot on dry land after five days at sea on one of the four boats of Gaza Freedom Flotilla III.

The land I have set foot on is not Gaza, nor Israel, but Greece. Why Greece?

New strategies are needed to keep the momentum for challenging the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza and the isolation of the Palestinians there. Our attempts in the past five years have resulted in the Israeli government's piracy in international waters seizing a virtual armada of our ships, kidnapping hundreds of citizens from dozens of countries, charging them with entering Israel illegally and deporting them for a 10 year period, which denies them the opportunity to visit with Israelis and Palestinians in Israel, Jerusalem and the West Bank. 

The ships that form the flotillas have been purchased at substantial expense through the fundraising efforts of Palestinian supporters in many countries. After litigation in Israeli courts, only two of the vessels have been returned to their owners. The remainder, at least seven ships, are in Haifa harbor and apparently are part of a tourist tour to see the ships that terrorize Israel. One boat reportedly has been used as a target for Israeli naval bombardment.

The newest strategy is not to sail all of the ships in any flotilla into Israeli hands. The publicity, primarily in the Israeli press, of an impending flotilla of unknown size coming from unknown departure points, forces the Israeli government intelligence and military organizations to expend resources, human and financial, on determining what unarmed civilians are challenging their naval blockade of Gaza -- and how they are challenging it. 

Hopefully, for every minute Israeli government organizations expend to try to stop the ships in a flotilla they are making resources unavailable for the continued horrific treatment of Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank.

For example, the day before the Marianne ship from Sweden was captured, an Israeli aircraft flew a search pattern for two hours over ships in the area to attempt to determine how many vessels were in this area and which might be a part of the flotilla. We suspect there were other Israeli vessels, to include submarines, with electronic capability to identify radio or satellite transmissions from all ships in the area and attempt to pinpoint our ships. These efforts come at a cost to the Israeli government, much more of a cost than our purchasing ships and having passengers fly to flotilla departure points.

While Israeli resources are unlimited compared to ours, especially when one factors in that the United States provides Israel substantial intelligence assistance and over $3 billion per year, our flotillas tie up many Israelis, from the prime minister himself who was forced to make a statement about a Palestinian-Israeli member of the Knesset and the former president of Tunisia who volunteered to be passengers on the flotilla, to the foreign minister responding to condemnations by Sweden and Norway of the Israeli attack on a Swedish ship in international waters, to the public relations arm of the Israeli government that must deal with media inquires about where the ship was captured, reports of abusive treatment of the passengers by the IDF and finally to the numerous military intelligence and operational units-land, air and sea- that are ordered to physically respond to the flotilla.

The two-month voyage of the vessel Marianne from Sweden, along the coast of Europe, and into the Mediterranean with stops in coastal cities in eight countries provided an educational opportunity to schedule an event in each of the cities for discussion about the horrific effects of the Israeli blockade of Gaza and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. 

This is the third flotilla in which I have participated. The 2010 Gaza Freedom Flotilla ended with Israeli commandos executing nine passengers (a tenth passenger subsequently died of gunshots) and wounding fifty on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara, assaulting passengers on each of the six ships in the flotilla and taking over 600 passengers to Israeli prisons before deporting them.

The 2011 Gaza Freedom Flotilla had 10 ships from 22 national campaigns. The Israeli government paid off the Greek government to not let the ships in Greek waters leave ports, although the U.S. Boat to Gaza, The Audacity of Hope and the Canadian Boat to Gaza the Tahrir, did attempt to depart for Gaza, but were brought back into ports by armed Greek commandos.

The Tahrir and the Irish Boat to Gaza,the Saoirse subsequently attempted to sail to Gaza in November 2011 and were captured by Israeli commandos, and in October 2012, the Swedish sailing vessel Estelle attempted to sail to Gaza and was taken by Israel.

From 2012 through 2014, international efforts to end the Israeli naval siege of Gaza were focused on breaking the blockade by sailing from Gaza into international waters. International campaigns raised funds to convert a fishing vessel in Gaza City harbor into a cargo ship. We named the vessel Gaza's Ark.

The international community was asked to purchase handicrafts and dried agricultural products from Gaza to be placed on the vessel for transport out of Gaza. In April 2014 as the one-year conversion of the fishing boat into a cargo vessel was nearing completion, an explosion blew a hole in the stern of the boat. Two months later, in June 2014, in the second day of the 55-day Israeli attack on Gaza, Israeli missiles targeted Gaza's Ark and blew it up causing a tremendous fire and irrepairable damage to the vessel.

As one of the 70 passengers/media/crew representing 22 countries who participated on Gaza Freedom Flotilla 3… citizens from Israel, United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Greece, Sweden, Palestine, Jordan, Tunisia, Norway, Italy, New Zealand, Spain, Finland,  France, Germany, Russia, South Africa, Morocco and Algeria..we took time from our lives to bring the Israeli siege of Gaza to international attention-once again. 

For us as passengers, the physical act of being captured and put in prison by the State of Israel is not the most important part of our activism. The fact that we have come together again in another action to bring international attention to the Israeli siege of Gaza is the goal-and we will continue these actions until the Israeli government ends the blockade of Gaza.

To those in Gaza, the ships to Gaza whether in flotillas or one ship at a time, are a visible sign of the concern of citizens around the world for their welfare. As 21 year old Mohammed Alhammami, a member of the group of young people in Gaza called We Are Not Numbers, wrote:

"I think the flotilla participants are courageous. They are brave enough to face this brutal regime with high spirits, fully knowing that death is a possibility, as was the fate of the brave Turkish activists. It is when ordinary people, leading ordinary lives, join together to make a statement that change happens. Netanyahu should know; after all, that many Jewish lives were saved in the Holocaust because of ordinary civilians taking extraordinary actions."

This piece originally appeared on War Is A Crime and is reprinted with permission.

Ann Wright served 29 years in the U.S. Army/Army Reserves and retired as a Reserve Colonel. She also served 16 years as a U.S. diplomat in U.S. Embassies in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia and Mongolia. She was on the small team that reopened the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan in December 2001. She resigned from the U.S. government in March, 2003 in opposition to President Bush's war on Iraq. 

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