Once More to Gaza

February 11, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, MMNS

Readers of The Muslim Observer are familiar with the Free Gaza Movement which in August of 2008 sailed two ships from Cyprus to Gaza breaking a decades long blockade by Israel. Four more missions followed successfully. The sixth voyage resulted in an attack by Israeli Naval forces that severely damaged the ship putting the lives of all aboard in jeopardy. The captain was able to bring the ship safely to a port in Lebanon; during the seventh attempt Israeli threats to the safety of the passengers along with terrible weather forced the ship to return to port.The eighth vessel was hijacked by the Israeli Navy, resulting in the confiscation of the vessel and the imprisonment of its passengers and crew in Israel. Despite repeated requests from Free Gaza attorneys, the ship has not yet been returned.
This courageous undertaking was the inspiration for other subsequent movements to aid the beleaguered people of Gaza.

Those who believed that the mission was over, that the dream had ended, did not reckon correctly with the dedication and courage of the people of the Free Gaza Movement. This spring a flotilla of six to ten boats will again sail to Gaza. Of these, five have been funded by IHH from Turkey, and a third, a cargo ship, has been funded by donations from the people of Malaysia. This time the Israeli Navy will be faced with a small navy, a navy of freedom fighters.

The ships will carry reconstruction material essential to the rebuilding of Gaza yet forbidden to them by the Israelis.

Fundraising is essential as is maximum publicity. Returning members of Viva Palestina and the Gaza Freedom March make excellent speakers for fundraising events. Since the Israeli occupiers do not permit the importation of paper or paper products, the Free Gaza Movement has launched a campaign which it has titled: The Right to Read. Books that are desperately needed are listed on the group’s web site: <www.freegaza.org>. If reconstruction material is to be donated, please contact friends@freegaza.org.

Three leaders and founders of the Free Gaza Movement were recently honored by the San Jose Peace and Justice Center. Greta Berlin, Paul Larudee and Kathy Sheets were each given a Gertrude Welch Peace and Justice Award.

The California organization established the award to honor those who made an outstanding contribution to social justice and peace both locally and globally.
Those who support the goals of the Free Gaza Movement but are not able to make the trip are urged to work in an auxiliary capacity.

In addition to fundraising and publicity supporters can urge their members of congress or parliament to join the voyagers. The Movement already has Members of Parliament from South Africa, Turkey, Malaysia, Europe, and South America on board.

Members of a land crew, support crew and media are also needed for the coming journey.

Suggestions, volunteering and contributions may be made at the above cited web site.

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McKinney Released, Returning to United States

July 9, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Rhonda Cook, Larry Hartstein, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Former US Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney’s (D-G-11th and 4th) mom said she’s learned that her daughter is on the way home.

Cynthia_McKinney_250_JPG80 Leola McKinney said a friend who contacted the U.S. Embassy in Israel reported that the former congresswoman was released from Israeli custody and taken to Ben Gurion International Airport.

“We finally got word that she was released,” Leola McKinney said late Sunday afternoon. “We don’t know what time she is supposed to fly out. All we know is that they took her to the airport.

“I would be more relieved when I know she’s on the flight,” Leola McKinney added. “But I am relieved that she’s away from there.”

McKinney had been in custody since Tuesday, when she and 20 others were swept up by the Israeli Navy while allegedly trying to sail through a navy blockade. The group says it was attempting to deliver humanitarian supplies to Gaza.

McKinney and the rest of her group could have been released soon after they were taken into custody but they refused to sign a document admitting they violated Israel’s blockade, according to McKinney’s parents. The group was due to appear in an Israeli court Sunday.

Leola McKinney said she had no information about the court hearing.

Leola McKinney said she had not spoken with her daughter since shortly after she was taken into custody.

Cynthia McKinney and other members of the “Free Gaza Movement ” left Cyprus Tuesday on the Greek-registered ship Arion.

Their ship was stopped when they tried to pass through the Israeli Navy’s security blockade at Ashdod. The group was taken into custody and their ship was seized. Israel officials promised to deliver by ground all of the humanitarian supplies that were on the boat.

