Free Gaza Boat “Spirit of Humanity” Sets Off

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(LARNACA, 29 June 2009) – The Free Gaza boat the “Spirit of Humanity” departed Cyprus at 7:30am on Monday, 29 July. Twenty-one human rights and solidarity workers representing eleven different countries were aboard. The passengers include Nobel laureate Mairead Maguire and former U.S. congresswoman Cynthia McKinney. The ship also carries three tons of medical aid, children’s toys, and rehabilitation and reconstruction kits for twenty family homes. Over 2,400 homes were destroyed in Gaza during the Israeli massacre in December/January, 490 of them by F-16 airstrikes, as well as 30 mosques, 29 educational institutions, 29 medical centers, 10 charitable organizations, and 5 cement factories. Each kit carries a small amount of supplies for a single family, representing sectors of civil society currently being blockaded by Israel: Agriculture, Building & Reconstruction, Education, Electricity, Health, and Water & Sanitation. Although over 4 billion dollars in aid was promised to Gaza in the aftermath of the Israeli onslaught, little humanitarian aid and no reconstruction supplies have been allowed in.

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Update: The SPIRIT has left over 9 hours ago. They are on their way to Gaza and will be there tomorrow afternoon. We ask that you follow their progress by going to our website at http://www.freegaza.org and clicking on LIVE in the upper left hand side. You will be able to see where they are from the SPOT beacon on board.

If you also would like to make yourselves heard, you can call or fax the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and demand that Israel not harm the boat, the passengers or the cargo. Their numbers are listed below. The more of you who do that, the safer our mission.

Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Tel +972-2-530-3111
Fax +972-2-530-3367

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US Delivers Israel’s Threat to Free Gaza

freegaza.org (25 June 2009, LARNACA) – This is not the statement we in the Free Gaza Movement intended to release today. We had hoped to announce that our two ships, the Free Gaza and the Spirit of Humanity, departed from Larnaca Port on a 30-hour voyage to besieged Gaza, carrying human rights activists who have travelled to Cyprus from all across the world for this journey, 3 tons of medical supplies, and 15 tons of badly needed concrete and reconstruction supplies.

Nobel peace laureate Mairead Maguire, returning for her second trip to Gaza aboard one of our ships, said “[The people of Gaza] must know that we have not and will not forget them.”

That was our hope, but that is not what happened.

Instead, our ships were not given permission to leave today due to concerns about our welfare and safety. Our friends in Cyprus tell us that the voyage to Gaza is too dangerous, and they are worried we will be harmed at sea.

Cyprus has been a wonderful home for the Free Gaza Movement over these last 10 months. Cypriots know first hand the terrible consequences of occupation. They too know what it is to suffer from violence, injustice, and exile. Since our first voyage to break through the siege of Gaza, the Cypriot authorities have been extremely helpful and understanding of our goals and intentions.

The journey to Gaza is dangerous. The Israeli navy rammed our flagship, the Dignity, when we attempted to deliver medical supplies to Gaza during their vicious assault in December/January. Israel has previously threatened to open fire on our unarmed ships, rather than allow us to deliver humanitarian and reconstruction supplies to the people of Gaza.

The risks we take on these trips are tiny compared to the risks imposed every day upon the people of Gaza.

The purpose of nonviolent direct action and civil resistance is to take risks – to put ourselves “in the way” of injustice. We take these risks well aware of what the possible consequences may be. We do so because the consequences of doing nothing are so much worse. Anytime we allow ourselves to be bullied, every time we pass by an evil and ignore it – we lower our standards and allow our world to be made that much harsher and unjust for us all.

In addition to the concerns expressed by our Cypriot friends today, the American consulate in Nicosia warned us not to go to Gaza, stating that:

“…[T]he Israeli Foreign Ministry informed U.S. officials at the American Embassy in Tel Aviv that Israel still considers Gaza an area of conflict and that any Free Gaza boats attempting to sail to the Gaza Strip will “not be permitted” to reach its destination.”

