Winter is coming, and it will be bitterly cold in Gaza. Many Gazans, whose houses were destroyed by the Israeli Defence Forces, have no shelter and will suffer terribly. Families still live amid the rubble of their homes with no resources to fix the damage.
With the sea blockaded illegally by the Israelis, the people of Gaza are literally imprisoned by these actions. Not only is Israel preventing building supplies from entering Gaza but also coffee, tea, paper, school books, toys for children, and thousands of other items. Palestine is not a poor country, and Palestinians are not a poor people. They are being forced into poverty.
"The blockade, although initiated by Israel, could not be successful if world governments, including Arab governments, were not complicit with Israel. At the Rafah crossing, aid was denied entry by the Egyptian government. Egypt destroyed the food and medicine by setting it on fire. This is proof that the purpose is to ethnically cleanse Gaza, allowing its people to die from starvation and curable disease as in Iraq where approximately 650,000 children died from the
results of economic sanctions," says Anisa Abdel Fattah, Chairperson of the Committee to Ban Economic Sanctions, whose conference in Washington, DC is planned for September 29.
The continuing failure of the international community to protect the Palestinians demands that we, as private citizens have to directly intervene to solve the crisis.
"When governments fail to protect human rights, civilians must step up. Civilians have a very important role to play, especially when government institutions fail to do their job in upholding the law and human rights," said Huwaida Arraf, Chairperson of the Free Gaza Movement, during a talk at the American University of Beirut. Ms. Arraf described how she was approached by an
elderly Gazan man who stopped her in the street.
"He had tears in his eyes. He said you gave us hope that our people, our family outside have not forgotten us."
A year ago, 44 ordinary people from 17 different countries sailed to Gaza from Cyprus in two small wooden boats. They did what our governments would not do: they broke through the Israeli siege.
During the last year, the Free Gaza Movement has organised seven more voyages, successfully arriving in Gaza on five separate occasions, bringing in journalists, human rights workers, parliamentarians and other concerned people. They took out dozens of Palestinian students and medical patients, and helped to reunite families separated by the siege. They remain the only ships to sail to Gaza in over forty-two years.
On three occasions, including the most recent attempt in June, the boats were blocked from entering by the Israeli navy.
Richard Falk, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories declared, "The landing of two wooden boats carrying human rights activists in Gaza is an important symbolic victory ... Above all, what is being tested is whether the imaginative engagement of dedicated private citizens can influence the struggle of a beleaguered people for basic human rights, and whether their courage and commitment can awaken the conscience of humanity to an
Former Malaysian prime minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, who met members of the Free Gaza Movement in Cyprus, was shocked at how tiny was the only fishing boat that they still have for future trips to Gaza. "Yet 25 people dared to sail in this tiny boat, sleeping on the open deck, being seasick, without proper food, and being made to face Israeli attacks… I don't think I would be able to endure the kind of discomfort and dangers faced by the activists of the Free Gaza
Movement. All I can do is give moral support to them…"
There is definitely urgency in raising funds for the purchase of the vessel because with winter approaching, the people of Palestine will be affected. "We want to carry building materials as we need to rebuild houses, because they (Palestinians) are now living in tents and when winter comes, it will be terrible for the old, sick and children. Many of them may die because of the
Ms. Abdulla, a banker from Bahrain who travelled by sea to Gaza with the group in 2008, said, "I think Arabs in particular should go. At the very least they should support the movement financially. Everyone is obliged to do something to stop this tragedy." Those who want to help the cause can visit www.freegaza.org.
Regardless of Israeli threats and intimidation, Free Gaza volunteers will continue to directly challenge the Israeli military with their small boats, concretely demonstrating that this siege has nothing whatsoever to do with security and is simply an illegal act of collective punishment.
Karin Friedemann is a Boston-based writer on Middle East affairs and US politics. She is Director of the Division on Muslim Civil Rights and Liberties for the National Association of Muslim American Women