Free Gaza Boats Make Landfall

AFP/Al Jazeera

According to The Jerusalem Post

The two boats of pro-Palestinian activists sailing to the Gaza Strip have arrived at the coastal territory, Army Radio reported late Saturday afternoon. The boats are carrying humanitarian supplies as part of a mission to defy Israel’s yearlong blockade of Gaza.

Awaiting confirmation from other sources and FreeGaza.org but given last reported position and speed it is about right.

Update: AP also has it.

Update: Also AFP, BBC, Al Jazeera, VOA (!) and the Palestinian News Network who say-

The two ships designed to “Break the Siege” on Gaza arrived on the shores of Mediterranean in a symbolic gesture aimed at drawing attention to the suffering of the Gaza Strip brought on by the Israeli siege.

The message is clear: lift the siege and end the suffering of the Gaza Strip’s 1.5 million Palestinians. The boats were able to come ashore after much Israeli tampering with the mission, but with the end-time decision to let them in. Israeli Prime Minister Olmert, Foreign Minister Livni and Defense Minister Barak met and then told the warships to let them pass to the shores of Gaza.

Upon their arrival, after a day and a half at sea, thousands of Palestinians who had been gathered on shore waiting ran to welcome the passengers who for the first time in history have broken through by sea.

Update: FreeGaza.org have updated and include some quotes. They done it!-

“We recognize that we’re two, humble boats, but what we’ve accomplished is to show that average people from around the world can mobilize to create change. We do not have to stay silent in the face of injustice. Reaching Gaza today, there is such a sense of hope, and hope is what mobilizes people everywhere.”
–Huwaida Arraf.

Huwaida is Palestinian-American, and also a citizen of Israel. She’s a human rights activist and co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement. In 2007 she received her Juris Doctor from American University in Washington D.C. Currently she teaches Human Rights and Humanitarian Law at Al Quds University in Jerusalem. Huwaida sailed to Gaza aboard the SS Liberty.

“We’re the first ones in 41 years to enter Gaza freely – but we won’t be the last. We welcome the world to join us and see what we’re seeing.”
–Paul Larudee, Ph.D.

Paul is a cofounder of the Free Gaza Movement and a San Francisco Bay Area activist on the issue of justice in Palestine. He sailed to Gaza aboard the SS Liberty.

“What we’ve done shows that people can do what governments should have done. If people stand up against injustice, we can truly be the conscience of the world.”
–Jeff Halper, Ph.D.

Jeff is an Israeli professor of anthropology and coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), a non-violent Israeli peace and human rights organization that resists the Israeli occupation on the ground. In 2006, the American Friends Service Committee nominated Jeff to receive the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize with Palestinian intellectual and activist Ghassan Andoni. Jeff sailed to Gaza aboard the SS Free Gaza.

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Free Gaza- Almost There. Update: Israel Says Boats to Be Allowed Through

A Message to All from the SS Liberty:
“We’ve entered Gazan waters. We’re flying the Palestinian flag, and we now believe that we’re going to reach the shores of Gaza very soon. 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. Today is a huge victory of people over power.”
–Yvonne Ridley, abord the SS Liberty, bound for Gaza, 23 Aug. 2008

FreeGaza.org

Army Radio: Israel decides to allow ‘Free Gaza’ activists entry to Gaza
By JPOST.COM STAFF AND AP

Sources in Jerusalem advised Saturday afternoon that Israel had made the decision to allow the two boats containing a group of pro-Palestinians peace activists to embark in Israel, according to Army Radio.

Until this point Israel had refused to allow the entry to the Free Gaza activist group, warning against the mission and calling it an unacceptable provocation.

Army Radio also reported that the activists had regained communications they had accused Israel of sabotaging.

Update: New Map Location Latitude:31.6113  Longitude:34.312  Time:08/23/2008 13:52:36 (GMT)

Update:

abc news– Israel had warned the activists not to undertake the naval journey. But on Saturday afternoon, Foreign Ministry spokesman Aviv Shiron said Israel would allow the vessels to reach Gaza. He gave no explanation for the change in heart.

Update: New Map Location Latitude:31.5949 Longitude:34.3434 Time:08/23/2008 14:06:41 (GMT) (approx 6 miles out, so as last was about 9 miles 14 minutes ago I guestimate they are making about 10 -11 knots with some high waves. Update with the lat & long calcs it’s more like 7-8 knots-ish tops).

