new effort to break Israel’s security blockade of the Gaza Strip is to be launched early in 2013, with a twist: Activists intend to sail out of the Strip, not into it, aboard a vessel called the Gaza Ark, they announced Friday.
The slogan of the initiative is “trade not aid,” and it is loosely affiliated with the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. The aim of the voyage is to try to set sail with local goods from Gaza — such as local produce, art, and craft work — and head for international waters and ultimately international markets, the activists said.
Dr. Mona Al-Farra, deputy head of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society and one of the organizers of the Gaza Ark project, said activists are in the final stages of preparation. She said 13 people — activists from France and Canada and local Palestinian traders — were planning to sail on the Gaza-built ship.
The last vessel that tried to reach Gaza, the Estelle, was intercepted by Israel on October 20 and rerouted to Ashdod port. Sailing under the Finnish flag, the Swedish-owned Estelle was reportedly carrying two olive trees as well as 41 tons of cement, toys, medical equipment, and books. However, the IDF later said it had not found any humanitarian aid aboard. In response, organizers claimed the purpose of the flotillas is not to deliver aid but rather to raise awareness about the conditions Gazans face under Israel’s blockade.
Israel maintains an air and sea blockade of Gaza to prevent weaponry reaching the Strip, from which rockets and mortar shells are frequently fired into Israel. Hamas, which is avowedly committed to the destruction of Israel, seized control of the Strip in a violent 2007 takeover from Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah-led Palestinian Authority.
Under heavy international pressure, Israel eased the closure in 2010 after a naval raid killed nine Turkish activists on board a vessel in a previous Gaza-bound flotilla, the Mavi Marmara. Naval commandos seeking to commandeer the Marmara were attacked by violent activists as they boarded, and opened fire.