By Susan Schwartz, MMNS
When readers of The Muslim Observer access this week’s on line edition, more than 40 courageous and daring humanitarians will be on their way from Larnaca, Cyprus across the Mediterranean to Gaza in two wooden boats. The ships, if they reach Gaza, will effectively break the siege of Gaza initiated and perpetrated by the Israelis.The activists represent many different nationalities and religious persuasions, a number are elderly, but all are united in their desire to liberate the Gaza Strip which has become the world’s largest prison. The voyage is intended to show solidarity with the people of Gaza and to draw attention to their daily suffering and to the collective punishment Israel has inflicted on them.
The trip under normal circumstances would take less than a day. The boats, the SS Free Gaza and the SS Liberty, will spend most of their time under sail to conserve fuel. Those on board are prepared to spend weeks on the ships should Israeli intransigence render it necessary.
The event has been reported since its inception in the pages of The Muslim Observer. Passengers include Hedy Epstein, an 83 year old survivor of the Holocaust; ISM activists Greta Berlin, Paul Larudee and Mary Hughes; Lauren Booth, sister-in-law of former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair; Musheir El Farra, brother to Dr. Mona El Farra, the groups contact in Gaza, and an 82 year old nun, Anne Montgomery.
The purpose of the trip is multifold. Israel, when queried, contends that it does not control Gaza, but reality speaks to a different answer. Israeli naval vessels patrol the coastal waters and enforce a six mile limit to Gaza fishermen. Fishermen are constantly harassed even when they observe that limit.
The travelers are aware that four possibilities exist as they approach Gaza. One is that they will be blown up by the Israelis; second, they will stopped at some point short of Gaza and not be allowed to continue; third, they will be stopped, boarded, the travelers arrested, and the boats towed. The fourth of course is that they will be permitted to enter Gaza. The ships carry water filters and batteries for hearing aids, currently forbidden by the Israelis because of supposed dual purpose considerations. They will also carry some medicines.
The SS Free Gaza and the SS Liberty will be in international waters as they leave Cyprus, and should the Israelis attempt any interdiction, they will be guilty of impeding an international humanitarian mission.
Both boats will have 24/7 communication with the outside world.