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Free Gaza Update

The previous bulletin about drifting has been replaced with this-

Angela Godfrey-Goldstein FreeGaza.org – Despite all odds, with scrambled radio, jammed phones, a seasick passenger, a seasick journalist on a media boat seeking them out stubbornly, in rough waves with a storm brewing, phone calls tripling or quadrupling up (sorry to all whom I’ve cut off), I hear that 20 boats left Gaza Harbour to welcome FREE GAZA and LIBERTY, but are now doing a U-turn to go back.. As indeed the media boat, now back in harbour.

Estimated time of arrival according to Jeff Halper, with whom I finally managed to speak on a satellite phone whose number wasn’t published and is now used in emergency, is 5 pm – 7 pm. Palestinians in Gaza said earlier there was NO ISRAELI NAVAL PRESENCE on the horizon, but the U-turn was apparently due to warning shots having indeed been fired.

I received a phone call from Gaza: it’s obvious there’s a demonstration there, with extreme excitement. It gave one goosebumps, feeling freedom beginning to flow.

The media boat was not far from the FREE GAZA and LIBERTY, but relayed co-ordinates (they couldn’t make contact with each other) show that for the FREE GAZA and LIBERTY to have met the press, the two boats would have had to turn round: inadvisable, if they’re to make land in daylight.

If the radio had been working. If the satellite phones were unjammed. These are regrets, but the fact is that the boats are now about to turn into Gazan waters, and may God speed them safe to land. Read the rest of this entry »

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Free Gaza Boats Enter ‘The Gaza Triangle’

From Angela Godfrey-Goldstein @ FreeGaza.com

The two, Free Gaza Movement boats, SS Liberty and SS Free Gaza, are now sailing with damaged navigation systems. As such, they are in jeopardy of drifting off course and out of international waters.

In addition they have encountering rough seas, with waves over 3 metre’s high.  Many of the older passengers on board are suffering from serious sea sickness. For some of them these conditions could pose life-threatening health risks.

Their navigation systems have been damaged and as such they are in jeopardy of drifting unknowingly out of international waters.

We request that all individuals and organisations make representation to the government of Israel and the Israeli navy to protect the lives of the civilians aboard the two ships, SS Liberty and SS Free Gaza which are sailing under the Greek flag.

The last communication with the two boats Liberty and Free Gaza was-

(10am, 23 August, 2008 ) At 10am this morning, the Cyprus team of the Free Gaza Movement was able to briefly speak with our people on board the SS Free Gaza and SS Liberty. They are all fine, and they asked us to release the following statement:

“The electronic systems which guarantee our safety aboard the SS Free Gaza and SS Liberty have been jammed and scrambled. Both ships are flying Greek flags, and are in international waters. We are the victims of electronic piracy. We are currently in GMS P area A2 and we are relying on our satellite communications equipment to make a distress call, if needed. We are civilians from 17 nations and are on this project to break the siege of Gaza. We are not experienced sailors. As a result, there is concern about the health and safety of the people on board such an emergency develop. We are currently experiencing rough sea conditions, and we call on the Greek government and the international community to meet their responsibilities and protect the civilians on board our two ships in international waters.”

Their last position via their site and through google maps was {click to enlarge}-

The thing is if the Navy can say they entered Israeli waters (which with ‘compromised’ navigation is very possible) they have the excuse to intercept them and avoid the issue of their unofficial blockade of Gaza, cunning. Via comments I found Marian Houk’s blog and she adds round ups of AP report & Haaretz-

UPDATE: a scrolling Haaretz headline at 12:12 Jerusalem time says that AP has reported that “Organizers of Gaza boat protest say they have lost contact with the vessels” — but it’s probably based on the same information reported by Free Gaza, as shown above.
UPDATE: Another AP story published now on the Haaretz website says that a Free Gaza spokesperson had said that she expected the vessels to reach Gaza at around 11 a.m. Jerusalem time — which would have been an hour and a half ago.
[Jerusalem is +2 GMT and +1 daylight saving -so 2 hours ahead of UK as we also are in +1 hour DST, it’s now past 15.30 in Jerusalem]

Nothing comes through the video stream (though that could be just my connection or other vagaries of the interwebs).

xinhuanet sez-

International campaigners, who are sailing into Gaza to break the Israeli blockade, are not far from “the Palestinian territorial waters,” Palestinian sources said on Saturday.

