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Canadian Boat to challenge Israeli blockade of Gaza

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A Canadian boat will set sail in June to demonstrate support for the Palestinians in Gaza and remind the world of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the region.

With the support of over a hundred civil society organizations and thousands of individuals, the Canadian Boat to Gaza campaign has raised more than $300,000 towards the purchase and equipping of a boat as part of the Freedom Flotilla II.

Comprised of 600 passengers from 40 countries, the Flotilla will include 12 ships plus the Turkish Mavi Marmara which was attacked by Israeli naval forces last year in the first mission.

The Canadian Boat to Gaza was launched by activists who believe that Canada must actively participate to end the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

In May 2010, the first Freedom Flotilla sent seven vessels to Gaza carrying nearly 700 passengers from 36 countries. Israeli commandos attacked the boats, shot and killed nine passengers, injured over 50 and imprisoned all aboard.

Canada officially became a part of the Freedom Flotilla II last September.

In Canada and in the United States representatives of the Freedom Flotilla are meeting with their government leaders to get assurances that Israel will not use force to interfere with the peaceful mission.

But the Israeli government has made it clear that does not want the boats to reach the shores of Gaza, and the Canadian government has repeatedly demonstrated its unwavering support for Israel.

"Despite the threats of violence by the Israeli government, we refuse to be intimidated," said David Heap, a member of the Canadian Boat to Gaza steering committee.

"Where our governments have failed the Palestinians of Gaza, civil society must act instead."

Prominent Canadians called for safe passage of the Canadian Boat to Gaza at a press conference Thursday at Friends House in Toronto.

"We must demand that the Harper government take steps to guarantee the safety of its citizens who are heading to Gaza on a humanitarian obligation," said human rights activist Suzanne Weiss.

For more than two years, the blockade has starved the Palestinians of Gaza and denied them the right to export and trade with the rest of the world.

Many essential items, including building materials, flour and cooking oil, have been denied entry.

"The siege of Gaza is an act of collective punishment," said Toronto writer and Christian Peacemaker Teams member James Loney, "which has reduced a million and a half people to abject poverty."

The number of Gazan who are unable to buy basic items like soap, stationary and safe drinking water has tripled since 2007, according to the BBC.

John Greyson, a filmmaker, professor and activist will be among the 32 Canadian delegates on the Boat to Gaza next month.

"I'm joining the flotilla because artists have a responsibility to speak out in the face of injustice," said Greyson. "I can hopefully use the tools of filmmaking to contribute something meaningful to this global movement."

Osgoode Law School professor Michael Mandel said, "The blockade of Gaza is an act of aggression under international law as is the continued military and settler occupation of the territory seized in 1967."

The occupation has been condemned by the General Assembly of the United Nations, the Security Council and the International Court of Justice.

"I fully support the right of Israel to exist and to defend its legitimate borders within the ample limits of international law," said Mandel.

"But the blockade of Gaza goes far beyond that and is an integral part of an egregiously illegal occupation that has to end."

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