Women Prepare to Set Sail Past lsrael
By Mona Alami
BEIRUT, Jul 22, 2010 (IPS) - The 'Maryam', an all-female Lebanese aid ship, currently docked in the northern Lebanese port of Tripoli, is getting ready to set sail for Gaza in the next few days.
The ship, which aims to break Israel's siege on the Palestinian territory, will carry about 50 aid workers, including some U.S. nuns keen to deliver aid to the long-suffering women and children of Gaza.
"We were all drawn to the project...united by a feeling of stark injustice," says Samar Hajj, one of the organisers of the Maryam, which is named after the mother of Christ.
Israel's siege began in 2006 after Hamas militants won Palestinian legislative elections, then led a cross-border raid and kidnapped an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit. Its watertight blockade has been maintained with Egypt's help, since Hamas sought control of the territory in 2007. It has resulted in crippling shortages, making daily life difficult in Gaza.
On May 31, Israeli forces attacked Mavi Marmaris, a Turkish humanitarian aid vessel bringing aid to Gaza, killing nine Turkish activists on board. After the attack, which sparked a wave of global condemnation of Israel, Hajj gathered to protest against Israel in downtown Beirut with 11 other friends. "We were appalled at the violent images we saw on TV and wanted to take action."
The women later got in touch with Yasser Kashlak, a 36-year-old Syrian of Palestinian origin, who heads the Free Palestine Movement. Kashlak had contributed to the financing of other vessels that tried breaking the siege, including the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and the Naji al Ali.
"After the Mavi Marmaris incident, one of the women hailed Mary during our weekly meeting. Her exclamation came like a revelation, so we decided to call our ship Maryam (Mary in Arabic). The name was perfect for a vessel that comprised only women. Who could disparage the Virgin Mary, a recognised saint in most religions?" says Hajj.
The ship is slated to make a stopover in a friendly port before heading to Israel because of the palpable hostility between Lebanon and Israel. Last month, the Cypriot government banned any vessel headed to Gaza from its docks. But activists can still sail from a port in Turkish Cyprus.
"We have the option to sail from a number of friendly ports and are completely aware of our obligation to transit through a foreign port to avoid our trip being labeled an act of war," says Hajj.
Hajj estimates that she has received about 500 applications for the trip, but the Maryam will transport only about 50 women, half of who are Lebanese nationals, the rest being Arabs, Europeans and from the U.S. The organiser explains that carrying Palestinians on the ship is not an option because of the risk of arrests by Israelis.
"The ship will transport cancer medicine and other necessary items for women and children. We will not carry any weapons or terrorists, irrespective of what the Israeli army might say," says Hajj.
While they wait to set sail, the headquarters of the Maryam remains agog with activity as women from different backgrounds, political affiliations, nationalities and religious beliefs converse, argue and joke.
"All women travelling on the ship have taken on the name Maryam and are distinguishable by a number, like Maryam 1, Maryam 2, etc. We prefer to keep identities secret to avoid pressure from respective embassies," adds Hajj.
Myriam 1 is a middle aged Indian lawyer and the wife of an admiral. "I am a follower of the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi who fought against every form of oppression peacefully in the course of his life. He was also opposed to the occupation of Palestine," she says.
The lawyer explains that before deciding to join the Maryam, she studied the legal implications of the attack on the Free Gaza Flotilla, which she says was illegitimate.
"What the Mavi Marmaris attack highlighted was that two sets of rules were applied to humanity, depending on a people's colour, race and religion. But what people fail to realise is that suffering is by nature indivisible."
Sitting across from her was Maryam 2, a former biologist of Lebanese- Armenian descent. "I have been closely following the Palestinian issue and have been moved by the blatant injustice that is practiced against Palestinians by the Israelis," she says.
At the daily meetings, Maryam 2 bonded with other women from diverse backgrounds, particularly a Turkish journalist. Turkey and Armenia have been at odds since the Turkish massacre of Armenians in the early 19th century.
"The journalist, who barely speaks English told me I was a godsend when she discovered I could speak some Turkish. Here at the Maryam headquarters, nationality and religion dissolve behind the common resolve of breaking the siege of Gaza," she says.
The sail date for both aid ships from Beirut has yet to be announced. Lebanese Transport Minister Ghazi Aridi said the Naji Al-Ali is now docked at the northern Lebanese port of Tripoli and can set sail once it is cleared by port authorities. However, the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat reported recently that the sail of the two ships has been postponed until further notice, particularly after Iran cancelled sending two aid ships to the area. The report was denied by Saer Ghandour, the organiser of the Naji Al-Ali sailing, who added that the ship's formalities were still in process.
Meanwhile, most Maryam passengers are impatient to set sail. "We will not fight Israelis with weapons, stones or knives, but with our free will," says Maryam 3, a single woman working in the Lebanese government. "And we will not surrender."
In Israel, the army chief, Gabi Ashkenazi, told the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee on Jul. 6 that every effort should be made to ensure that no more flotillas set sail for Gaza.
"Now a Lebanese flotilla with women and parliament members is getting organised. Israel is trying to prevent its departure in open and covert ways."
PARIS, (PIC)-- The European campaign to lift the siege on Gaza revealed that it will soon make contacts with a number of well-known international athletes, particularly in Europe, to explore the possibility of their participation in Freedom Flotilla 2, which is scheduled to sail to the Gaza Strip by the end of September.