“The ships will be on Gaza shores during the few coming hours,” said Jamal al-Khodary, an independent Palestinian parliamentarian leading a lobby against the Israeli siege on the Gaza Strip.

The small wooden boats have carried about 40 international peace and human rights activist from Free Gaza Movements and medical supplies for children.

Israel, which controls Gaza’s air, water and border, threatened to prevent the boats from entering the Gaza territorial waters.

Al-Khodary said the Israeli disturbances have broke the internet connection and communication for several hours between the boats and the officials in Gaza who will receive the voyage.

“The boats carry a humanitarian message against the harsh siege that has been imposed on Gaza since more than a year ago,” al-Khodary said.

Thirteen Palestinian boats have left Gaza fishing port Friday morning to welcome the ships. Palestinian journalists, lawmakers and human rights activists were aboard.

AP (boo hiss) sez-

“We are following the development and if they are looking for a provocation, we will know how to avoid it,” said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Arye Mekel.

Mekel said he did not know of any Israel attempt to jam the boats’ communications.
In Gaza City’s small fishing port, activists, reporters and a musical band from a local scout group loaded onto a dozen small boats heading off to greet the vessels. Some onlookers waved banners and Palestinian flags.

Around 30 Gaza residents who had loaded into boats later returned to shore, complaining of sea sickness. By midafternoon, just one boat remained in the water.

Hamas policemen controlled traffic in and out of the port. Youths leaped off high rocks into deep water nearby. Two large tents were set up for people to watch the scene.

“I brought the kids so if they (the activists) arrive, I can tell them welcome — and thank you for not forgetting us,” said Jamila Hassan, a 42-year-old Gaza resident who brought along her 14-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter to the port.

Free Gaza Boats Closing On Gaza Coast

(Reuters) – Middle East envoy Tony Blair’s sister-in-law and more than 40 other activists sailed from Cyprus on Friday in a bid to challenge an Israeli sea blockade of 1.4 million Palestinians in Gaza. Setting out in two wooden boats, the “Free Gaza” activists expect to arrive off Gaza, whose shores are patrolled by the Israeli navy, on Saturday after a 240 nautical mile journey.

Sometime on Saturday, most likely early morning the Free Gaza boats www.FreeGaza.org will reach their destination- either Gaza or be intercepted by the Israeli Navy, The Jerusalem Post relays-

Israel has issued a tough threat against a group of activists who are sailing from Cyprus to the Gaza Strip this weekend to try and break the blockade imposed on the territory.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Aviv Shiron said the planned delivery was a “provocation” that Israel could not allow. He said “all options” were under consideration, though he declined to elaborate.

Coverage has now increased, the BBC and a lot of papers have covered the boats today.

By email:-

Paul Larudee, Written and sent from aboard the SS Liberty, one of two boats heading to Gaza as part of the Free Gaza Movement.

Admiral Marom’s Strange Proclamation

Admiral Marom’s Strange Proclamation The signature of Israeli Navy Commander in Chief Admiral Eliezer Marom appears on a very odd document. (See attached.) Dated August 11th, 2008, it is not written on official stationery, nor is it addressed to anyone. The document declares that the Israeli Navy is operating in a maritime zone off the coast of Gaza. Was there any doubt that they have been doing so continuously since 1967?

It includes the sketch of a map and a series of coordinates (also attached) to define the zone, which includes all of Gaza coastal waters, and a major slice of international waters as well. It advises all foreign vessels to remain clear of this zone because of a “security situation” that is apparently so obvious that it requires no definition or explanation. The only hint about the “security situation” is a reference to the delivery of humanitarian supplies to the civilian population in the Gaza Strip, which, according to the document, should be done only at the land crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip (i.e. by Israeli permission only).

Why is the Israeli Navy issuing a proclamation regarding the delivery of humanitarian aid by land? The proclamation goes on to prescribe a set of protocols for vessels approaching the “maritime zone” and to prohibit vessels from entering Gaza because of the undefined “security situation.” Finally, the document pronounces its benevolent intentions to ensure “safe navigation” and its neighborly undertaking to prevent vessels from approaching an area where their safety may be endangered. Endangered? By whom? By what? Read the rest of this entry »