Ten thousand tons of cargo, 800 passengers, 50 nationalities, nine vessels – one aim – to break the siege on Gaza.
That’s the simple math behind the Freedom Flotilla as its lead vessel was unveiled on Saturday in Istanbul.
At a rally held to bid the ship farewell, organisers challenged Israel’s insistence that its navy would not allow this convoy, of much needed humanitarian aid, to reach the Gaza Strip.
As one organiser put it to me: “These ships will only return empty of their cargo, and with the footprints from Gaza’s sand”.
And from what I’ve seen from the organisers and supporters, I am inclined to believe her.
There are more than 20 charities partaking in one way or another in this flotilla -activists, humanitarians, politicians from the USA to Indonesia. If Israel were to prevent these people from entering or if it were to harm or detain them, Israeli authorities could very well find themselves embroiled in diplomatic disputes with up to 50 countries.
Furthermore, the sheer resolve and work put in by the organisers of this fleet – over a period spanning back to 2008 – really does make it difficult to believe that they would just turn back to where they came from without reaching their desired destination. Aside from the 10,000 tons of aid, organisers say they’re taking up to two months worth of food and supplies for those on board – in case that’s how long it takes for Israel to allow them access.
That’s 800 people, willing to spend two months at sea, away from their friends, families, and livelihood, so they can deliver aid to people they don’t even know.
From Israel’s perspective though, it is understandable why it shouldn’t allow this humanitarian convoy reach Gaza. Doing so could dramatically change the status quo. For starters, it severely questions Israel’s continued and illegal occupation of the Gaza Strip, bringing to light that whilst Israeli troops may have left Gaza, they still control the territory’s, air, land and sea entry points – all but suffocating the coastal territory.
Moreover, if this fleet of humanitarians does reach its destination, it could very well set a precedent for others to challenge Israel’s illegal occupation, and the next thing you know Israel’s navy could be confronted by an armada of charities and humanitarian organisations.
Furthermore, were the Freedom Flotilla to dock in Gaza, Arab governments would be severely embarrassed. After all, if a few hundred people can break the siege and help rebuild Gaza, why can’t some of the wealthiest nations and largest armies?
Ultimately Israel is faced with two questions: does it continue its policy of collective punishment and prevent the flotilla from entering Gaza until Gazans succumb to Israeli demands? Or does it allow the aid to enter and attempt to demonstrate to the world that Israel does in fact respect human rights?
Unfortunately neither of these options bode well for the Israelis, option one for the obvious public outcry that will spill out as a result of 800 people stranded in the water. And although option two would be smarter from a public relations perspective, it would be an indirect admission by Israel that its policy of collective punishment and continued siege is flawed, not to mention illegal.
It seems Israel only has a few days left before it is to make up its mind on what could be one of its toughest tests yet. And it is posing these questions that make the Freedom Flotilla so significant.