56. Freedom boats seized in international waters

Several sources have confirmed that the two Freedom Waves to Gaza ships have been illegally boarded and commandeered by the Israeli military in international waters.  Organizers have been unable to communicate with the ships since soon after they were approached by Israeli warships.

The Freedom Waves to Gaza initiative is a non-violent, civil society movement striving to challenge the illegal Israeli blockade of Gaza.

Wednesday, the two civilian boats set sail from Fethiye, Turkey.  Together the Canadian Tahrir and the Irish Saoirse are carrying 27 people – including journalists and crew – from nine countries. They intend to bring a symbolic cargo of $30,000 worth of medicine to the Gaza Strip.

The organizers of Freedom Waves to Gaza said they kept the voyage secret until now due to sabotage attacks on a previous effort this past summer, Freedom Flotilla II.  At that time, the Greek government prohibited the departure from Greek ports of any ships, Greek or foreign, for Gaza. The Greek port authorities boarded the Tahrir and seized its licence. There have been strong indications that Greece’s actions may have resulted from international pressure, notably from Israel.

Freedom Waves aims to peacefully challenge Israel’s blockade of Gaza, which violates international law and inflicts grave hardship on Palestinians. * [More on this below.]

Please click here to send an email to Canadian political leaders demanding safe passage for the boats, and the safe treatment of all members aboard.

And please forward this message to others.

* [MR:  Many detailed reports document the horrible impacts of the blockade.  Even so, I find this anguished account very compelling.  A refugee from Nazi Germany, Lilian Rosengarten is a Buddhist practitioner, poet, writer and pacifist.  Her article, contributed originally to the Palestine Chronicle, came to me via Australians for Palestine.

Lilian Rosengarten:

Gaza life exists in a cage, an open air prison that has been kept mostly isolated from the world. Its citrus trees have been uprooted.  Flowers are no longer exported.  Nor are vegetables, fruit or olives, formerly a thriving export business.

Since 2000, the Israeli army destroyed 114,000 olive trees.  The rest were destroyed during the 2008-9 war, much of it uprooted from white phosphorous and other chemicals.  Farming is now difficult and in some areas impossible.

Much of Gaza looks like a war zone, bullets holes visible on the sides of buildings.  Gaza is without proper sewage pumps, bombed as they are rebuilt.  Mediterranean waters are infested with raw sewage, while a 3 mile limit, closely watched by the Israeli navy collectively destroys a once flourishing fishing industry, the waters now stagnant from sewage and overfishing.

It is the grimmest of war stories, unimaginable horror where tunnels, miles of mazes function to alleviate the suffering as goods are brought in from Egypt.  Dangerous the tunnels for they are regularly bombed by rockets and missiles.  Many of the young brave men who work in the tunnels to bring needed goods to Gaza take a daily chance on their lives. Articles to sustain life come through the tunnels.  Diesel oil and gasoline are pumped through the tunnels at 1/3 the prices the Israelis charge.  In addition, building materials, cement, medicines, bandages, first aid, even cars and washing machines find their way into Gaza.  Articles sent through Ashdot, Israel, often must wait months before they are inspected and often never arrive in Gaza.

Electricity remains scarce and backed up generators used in hospitals can turn on 12 times a day.  They consistently break down, often during surgery.  Repair of generators and equipment in general is difficult since replacements take months to arrive from countries that have donated the generators.  The same is true of new imaging equipment that stand idle when often the smallest repair is needed.  Once something breaks down, one must wait often more than a year for replacements which come from participating NGO countries that support the Palestinians.  Sadly (as far as I can learn) the US no longer contributes and Congress recently defeated the use of funds for NGO agricultural development.  This is a tragedy for the Palestinians in Gaza who struggle to feed their own population.

Many who are ill are unable to receive advanced treatments.  40% of medications for necessary treatment are not available.  Chemotherapy drugs do not exist for they are too expensive.  Also missing are gloves, needles sutures, antibiotics and frequently the most basic necessities. Some wheelchairs are donated from participating countries.  They are in working condition for the many young people who have had limbs blown off.  I was told a wheelchair sent by Israel was not usable as many parts were missing.  How can this be?  Hospitals are bombed and rebuilt. Without the tunnels, there would be a total paralysis in rebuilding construction.

Only the sickest who need advanced treatments, the most vulnerable patients have been sent to Israeli hospitals.  The trip is long and arduous with many checkpoints.  Some cannot survive.  Children must go unaccompanied for parents are not given permission to accompany and comfort.  Now patients are more readily sent via Rafah to Cairo for treatment, also an arduous undertaking but preferable since border restrictions create more of a possibility to arrive at an Egyptian hospital for treatment.   Still it remains difficult and lengthy.  I have seen the crowds wait for hours at the border to have their passports and documents approved, a tedious procedure even for those who are physically well.

Al-Shifa Hospital (Arabic for ‘healing’) is the largest and main referral hospital in the Gaza Strip.  It has 700 beds and sees 1200 patients a day.  The effect of the Israeli siege on health has been nothing less than devastating.  I am exceedingly impressed with the commitment of the Hospital staff workers who care for the sick and wounded with limited equipment.  Palestinian men and women work side by side.

I am impressed by the beauty of the Palestinians and their drive towards dignity and freedom.  I am impressed by the parents of their sick children who tend them with love and much tragedy etched on their faces.  So much of what I saw and heard in Gaza has left a deep black hole in my consciousness, for I am aware that the crimes committed by the Zionists of Israel and completely complicit with the US are one of the greatest crimes against a population that they fail to see as human beings.  Instead Palestinians are demonized, dehumanized in an attempt to obliterate their history, their dignity and their right to exist in safety and peace.  From my perspective, this is nothing short of the final chapter of the Holocaust, a tragedy from which there is no forgiveness.

I will continue to write about the land of sad oranges, the land where citrus plants have been pulled out of the earth and trees have been exported to Israel for their profit.  Everything is for profit and greed while human beings cease to be human.

I wish to tell you about the depleted uranium and white phosphorus found after the war, three weeks of endless bombings night and day.  I have seen teachers in the “Save Our Children” project work with two eight-year-old boys who to this day are not able to speak after operation Cast Lead.  Still to this day one finds the continued use of chemicals in the soil and in the bodies of the children who are born prematurely with cancer and disfigurement.  Yes, and 33 additional toxic chemicals that change with each round of bombings have been isolated.

In case you do not know this, over 55% of the population of Gaza are under 18.  I shudder to think of what the continuous brutalization of this young generation will lead to in the coming years.  Still the Palestinians with the help of the NGO’s are trying to preserve the well-being of Palestinian children who are crowded in refugee camps and have the most beautiful faces.  There must be hope as the children come up to me with peace signs, and we chant Viva Palestina together.

My work has just begun.  I too must hang on to hope.  The world must listen and resist.

About Michael Riordon

Canadian writer and documentary-maker Michael Riordon writes/ directs/produces books and articles, audio, video and film documentaries, plays for radio and stage. A primary goal of his work is to recover voices and stories of people who have been silenced or marginalized, written out of the official version: First Nations (aboriginal) youth, Mozambican farmers, inmates in Canadian prisons, traditional healers in Fiji, queer folk across Canada, Guatemalan labour activists. Michael also leads courses, workshops and seminars for community organizations, trade unions, schools, colleges and universities.
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