Family, friends and supporters say Cynthia McKinney believed she was in international waters and was free to pass.

“The Israelis hijacked us because we wanted to give crayons to the children of Gaza,” Cynthia McKinney said in a recorded statement delivered via telephone and posted on the internet site YouTube [The office of the Consulate General of Israel in Atlanta said in a statement released Friday, “According to Israeli law Ms. McKinney and her fellow crew members were suggested to sign a form acknowledging their deportation… Since Ms. McKinney has refused to do so, she is expected to appear before an Israeli judge on Sunday, July 5, and afterwards be returned home as soon as possible.”

Civil rights leader the Rev. Joseph Lowery, head of the Atlanta-based Coalition for the People’s Agenda, said he and others have spoken by phone with the Consulate General of Israel.

“Whatever happened, there was no harm done,” Lowery said. “She was not carrying munitions, but medicine. We hope Israel will show compassion and release her and let her go on to deliver the much-needed medicine to the Gaza Strip. … If she were carrying guns, that would be a different thing. [But] she was carrying humanitarian aid.”

Israeli officials blame McKinney and her group for the controversy, saying they were looking for confrontation to attract publicity. The officials note that Palestinian Authority and the rest of the international community had agreed to the off-shore blockade to prevent arms smuggling into Gaza. Gaza is controlled by Hamas, which is classified by the U.S. and European Union as a terrorist organization.

Leola McKinney said the trip would have received no “publicity if they had been allowed to deliver supplies to Gaza. They [Israel] made an issue out of it by taking the boat and escorting them into Israel.”

Billy McKinney, Cynthia McKinney’s father and a former state legislator, said his daughter was only trying to show “the devastation in Gaza… Anybody who has a humanitarian spirit would not want to see those people live in those conditions.”

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Israel Attacks Humanitarian Ship, Hijacks Crew

July 2, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, MMNS

Editor’s note:  This event occurred in 2009.  If you are looking for the attack that occurred in June of 2010, please look at the following posts:

http://muslimmedianetwork.com/mmn/?p=6280 (Erdogan’s Speech to Turkish Parliament)

http://muslimmedianetwork.com/mmn/?p=6279 (Paintballs to pistols, Israel admits ship blunders)

http://muslimmedianetwork.com/mmn/?p=6278 (Turkey calls for punishment of Israel for killings)

http://muslimmedianetwork.com/mmn/?p=6277 (Egypt Opens Gaza Border After Israel Clash)

While sailing from Cyprus to Gaza on a humanitarian mission as part of the Free Gaza Movement, the SS Spirit of Humanity, an unarmed vessel with only civilians aboard, was attacked and boarded by Israeli Naval forces and its passengers and crew kidnapped. Prior to this the Humanity had been surrounded by ships of the Israeli Navy. The Israelis had jammed the ship’s navigation system, its GPS, and its radar. This took place in international waters, and the initial hostile action from Israel put the ship and its passengers and crew in grave danger.

Early Monday morning (June 29, 7:30 am local time) , the SS Spirit of Humanity left the Cyprus port of Lenarca to sail to the beleaguered nation of Gaza. Aboard are 21 human rights activists from 14 countries. The ship also carries three tons of medical supplies, crayons and coloring books for the children of Gaza and reconstruction kits for 20 homes to be rebuilt in Gaza.

Former Congresswoman, Cynthia McKinney, a vocal proponent of the rights of the people of Gaza, is aboard. Ms McKinney attempted to make the trip in December 2008, a trip that was interdicted by an attack from the Israeli Navy. Also aboard are Huwaida Arraf and Adam Shapiro, a husband and wife team who founded the International Solidarity Movement and Mairead Maguire, a Nobel Prize winner.

The destruction in Gaza inflicted by the Israelis during Operation Cast Lead (December 2008-January 2009) resulted in the loss of over 2400 family dwelling places, educational and medical centers, cement factories and charitable establishments.

The Humanity is carrying kits which attempt to compensate in arenas of need destroyed by Israel and that have, thus far, been closed off to aid from outside forces. These arenas include, but are by no means limited to: agriculture, education, electricity, water and sanitation. While billions in aid was pledged by other nations, only a trickle of money has come to Gaza, none of it for the acutely needed rebuilding efforts.

