Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Free Gaza

Activists from the international Free Gaza Movement are trying to break Israel's siege of Gaza to deliver supplies. The current plan is to sail to Gaza through international waters in two boats to deliver supplies and humanitarian support, including hearing aids for children whose hearing has been damaged by sonic booms from Israeli fly-overs.

Israel has not authorized this trip. On the other hand, since Israel claims that Gaza is no longer occupied, it is not clear what right Israel has to grant or deny permission to enter. Of course the truth is that Gaza is still very much occupied, and an important aspect of this voyage is to push and publicize this issue. The international activists (who include a Holocaust survivor, a Nakba survivor, and Tony Blair's sister-in-law) expect to be stopped and perhaps violently attacked by Israel, and plan to respond with non-violent tactics. There is a lot of information on the website www.freegaza.org. See also: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7541782.stm

As the statement below makes clear, the movement is badly in need of cash to continue this (frankly heroic) mission. Information on how to donate is on the website, which again is: http://www.freegaza.org/

Racheli Gai and Judith Norman


Mission Statement

We want to break the siege of Gaza. We want to raise international awareness about the prison-like closure of the Gaza Strip and pressure the international community to review its sanctions policy and end its support for continued Israeli occupation. We want to uphold Palestine's right to welcome internationals as visitors, human rights observers, humanitarian aid workers, journalists, or otherwise.

Who are we?

We are these human rights observers, aid workers, and journalists. We have years of experience volunteering in Gaza and the West Bank at the invitation of Palestinians. But now, because of the increasing stranglehold of Israel's illegal occupation of Palestine, many of us find it almost impossible to enter Gaza, and an increasing number have been refused entry to Israel and the West Bank as well. Despite the great need for our work, the Israeli Government will not allow us in to do it.

We are of all ages and backgrounds. Back home, we are teachers, doctors, nurses, engineers, truck drivers, youth workers, musicians, secretaries, parents, grandparents, lawyers, students, activists, actors, playwrights, politicians, web designers, authors, international training consultants, and we even include a former Hollywood film industry worker, a former Marine, an aviator, and an explorer. We are Italian, Irish, Canadian, Greek, Tunisian, German, Australian, American, English, Scottish, Danish, Israeli, and Palestinian.

What are we going to do? We've tried to enter Palestine by land. We've tried to arrive by air. Now we're getting serious. We're taking a ship.

An Appeal from the Passengers and Crew of the SS FREE GAZA and SS LIBERTY

Two years ago, about a dozen human rights activists devised a plan to sail a boat to Gaza in order to break the siege. We rejected a plan to rent a boat as impractical because a similar venture in 1988 failed when the Israelis disabled the boat before it sailed and the three organizers were killed. Thus no boat owner would willingly risk his craft. We ultimately decided to purchase two small boats that could carry 40 passengers and crew.

Each of us contributed what we could, and we also received thousands of dollars from individual supporters, most of whom used the Paypal link on our website. We also held fundraising events, received a few thousand dollars from small grants, and several "angels" helped us along the way. Each passenger has paid his/her own way here, and many have raised additional money through their groups, worked extra jobs, and asked family and friends to donate. The passengers also paid an additional 600 Euros each for lodging in Cyprus and to cover the cost of supplies and food on land and sea.

Through these efforts we raised $300,000, which we thought would cover our costs. But the eroding dollar/Euro exchange rate seriously drained our funds. All of our planning did not anticipate this contingency.

We are now in Cyprus awaiting our boats' arrival from Crete. When they come in, we will fuel up (with very high-cost diesel) and stock necessary food and supplies. We hope to cast off for Gaza this weekend. We are told that hundreds of thousands of Gazans will greet us on arrival.

Many people thought we'd never come this far. But here we are and we firmly intend to set sail regardless of some recent staggering debts. Frankly, we have spent much more than we have raised; here are just a few of our recent expenses:

• Two Sailor 250 FleetBroadband systems to allow us to stay in electronic contact and to send streaming video in real time, $16,000 each, or $32,000;

• Repairs required to make the boats seaworthy, $25,000-$30,000;

• Electronics, wiring, connections, satellite uplinks, SPOT Trackers to make the system work, $5000-$8000. (Most of the labor on the electronics and boats has been donated by the Greek crew and technicians.)

• Forty-four life jackets and two hand-held GPS units, $8000;

• Paint & banners for the boats, and balloons & toys for Gaza children, $2000;

• Diesel fuel for both boats, both ways, $15,000 to $25,000.

Except for the diesel fuel, we have already paid these costs by running our personal credit cards to the limit, borrowing money, and asking some of the Greek crew to help. Frankly, we're tapped out.

We need your help so that we sail on the Mediterranean Sea but not on a sea of debt. Please . . . donate through the Paypal account on our website (www.freegaza.org), send a check to the address on the website, and/or send a check to the address in Doha. Every donation, large or small, will help keep us afloat.

And, finally, thanks for your interest, support, and prayers!

Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Shlensky
Rebecca Vilkomerson
Alistair Welchman
Jewish Peace News archive and blog: http://jewishpeacenews.blogspot.com
Jewish Peace News sends its news clippings only to subscribers. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or manage your subscription, go to http://www.jewishpeacenews.net

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