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GAZA 23 August 2008: Two small boats, the SS Free Gaza and the SS
Liberty, successfully landed in Gaza early this evening, breaking
the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.

The boats were crewed by a determined group of international human
rights workers from the Free Gaza Movement. They had spent two years
organizing the effort, raising money by giving small presentations
at churches, mosques, synagogues, and in the homes of family,
friends, and supporters.

They left Cyprus on Thursday morning, sailing over 350 kilometers
through choppy seas. They made the journey despite threats that the
Israeli government would use force to stop them. They continued
sailing although they lost almost all communications and navigation
systems due to outside jamming by some unknown party. They arrived
in Gaza to the cheers and joyful tears of hundreds of Palestinians
who came out to the beaches to welcome them.

Two small boats, 42 determined human rights workers, one simple
message: “The world has not forgotten the people of this land.
Today, we are all from Gaza.”

Tonight, the cheering will be heard as far away as Tel Aviv and
Washington D.C.

www.freegaza.org

QUOTES FOR PUBLICATION

“We recognize that we’re two, humble boats, but what we’ve
accomplished is to show that average people from around the world
can mobilize to create change. We do not have to stay silent in the
face of injustice. Reaching Gaza today, there is such a sense of
hope, and hope is what mobilizes people everywhere.”

–Huwaida Arraf.

Huwaida is Palestinian-American, and also a citizen of Israel. She’s
a human rights activist and co-founder of the International
Solidarity Movement. In 2007 she received her Juris Doctor from
American University in Washington D.C. Currently she teaches Human
Rights and Humanitarian Law at Al Quds University in Jerusalem.
Huwaida sailed to Gaza aboard the SS Liberty.

“We’re the first ones in 41 years to enter Gaza freely – but we
won’t be the last. We welcome the world to join us and see what
we’re seeing.”

–Paul Larudee, Ph.D.

Paul is a cofounder of the Free Gaza Movement and a San Francisco
Bay Area activist on the issue of justice in Palestine. He sailed to
Gaza aboard the SS Liberty.

“What we’ve done shows that people can do what governments should
have done. If people stand up against injustice, we can truly be the
conscience of the world.”

–Jeff Halper, Ph.D.

Jeff is an Israeli professor of anthropology and coordinator of the
Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), a non-violent
Israeli peace and human rights organization that resists the Israeli
occupation on the ground. In 2006, the American Friends Service
Committee nominated Jeff to receive the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize with
Palestinian intellectual and activist Ghassan Andoni. Jeff sailed to
Gaza aboard the SS Free Gaza.

===

from earlier in the day:

Free Gaza Movement Boat Flotilla in Need of Immediate Assistance
Request for International Community Intervention
23.08.08
http://freegaza.org/index.php?
module=latest_news&id=

f7d4ee5a4601e6b3b0f1f0f1d38da0ba&offset=

The two, Free Gaza Movement boats, SS Liberty and SS Free Gaza, are
now sailing with damaged navigation systems. As such, they are in
jeopardy of drifting off course and out of international waters.

In addition they have encountering rough seas, with waves over 3
metre’s high. Many of the older passengers on board are suffering
from serious sea sickness. For some of them these conditions could
pose life-threatening health risks.

Their navigation systems have been damaged and as such they are in
jeopardy of drifting unknowingly out of international waters.

We request that all individuals and organisations make
representation to the government of Israel and the Israeli navy to
protect the lives of the civilians aboard the two ships, SS Liberty
and SS Free Gaza which are sailing under the Greek flag.

===

Gush Shalom calls upon the government to let peace boats reach Gaza
Aug. 23, 2008

Message from the ships mentions electronic jamming hurting vital
systems

The Gush Shalom movement calls upon the government to let the two
humanitarian boats which sailed yesterday from Cyprus, carrying
peace and human rights activists from 17 countries (among them Prof.
Jeff Halper of Jerusalem) to sail unmolested, reach the Gaza shores
and unload their cargo – hearing aids urgently needed by deaf
children in the Strip.

The last message received from the boats, at about 10am this morning
(Cyprus time), was that the area they entered was blanketed by heavy
electronic jamming, which interferes with vital systems on board,
and that they are experiencing rough sea conditions. Afterwards,
contact was cut off.