This past Thursday the Humanity and its sister ship, the SS Free Gaza, were both poised to depart for Gaza. They were unable to leave Cyprus  when they were denied departure credentials by Limasol, the Cyprus Port Authority. The activists learned from a source in the government of Cyprus that the Israelis applied pressure to prevent the departure. Strangely, the letter of refusal was dated two days before the actual inspection was made.

The Free Gaza Movement was created to break the siege of Gaza by sailing ships into its port via Gaza’s Mediterranean border. In August 2008, two ships, the SS Free Gaza and the SS Liberty accomplished this and became the first ships to enter Gaza by sea in 41 years. This current voyage is the eighth attempt. Two attempts were thwarted by the Israelis. One ship, the SS Dignity, left Cyprus in December 2008 and was rammed by the Israeli Navy. But for the ability of the captain and crew, it would have sunk with the probable loss of life of all aboard. In January 2009, subsequent to the Israeli invasion of Gaza, the SS Spirit of Humanity attempted to make the journey was forcibly turned back by the Israeli Navy.

The SS Free Gaza, one of the ships that made the first voyage, and the SS Spirit of Humanity had between them 36 passengers and crew from 16 nations and were carrying 15 tons of cement,  three tons of medical supplies and crayons and books for children. Gaza desperately needs cement for rebuilding, but Israel has denied it to them. The cement being carried by the activists is but a token, a small percentage of what is needed. Crayons and books are also forbidden to the people of Gaza by the Israelis.

The organizers of this trip include Greta Berlin, an internationally known human rights activist and a veteran participant in the International Solidarity Movement; Huwaida Arraf , Mary Hughes Thompson, another veteran of humanitarian activity in Gaza, and Ramzi Kysia, an American of Lebanese descent.

Past voyages have seen the activists tour hospitals, in critical condition even prior to the Israeli invasion. They have watched patients fight for their lives when necessary electronic equipment could not function as Israel did not permit a constant supply of electricity. They have accompanied fishermen into the Mediterranean beyond the limit permitted by Israel so that they could pursue their livelihood. They have helped farmers plant olive trees. They have brought hope and friendship to the world’s largest outdoor prison.

Two recent incidents have highlighted the danger posed to the brave people of the Free Gaza movement. Free Gaza activist, Hedy Epstein, an 84 year old Holocaust survivor was brutally attacked in St Louis on her way home. She required a hospital visit for her injuries. Ms Epstein has been an active supporter of the rights of Gaza and has been the recipient of numerous telephone and email threats.

Recently the SS Dignity suffered damage during a storm and sunk to the bottom of the Mediterranean while in port in Cyprus. Shortly before this happened, two men made a threat regarding the boat. It has still not been determined whether the force of the storm resulted in its destruction or whether the storm provided a convenient cover.

The travelers have made promises to the people of Gaza. They promised to return, they promised to exit with residents of Gaza who yearned to be re united with family and residents of Gaza who had secured acceptance in colleges outside of Gaza but whom Israel would not permit to leave. And, they promised to carry to the rest of the world the story of Gaza under siege.

A Gaza volunteer gave a poignant account of her experiences in Gaza where brave and resilient people struggle to obtain the basics of existence. “I’ve done work in prison” she said “This is worse than being in prison.”

The public is urgently asked to contact the following groups:

Israeli Ministry of Justice; tel  +972 2646 6666 or +972 2646 6340; fax +972 2646 6357.

Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs;      tel +972 2530 3111; fax +972 2530 3367

Red Cross Israel; tel +972 3524 5286;      fax +972 3527 0370.

Also readers and members of the public should contact the White House and their Senators and Congresspersons.

Free Gaza may be accessed at: www.freegaza.org.

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“Sailing to Byzantium”

November 20, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

2008-11-07T182600Z_01_CYP03_RTRMDNP_3_GAZA-POLITICIANS

International activists depart for Gaza from Larnaca November 7, 2008. Eleven European politicians sailed to Gaza from Cyprus on Friday after saying attempts to get into the impoverished enclave via Egypt failed. 

