Southern California prepares to enter Gaza
By Susan Schwartz, MMNS
As the citizens of Gaza continue to suffer under the boot of Israeli oppression, peace and humanitarian workers have recently created the â€œFree Gaza Project.â€ Free Gaza plans to sail a flotilla of boats, laden with food and medical supplies, from the island of Cyprus to the Mediterranean shores of Gaza in the Spring of 2008.
The members of Free Gaza represent all age groups and ethnic and religious identities. They represent various trades and occupations, and many are retired. It is truly an international group and includes participants from the United States, UK, Canada, Italy, Australia, Greece, France, Switzerland, Palestine and Israel. What unifies them is a desire to help the beleaguered people of Palestine. Virtually all have been to Palestine at the invitation of the Palestinian people, but now Israel has become more unreasonable and intransigent in forbidding entry by land and by air. Thus the idea of entering Gaza by sea was born.
Mary Hughes Thompson, familiar to the readers of The Muslim Observer for her unstinting work in the West Bank, graciously consented to be interviewed. Ms Thompson visited a number of West Bank towns in September with three other activists and reports no improvement in the conduct of the Israeli Occupying forces (IOF). The towns are Hebron, Ramallah, Jenin, Bethlehem and Deir Yassin. The group while in Jenin stayed in the refuge camp where Israeli forces massacred dozens during the Spring of 2002. In Bethlehem they were witnesses to the fact that the Apartheid Wall now completely cuts off Bethlehem from the rest of the world. Their journey took them to the birth of the nakba where on April 9, 1948, Zionists murdered over 100 men, women and children. Fifty three orphans were literally dumped along the wall of the Old City, where they were found by Miss Hind Hussein and brought behind the American Colony Hotel to her home. This was the birth of the Dar El-Tifl El Arabi Orphanage.
Ms Thompson reported that when she and her companions confronted the IOF, an almost daily occurrence, they were quietly thanked by the Palestinians. Free Gaza hopes for three ships to form the nucleus of the flotilla. One ship has already been promised to them. Individual sailors have indicated a willingness to join the flotilla. All are welcome subject to vetting by the group. Before the flotilla sets sail, participants will be trained in non violent action and will take a pledge to uphold non violent action. In addition, an independent group will search the ships and certify that they carry no weapons or unauthorized crew.
The Israeli government claims that it does not control Gaza and that its actions vis a vis Gaza are purely defensive. If the Israeli Navy prevents the flotilla from entering Gaza by sea, they will show the world their role as occupiers. If they stand down, then the residents of Gaza will have much needed food and medicine.
â€œWe feel it is time to confront Israel.â€
Several official invitations have already been extended to free Gaza, including one from the Palestinian Red Crescent Society and another from the Palestinian Authority in Gaza.
TMO: When FreeGaza was born did you find a lot of enthusiasm from newcomers – people who had not previously been to the Occupied Territories?
Yes, and we encouraged them to go to the West Bank through regular channels first, since our project is primarily for people who have been deported or denied entry into Israel.
TMO: Do you plan fund raisers for the Free Gaza project?
Several fundraisers have been held in the UK,in Australia, and in northern California. More are planned.
TMO: If people wish to be part of the flotilla but lack sufficient funds, will Free Gaza offer financial aid?
All funds raised will be used to pay for boats, crew, maintenance and security. Everyone participating will be asked to contribute a minimum per diem amount to cover their food on board. Prior to sailing all participants must take part in intense non-violence training. All contributions to the Free Gaza project are tax deductible.
For more information on the Free Gaza Project and to keep abreast of their latest developments, please access their web site at: www.freegaza.org