Rami Abdo, a member of the campaign, said in a statement from Paris on Wednesday: “After a number of athletes expressed interest in participating in Freedom Flotilla 2, the European campaign will make during the next few days a series of phone calls in France and Spain with a number of well-known athletes, such as the captain of the Spanish World Cup team, Iker Casillas, to explore the possibility of their involvement in the Freedom Flotilla to break the siege on Gaza.” He explained that the move is meant to bring the public’s attention towards the humanitarian mission and Palestinian cause.
Abdo said that communications will be done in secrecy, particularly concerning the names of the athletes expected to participate in the aid mission, because of anticipated pressure on the athletes and their clubs by Israel, especially since Israel has already pressured European countries to prohibit their citizens from involvement in the flotilla.
Some web sites quoted Casillas as saying that he would not attend World Cup championship celebrations in Madrid, expressing his sorrow for what is happening in Gaza.
“You find it impossible for people to participate and laugh after seeing what's happening in the Gaza Strip,” Casillas said, asserting that Spain’s World Cup championship celebration is only partial as long Gaza remains under siege.
Spanish tennis star Rafael Nadal also condemned Israel’s 2008-2009 attacks on the Gaza Strip.
The campaign said that more than 35 news organizations have requested to participate in Freedom Flotilla 2, in an attempt to provide unprecedented news coverage to detect Israeli follies against international peace activists.
Freedom Flotilla 2 has been postponed till the end of September because of the extended base of participants, especially from European countries.
21 July, 2010
Washington – A food co-op in the hometown of Rachel Corrie, the American activist killed by an Israeli bulldozer in 2003 and namesake of a Gaza aid ship earlier this year, has launched a divestment campaign against Israeli products, Haaretz reported Tuesday.
The Olympia, Washington Food Co-op board of directors met last week to make the final decision to endorse the boycott. "A couple of board members were concerned about what will be the financial effect on the organization, but it’s minimal," board member Rob Richards told Haaretz. "For me personally there is a moral imperative that goes beyond any financial concern. So we decided to adopt the boycott which went into effect the next day."
The boycott in Olympia, which is right now only enforced in two grocery stores, will likely have little direct effect on the divestment effort. But the board decision is symbolic, both as part of growing move in America and also because of what Olympia is: Rachel Corrie’s hometown. Last month, the student body at Evergreen State College in Olypmia, where Corrie studied, passed two declarations calling for the school "to divest from companies that profit from Israel's illegal occupation of Palestine" and to ban Caterpillar equipment from campus. It was a Caterpillar bulldozer that killed Corrie as she tried to prevent it from demolishing a home in the Gaza Strip.
"The fact that it is the home town of Rachel Corrie’s parents and that it is represented by Rep Brian Baird (who has been to Gaza and is outspoken against Israel) makes this ripe for issues," said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi of The Israel Project, a pro-Israel organization, in the Haaretz report. "So does the fact that it does not have a very organized pro-Israel community. This went under the radar screen at a time when most groups were focused on Iran sanctions and other macro issues."
Richards defended the plurality behind the co-op decision. "There was very little feedback from the staff that was against the boycott, but it seemed as minority opinion," said Richards. "We have two members on the board from the Jewish community who were supportive of the boycott – it’s pretty progressive town. I know that’s not universal at the Jewish community."
The boycott will refuse any products coming from Israel, both those from within and beyond the Green Line. But exceptions will be made for any products that "improve the conditions of the Palestinians."
While the divestment movement is much stronger and more popular in Europe, it is beginning to gain steam in the US. Monday, Jewish Voice for Peace activists went to the New York headquarters of investment firm TIAA-CREF to deliver thousands of signatures demanding the firm divest from companies that "profit from the violation of international law through home demolitions, the destruction of life sustaining orchards, the construction of roads and transit that only Israelis can use, the killing of civilians by drones, and many other injustices." Companies on the activists’ list include Caterpillar, Elbit, and Motorola.
Much of the pressure for divestment has triumphed on college campuses. There has also been a counterforce called "Invest for Peace" that promotes not divestment but instead microfinance projects in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Both movements are growing in numbers.
Hamas accuses the United Nations of collaborating with Israel over the world body's recent efforts to discourage aid convoys from sailing towards the Gaza Strip.
The UN on Friday warned seaborne relief missions against setting sail, urging them to instead travel by land. The UN's warning came as both routes to the strip remain under the strict control of the Israeli military's armed surveillance units.
"The UN call to international organizations to use the over-land road to Gaza instead of the sea is unacceptable and illegal," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zahri was quoted by AFP as saying on Saturday.
The position was similar to "collaboration with the Israeli occupier," he added.
After the democratically-elected government of Hamas came to power in the Gaza Strip in 2006, Israel blockaded the coastal sliver in June 2007, depriving 1.5 million Gazans of food, fuel and other life necessities.
"Most of the residents of the territory are still banned from leaving the territory and this is why this call is considered a contribution to the blockade," said Abu Zahri in reference to the UN warning.
The developments come after Israeli commandos attacked the Gaza-bound Turkish-flagged Freedom Flotilla relief mission, killing nine Turkish activists on May 31.
The UN ambassador to Tel Aviv, Gabriela Shalev, has informed UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that Israel "reserves its right" to stymie two Lebanese aid ships, which aim to break the Gaza siege.
An organizer for one of the Lebanese vessels, Nagi el-Ali, however, said on Saturday that "preparations for the trip have progressed." Organizers and port officials also said another ship, the Mariam, has anchored at the northern Lebanese port of Tripoli.
The Hamas official also encouraged humanitarian groups to "continue to reach Gaza by sea until the blockade is really broken."