REUTERS/ Andreas Manolis

Paul Laudree’s Report on running the Israeli Blockade into Gaza with Relief Packets.

Sunnyvale, California–November 13th–The UN had to end its food distribution due to the lack of security since Hamas (Gaza’s ruling Party) broke their fragile cease-fire with Tel Aviv by shooting their longest-range missiles towards the far Jewish Settlements.  The New York/Geneva Organization found it impossible to ensue with their impossible assignment delivering their humanitarian duty under such anarchistic conditions.  As I wind down my Gazan story on Monday night, the missiles are still raining on Israeli territory (17th) while the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) respond with precision strikes against the Palestinian Republic with the most technically advanced American fighter-plane technology!

Given that I had told the story of a small town on the West Bank last week, I intended to hold this piece for at least a week, but circumstances have overtaken this journalist!

I usually do not follow a strict interview format within my articles, but I had an opportunity to do so with Laudree.  Initially, I asked him about the current crisis, and how it may resolve itself.  He replied that when the Israelis blockade Gaza by land, they typically back down over a realistic period of time, and he expects this will be the case over this confrontation.  It is happening now because “Israel desires to utilize collective punishment” — an action that violates the Geneva Conventions.  Dr. Laudree continued that “The Israelis fail[ed] to weaken Hamas.  [What they have accomplished] is to marginalize the Palestinians [there], and to make them wretched.”

“The Question becomes what shall We do about it?”

He felt that his project (of relief boats) had little practical affect, but produced an enormous sociological re-enforcement to the citizens of the enclave, or in Paul Laudree own words, “It was more symbolic than substantive, but we intend to extend [our efforts more into practicable significant assistance.]…” The Doctor Laudree did berate the traditional assistance agencies for their failure to offer respite to the inhabitants (that gets us back to the U.N.’s recent decision).

In his venture in which he was one of the primary founders and strategists, he was able to put together good-sized ships that sailed from Cyprus to dock at the very difficult man-made harbor in Gaza that was primarily created for fishing ships.  Paul’s three crafts — plus now one leased vessel (i.e., four in all at the moment) – are the size of large trawlers.  The pilot has to make careful maneuvers into the harbor to docket it.  The depth of the harbor is three and one half to four meters, but it can be dredged to a full eight meters.  During the first voyage two boats were able to make it through to landing!  Subsequently, two more aid voyages of one liner each were able to race Israel’s Navy to provide much sought for supplies to this beleaguered enslaved nation!

Laudree clarified that Israel “threaten to stop – not sink – their cruisers.”  Yet, leaders within the endeavor personally received anonymous intimidation.  Paul Laudee himself received a publicly pronounced threat by a pseudo-blog-scribe.

“We need to change the lives of the Palestinian public – especially in transport!  Palestinians have the right to move about their own land, and to travel abroad which is enshrined in the U.N. Charter!” Yet, “Israel not only controls their own borders, but those of the Palestinians as well!”  Gaza is different because it borders both Egypt and Israel.  “We wish to take advantage of that fact.”  So far Tel Aviv has permitted us to employ the sea lanes since the commodities we deliver are not perceived as a security threat.

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Breaking the Gaza Siege

November 13, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Ramzi Kysia

2008-11-10T163944Z_01_JER25_RTRMDNP_3_GAZA-POLITICIANS

An international activist waves a Palestinian flag as a boat carrying European politicians (unseen) leaves Gaza’s seaport November 10, 2008. The boat arrived at Gaza from Cyprus on Saturday after attempts to get to the Palestinian territory via Egypt failed.

REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

GAZA CITY, FREE PALESTINE (29 October 2008) – This morning I walked to the Indian Ocean and made salt in defiance of the British Occupation of India. This morning I marched in Selma, I stood down tanks in Tiananmen Square, and I helped tear down the Berlin Wall. This morning I became a Freedom Rider.

