Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Estelle and its voyage to Gaza


By Ana Thorne - October 13, 2012
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Section: [Main News] [Videos]
Tags: [Estelle] [Freedom Flotilla] [Gaza]

The blockade needs to be ended, not eased – this is the slogan of the Freedom Flotilla Movement.

A number of pro-Palestinian solidarity groups and organizations have coordinated various flotillas to Gaza or “fly-ins” to Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport the past few years. The Estelle is the third attempt from the Freedom Flotilla Movement to challenge Israel’s naval blockade on Gaza.

The Estelle, a ship originally from Finland, began its journey in Sweden in Umeå where it was renovated before setting off to sail along Europe’s coastline, including Finland, France and Spain. Last week it arrived in the Mediterranean Gulf after having recently rounded the Italian “boot” island of Sardinia.

The ship set off in June, and on board there are 17 activists from various countries including Norway, Canada, United States, Israel and Sweden. According to AFP, the ship will reach the water territories of Gaza within two weeks.

In an interview made by the documentarian Laura Arau,  Dror Feiler, the spokesperson and activist on board said, “It is a beautiful ship, and it looks like the ships from the ’30s. Since April 2012 we have worked on the ship in order to make it better and stronger.”

He explained that the plan is to use the voyage as part of the mission and to put focus on the besieged people from Gaza and in general on the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. The travel to Gaza is in itself one of the aims to raise awareness.

“The ship will be on its way for almost three months and we will need the European citizens to take a statement and act when we enter the various ports along the route to Gaza,” Feiler stated. “During the voyage there are several events including Children Theater, seminars, debates, documentary watching, concerts and every day when the ship is in harbor, it is open for the public to come at visit and get a guided tour.”

The ship will be on its way for almost three months and we will need the European citizens to take a statement and act when we enter the various ports along the route to Gaza


Attempts to break the Gaza naval blockade

Despite international condemnation from around the world, Gaza has been suffering from the blockade for five years now.

After Hamas won the Palestinian legislative elections in 2006 and took over the Gaza Strip in June the following year after civil infighting with their Fateh counterparts, Egypt and Israel have sealed their borders to Gaza.

The Israeli argument claims that this was a necessary measure in order to protect its citizens from the Palestinian rocket attacks fired from Gaza and to prevent weapons from getting smuggled into the coastal strip. Human rights organizations on the other hand view this as a form of collective punishment on the coastal strip’s 1.7 million population, over half of who are under the age of 18.

Since August 2008, the umbrella organization Free Gaza Movement has coordinated several sailings to Gaza and brought international witnesses, who have seen with own eyes the catastrophic effects of the Israeli blockade.

The Freedom Flotilla Movement is within this coordination, and it is also known as the organization Ship to Gaza. Its website states that it is unaffiliated with political and religious organizations, and is a non-profit association which wishes to promote increased respect for human rights and international law.

In 2010 the first Freedom Flotilla set off to Gaza from the coast of Cyprus, and over 600 activists were on board the largest ship, Mavi Marmara. The other five ships were loaded with 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid, with an estimated value of $20 million. On May 31st Israeli marine soldiers commandeered the ships and fired at close range at the activists, resulting in the murder of nine Turkish activists and dozens more wounded.

After facing pressure from the international society and in the response to the Gaza flotilla raid in 2010, Egypt and Israel eased the restrictions on the blockade in June 2010 for non-military goods.

Israel declared that all strictly civilian goods (what they had previously classified as “luxury goods”) are allowed while weapons and items that are defined as “dual-use” items are banned from entering into Gaza. [Click here for more information on which goods are allowed in to Gaza.]

The problem is that there is still a huge shortage of medicine, medical supplies and building materials. Different organizations have pointed to the fact that the blockade is furthering an emergency situation in Gaza, and UNOCHA has announced in a 2011 report that the lessening of the blockade does not have a significant improvement for the people’s livelihood in Gaza.

Flotilla II was a partnership of twenty-two NGOs which gathered ten ships and 1,000 activists to challenge the blockade. Among the activists were the US author Alice Walker, Hedy Epstein, an 87-year old Holocaust survivor, Adam Shapiro the co-founder of International Solidarity Movement and Trevor Hogan, former Irish international rugby player. It planned to sail to Gaza on July 5th 2011 but when the ships docked in Greece for preparation, the Greek government, under heavy Israeli pressure, prevented the flotilla from leaving to Gaza and the mission was therefore aborted.

“As long as the siege exists we will come again until it is removed”

“We have to win the hearts and the minds of the ordinary people because they are the ones that really can push the politicians,” Feiler underlines.

Until now the ship has been welcomed by European cities on its way towards Gaza, and people have shown great interest in the events and information sharing in favor of a better situation in Gaza and in Palestine in general.

The steadfastness is clear from both the supporters and the activists and as Feiler explains, “As long as the siege exists we will come again and again until it is removed.”

Israel National News has announced that the Foreign Ministry has not changed Israel’s policy on the blockade, and the ship will not be allowed to approach Gaza.

This brings up the question of whether the crew have prepared themselves for the Israeli threats and hindrances that are likely to become a reality the closer they get to Gaza.

Mikael Löfgren, the media coordinator for the Ship to Gaza has affirmed that the passengers have received the appropriate training.

“The crew has done non violence exercises, instructed by experienced trainers,” Lofgren said. “We have practiced maximum transparency and openness during the travel, in order to let everyone – the public, the authorities, the media, and the Israeli government – with their own eyes see that we are only bringing humanitarian goods.”

Dror Feiler anticipates that when the Estelle comes close to Gaza’s waters, Israel will most likely confront the ship and arrest the passengers. However, Feiler is determined to pass on the message they have to the people of Gaza.

“You are not alone, and we have a humanitarian cargo for you. Our methods are solidarity and non-violence and we hope that the Israelis will respect this – if not, we hope that the European countries will stand together, and make Israel understand our mission.”

For more information on the Estelle’s journey to Gaza click here.




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