FETHIYE, Turkey – Two boats set sail from the Turkish port of Fethiye on 2 November, bound for the Gaza Strip in another activist attempt to break the Israeli siege on the Palestinian territory.
The two boats, one Irish and one Canadian, were supposed to carry some 50 activists and journalists from around the world in an attempt to draw attention to the isolation Gaza has suffered since 2007. The number was reduced to about 25 at the port in Fethiye due to complications with Turkish bureaucracy.
The Canadian boat is carrying US$30,000 in medical aid.
Amid cheers from activists at the port, the Canadian boat, Tahrir, departed at 2 pm local time. The activists who were left behind due to bureaucratic reasons, cheered and greeted fellow activists on board, asked them to bring back postcards from Gaza and to take care of themselves.
“Stay human,” shouted David Heap, a member of the boat’s steering committee, echoing the words of Vittorio Arrigoni, an Italian Gaza solidarity activist who was murdered in April.
The flotilla, called “Freedom Waves” by the organizers, is the latest in a string of activist efforts to break the Israeli siege on Gaza. The last flotilla effort, in July, was prevented leaving the port in Greece by authorities in that country. Activists dubbed it “Israeli outsourcing” of the Gaza blockade.
The two boats set sail separately but plan to meet in international waters.
"I am ecstatic that we are out of port. Hopefully both ships will get to Gaza and we will show the world that we can break the siege," said Kit Kittredge, an American activist on board.
Unlike previous flotillas, the organizers this time had decided to keep the mission secret until they reached international waters. And although they left from a Turkish port, they had no plans of coordinating with any state as they wanted to keep their action entirely civilian-based.
“We don't want to find out whether the Turkish government would feel some pressure to stop us. Our preference is not to engage any state actor. We're civil society and we prefer to act with as little interference as possible with state actors, even if that state, like Turkey, has taken a constructive approach in isolating Israel,” said Heap, who sits on the steering committee of the Canadian boat, which is called Tahrir.
In September 2011, Turkey expelled Israel's ambassador after the government in Tel Aviv refused to apologize for killing nine activists aboard the Turkish Mavi Marmara boat attacked by Israeli troops as it tried to break the siege on Gaza in June 2010. The attack caused a diplomatic rift between the two countries, which had previously had strong military and economic ties.
Organizers have made sure to keep the current trip secretive after reports emerged that the engine of one of the boats in a 10-ship flotilla that was supposed to set sail in July was sabotaged. The perpetrators of the sabotage went unknown, but most suspected Israel’s involvement.
Meanwhile, the Canadian delegation to the flotilla insisted on setting sail again in November. “We always said we will sail again, especially since we already own the boat; we have the main asset. In September there was a lot of attention on Palestine for political and diplomatic reasons. We felt it was important to keep pressure up,” Heap said.
The boat was acquired right after the Mavi Marmara incident, when Canadian activists insisted on acquiring a boat and attempting to break the siege again.
“People dug into their pockets, some stopped me on the street and gave me five dollars, others signed checks of US$5000. The Canadian boat is owned by all these people,” Heap said.
Besides the Canadian delegation, activists from Australia, the US and Denmark are part of the mission, as well as journalists from Al Jazeera, the independent New York-based program Democracy Now!, and the Iranian state-run Press TV.
Hassan Ghani of Press TV joined the Tahrir boat for his third trip on board a Gaza-bound solidarity flotilla. He was on board the Mavi Marimara when it was attacked in 2010.
“If I am not there I will feel a bit empty inside,” Ghani said. “There is always a possibility that there could be that one major flotilla that breaks through. I see it as one of those waves, and it's important to cover it because it's going to happen and people should know about it.”