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A call from Gazans to the world: “Keep trying to break the siege”

A press conference organised in anticipation of the Almathea aid ship

In a press conference at the port of Gaza city yesterday government officials, fishing associations, non-governmental organisations and civil society groups reiterated their support for the attempts by international activists to break the Israeli siege of Gaza by sea.

Yesterday (July 14th 2010) many people amassed at the Gazan port to urge on the latest attempt by activists to enter the strip, this time by a Libyan chartered aid ship. It was the first serious attempt to enter Gaza by sea since the horrifying attack by the Israeli navy on the Free Gaza Flotilla and the Mavi Marmara which saw 9 Turkish activists killed.

Mahfouz Kabariti, President of Palestine Sailing Federation and Palestinian Association for Fishing and Maritime Sports, was communicating with the Amalthea as it neared Gazan waters: “The last contact we had with them was at midnight and since then communication was cut by the Israeli navy. They told us the boat was surrounded by Israeli gunships, but that they were determined to attempt to dock in Gaza and not take the option offered by the Egyptian government to dock in El Arish.”

According to Mahfouz the roll of the Freedom Flotilla missions are two-fold: “First is the arrival with aid, and materials such as construction supplies still banned by the blockade. The second is to put a spotlight on the suffering of the people here. Even if they are attacked, the second message highlights even more the extent to which Israel will go to keep us in Gaza isolated from the rest of the world with this illegal blockade of our people.”

Amjad Shawa, Gaza Coordinator for Palestinian NGOs: "It is not enough to demand some kind of minor reduction of this illegal siege."

As well as government representatives and the Popular Committee to Break the Siege, Amjad Shawa, Gaza Coordinator for  Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations (PNGO) was present. He emphasised the importance of international civil society persisting in trying to break the siege.

The need is especially acute because so far Israel’s response has only been to reduce the blockade on Gaza by a tiny fraction. The European Union, the United Nations, countless human rights groups and the International Committee for the Red Cross have all expressed the need for a return to the free flow of goods and people in and out of the Gaza Strip. This must include construction materials which are sorely needed to help rebuild the 17,000 houses severely damaged in the 3 week attack over the New Year period of 2009 that left over 1500 dead including over 400 children.

“Nothing has changed here,” says Amjad. “Just some more consumer products…but 80% of the people here still depend on humanitarian aid. It is not enough to demand some kind of minor reduction of this illegal siege. But we are thankful that the siege on Gaza has not been forgotten, and that our people are still in the minds of the world. These kinds of solidarity actions are very important for Gazans, we see that others share with us the values of justice and the principals of human rights.”

A Gaza resident holding pictures of Saif al-Islam Gadhafi - whose charity sponsored the aid ship - and his father, Libyan leader Muammar Gadhaf

When asked about the role of the international community to pressure Israel, Amjad is more critical: “We are so sorry that the international community until now has made no real intervention, put no real pressure on Israel to lift the siege totally or exerted pressure on Israel to have a transparent and accountable international inquiry into the Israeli crimes on the freedom flotillas.

“Still today we’re waiting for real international pressure from the international community.  We hope that Israel will not use this silence as a chance to commit more crimes against the Palestinian people and international solidarity workers.”

The Libyan chartered boat was eventually forced to dock in El Arish, Egypt, after a wall of Israeli gunboats blocked its passage through to Gaza.  But the Palestinians remain heartened by these attempts and the further missions planned this September. Says Mahfouz: “People here feel grateful to those internationals who try to arrive at the Gaza beach, it’s so important to us that other people worry and support us.”