< HOME  Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Canadian Boat to Gaza to break siege,
overcome "aid traps"

Steven Zhou, The Electronic Intifada, 23 August 2010

Canadian activists looking to assist in the breaking of the siege of Gaza plans to launch a Canadian Boat to Gaza this fall. However, this Canadian version of the Freedom Flotilla that seeks to break the siege has a twist.

In partnership with the Free Gaza Movement (the group behind numerous boats to the Gaza Strip), the Canadian Boat to Gaza initiative, headed in part by Canadian activist Sandra Ruch, seeks to also take goods out of Gaza. In this way, the Canadian activists hope to assist Palestinians in Gaza by helping them, as declared in their mission statement, "assert their right to export, trade and provide for themselves rather than be at the mercy of international aid." It is often forgotten that the siege of Gaza, intensified after the Hamas elections victory in 2006, prohibits all exporting from the Strip. This is the other half of the siege, which helps to corrode the economic independence of the Palestinian people.

The launch of the project was made at the first fundraiser for the Canadian Boat to Gaza on 14 July 2010 at the Steel Workers Hall located in downtown Toronto. Having been to the Gaza Strip twice, Ruch has seen the effects of the suffocating blockade. "Every time that I went to Gaza," recalled Ruch, "the people told me, 'You know, we're not farm animals, we can't just be fed -- we need to be free.'" The organizers estimate the initiative will cost at least $300,000 CDN ($294,663 USD) and fundraising efforts are going on at the moment to reach that amount before the fall sailing season starts in mid-September of this year.

This theme of self-empowerment and self-reliance ran throughout the kickoff fundraiser, which also featured Israeli economist Shir Hever, who gave a presentation on the different types of aid that go into the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Hever also discussed how Israel as the occupying power manipulates the management of this aid in ways that allow it to benefit politically and economically from the occupation. Hever detailed the ways in which international aid indirectly takes the heat off Israel's responsibilities (and crimes), and how the Canadian Boat to Gaza project can contribute to the solution of these problems (Hever's talk is available on Youtube).

Ultimately, the flotilla movement allows the humanitarian problem in Gaza to be tended to with dignity. While incorporating a mechanism by which the people of Gaza can profit on the ground from the humanitarian support, Hever also emphasized that the flotilla initiative itself is a "strong political message," forcing "the world to focus on the political and humanitarian disaster that is the Gaza blockade as well as the Palestinian question in general." By helping to carry Palestinian exports, the act brings to attention the Palestinian right to trade with the outside world (something that Israel, as the occupying power, is supposed to respect).

Hever's research puts aid to the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip in political context. During the years of the Oslo accords from around 1994 to 2000, the international community (especially the European Union) began to funnel more humanitarian and developmental aid to the occupied territories, amounting to approximately $7 billion USD (see "International Aid to the Palestinians Under Occupation," Alternative Information Center, 7 July 2010).

Instead of being makers of their own destiny, the Palestinians are forced into being passive consumers of mostly Israeli goods. The Palestinians in Gaza, who are not allowed any exports under the siege, and a very, very limited amount of imports from the United Nations (the amount of which fluctuates at the whim of Israeli officials), suffer most from these economic absurdities. All the while, Israel stands to gain the most financially by collecting service fees and customs fees that inevitably accompanies the aid itself. This makes the Canadian flotilla an even more urgent initiative. If successful, it will allow (in addition to raising awareness of the occupation) the Palestinians to fight for some semblance of economic freedom in the shape of exporting their goods to the rest of the world.

Being dependent on aid forever is not compatible with sovereignty. Being under occupation and dependent on international aid is even worse. As the occupying power, Israel's responsibilities are partially blurred by the donations from international aid agencies. Thus, as Hever stated at the Canadian Boat to Gaza fundraising launch, "The Freedom Flotilla initiative has the exact traits that are the opposite of the aid that goes through the official channels of the UN and the World Food Program. ... This is an opportunity to send aid without paying any taxes to Israel, without letting Israel decide what goes in and doesn't go in, and without allowing Israel to control who will be the staff ... many of the aid agencies working in the occupied territories have staff members disqualified by Israel."

The nine Turkish activists (including one Turkish-American) who lost their lives on the Mavi Marmara last May exemplified solidarity and their sacrifice helped to further crack the fortress of Israeli hasbara or propaganda. The Canadian Boat to Gaza initiative hopes to honor the legacy of such efforts. In a time when conventional methods of international aid have proven to be largely ineffective in the face of a brutal and manipulative occupation, the Canadian Boat to Gaza seeks to help Palestinians achieve dignity and independence.

Steven Zhou is a student and activist at the University of Toronto in Canada. He is a contributor to The Canadian Charger, and runs his own blog, (Un)Conventional Analysis at www.worldbfree88.wordpress.com.


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