The Freedom Riders of the 21st Century are sailing small boats into the Gaza Strip in open defiance of the Israeli Occupation and blockade. This morning I arrived in Gaza aboard the SS Dignity, part of a Free Gaza Movement delegation of twenty seven doctors, lawyers, teachers, and human rights activists from across the world, including Mairead Maguire – the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

When I close my eyes, I still hear the crash of ocean waves, I still feel the warm sun on my face, and I still taste salt from the sea spray. When I close my eyes, I can still see the Israeli warship that tried to intimidate us when we reached the twenty-mile line outside Gaza, and I can still see a thousand cheering people crowding around our ship when we refused to be intimidated and finally reached port in Gaza City. Today, the proudest boast in the free world is truly, “Nam,  Nehnu Nastatyeh!” – “Yes, We Can!”

Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, an independent member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, sailed aboard the Dignity, along with six other Palestinians from the West Bank, from 1948/inside the Green Line, and from countries in Europe. What should have been a ninety-minute drive from Ramallah to Gaza City became a three day odyssey as he travelled from the West Bank to Jordan, then flew to Cyprus, before finally coming aboard the Dignity for the fifteen hour sea voyage to Gaza.

“We’re challenging Israel in a manner that is unprecedented, “said Dr. Barghouti. “Israel has prevented me from visiting Gaza for more than two years now. I am so pleased that we managed to defy Israel’s injustice so that I can see all the people I love and work with in Gaza. Israel’s measures are meant to divide us, but it is our defiance and resistance which unite us. “

Photos from Gaza:  Hamas sailors watch as a boat carrying European politicians (unseen) leaves Gaza’s seaport November 10, 2008. The boat arrived at Gaza from Cyprus on Saturday after attempts to get to the Palestinian territory via Egypt failed. Other pictures of the boat, and of Palestinians in Gaza.

Reuters

This is a resistance which can and should light the fire of all our imaginations, and bring hope not just to Palestinians, but to peoples suffering the terrible tides of oppression and injustice the world around.

After watching the Dignity’s arrival, Fida Qishta, the local coordinator for the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) in the Gaza Strip, said “If Gaza is free then it’s our right to invite whomsoever we wish to visit us. It’s our land and it’s our sea. Now more groups must come, not only by sea but also the crossings at Erez and Rafah must be opened as well. This second breaking of the siege means a lot, actually. It’s the second time in two months that people have come to Gaza without Israel’s permission, and that tells us that Gaza will be free.”

For over forty years, Israel has occupied the Gaza Strip. Despite the so-called “Disengagement “ in 2005, when they shut down their illegal settlements here, Israel maintains absolute control over Gaza’s borders and airspace, severely limiting the free movement of goods, services, and travel. Israel is still an occupying power.

For over two years, Israel has maintained a brutal blockade of Gaza. Less than twenty percent of the supplies needed (as compared to 2005) are allowed in. This has forced ninety-five percent of local industries to shut down, resulting in massively increased unemployment and poverty rates. Childhood malnutrition has skyrocketed, and eighty percent of families are now dependent on international food aid just to be able to eat. An hour after we arrived, I watched a teenage boy digging through the garbage, looking for something he could use.

Israel’s siege isn’t simply illegal – it’s intolerable.

Renowned human rights activist Caoimhe Butterly also sailed aboard the Dignity, and will remain in Gaza for several weeks as Project Coordinator for the Free Gaza Movement. But, said Butterly, “My feelings are bittersweet. Although we’re overjoyed at reaching Gaza a second time, that joy is tempered by the fact that the conscience of the world has been reduced to a small boat and 27 seasick activists. This mission is a reminder of not only the efficacy of non-violent direct action, but also of the deafening silence of the international community.”

Our first voyage in August, the first voyage of any international ship to Gaza in over forty years, showed that it was possible to freely travel. This second voyage shows that it is repeatable, and this sets a precedent: The Siege of Gaza can be overcome through non-violent resistance and direct action.

Today, the Free Gaza Movement has a simple message for the rest of the world: What are you waiting for?

——-

Ramzi Kysia is an Arab-American writer and activist, and one of the organizers of the Free Gaza Movement. To find out more about Free Gaza and what you can do to help support their work, please visit http://www.FreeGaza.org <http://www.freegaza.org/>

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