In January, we were ourselves involved in a “break the blockade”
action over land. This is a similar non-violent action of
international peace and human rights activists and should not be
treated with the threat of military force. The state of Israel
should let these boats pass to the shore of Gaza, just as in the end
it had to let the January convoy pass.

In general, there is no conceivable reason why the state of Israel
should maintain a naval blockade of Gaza. This blockade should be
removed, and the Palestinians in Gaza should be allowed to build a
port, as was stated in the Oslo Agreements, and maintain free
contact with the outside world like any other country. The building
of the port in itself would provide thousands of jobs and facilitate
the reviving of the Gaza economy, and Israel has a vital interest in
that” says Gush Shalom.

===

Israel threatens protesters against sailing to Gaza
By Ofri Ilani, Haaretz Correspondent
22/08/2008
http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1014413.html

Hebrew: [oddly, I can’t find the Hebrew, though I’m relatively
certain that it must have been written first, the English a
translation]

Israel on Friday issued a tough threat against a group of activists
who hope to sail to the Gaza Strip this weekend with a delivery of
humanitarian supplies, calling the mission an unacceptable
provocation and saying all options were under consideration.

The two boats carrying members of a U.S.-based activist group left
Cyprus for Gaza earlier Friday to try and break Israel’s blockade of
the Palestinian territory.

The boats – the 70-foot (21-meter) Free Gaza and 60-foot (18-meter)
Liberty – left the southern port of Larnaca about 10 a.m. (0700 GMT)
for the estimated 30-hour trip.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Aviv Shiron said Israel was
closely following the boats.

“We will make sure that this provocation is not taking place,” he
said. He declined to say whether military action was planned, saying
only that all the options are being considered. A military
spokeswoman refused comment.

Members of the Free Gaza protest group could not immediately be
reached for comment, but earlier, organizer Paul Larudee said the
group expected Israeli authorities to intercept the boats and arrest
those on board. He said it was highly unlikely the Israeli navy
would fire on them.

Members of the Free Gaza protest group said some 40 activists from
16 countries – including an 81-year-old Catholic nun – will attempt
to break the blockade Israel imposed on Gaza last year. They hope
other rights groups will follow their example.

“It’s about human rights…to let Palestinians and visitors travel
freely to and from Palestinian lands, what could be more basic than
that?” said Larudee.

The group plans to deliver 200 hearing aids to a Palestinian charity
for children and hand out 5,000 balloons.

Israeli officials said the delivery is illegal because Gaza is
controlled by the Palestinian movement Hamas, which it considers a
terrorist group. But they have refused to say how Israel would
respond if the activists tried to break the blockade.

Larudee said it is highly unlikely the Israeli navy would fire on
the boats to stop them. But he said the group expects Israeli
authorities to intercept the boats and arrest those onboard.

Larudee said the group would contest any arrests in court on the
premise that Israeli authorities committed kidnapping.

Israel imposed the blockade after Hamas seized control of Gaza in
June 2007, routing forces loyal to moderate Palestinian President
Mahmoud Abbas.

Israel tightened its sanctions in response to ongoing rocket attacks
by Hamas and other militant groups targeting civilians in Israeli
towns near Gaza.

Israel and Hamas have observed a fragile truce since June.

===

The ships (names SS Free Gaza and SS Liberty) have left Cyprus and
are now on the way to Gaza shores. They are planned to arrive
Saturday. A face off at sea with the Israeli Occupying Navy is
expected.

All the info about the trip and how to help is at:

http://www.freegaza .org

20 Gaza fisherman’s boats will be heading to sea to meet them.

Satellite phone numbers available on the boats are:
a) 00 870 773 160 151 b) 00 870 773 160 156 c) 00 881 651 442 553
d) 00 881 651 427 948.

Free Gaza NOW,
Sam

===

Activists sail to bust Israeli sea blockade on Gaza
By Michele Kambas
Reuters
Fri 22 Aug 2008
http://africa.reuters.com/world/news/usnPIC225442. html

LARNACA, Cyprus (Reuters) – International activists departed from
Cyprus by boat on Friday in an attempt to run an Israeli sea blockade
on 1.4 million Palestinians in Gaza.

