New flotilla set to leave Denmark in bid to break blockade on Gaza

Two-month journey will see vessels stopping at European ports for activities in support of Palestinian ‘March of Return’

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

A ship prepares to set sail for Gaza as part of an attempt to bust the blockade on the territory, May 22, 2018 (Courtesy: International Committee for Breaking the Siege of Gaza)
A ship prepares to set sail for Gaza as part of an attempt to bust the blockade on the territory, May 22, 2018 (Courtesy: International Committee for Breaking the Siege of Gaza)

A new flotilla of ships intent on breaking Israel’s 10-year blockade of the Gaza Strip was due to set sail on Tuesday from the Danish port of Copenhagen.

The two-month journey will see the ships stopping off at several European ports to take part in activities supporting the Palestinians’ so-called “March of Return.”

It is under the “March of Return” banner that more than 100 Palestinians have been killed in violent clashes with Israeli security forces along the border fence since March 30 — most of them members of the Hamas terror group, according to the group itself.

Israel says the demonstrations, originally claimed to be nonviolent, are being orchestrated by Hamas as cover for attempted attacks and breaches of the border fence.

The flotilla has been planned by the Freedom Flotilla Coalition, an umbrella of organizations aiming to end the closure.

This morning, FFC ships to break the blockade of Gaza started sailing from the port of the Danish capital Copenhagen,…

Posted by International Committee for Breaking the Siege of Gaza on Monday, May 21, 2018

The ships will carry names such as “Return” (al-Awda), “Freedom,” and “Palestine.”

Among those on board will be Prof. Ismail Nazari, chairman of Malaysia’s boycott Israel campaign; Charlie Andreason of Sweden, who spent time in Israeli detention for his role on the Marianne, a Swedish-flagged trawler leading a flotilla of boats in June 2015; Spanish Jewish activist Zohar Shamir Chamberlain; and Heather Milton-Lightening, an activist for indigenous Canadians.

Israel has imposed a blockade on Gaza since Hamas, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction, seized the territory from the internationally backed Palestinian Authority in 2007. It says the blockade is in place in order to prevent weapons and other military equipment from entering the Strip.

Critics point to worsening humanitarian conditions in Gaza and say the blockade amounts to collective punishment of the two million Palestinians living there. There have been many reports that the coastal strip is “on the verge of collapsing,” and could plunge into a new round of fighting with Israel if conditions do not improve.

Egypt, too, has kept its Gaza border crossing largely closed during several years of sour relations with the Islamist group ruling Gaza.

Many attempts have been made to draw attention to the Palestinian cause using blockade-busting flotillas.

Two years ago, 13 women, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland, were detained and then deported after their sailboat, “Women’s Boat to Gaza,” was stopped around 35 nautical miles off the coast of Gaza on its way to break the blockade.

The Israel Navy said at the time that it had stopped the boat to prevent a “breach of the lawful maritime blockade” of the Palestinian enclave and after advising it “numerous times to change course prior to the action.”

The most notorious flotilla sailed in 2010 and involved the Turkish flag-bearing Mavi Marmara, the biggest ship in a six-vessel convoy.

IDF commandos who boarded the ship were violently attacked by those on board. Nine Turkish citizens, including one with American citizenship, were killed in the ensuing melee, and a tenth died of his wounds years later. A number of Israeli soldiers were injured in the raid.

Activists on the 'Mavi Marmara' preparing to attack IDF soldiers (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson/Flash90)
Activists on the ‘Mavi Marmara’ preparing to attack IDF soldiers. (IDF Spokesperson/Flash90)

Hamas has promised Gazans that they will “return” to homes in what is now Israeli territory. The Palestinians claim that tens of thousands of original refugees, displaced at the time of Israel’s creation in 1948, and their millions of descendants, have a “right of return.”

Israel will not agree to such a “return,” which would see a Palestinian majority outnumbering Jews and effectively bringing an end to the Jewish state.

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