Joining the freedom flotilla to break Gaza blockade is a necessity

Posted on June 19, 2011


Sylvia Hale

June 20, 2011Comments 36

Yesterday, I left for Europe to join the flotilla to break the blockade of Gaza, along with fellow Australians Vivienne Porzsolt, of Jews Against the Occupation, and Michael Coleman, a youth worker.

People ask me why I’m going. I reply by recalling my experiences in Gaza last July when visiting Australian aid projects in the Middle East.

I remember the fetid smell as our bus passed a United Nations camp for children on the beach near Gaza City. It’s stinking hot, the height of summer, and effluent lies fermenting in catchment ponds waiting to join the 80 million litres of raw sewage that flow each day from Gaza into the Mediterranean.

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I ponder a dilemma that most Australians do not have to face. If my child were traumatised by air strikes and life under military siege, would the dangers of swimming in heavily contaminated seawater outweigh the benefits of a few days at the beach?

The bus takes us on to Rafah and the tunnels connecting Egypt and Gaza. The area is festooned with makeshift tents that obscure the tunnel openings. The tunnel we stop to look at brings in bags of cement, but the first thing I see being carried out is a young man, about 20, with a metal spike protruding 15 centimetres from his foot. While we wait 20 minutes for an ambulance to arrive, I photograph the foot but no faces. The tunnels are illegal and work, even if poorly paid and dangerous, is scarce. No one wants to be identified.

It’s the rockets fired from the Rafah area that Israel uses as partial justification for its blockade. But, in a tacit acknowledgement of just how counterproductive the attacks have been, according to The New York Times, Hamas clamped down on them in 2009. The tunnel owners, who profit so handsomely from the siege, are said to adopt a more provocative approach.

Our next stop is what had been a cement works, now destroyed. Amid the ruins of an office building we see scraps of paperwork. Beside them blood stains discolour a wall.

A few kilometres further on we come to Gaza International Airport, opened with much fanfare in 1998, but since 2003 repeatedly bombed and its tarmac bulldozed by the Israelis. It’s very hot but the wind is worse. Dust and grit swirl everywhere. Hundreds of people, young and old, individuals and families, are scrabbling in the ruins of the runways, heaping rubble onto donkey carts, salvaging whatever they can to rebuild bullet-ridden or flattened houses. It’s work only the poorest and most desperate would undertake.

The day after our visit, the airport, which has zero strategic or military significance, is bombed yet again. To my mind it’s an unforgivable war crime whose sole purpose can only be to terrorise and maim civilians desperately trying to survive a prolonged, illegal siege.

So that’s what I tell people who ask me why I’m joining Freedom Flotilla 2 to break the blockade of Gaza. I tell them of the schools demolished and still unable to be rebuilt, of malnourished children, of farmers complaining that they can’t get anyone to test the white powder deposited on their fields during Operation Cast Lead.

I tell them it’s contrary to international law for Israel to punish Gaza’s 1.5 million civilians, more than half of whom are children, because they had the temerity to elect a government of which Israel disapproves.

I point to Dashed Hopes, a November 2010 report by Oxfam, Amnesty, Save the Children and 19 other organisations, which reveals that Israel’s ”easing” of the blockade has consisted more of words than actions. I point out that Egypt’s recent restricted ”opening” of the Rafah crossing is doing little to improve conditions in Gaza because the crossing lacks the equipment to handle the shipment of goods, and men aged 18 to 40 are forbidden to cross.

I direct them to the January United Nations online presentation, ”The humanitarian impact of the Blockade and the ‘Cast Lead’ Israeli offensive on Gaza”. There they can read for themselves how Gaza’s economy is being destroyed and lives devastated by unemployment and poverty.

For those who choose to look, they can learn how Israel’s refusal to allow exports to leave or spare parts and raw materials to enter Gaza means that the electricity supply is unreliable, medical equipment unrepairable, refrigeration dicey, and the sewerage plant largely inoperable.

I tell them I can’t turn my head and pretend that I just didn’t see. I say that I endorse the UN Humanitarian Affairs Office’s call to Israel to: lift the blockade; lift restrictions on all Gaza crossings; allow the importation of raw materials and exports; allow free access to agricultural and fishing areas; and allow access for goods and people between Gaza and the West Bank.

If, by joining the flotilla, I not only challenge the right of Israel to blockade Gaza but also pressure our government to force Israel to comply with international law, I think the risks are well worth running.