The 44 activists sailed from the port of Larnaca in two wooden boats
at 9:50 a.m. (7:50 a.m. British time). Hailing from 14 countries,
they said they expected to reach the shores of Gaza, patrolled by
the Israeli navy, on Saturday.

“It has been 41 years since any boat has travelled in those waters,
and we plan to be the first,” said U.S. citizen Paul Larudee, one of
the organisers of the “Free Gaza” campaign.

A previous attempt by the Palestinian Liberation Organisation to
sail to Haifa from Cyprus with Palestinian deportees failed in 1988,
when a limpet bomb blew a hole in the hull of a ferry boat they had
chartered.

An Israeli army spokesman declined to say whether the navy had plans
to intercept the ship before it reached Gaza.

“We are following the developments,” Israeli Foreign Ministry
spokesman Arye Mekel said.

The activists include an 81 year old Catholic nun, the sister in law
of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and a member of the Greek
parliament. Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein, 84, initially scheduled
to go, could not for medical reasons.

They say they plan to deliver some aid to Palestinians in the Gaza
strip, but that the main purpose is to highlight the living
conditions of people suffering shortages of everything from food to
fuel since an Israeli crackdown.

“The siege that the Israelis have imposed on Gaza is not only
illegal in terms of international law, it is also immoral,” said
Huwaida Arraf, a Palestinian with Israeli and U.S. citizenship.

“Global institutions and the governments of the world know what is
happening and are not doing anything about it,” she said.

SET SAIL

Cyprus, which lies some 240 nautical miles west of Gaza, could not
legally stop the departure of the boats. A Cypriot official,
speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters there had
been “soundings” by Israeli authorities on whether the vessels could
be prevented from sailing from Cypriot shores.

“Provided documentation was in order they could sail. That’s the law
and we cannot break it,” the Cypriot source said.

Israel pulled troops and settlers out of Gaza in 2005 but has
tightened security restrictions on the territory since the militant
Islamic movement Hamas seized control there a year ago from
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ security forces.

The Israelis completed a wall around the Gaza strip in 1996, and
they credit the barrier with virtually halting suicide attacks from
the coastal territory.

Activists say their mission is a peaceful one. “There is this slow
genocide going on in Gaza and nobody is taking any notice,” said
Yvonne Ridley, a British journalist and author.

“When the Holocaust happened the whole world looked the other way
while this atrocity against humanity was unfolding and it was often
said we cannot allow this to happen again.”

(Additional reporting by Nassos Stylianou)

===

To: gazafriends@lists.riseup.net
Friday, August 22, 2008, 6:39 PM

The following message was sent to us from aboard the SS Liberty,
currently at sea – on the way to Gaza!

Admiral Marom’s Strange Proclamation

The signature of Israeli Navy Commander in Chief Admiral Eliezer
Marom appears on a very odd document. (See attached.) Dated August
11th, 2008, it is not written on official stationery, nor is it
addressed to anyone.

The document declares that the Israeli Navy is operating in a
maritime zone off the coast of Gaza. Was there any doubt that they
have been doing so continuously since 1967?

It includes the sketch of a map and a series of coordinates (also
attached) to define the zone, which includes all of Gaza coastal
waters, and a major slice of international waters as well. It
advises all foreign vessels to remain clear of this zone because of
a “security situation” that is apparently so obvious that it
requires no definition or explanation.

The only hint about the “security situation” is a reference to the
delivery of humanitarian supplies to the civilian population in the
Gaza Strip, which, according to the document, should be done only at
the land crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip (i.e. by
Israeli permission only).

Why is the Israeli Navy issuing a proclamation regarding the
delivery of humanitarian aid by land?

The proclamation goes on to prescribe a set of protocols for vessels
approaching the “maritime zone” and to prohibit vessels from
entering Gaza because of the undefined “security situation.”

Finally, the document pronounces its benevolent intentions to
ensure “safe navigation” and its neighborly undertaking to prevent
vessels from approaching an area where their safety may be
endangered.

Endangered?

By whom? By what?

There is, of course, an explanation for such a strange document,
disseminated (as nearly as can be determined) to a narrow circle of
maritime authorities. It is that the document itself is an
embarrassment to Israel, which nevertheless feels compelled to issue
it in some form, as a disclaimer for any forceful action that they
might take against an unnamed threat.

