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Canada Boat to Gaza to join freedom flotilla in May

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Esther Kern has seen it all.

She's witnessed the demolition of Palestinian homes in the West Bank; the uprooting of their olive trees and vegetable gardens; the destruction of grapevines in their vineyards; the poisoning of their land; and the wrecking of their wells.

The Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) member has also seen the effect it has on the Palestinian people.

"Every day we witness the economic, emotional and social impact of the occupation on the Palestinian people," said Kern at a press conference Friday at Beit Zatoun in Toronto.

"And this is true not only for the Palestinians in the West Bank, where their basic freedoms are denied, but also for the Palestinians and the residents of Gaza."

Kern has been to the Palestinian city of Hebron/al-Khalil in the southern West Bank for the past three years as a member of three separate delegations with CPT, whose purpose is to act as a buffer between the Palestinians and the Jewish settlers or the Israeli Defense Force (IDF).

"We stand in solidarity with the Palestinians in non-violent resistance to the occupation," she said.

The faith-based, human rights organization has maintained a presence in the region for the past 15 years to "help create a space for justice and peace" through non-violent direct action.

"We are appalled by the conditions in Gaza and by the silence of the international community with regard to the ongoing blockade of Gaza enforced by the military," said Lyn Adamson, Co-Chair, Canadian Voice of Women for Peace.

"The freedom flotilla is a way to bring urgently needed aid to the people of Gaza. As Canadians we want to see this suffering end."

Jeff Halper was the first Israeli to enter Gaza in 2008 on one of the Free Gaza movement boats that sailed from Cyprus to Gaza. He co-founded the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) to challenge the demolition of Palestinian homes in the Occupied Territories and to help rebuild them.

"We have to express our solidarity with the people of Egypt and wish them well and a government that truly represents them," said Halper. "And if that is the case, that means the end of the blockade of Gaza."

Halper described Gaza as a cage where food can't get in and people are trapped. "There's malnutrition and poverty," he said. "The whole place is a scorched earth. It's the largest prison in the world."

The freedom flotilla not only brings desperately needed supplies and food to the region. It emphasizes the Israeli siege on Gaza that needs to be broken, said Halper. But Israel couldn't enforce the blockade without the cooperation of Egypt blocking and sealing the Rafa border.

"So the regime in Egypt certainly did not express the solidarity Egyptian people have with the Palestinians," said Halper, who doesn't believe that any legitimate future government in Egypt will be able to continue the blockade of Gaza.

At first, Halper was hesitant to go into Gaza on "an old fishing boat" that would have to sail through the Israeli navy. The authour, lecturer and political activist admitted that as a husband, father and grandfather in his early 60s, he had other things he'd rather be doing. But he felt compelled to join the mission because world governments, including Canada, refused do "the right thing."

Otherwise, Halper said, "A permanent occupation could actually happen." Governments are not enforcing international law, dozens of United Nations resolutions or human rights conventions.

"Therefore, the Canadian people who are coming in solidarity on the boat to Gaza and from around the world will push the governments. What's happened in Egypt today shows that isn't simply a meaningless gesture. That's what (makes) the upcoming flotilla really significant."

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