Former U.S. Congresswoman & presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney responded to this warning by pointing out that, “The White House says that cement and medical supplies should get into Gaza and that’s exactly what we are attempting to take to Gaza.”

“Instead of quoting Israel policy to us,” McKinney continued, “…the U.S. should send a message to Israel reiterating the reported White House position that the blockade of Gaza should be eased, that medical supplies and building materials, including cement, should be allowed in. The Free Gaza boats should be allowed to reach their destination, traveling from Cyprus territorial waters, through international waters, and straight into Gaza territorial waters.”

“The State Department has chosen to advise us to take the Israeli notification seriously. Our question is, ‘Can we take President Obama seriously?’ Will he stand by his own words and allow us to provide relief for Gaza or will he back down?”

Tomorrow we will deliver a waiver, signed by all going to Gaza, that we absolve Cyprus of all responsibility for our safety. We would like to tell our friends here in Cyprus that though we understand and appreciate their concerns, we will not back down to Israel’s threats and intimidation.

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Free Gaza Tells Israel They’re Coming

To: The Israeli Ministry of Defense, Fax: 972-3-697-6717
To: The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Fax: 972-2-5303367
From: The Free Gaza Movement
This letter serves as a formal notification to you, as the Occupying Power and belligerent force in the Gaza Strip, that on Thursday, June 25, 2009 we are navigating the motor vessel Spirit of Humanity, and the motor vessel Free Gaza from the Port of Larnaca to the port of Gaza City. Our vessels will be flying the Greek flags, and, as such, fall under the jurisdiction Greece. We will be sailing from Cypriot waters into international waters, then directly into the territorial waters of the Gaza Strip without entering or nearing Israeli territorial waters. We will be carrying medical supplies in sealed boxes, as well as crayons, coloring books and toys for children, cleared by customs at the Larnaca International Airport and the Port of Larnaca. We will also be carrying 300 bags of cement delivered directly from the supplier to the Port of Larnaca. There will be passengers and crew on board from 14 different countries.

Our boats and cargo will have received security clearance from the Port Authorities in Cyprus before we depart. As it will be confirmed that neither we, the cargo, any of the boats’ contents, nor the boats themselves constitute any threat to the security of Israel or its armed forces, we do not expect any interference with our voyage by Israel’s authorities. On Tuesday, December 30, an Israeli Navy vessel violently, and without warning, attacked our motor vessel Dignity, disabling the vessel and endangering the lives of the 16 civilians on board. This notice serves as clear notification to you of our approach. Any attack on the motor vessels, Spirit of Humanity and/or Free Gaza will be premeditated and any harm inflicted on the people on board will be considered the result of a deliberate attack on unarmed civilians. A copy of this notification has been sent to the embassies of the civilians who will be on board.

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FreeGaza Prepares Eighth Mission

(Doha, 22 June 2009) In three days, the Free Gaza movement sails 240 miles from Cyprus to Gaza, its eighth mission to break Israel’s draconian siege on 1.5 million Palestinians there. In the holds of the FREE GAZA and the SPIRIT OF HUMANITY will be tons of cement, and suitcases full of toys, crayons and coloring books for the children, all items banned by Israel’s government.

 Two of the organizers, Huwaida Arraf and Greta Berlin, as well as the Honorable Cynthia McKinney, former U.S. Congresswoman from Georgia, held a press conference yesterday in Doha, Qatar. All three called on the world to recognize Palestinian human and civil rights…rights that have been denied for 61 years.

“People in Gaza are being made to live in subhuman conditions. Children are dying, and governments are silent. It is important to continue sending boats to Gaza to challenge the criminal blockade enforced by the Israeli military,” said Ms. Arraf.

The group emphasized that what they are taking is only a token of what the people of Gaza need. They are hoping to buy a cargo boat , to bring in larger amounts of building supplies via the sea route they aim to open. They ask for the financial support of people around the world to purchase this ship.

