New flotilla to Gaza set to sail

Boats carrying pro-Palestine activists arrive in Mediterranean ports ahead of departure to blockaded coastal enclave.

Marianne flotilla boat 2
The Marianne of Gothenburg is preparing to set sail for Gaza [Joran Fagerlund]

At least three boats carrying pro-Palestine activists are preparing to set sail to Gaza in the latest attempt to break Israel’s blockade against the territory.

Members of the Freedom Flotilla Coalition in Palermo, Sicily, have told Al Jazeera that final preparations are under way, with the boats aiming to reach Gaza before the end of June.

Activist Kalle Ohlsson said the flotilla’s main objective was not to bring aid, but to open Gaza’s port to allow freedom of movement and trade.

“Our aim is to end the siege of Gaza. We want the Palestinians to know that we haven’t forgotten about them. There are many crises in the world, but the situation in Gaza is also really bad, and we do remember them,” Ohlsson told Al Jazeera.

The Swedish flagged Marianne, currently moving between Sicilian ports, has limited space for cargo, but will be carrying small amounts of aid including medical equipment and solar panels.

Organisers say details of the other boats, as well as the final departure point of the flotilla, are being kept secret to avoid sabotage.

Ohlsson says there are also concerns about how the Israeli military will react once the boats reach international waters.

“We’re very concerned about safety. We have a strict non-violence policy. We’re hoping Israel won’t use violence against us.”

Activists say they have a strict non-violence policy [Thomas D Johansson]
Activists say they have a strict non-violence policy [Thomas D Johansson]

Ten people were killed when Israeli soldiers opened fire onboard the Mavi Marmara in May 2010.

The ship, which was part of the first Freedom Flotilla to Gaza, was raided by Israeli forces in international waters after it refused to change its destination.

Al Jazeera contacted the Israeli military for reaction to the new flotilla, but received no response. The Israeli government says its maritime blockade is necessary to prevent weapons reaching Gaza.

Swedish journalist and writer Kajsa Ekis Ekman, who will be onboard the Marianne as it sets sail, thinks the Israeli government will eventually back down if the flotillas continue.

“I’m hoping that the Israelis actually understand that it would create a lot of more goodwill for them if they actually let the boats through, because there’s no reason for them not to do that. It’s counterproductive in the end.

“I think they’ve totally lost common-sense here, because really it’s not a threat to bring in medical equipment, to bring in medicine, to bring in solar panels.”

The Marianne of Gothenburg

The Marianne spent its working life as a fishing trawler in the North Sea, until it was purchased with support from civil groups in both Sweden and Norway.

The activists plan to hand it over to Gaza’s fishermen if they succeed in getting through.

The Marianne hopes to reach Gaza before the end of June [Ship to Gaza]
The Marianne hopes to reach Gaza before the end of June [Ship to Gaza]

Ellen Hansson has been working on deck to help maintain the boat since it left Sweden for the Mediterranean.

“The atmosphere is really positive, and optimistic, and every time we’ve arrived at a new port there are so many activists that are coming to show their support.

“It’s really a wonderful feeling that gives you hope and strength, that makes you really believe that together we can all do something amazing.”

Source: Al Jazeera