Activists defy Israel with Gaza-bound ‘freedom’ flotilla and humanitarian aid

Loading urgent humanitarian aid for Gaza on the Akdeniz ship in Istanbul
Loading urgent humanitarian aid for Gaza on the Akdeniz ship in Istanbul . . . Freedom Flotilla mission about to begin. Image: Salwa Amor /The New Arab

By Salwa Amor in Istanbul

Palestine solidarity activists are preparing a flotilla to deliver urgently needed humanitarian aid to Gaza, vowing to break Israel’s blockade of the Palestinian territory on board the Akdeniz, a seven-deck passenger ship.

Currently docked in Istanbul, the ship will carry 800 people from more than 30 nations, from Indonesia to the US state of Hawai’i, and is expected to transport 5500 tonnes of aid to Gaza once it sets sail from Turkey in the coming days.

On Friday, reports in Israel media suggested the Israeli authorities are preparing to intercept it. The activists joining the Akdeniz will be mindful of a previous fatal attempt by a vessel of comparable size to set sail from Turkey to Gaza.

The Mavi Marmara was a Turkish aid ship, part of a flotilla attempting to break the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip in May 2010. Israeli commandos intercepted the flotilla in international waters, boarded the Mavi Marmara and killed nine Turkish activists, injuring several others.

The incident sparked international condemnation and strained relations between Turkey and Israel.

The acquisition of the Akdeniz was made possible through the support of four million donors worldwide.

Organised by the Freedom Flotilla Coalition (FFC), a coalition of 12 countries including Turkey — and New Zealand through Kia Ora Gaza — in partnership with İnsani Yardım Vakfı (IHH), the mission aims to break the deadly siege that has severely impacted the lives of the people of Gaza for years amid Israel’s genocidal war that has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians since October 7.

Pro-Palestinian activist and human rights lawyer Huwaida Arraf, who was on the Mavi Marmara in 2010, announced she would also join the flotilla.

“While we recognise Israel’s potential for intercepting the mission, we hope for a peaceful outcome. If they choose to attack, those on board are prepared to engage in nonviolent resistance,” she told reporters.

Redemption and hope
Former US diplomat and retired US Army Colonel Ann Wright is one of the primary organisers of the FFC. In 2003, she resigned from the US government in protest against the Iraq War.

Speaking to The New Arab, Wright said the mission of the flotilla was to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza’s starved population.

“When you witness genocide, you can’t stand back. I’m 77, but even if I were 100, I’d still be on this ship,” said Wright.

Wright and her fellow activists are also determined to shine a spotlight on the dire humanitarian crisis unfolding in Gaza, bringing international human rights observers to the territory to witness the unfolding genocide.

“Our message to the people of Gaza is that we love you and are trying desperately to stop this genocide . . . To the Israeli people, I say you have a responsibility to stop your government’s genocide of Palestinians,” she said.

“I know the propaganda that comes from governments at war, having been a former US diplomat. But what’s happening in Gaza is genocide, and when you see what your government has done, you’ll be horrified.

“But now, I am older, and as I watch what is happening to the people of Gaza, I am appalled. It is not only the children, although that is what hits me the most.

‘Object to the US’
“But now, it is the time to object to what my country, the US is doing. This is what conscientious objection is about. I am putting my body, my money, my time, my everything on the line to say, ‘I object to what my country is doing, we should not be doing this’.

An activist called Michael said: “I want to stand up for those people in the US who agree with what I am doing and represent my country on this journey.”

Michael said he drew courage from the people of Gaza.

“The people of Palestine have lived under occupation for so long that it impresses me how a people like that can still have that courage and continue to stand for what they believe is right. I am guided by the bravery and courage of the people of Gaza in particular but all of Palestinians.”

On board the Akdenix
On board the Akdenix . . . preparing for the humanitarian aid voyage to Gaza. Image: Salwa Amor/The New Arab

Solidarity without borders
Argentinian surgeon Dr Carlos Tortta, a member of Doctors Without Borders, will also be on the ship.

“In all those places I saw a lot of pain but in no place I found such an amount of people killed and wounded and suffering like in Gaza when I worked in Al Shifa hospital in 2009,” he told The New Arab.

“When people ask me why I am going, the answer is why not? We are health workers, so it is natural to want to be with those injured,” he added.

Lee Patten, a 63-year-old former merchant navy officer from Liverpool, told The New Arab he felt compelled to join the voyage.

“When I see those poor children, I cannot simply turn away and leave them with no one to care for them,” he said.

The harrowing images emanating from Gaza have left an indelible mark on Lee.

“The sight of defenceless, innocent children is deeply distressing. It’s unfathomable to comprehend that such suffering is deliberate,” Lee explained.

Gaza ‘a stark warning’
“There seems to be a prevailing notion that what is happening in Gaza is confined to Palestinians and could never happen to Europeans. It’s astounding. Gaza serves as a stark warning to us all.”

As the onslaught continues with Israeli strikes devastating Gaza’s infrastructure, some participants on the boat say they are not going solely to help people but are determined to initiate the rebuilding process after the war.

Among them are several architects who have joined the mission to help in rebuilding Gaza.

Dilara Karasakiz, a 28-year-old Turkish architect among the almost 300 Turkish citizens participating, said she was taking this perilous journey for this very reason.

“I am going on this journey to help rebuild Gaza. We will rebuild everything Israel has destroyed.

“Gazans deserve a good standard of life, and we’re asking for their suffering to end and for them to be free. I’m not afraid because this ship is just a symbol of humanity.

“Why would I be afraid? I hope we’ll arrive in Gaza and bring some hope.”

Salwa Amor is an independent documentary maker. Most recently she was one of the producers of the award-winning BBC Panorama Children of Syria two-part series. This article was first published by The New Arab.

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