After all, everything I’m doing is entirely legal. I won’t be hijacking any Israeli vessels, carrying weapons, or assaulting and detaining unarmed civilians. I will simply be trying, in a peaceful, non-violent and lawful way, to bring to an end the violation of the human rights of 1.5 million people trapped in the world’s largest outdoor prison.

Sylvia Hale is a former Greens MP.

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36 comments so far

The script is written, the scene is set, the players are summoned, now lets have a play fit for a drama queen.

SteveH. – June 20, 2011, 8:12AM

I hope after you land you then protest the use of women and children as human shields by HAMAS, the bombing and murder of innocent civilians, the endemic hatred that is policy in their education system, and their insistence on the annihilation of Israel, or will you blame Israel for all that as well??

Joel | Canberra – June 20, 2011, 8:16AM

How many times have I had to hear the lie that Israel is anything remotely like a democracy. It is a theocracy … The Palestinians suffer a worse fate than the Jews of last century, but the difference is that we watch and compliment Israel on it’s “strong stance against terrorism.” A lie, which people will call anti-semitism in a feeble attempt to misconstrue clear logic. You can not torture people just because you were tortured. Free Palestine!

Ali | Arncliffe – June 20, 2011, 8:37AM

I am not generally aligned to the Greens policies but on this occasion I applaud you Sylvia for having the courage to act on your principles.

If our world “leaders” were members of the order of vertebrates we could expect similar actions from them. Instead most of them are content to be apologists and appeasers who either openly or worse still silently, condone Israel’s brutish actions.Strange and sad that the oppressed have so easily assumed the role to become the oppressors, that those who sought and received help from the world to liberate them are now so deaf to any such overtures when it is their turn to act justly and humanely.

Victor | Sydney – June 20, 2011, 8:41AM

Thank you, Sylvie, not only for this article and explanation, but also for the tremendous act of courage you and your friends are undertaking in confronting the might of the Israeli state with the simplicity of your message and presence. There is surely not a person on earth unaware of the terrible crime being perpetrated against the people of Gaza or who is not appalled by the daily violence to which they are subjected, and our thoughts will be with you all as you sail into this sea of trouble.

Stephen Sewell | Parramatta – June 20, 2011, 8:50AM

They elected a government of which Israel disapproves ? You mean they are subjected to a terrorist organisation committed to the destruction of Israel. Not to mention suppression of free speech, oppression of women, violence against all forms dissent, …

andy | brisbane – June 20, 2011, 9:30AM

So if you are so moved, why not simply take your aid in via El Arish, where it will be checked for war materiele, and the rest shipped on to Gaza ?
Methinks the lady is more interested in the drama of a provocation than actually providing useful help.

Yo Gabba Gabba – June 20, 2011, 9:37AM

I wonder when the world will begin to accept that Israel is now the terrorist aggressor that it has become?
As Israel becomes more and more paranoid, we see more outragous actions in the name of defending Israel. But from what?
Is it perhaps time to declare Israel an Aparteid rogue state and for the UN to declare sanctions?

(declaration: I have no connection at all with either the Israeli or Palestinian side in this conflict. I’m an atheist).

Steve | Sydney – June 20, 2011, 9:43AM

Your problem with Israel is that it is firstly a democratic state and secondly because it is Jewish. It is no secret that you are a ‘Watermelon’ and a lackey of Rhiannon. … So let’s just cut to the chase, you show no such vigour and vile contempt of any other nation in world. Where were you championing the rights of the Syrians, the Egyptians, the Saudi Arabians and in particular their women.
The Rafah crossing is now open and it is unequivocally known that Israel will deliver any aid shipments to Gaza upon inspection. But yet you chose to make a political statement where even the Turkish government has rejected the necessity for a second flotilla. And despite all your presumption legal niceties, more and more ships are abandoning the cause because of ICC challenges. Good luck finding a ship

Vilmos – June 20, 2011, 9:49AM

Will you be singing along with the Muslim radicals onboard as they sing the Khaybar chant like they did on the original flotilla?:
“Remember Khaybar, O Jews, Muhammad’s army will return!’

This chant commemorating Muhammed’s defeat of the jews in the Khaybar oasis and their slavery or dhimmitude.

Why the far left insists on aligning themselves with the religious far right of Islam is beyond comprehension. Perhaps because they’re exotic?

More likely because they would like to destroy the West, I suspect.(along with other unbelieving systems.)

SH | …. – June 20, 2011, 9:49AM

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