Gaza aid convoys have been organized by pro-Palestinian peace activists that aim, by land and sea, to break the blockade of Gaza
imposed by Israel
The first land convoy was organized after Israelzzz*zs military assault on Gaza
in winter 2008-2009. The group was headed by prominent British Member of Parliament George Galloway. On February 19, 2009 hundreds of volunteers launched the first convoy comprising 110 vehicles, including a fire engine and 10 ambulances, and humanitarian material worth 1 million British pounds. The humanitarian convoy entered Gaza on March 9, 2009 through Rafah
from Egypt, however not all British aid was allowed in.
The second convoy was comprised of 200 US peace activists that departed from New York’s JFK airport on July 4, 2009, when the United States celebrates its Independence Day. After facing numerous obstacles and spending a few days in Cairo, the activists, led by George Galloway and US Vietnam war veteran Ron Kovic, crossed into Gaza Strip via Rafah crossing on July 17, 2009.
The third convoy made up of volunteers from several countries departed from London on December 6, 2009. It passed through Europe, Turkey, Syria, Jordan and back to Syria again, until it was finally allowed to use Egypt’s port El-Arish. The activists intended to enter Gaza on December 27, 2009, the one-year anniversary of the Israeli military attack on Gaza. However, they were only allowed to enter on January 7, 2010 after scuffles between members of the convoy and Egyptian police took place in El-Arish and violent incidents at the Rafah border. On January 8, British MP Galloway was deported from Egypt and declared persona non grata.
SEA CONVOYS & FLOTILLAS
The first sea convoy, consisting of two vessels organized by the Free Gaza Movement and International Solidarity Movement, reached Gazan shores on August 23, 2008. The Israeli navy did not intercept the boats, but they had great difficulty with communication which was blamed on jamming by Israel.
The second sailing of the Free Gaza Movement’s yacht “Dignity” took place in late October 2008. The ship carried medical supplies and 26 activists, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Corrigan and Palestinian Legislative Council member Mustafa Barghouti.“Dignity” attempted to sail to Gaza twice during the 22-day Gaza war that began in Late December 2008. On December 29, 2008, the “Dignity”, carrying Caoimhe Butterly (Irish human rights activist), Cynthia McKinney (former US congresswoman), Elena Theohatous (member of House of Representatives of Cyprus) and journalists from al-Jazeera and CNN, was intercepted by the Israeli navy off of the coast of Gaza. After being severely damaged, the vessel docked in Lebanon.
Another attempt to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza took place in January 2009 with 21 activists on board the Greek-flagged ferry Arion. The expedition members decided to abandon their journey after Israeli warships warned them to leave the area.
The Free Gaza Movement organized a June 2009 voyage with the vessel “Spirit of Humanity”, setting sail from Cyprus’s port of Larnaca. There were 21 activists aboard, including Cynthia McKinney and Nobel Laureate Mairead Maguire, and the ship carried medical supplies and construction materials. On June 30, Israeli navy commandeered the vessel off of Gaza and detained the crew and subsequently deported all international activists from Israel.
The largest attempt to break the Gaza naval siege was organized by the Free Gaza Movement, the Turkish organization IHH, the European Campaign to End the Siege of Gaza, and the Swedish and Greek Boat to Gaza Initiatives on May 31, 2010. The flotilla of eight cargo ships carried more than 600 activists and 10,000 tons of supplies.
After two ships malfunctioned (with sabatoge suspected), only six vessels set sail from Cyprus. The flotilla convoy was intercepted by Israeli navy in international waters off the Gaza coast and in the following scuffle, nine Turkish activists (one of them a US citizen) were killed and dozens injured. Four Israeli soldiers were wounded.
On June 5, the seventh vessel of the Freedom Flotilla, the “MV Rachel Corrie”, set sail from Malta trying to reach Gaza, but Israeli marines commandeered the ship and brought it to Ashdod
On July 14, “Amalthea”, the aid ship sponsored by a Libyan charity organization set sail for Gaza from Greek port Lavrio but after warnings from the Israeli navy that it would seize the vessel, “Amalthea” docked in the Egyptian port of El-Arish.
The international outcry after the killing of the flotilla activists resulted in Israel “easing” its blockade of the Gaza Strip. Two UN investigations were carried out into the incident, one by the Human Rights Council that was highly critical of the blockade and Israel’s handling of the flotilla
, and another including Israeli and Turkish representatives that has yet to be released. Israel also held an inquiry
that concluded Israel’s military and political officials were without wrong-doing.
One year later, Freedom Flotilla II sought once again to break the Gaza blockade. Many of the ten vessels sought to depart from Greece, but were entangled in bureaucratic obstacles. On July 1, 2011, Greek commandos turned back a vessel of 50 American activists seeking to sail despite the obstacles. The “The Audacity of Hope” was 30 nautical miles from Athens when it was ordered to dock in a Greek coastguard port.
The flotilla contained pro-Palestinian activists from North America and Europe. Israeli authorities claimed that the flotilla was meant to give military aid to Hamas, and said that it would use force again if necessary. The Middle East Quartet condemned the flotilla, and UN Chief Ban Ki Moon urged that aid travel to Gaza through established channels. On July 5, 20 Spanish activists protested the Greek travel ban by occupying the Spanish embassy in Athens. By July 7, most of the activists who were part of the Freedom Flotilla II began returning to their home countries.
On July 16, the French yacht “Dignité Al Karama” left a small Greek island with the stated intention of docking in Alexandria, while actually intending to head for the Gaza Strip. The Israeli navy intercepted the ship 65 kilometers off the coast of Gaza, and the foreign nationals on the ship, most of whom were French, were deported from the country within 72 hours.