Challenging the siege of Gaza
Published Nov 7, 2010 10:23 PM
Huwaida Arraf was a witness to Israel’s May 31 attack on the Freedom
Flotilla ship, the Mavi Marmara, when Israeli naval commandos killed nine
Turkish activists. She gave a first-hand account on Oct. 27 to a
standing-room-only meeting at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia
sponsored by Penn for Palestine.
Huwaida Arraf and Adam Shapiro expose
Israeli terror, Oct. 27.
WW photo: Joe Piette
Arraf is the chairperson of the Free Gaza Movement and a co-founder of the
International Solidarity Movement. She and Adam Shapiro, an ISM co-founder,
reviewed the history of the flotilla movement that has challenged the siege of
Gaza since 2008 and announced plans for a 2011 international flotilla.
Arraf described the high rates of unemployment and illness and the racial
discrimination, ethnic cleansing and apartheid that are rampant in Gaza and
throughout occupied Palestine. These horrific conditions led her and other
activists to challenge Israel’s barriers, which have left Gaza residents
in an “open-air prison.”
Israel’s siege and militarization of the borders made it very difficult
to bring international delegations into Gaza to witness conditions, Arraf
explained, so the idea developed to sail boats to Gaza to break the siege.
In August 2008 two small fishing boats filled with activists, unsure of
Israel’s response, set sail for Gaza. Even though Israel cut off their
communications, the boats got to Gaza after a 30-hour journey. Tens of
thousands of people rushed to the port, many swimming out to sea, to greet the
“We weren’t carrying tons of aid,” Arraf noted, “but
[the people] treated us as heroes because it was the first time they had seen
anyone succeed in standing up to Israel in challenging the blockade.”
Five more boat trips to Gaza were successfully carried out until December 2008
when Israel launched its deadly bombs and an invasion that killed more than
1,400 Gaza residents. That month, Israeli military vessels rammed, damaged and
prevented an aid boat from reaching Gaza with medical supplies.
In June 2009 when former Congressperson Cynthia McKinney, Nobel Laureate
Mairead Maguire and 19 other activists bravely sailed to Gaza, Israeli naval
commandos seized their boat, arresting all aboard.
Arraf explained that the international multivessel Freedom Flotilla was then
planned. “We decided to go again, but rather than one small boat, we
wanted to send a flotilla and appealed to other organizations to join
“One of [Israel’s big lies] was that there were violent terrorists
on the Mavi Marmara and that the other ships [in the Freedom Flotilla] were
taken over peacefully. Not so,” stressed Arraf. Though they radioed
Israeli forces that they were unarmed civilians carrying humanitarian aid and
were not a threat, Arraf said, “They stopped talking and launched an
attack on us.
“I was on the deck of another boat and saw the attack on the Mavi
Marmara. Masked Israeli commandos using attack dogs also took over our boat,
beat us and went after ... recording equipment. Our injuries were mild compared
to what happened on the Mavi Marmara.”
Freedom Flotilla II
“We are not going to back down or [concede] that we can’t stand up
to Israel’s military might. We have [called] for the Freedom Flotilla II
for the spring of 2011. Thousands are calling us to take part. Not only do we
believe that the blockade can be broken, but the entire colonial system of
apartheid can be overturned,” Arraf concluded.
Shapiro told of the successful Viva Palestina 5 convoy of more than 150
vehicles and 370 people from 30 countries, carrying $5 million in aid, that
broke the blockade on Oct. 21.
He then detailed plans for the upcoming flotilla that will include ships from
the U.S., Canada, Italy, Sweden, Turkey, Greece, South Africa, Belgium and
Britain. Participants will include activists from Southeast Asia, Pakistan and
The growing movement has forced Israel to modify the blockade and has caused
many performers to cancel concerts in Israel, Shapiro emphasized. “We are
seeing this conflict being transformed. It’s no longer just Israeli
soldiers turning guns against Palestinians, but wherever Israelis go around the
world, they get the idea there is a cost. After 62 years of struggle, the
situation is still desperate, but at this point momentum is on our side.”
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