The embarrassment is that the unnamed threat consists of the two
converted fishing boats of the Free Gaza Movement, bought and
refurbished in Greece, and flying the Greek flag.

On board is a contingent of forty-three crew and human rights
advocates, sworn to nonviolence, as well as a modest cargo of
hearing aids for Palestinian children in Gaza.

Among their ranks are a Greek member of parliament, an 81-year-old
Catholic nun and the sister-in-law of former British prime minister
Tony Blair.

No wonder Israel is embarrassed. Does Israel seriously consider the
delivery of humanitarian aid to be a security crisis? Does the
initiative of a small group of harmless people constitute such a
threat? If so, what does that say about the kind of state to which
Israelis pledge allegiance?

Finally, the declaration’s kindly words of interest for the safety
of vessels traveling in the area hide the threat to use force
against the motley flotilla that dares to challenge the entrapment
of 1.5 million people in what has become the largest and most
permanent concentration camp in the world, and to animate
a civil rights movement where others see only a manufactured
humanitarian crisis.

Israel’s blockade of the Gaza coast is an affront to all peoples,
but most especially the seafaring peoples of the Mediterranean,
where people have lived, prospered and built great civilizations
through access to the sea since time immemorial, not least in Gaza
itself. To deny Palestinians this resource is a human rights
obscenity that Greeks, Italians, North Africans, Turks, and other
seafaring peoples must unite to condemn.

Admiral’s Marom’s proclamation shows nothing so much as the
desperation and paranoia of a regime that lacks the imagination and
courage to embrace a project that harms no one and delivers hope as
its primary cargo. It behooves Israel to welcome the Free Gaza
initiative as a step towards mutual respect for the human rights of
all persons who call the land of Palestine their home.

–Paul Larudee

Written and sent from aboard the SS Liberty, one of two boats
heading to Gaza as part of the Free Gaza Movement.

===

The SS Free Gaza & SS Liberty are on their Way to Gaza!

Forty-six international human rights workers are now sailing to Gaza
through international waters with one overriding goal: to break the
Israeli siege that Israel has imposed on the civilian population of
Gaza.

Any action designed to harm civilians constitutes collective
punishment (in the Palestinians’ case, for voting the “wrong” way)
and is both illegal under international law and profoundly immoral.
Our mission is to expose the illegality of Israel ‘s actions, and to
break through the siege in order to express our solidarity with
the suffering people of Gaza (and of the occupied Palestinian
territory as a whole) and to create a free and regular channel
between Gaza and the outside world.

Israel claims that since the “disengagement” in 2005 it no longer
occupies Gaza .

However, the International Committee of the Red Cross and other
international human rights organizations reject this claim since
Israel still exerts effective control over Gaza . As an Occupying
Power, Israel has a responsibility for the well-being of the people
of Gaza under the provisions of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention.
Israel has abused its control and responsibilities by wrongfully
obstructing vital supplies and humanitarian assistance to the people
of Gaza .

As Israel ‘s 41-year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip
defies international consensus, and because Israel has grossly
violated its obligations, we do not recognize Israel ‘s right to
stop us outside its own territorial waters, which we will not be
approaching.

To remove any “security” pretense that Israel may raise, we have had
our boats inspected and certified by Cypriot authorities that they
carry no arms or contraband of any kind. We have invited Israeli
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to join us on our voyage and, in fact,
the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs has itself told us the
Israeli government “assume[s] that your intentions are good.”

We are human rights activists, invited to visit Gaza by our
Palestinian partners, and each of us has vowed to do no violence, in
either word or deed. If Israel chooses to forcibly stop and search
our ships, we will not forcibly resist. Such a search will be under
duress and with our formal protest. After such a search, we fully
expect the Israeli navy to stand aside, as we continue peacefully to
Gaza . If we are arrested and brought to Israel , we will protest
and prosecute our kidnapping in the appropriate forums. It is our
purpose to show the power that ordinary citizens of the world have
when they organize together to stand against injustice. Let there
be no doubt: the policies of repression against the civilian
population of Gaza represent gross violations of human rights,
international humanitarian law, and constitute war crimes. The goal
of our voyage is to break the illegal siege on the people of
Gaza, and end the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

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