The Palestinians of Gaza are suffering through the fourth year of a blockade, which is contrary to international law because it inflicts collective punishment on a civilian population, as expressly forbidden by the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Internationally, politicians such as British Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron have called for the lifting of the blockade, saying "Gaza cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp."
The Canadian government however refuses to call for an end to Israel’s illegal blockade and Egypt’s complicity with it. So instead a growing coalition of community activists, peace supporters, faith groups, trade unionists and others are taking the initiative of actively opposing the blockade.
Though many of us are also involved in other important human rights and humanitarian causes elsewhere, we recognize our particular responsibility towards the plight of Palestine, in part because of the unparalleled and uncritical support Israel receives from our government.
We are not "delegitimizing Israel" — the Israeli state’s own actions in defiance of international law do that. We are heeding the call of Palestinian civil society in Gaza to open the only Mediterranean port that is closed to shipping and the world’s only coastal area without access to the sea it borders on.
In May, attacks on the first Freedom Flotilla focused enough opposition on the illegal blockade that Israel was forced to ease some of the restrictions on aid allowed into Gaza. Despite this, truckloads entering Gaza now average 2,300 a month, compared to 10,400 a month before the closure, according to Israeli NGO Gisha.
While a small minority in Gaza can buy an array of consumer goods, the overwhelming majority (some 70% according to the UN) remain dependent on still-scarce food aid. Furthermore, they are still denied the basic human right of free movement, be it for study, health treatment, business or family visits.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is very clear: "The hardship faced by Gaza’s 1.5 million people cannot be addressed by providing humanitarian aid. The only sustainable solution is to lift the closure."
The Palestinians of Gaza do not need to be dependent on aid: they used to have an active export economy, but the blockade prevents all shipments out as well as wreaking havoc with fishery, manufacturing and agricultural sectors.
Not only will our Canadian ship bring needed supplies to Gaza, we will also bring export goods out from Gaza to the world to support the local economy. The amounts moved in both directions will naturally be symbolic compared to the scale of the need, but the crucial point is of course that as part of the international Free Gaza flotilla movement, we will be helping challenge Israel’s illegal blockade.
According to the ICRC, "all states have an obligation to allow and facilitate rapid and unimpeded passage of all relief consignments" to Gaza— note, all consignments, not just those that arrive via land routes approved by Israel.
The Canadian Boat to Gaza campaign is a determined civil society effort acting in accordance with international law. Name-calling in the media, just like intimidation visits by CSIS agents to our homes, will not deter us from our goal.
As one of the Greek flotilla captains replied when ordered to identify his ship’s course before it was violently boarded in May: Our course is the conscience of humanity.