This year the Freedom Flotilla Coalition will launch an all-women fleet to challenge the nearly 10-year-old blockade of Gaza. In late September two boats, the Amal-Hope and Zaytouna-Oliva, will leave Italy and set sail for the coast of besieged Gaza to challenge Israel’s illegal blockade of the Palestinian territory. The Flotilla will aim to arrive in Gaza on October 1st, visiting other Mediterranean ports along the way to raise awareness and collaborate with local organisations, inviting local boats to sail with them for some legs of the trip. The flotilla boats will then be donated to the people of Gaza.
According to Women’s Boat to Gaza website, the blockade of the densely populated Gaza strip “is a form of collective punishment”, which violates the Geneva Conventions and denies the 1.8 million inhabitants “the possibility to support themselves, security of food supplies, medical care, education, drinkable water and cultural exchange”. To add salt to the wound, Gaza is still suffering from the effects of the brutal 2014 attack by the Israeli military, which lasted 51 days and, according to the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry, killed 2,251 Palestinians, including 1,462 civilians, of whom 551 were children. Over 11,000 Palestinians were injured, 1,500 children orphaned, 18,000 homes destroyed and half a million people displaced.
Another UN report published last year predicts that Gaza will be uninhabitable by 2020. Homes, schools and hospitals have been destroyed. 90% of the water is not drinkable and electricity is only available for a few hours a day. There is over 30% unemployment, 75% of the population are dependent on international aid, 35% of agricultural land and 85% of fishing waters are inaccessible due to restrictions imposed by the Israeli military and navy. Around half the population are under the age of 18.
The Freedom Flotilla Coalition supports the Palestinian struggle for freedom and justice based on international law, which includes: an end to the occupation and dismantling of the apartheid wall, equal rights for Palestinian citizens under Israeli law, and the right of return for refugees to their homes and property. Its aim is to end the blockade of Gaza completely and permanently. Another aim of the women’s mission is to highlight the important role of women in the struggle for human rights in Palestine.
Organisations in Norway, Canada, Italy, South Africa, Spain, USA, New Zealand and Australia are participating in the Women’s Boat to Gaza campaign, with more to be announced. The Freedom Flotilla Coalition organised the previous Freedom Flotillas in 2010, 2011 and 2015 and this is the first all-women Flotilla to sail to Gaza. The Flotilla will be crewed entirely by women, with prominent women participants confirmed from several participating countries (more to be announced), including Nobel Laureate and peace activist from Northern Ireland Mairead Maguire, Naomi Wallace (US), our own Marama Davidson, who is the New Zealand Green Party spokesperson on Human Rights, and Gerd von der Lippe (Norway). Also on board will be Cigdem Topçuoglu, whose husband was killed on the Mavi Marmara in 2010.
The 2010 Flotilla gained significant international attention when one of the ships, the Turkish Mavi Marmara, was attacked by the Israeli Occupation Force (IOF), killing nine passengers (a tenth died four years later, never recovering from a coma caused by injuries sustained in the attack). This was a turning point for the campaign, sparking large international protests. Subsequent Freedom Flotillas have not suffered any deaths, although the response from the IOF is still violent, with reports of tasers being used on intercepted vessels. In 2011 the second Freedom Flotilla suffered sabotage to its ships, only one of which managed to approach Gaza, but was boarded and redirected to an Israeli port. Among those on the 2015 Flotilla were two MaoriTV journalists, Ruwani Perera and Jacob Bryant, who made a two-part documentary about the Flotilla. Their boat was intercepted and they were detained in Israel before being sent back to New Zealand.