Breaking the Blockade on Gaza
FREE GAZA boats have won wide admiration. Cover of Jewish Socialist magazine current issue depicts boat preparing to sail from Larnaca. The aid they carry is welcome, their defiance of blockade courageous, but their biggest significance is exposing the shameful position of governments.
ANOTHER boat has got through to the besieged Gaza strip, defying the blockade which Israeli forces are maintaining on land and sea with the assistance of the Egyptian authorities. A statement issued today by the Free Gaza Movement from the boat's port of sail, Larnaca in Cyprus, announced that their third boat, the SS Dignity carrying 27 crew and passengers "arrived in Gaza at 8:10 Gaza time, in spite of Israeli threats to stop them. In the pouring rain, the boat pulled into port amid cheers from the people of Gaza and tears from the passengers".
"David Schermerhorn, one of the crew members called an hour before the boat entered the waters of Gaza and said, 'There is a rainbow stretching across the Mediterranean from where we are right now'.
"Yesterday, The Israel Navy said they would stop the stop our vessel once it reached Israel's territorial waters. Apparently to save face, they said they would harm our boat, arrest us and tow us IF we entered Israeli waters. The problem for Israel is that the SS Dignity had no intention of getting anywhere near those waters.
"One of the organizers, Huwaida Arraf cheered, "Once again we've been able to defy an unjust and illegal policy while the rest of the world is too intimidated to do anything. Our small boat is a huge cry to the
international community to follow in our footsteps and open a lifeline to the people of Gaza."
Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, member of the Palestinian Legislative Council added, "Despite the injustice against the Palestinian people, we believe in justice and will keep on trying to break Israel's siege. The occupation
has divided the Palestinians, but our non-violent resistance has united us."
The Dignity's voyage took place after a video was published showing the Israeli navy harassment of Palestinian fishermen from Gaza.
It also came as the International Committee of the Red Cross has appealed to Israel to allow badly needed medical supplies and equipment through for Gaza hospitals. Hussein Ashour, director general of the Shifa hospital, said the hospital's reserve of up to 90 kinds of drugs had run out, including those needed to treat cancer patients. Most of the hospital's medical scanning equipment was not functioning and patients were being asked to go to private health centres instead, he said.
"We even lack the paper -- the official forms -- so we sometimes write on the back of used paper or turn school copybooks into prescription pads," Ashour said. Doctors said Shifa had suspended heart operations for the past year because of a lack of spare parts to repair equipment needed for surgery.
There are reports indicating that the rivalry between Palestinian authorities which Israel and the Western powers have encouraged is leading to competition for scarce resources. Antoine Grand, the ICRC's chief representative in the Gaza Strip, urged Fatah and Hamas to co-operate and "make sure the health
sector does not suffer."
Eyad El-Sarraj, head of the Gaza Mental Health Programme, said Gazans' mental health also was suffering due to unemployment Doctors and mental health professionals from several countries were preparing to demonstrate at the Erez crossing point after the Israeli authorities refused to allow them to enter the Gaza strip to attend a mental health conference
The SS Dignity was carrying a half-ton of medical supplies and other aid. Among those on board was 1976 Nobel prize winner Mairead Corrigan McGuire. Some of the voyagers will stay in Gaza for a month, others are hoping to travel on to Ramallah. Although any aid is welcome, the amount carried on a boat like the SS Dignity is plainly insufficient to meet Gaza's needs. The real point is the contrast between what people like the Free Gaza volunteers are prepared to do and the couldn't-care-less inhumanity of governments which are backing Israel.
Italian Euro-MP Luisa Morgantini welcomed the news about the Dignity, and thanked all those who had helped, including the Greek and Cypriot authorities whom she said had resisted Israeli pressures to have them impede the boat's sailing. The Italian MEP condemned both the Israeli government's blockade and the disunity of Palestinian leadership. Referring to heavy rains and floods which have destroyed many homes in Gaza's refugee camps, she said "The European Union must immediately intervene in order to help the homeless and ask also the Egyptian Government for the freedom of movement for Palestinians".
Luisa Morgantini, who calls both for lifting the Gaza siege and ending the Israeli occupation in the West Bank is taking part in a European Parliamentary delegation due to leave for Palestine tomorrow, and she hopes to visit the Gaza Strip on Sunday.
Another voice raised in the European Union has been that of the city of Barcelona. It issued this statement this year:
Statement by the Barcelona City Council and its Municipal Council for International Cooperation against the Gaza Strip Blockade.
The Gaza Strip has been suffering an unprecedented humanitarian crisis since the month of June 2007. During these twelve months, the economic, social and humanitarian situation of the Gaza Strip’s population has worsened dramatically. The blockade of the Gaza Strip has been denounced by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, by such organisations as UNRWA and ECHO, and by a substantial part of the international, Palestinian and Israeli civil societies.
The blockading of basic supplies to an occupied population represents a collective punishment of civilians and it is illegal since it breaches the 4th Geneva Convention of 1949. This Convention, within the frame of International Humanitarian Law, establishes the rules and regulations applying to powers at war and/or the occupying powers of a territory, with respect to the civilian population.
The Israeli State’s policy of isolation and blockade of the Gaza Strip and its inhabitants breaches various articles of this convention and especially those contained in its Section III (Occupied Territories), from Article 55 to Article 61. Under International Humanitarian Law, Israel continues to be an occupying force and, consequently, it is responsible for assuring and filling the basic needs of the occupied population. Not to do so constitutes a grave breach of the most elementary human rights.
The distribution of fuel and electricity in Gaza has been seriously reduced in the last six months. The continuous interruptions in the supply of electricity have made it necessary to use emergency generators in such basic services as clinics and hospitals. The dependence on fuel and the Israeli refusal to supply the quantity required by the basic services has brought about the halt of basic medical equipment and services, jeopardising the lives of numerous patients and the provision of ongoing vital treatments for chronic and long-term patients, while preventing the correct provision of emergency services.
The shortage of fuel and of replacement parts has also made it impossible to carry out the correct management of the solid wastes of the cities and the refugee camps, as well as the correct operation of the water-purification plants of the Gaza Strip, generating a situation which seriously threatens the public health in the territory. Many of the replacement parts and basic supplies have been retained at the border since June 2007. It should be recalled that the Gaza Strip stands among the world’s 10 territories with the greatest density of population and the highest concentration of refugee population, a fact which aggravates the blockade’s consequences even more.
The city of Barcelona has maintained a friendship and cooperation agreement with the city of Gaza since 1998. Diverse projects have been carried out in Gaza, both directly between the city councils and with the cooperation and participation of diverse NGOs of Barcelona. We have worked together on projects for urban development and for the treatment of the public space, as well as on cultural animation projects, mental health projects and many others. Over twenty cooperation projects have been implemented jointly with Gaza in the last four years.
For all these reasons, the Municipal Council for Cooperation states that:
1. We express our concern for the present living conditions of the Gaza Strip’s civilian population, especially in terms of health.
2. We condemn the illegal blockade of the Gaza Strip by Israel which, as an occupying power, shall comply with the obligations which are established by International Law, and we demand the immediate end of said blockade.
3. We condemn all acts of violence directed against the civilian population and we demand compliance with the provisions of International Humanitarian Law by all the actors in conflict.
4. We reiterate our support for a fair lasting solution based on dialogue and on the resolutions of the United Nations.