In a part of the world where hope is scarce, these past weeks have been one of those rare moments that have defied testing times in Gaza. More than 40 civilians from more than a dozen countries arrived on Gazan shores after a long sail from Cyprus on Saturday evening August 23, breaking the siege and bringing with them a powerful message of commitment to human rights for the Palestinian people.
Those on board the two vessels included Nobel Peace Prize nominee Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee against Home Demolitions; Lauren Booth, British journalist and sister-in-law of Tony Blair; and Anne Montgomery, an American nun. When the boats approached the shore, several thousand Palestinians sang in celebration of their arrival, some of them setting out in fishing boats or swimming to meet and embrace them.
Many had feared the worst for the passengers, with the Israeli foreign ministry stating that the journey was a « provocation » and that « all options » were under consideration to deter the boats from reaching Gaza. And then in an unprecedented gesture, they were allowed to pass. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign affairs later publicly announced that humanitarian and human rights missions to Gaza will no longer be stopped or threatened by Israel.
In the days following their arrival, the internationals spent time with Palestinians, trying to understand the reality on the ground in Gaza. Some visited hospitals, witnessing the extreme need provoked by the lack of access to quality medicine and care. Others accompanied fisher folks out to sea, their presence dissuading fire from Israeli military boats and allowing them to bring food home to their families.
Nine of the activists remained in Gaza, permitting several Palestinians to take their place and sail to Cyprus. A ten-year-old boy will receive proper medical treatment for the first time since losing his leg due to an Israeli tank shell. Another family is being reunited with their relatives after having previously been denied exit visas. The Free Gaza Movement is already planning their next delegation which will travel to Gaza later this month.
This action has received significant press, a meaningful step in the direction of ending the siege on Gaza and creating a solid peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. As Free Gaza organizer Dr. Paul Larudee put it:
This endeavor has been a huge success, far more significant and wide-reaching than anyone ever dreamt it could be. It has had obvious beneficial effects on the Palestinian people, but also on Israel. In fairness, credit must go where credit is due – despite threats or obstacles, a responsible decision was made by Israeli authorities not to interfere with our mission and this is a model for the future.
Although much work remains, perhaps for the first time in recent history, the hope for a better future is thriving in Gaza.
For more information and photos and videos of these groundbreaking developments, visit The Free Gaza Movement.