On August 28, two Palestinian vessels, which were organized by the Free Gaza Movement, Free Gaza and Liberty, sailed off for Cyprus. Onboard are 14 Palestinians who have previously been denied exit visas by Israel. They are students with valid visas or dual citizenship and have been accepted to universities abroad.
Among the students is a Palestinian professor who will finally be able to go back to teaching in Europe and a young Palestinian woman who will finally be reunited with her husband. Also, 10-year-old Saed Mosleh of Beit Hanoun, Gaza is hoping to soon get medical help. Saed lost his leg due to an Israeli tank shell and is leaving Gaza with his father to seek medical treatment. Also on board are the Darwish family, who will finally be reunited with their relatives in Cyprus.
Since the organizers of the Free Gaza Movement will not be entering Israeli territorial waters and have requested inspection from both the Gaza Port Authority before departing (as well as from Cypriot authorities when they arrive in Cyprus), they expect no interference on the part of the Israeli authorities when they leave Gaza. By Israel’s own admission, it has no authority to inspect the boats or the passengers when they leave Gaza.
With the collapse of the Israeli blockade, the group will quickly return to Gaza with another delegation, inviting the United Nations, Arab League and international community to organize similar human rights and humanitarian efforts.
The Free Gaza and Liberty arrived in Gaza early Saturday evening despite threats that the Israeli government would use force to prevent the non-violent human rights workers from reaching Gaza. Since arriving, both boats have accompanied Palestinian fishermen out to sea in order to prevent Israeli warships from firing on the Palestinians as they fish, as has happened regularly in the past.
Several of the Free Gaza international human rights workers will remain in Gaza after their boats leave in order to continue human rights monitoring. Dr. Vaggelis Pissias, an organizer of the Free Gaza Movement said, “We do not accept that Israel stop these boats. Palestinians have the same rights as all other people. Why is it that the only people in the Mediterranean without access to their own waters are the Palestinians?”
By freely traveling to Gaza in two small wooden boats, the Free Gaza Movement forced the Israeli government to issue a fundamental policy change regarding their military and economic blockade of Gaza. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign affairs publicly announced that humanitarian and human rights missions to Gaza will no longer be stopped or threatened by Israel. With the end of the Israeli siege of Gaza, Palestinians should be free to exercise their rights without fear of being stopped or killed by the Israeli military.
Yvonne Ridley, a journalist and member for the Free Gaza Movement, summed up her experience in Gaza by saying, “I missed the start of the Berlin Wall coming down by just a few days, but now I know how people felt when they tore down those first few bricks. This has been a huge victory of people over power.”
Left alone en-route to Europe, the boats will be received well there. Palestine claims to have deep historical relations with Europe. According to Mustafa Qa’ud of Al Haya, Palestine has attracted and hosted many Western researchers long ago. “At the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century, huge groups of travelers and explorers went to Palestine and the Levant with purely colonial objectives. This wave coincided with the emergence of what might be called ’non-Jewish Zionism’ especially in the UK – those who advocate Zionism but are not Jews. It also coincided with the beginning of a formation of national awareness amongst Jews who adopted the idea of the ‘Jewish People,’” said Qa’ud.
At the end of Muhammad Ali’s rule in the Levant, the academic and clergyman Thomas Clark published a book entitled India and Palestine in which he said that Jews are commercial by nature. He said nothing is more appropriate than planting them on the main old trade road with the East. Napoleon Bonaparte’s military campaign raised more attention in the UK to the Holy Land. In 1840, the Palestine Association was established in London to encourage exploration. “The Middle East was then introduced to the heart of international conflict. Europe realized that any force that threatens to control Europe must be prevented first from controlling the Middle East,” said Ali.
Many novels in Hebrew were published to encourage Jews to settle in Palestine. In the period between 1840 and 1880 about 1600 books were published about trips to Palestine. These books contributed to giving a false picture that suggests that Palestine is a neglected land and that Arabs are responsible for the ruin of the Holy Land. In order to intensify exploration trips to Palestine, many institutions and associations were established, among which were the Palestine Exploration Fund, which was established in 1864 and sponsored by Queen Victoria and the presidency of the Archbishop of York. The fund was interested in research, archaeology, history, geography and traditions of Palestine and designed to use scientific research to serve the goals of the Torah, recalled the Al Hayah scribe.