Speaking to Al Jazeera and eight other news organizations, Ms Arraf emphasized, “International donors pledged over $4bn to rebuild Gaza, yet none of them are doing a thing about the fact that Israel allows no building supplies into the territory. So 36 of us from 16 countries are leaving on Thursday to tell the world to do something.”

When asked what guarantees the group has received from the Israeli government, both Berlin and Arraf frowned. “We do not seek permission from or coordinate with the Israeli authorities. Israel has grossly abused its authority as an occupying power, daily violating the human rights of Palestinians, and imposing collective punishment on them. It is past time for the international community to stop abetting Israel’s illegal closure policy.” stated Ms. Arraf.

 The group intends to go at least three times over the summer; June 25th, July 14th, and August 16th, near the anniversary of the first successful voyage.

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Israel Commits More Piracy

Via FreeGaza who helped with this aid shipment-

The Israeli navy has captured and diverted a ship from Lebanon carrying more than 60 tonnes of aid to the Gaza Strip.

Al Jazeera’s correspondent aboard the Al-Ikhwa (The Brotherhood) ship said the navy first opened fire, then five Israeli soldiers boarded the ship, beating and threatening the passengers.

“They are pointing guns against us – they are kicking us and beating us. They are threatening our lives,” Al Jazeera’s Salam Khoder said.

Communications with the ship broke off shortly thereafter.

According to the owner of the vessel, the Israelis destroyed its communication equipment and confiscated the phones of those on board.

The Israeli military told Al Jazeera it had captured the Lebanese vessel and taken it to Ashdod, where authorities were examining its cargo. The passengers and crew, meanwhile, were being questioned by police.

In a statement, the Israeli military said it had warned the ship on Wednesday night against entering Gaza’s coastal waters.

“During today’s morning hours, the cargo ship changed its bearing, and began heading towards the Gaza Strip …. disregarding all warnings made,” it said.

Maan Bashour, an aid co-ordinator for the group End the Blockade of Gaza, said the ship was carrying medical equipment, food supplies and books, toys and milk for small children.

“This ship was searched in Cyprus and in Lebanon,” Bashour told Al Jazeera in Beirut, Lebanon. “And we were very eager to let it be searched by Lebanese and Cypriot authorities in order that there be no reason for the Israelis to prevent it from going to Gaza.”

Foud Siniora, Lebanon’s president, condemned the attack on Al-Ikhwa, emphasising that it was on a humanitarian mission to Gaza.

“It is no surprise for Israel to perpetrate such an action as it has been accustomed to ignoring all international resolutions and values,” he said during a speech in Beirut.

“I made a number of necessary phone calls with international parties in order to exert pressures on Israel which is violating laws. I hold Israel responsible for the safety of the ship and passengers. “

Also note Israel is effectively banning Al Jazeera-

Danny Schechter: Everyone in the media world praised AlJazeera’s coverage of Gaza as fair and multi-sided with frequent appearances by Israeli officials. This is Israel’s response, a clear sign that they want to dominate the media with their perspective or else. This is consistent with a refusal to allow journalists from other media into Gaza. It shows contempt for a free media even as Israel mobilizes campaigns against media “bias.”

IMEMC: The Israeli Foreign Ministry decided to place restrictions on the Qatari based Al Jazeera Channel office staff in areas controlled by Israel, Israeli media reported on Tuesday.

The decision by Israeli is part of a government response to closing the Israeli trade office by the Qatari government in Doha last month.

Qatar closed the office to protest the Israeli offensive on Gaza which started on December 27th, and lasted for 22 days. 1,340 Palestinian were killed by the Israeli air, sea, and ground bombardment.

According to the sources, the restriction will be implemented in three steps and will be carried out in Israeli areas and Palestinian Authority controlled areas. First, Israel will not renew the visas of Al Jazeera staff that do not hold Israeli documents.

Second, the reporters of Al Jazeera will not be allowed to speak to Israeli MP’s, and will only be given access to three government spokespeople that will include the Israeli PM’s office, the Israeli Army and the Foreign Ministry.

