Foreign Flotilla of Ships Bound for the Gaza Strip

May 20, 2010 Updated: May 24, 2010

JERUSALEM—A flotilla of ships from various European countries is headed for the Gaza Strip and is expected to arrive this week. The eight ships of various sizes are being coordinated by the organization Free Gaza Movement and its partners.

Organizers insist the goal of their action is political pressure, and not intended as a way to provide a significant amount of humanitarian aid. The group of ships has been dubbed the “Freedom Flotilla.”

Ships started to sail on May 3 from Ireland, Turkey, and Greece, led by the MV Rachel Corrie. They are expected to arrive between May 28-May 31, depending on the weather at sea. Former U.S. Army Col. and diplomat Anne Wright, famed for resigning from the U.S. State Department over the war in Iraq, joined the ships last week.

The international media has widely reported that Israeli Foreign Ministry officials met with ambassadors from Turkey, Greece, Ireland, and Sweden last week to warn that the ships will be blocked from entering Gaza.
The IDF refused repeatedly to comment on whether or not they would prevent the ships from entering the Gaza Strip, saying only that they are “monitoring the situation and preparing accordingly.”

The Free Gaza Movement has sent 8 other groups of ships to Gaza in the past. According to a partner organization, the European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza, the flotilla will include three cargo ships, and over 500 passengers from more than 20 countries.

The 5,000 tons of cargo will include cement, pre-fabricated housing, other building materials, medical equipment, paper, crayons, and chocolate. The intended recipients are Palestinians living in Gaza.

According to Greta Berlin, a Free Gaza Movement co-founder and a lifelong activist, they will avoid dealing with Hamas by giving the aid directly to predetermined organizations. Ms. Berlin said by telephone from France last week that the main objective of sending the ships is not to deliver aid, but to get their message out.

“The people in Gaza, the only way they can get any of that [supplies] is through the tunnels,” said Ms. Berlin.

But according to the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), last week alone Israel sent over 14,000 tons of humanitarian aid into Gaza.  An additional shipment on Sunday included 90 truckloads (1,745 tons) of humanitarian aid, including 247,013 liters of diesel fuel.

Despite the Free Gaza Foundation’s claim that they would work around Hamas to get supplies into the Gaza Strip, the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center in Israel said the Hamas-associated newspaper Felesteen reported differently. According to Felesteen, on May 5 the Hamas de facto administration prepared to receive the flotilla by finishing repairs on and deepening of the Gaza Strip fishing port.

The Free Gaza Movement also claims that Israeli forces have been ordered to use “military violence” if necessary to stop the flotilla. On its Twitter feed, the organization has told its followers to “be ready to express your outrage if we are stopped.”

Ms. Berlin says that simply means getting the word out.

“We have coordinators in 30 countries around the world, they are all set to send out press releases, to call members of parliament [if the flotilla is blocked],” said Ms. Berlin.