Hamas, a political party founded to liberate Palestine from Israeli occupation, won the Palestinian parliamentary elections in Gaza in January 2006. After Hamas refused to return a kidnapped Israeli soldier, Galid Shalit, Israel and Egypt instated an air, land and sea blockade of the Gaza Strip in hopes of exhausting Hamas’ resources. The blockade prohibited Palestinian travel to and from Gaza, as well as the import of food, housing supplies, medical equipment, antibiotics, electronics, and even fishing rods. In an effort to weaken Hamas, Israel launched a three-week military campaign to level Gazan infrastructure, bombing factories, hospitals, schools, neighborhoods...and a few Hamas hubs. Thus, while the Israeli government is only in contention with Hamas, it has proven itself willing to deprive Palestinian civilians of medicine, food, and housing; of their basic livelihoods. Such “collective punishment” is illegal under international humanitarian law.
On May 31, 2010, a Gaza flotilla composed of six ships attempted to break through the blockade and supply Gaza with aid. As Israel should not have jurisdiction over Gaza’s water, boat entry was selected as the most peaceful mode of entry. The fleet was seized and obstructed by Israeli naval forces, however the flotilla induced a slew of nations to demand that Israel and Egypt ease or lift the blockade. The next day Egypt partially opened the Rafah border crossing, and on June 17 Israel’s Prime Minister announced that Israel’s security cabinet agreed to relax the blockade and permit the flow of strictly civilian goods over the border. Still, the gamut of goods necessary to strengthen the economy in Gaza are beyond reach, and housing supplies remain limited due to Israel’s fear that Hamas will sequester potential military supplies. With the echoes of progress reverberating throughout communities concerned for Gazan human rights, a second flotilla, Freedom Flotilla II, set sail last month.
Canada’s boat, Tahrir, will join boats from Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Australia and the United States in hopes of providing humanitarian aid to Gaza, and provoking further pressure on Israel to lift the blockade completely. The group Canadian Boat to Gaza (CBG) is an initiative of Canadian civil society committed to direct peaceful action towards ending the imprisonment of 1.6 million Palestinians. Yet Canada remains a steadfast supporter of Israel. The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada website advises against attempting to break the naval blockade and warns that Canadian consular officials will not provide consular aid to Canadians who participate in the flotilla. For Canadians, participation in the flotilla is as much a statement to the Harper administration as it is to the Israeli government; there is a disjunction in both nations between civilian needs and administrative priorities.
In a film shot by the CBG, Dr. Mona Al Farra explains that the flotilla will remind the whole world of the daily inhuman practices occurring in the Gaza Strip. Farra, a physician and human rights activist, expressed that ninety-five percent of citizens suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, phobias, and mental illnesses, which Gaza does not have the resources to remedy. Rather than destroy Israel, most Gazans want only to lead normal lives, go to school, maintain jobs, and build a home. While the humanitarian aid will be readily welcomed, Farra believes that the international solidarity symbolized by the flotilla will resonate profoundly throughout this tumultuous territory, reminding Gazans that they are not alone in their struggle for freedom.
Yours in Solidarity,
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