Third, Al Jazeera reporters will have reduced accessibility to government and military bodies, and will not be allowed into briefings or press conferences.

Al Jazeera is the largest Arab satellite News Channel, and the only Arab channel that has an English TV and web service.  The Jerusalem office of Al Jazeera told IMEMC that their office has not received an official notice by the Israeli government regarding the new restrictions.

Not something the BBC will have to worry about, is it?

By Sea to Gaza

The arms shipment has been rumbled, the US are now looking at other options to supply Israel. But a different -good- shipment is on, the FreeGaza boat had to turn back on the 12th due to engine trouble. That is fixed, they are now en route to Gaza, follow them on the map here, the Israeli military have threatened them as usual, the last boat was rammed. By drawing attention to this voyage before they are attacked it increases their chances of survival and success.

At 10:30 this morning, under bright blue Mediterranean skies, the SPIRIT OF HUMANITY sailed from the port of Larnaca. Undeterred by Israeli threats of  interception at sea, 21 passengers and crew waved to friends and press on shore, committed to our mission of delivering doctors, journalists, human rights observers and a shipment of medical supplies to assist the civilian population of Gaza during this emergency.

“Israel has an obligation to protect the civilian population that it occupies” stated Free Gaza delegation leader Huwaida Arraf.  “Since Israel continues to violate this obligation, we will continue to do whatever we can to deliver badly needed medical supplies, food, and to transport medical personnel, journalists and human rights workers to help and to witness the devastation Israel has wrought.” The physicians on board include a reconstructive plastic surgeron and an orthopedic surgeron and another physician.  All three doctors will bring crucial assistance to the exhausted and overwhelmed hospital staff in Gaza where emergency resouces don’t begin to meet the need.

Take Action! CALL the Israeli Government and let them know that the SPIRIT OF HUMANITY is coming to Gaza. DEMAND that Israel immediately STOP slaughtering civilians in Gaza and STOP using violence to prevent human rights and humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people.

CALL

Mark Regev in the Prime Minister’s office:
+972 2670 5354 or +972 5 0620 3264
mark.regev@it.pmo.gov.il

Shlomo Dror in the Ministry of Defence:
+972 3697 5339 or +972 50629 8148
mediasar@mod.gov.il

Major Liebovitz from the Israeli Navy:
+ 972 5 781 86248

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Free Gaza’s New Ship Leaves Today

The Free Gaza Movement ship, “Spirit of Humanity”, will leave Larnaca Port at 12:00 noon, Monday, 12 January, on an emergency mission to besieged Gaza. The media is invited to the Larnaca Port at 10:00am for final preparations and a press conference before departure. The ship will carry desperately needed doctors, journalists, human rights workers, and members of several European parliaments as well as medical supplies. This voyage marks Free Gaza’s second attempt to break through the blockade since Israel began attacking the Gaza Strip on 27 December. Between August and December 2008, the Free Gaza Movement successfully challenged the Israeli blockade five times, landing the first international ships in the port of Gaza since 1967. The Israeli military violently attacked an earlier attempt by the Free Gaza Movement to send an emergency boat filled with doctors and medical supplies to Gaza. In the early hours of Tuesday, 30 December, the Israeli navy deliberately, repeatedly, and without warning rammed the unarmed ship, the “Dignity”, causing significant structural damage and endangering the lives of its passengers and crew. The ship found safe harbor in Lebanon, and is currently awaiting repairs.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Take Action! CALL the Israeli Government and let them know that the SPIRIT OF HUMANITY is coming to Gaza. DEMAND that Israel immediately STOP slaughtering civilians in Gaza and STOP using violence to prevent human rights and humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people.

CALL

Mark Regev in the Prime Minister’s office:
+972 2670 5354 or +972 5 0620 3264
mark.regev@it.pmo.gov.il

Shlomo Dror in the Ministry of Defence:
+972 3697 5339 or +972 50629 8148
mediasar@mod.gov.il

Major Liebovitz from the Israeli Navy:
+ 972 5 781 86248

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