Yesterday, the 29th of April 2014, a boat which planned to break the siege of Gaza was attacked in Gaza City port. Early in the morning Gaza’s Ark received a phone call warning of an immediate attack on their vessel docked in Gaza City. Five minutes later an explosion rocked the boat, according to a press release by the group. The boat sustained extensive damage and is currently two thirds submerged in water and resting on the port’s shallow seabed.
Gaza’s Ark is a joint initiative between Palestinians in Gaza and international groups and is part of the Freedom Flotilla Coalition -a world wide grassroots solidarity network formed after the attempt to break the siege of Gaza from abroad through a freedom flotilla to the Strip in 2010. This time, with Gaza’s Ark, the tactic is a new one: to try to break the siege from within and to create a trade route out of Gaza port. The old fishing boat that was purchased for this purpose has been going though a transformation into a cargo vessel in Gaza City until it was sunk earlier today. It was due to finally leave the port in the next few weeks. This is not the first time that boats have been target prior to setting sail, boats preparing to partake in flotilla actions have been mysteriously damaged in the past.
In December 2013, Corporate Watch interviewed Charlie Andreasson, an international activist working on Gaza’s Ark, about the progress of the restoration and the hopes for the future.
Symbolic model boats setting sail to freedom out of Gaza City port during a Gaza’s Ark activity day. Photo: Corporate Watch, November 2013
Corporate Watch: What is your role in Gaza’s Ark?
Charlie Andreasson: I am part of Ship to Gaza, which is also part of the Freedom Flotilla Coalition, which has been part of the attempts to break the siege from the outside for years. I am the only international working on the ship and I am the only volunteer. The project aims to have as much Palestinian involvement as possible. There are only Palestinians working on the ship building and they all get paid decent wages.
CW: What was the idea behind Gaza’s Ark?
CA: As the flotillas were not managing to reach Gaza anymore people from, I think, the Canadian Boat for Gaza came up with this idea to try to break the siege from within Gaza -to get produce out of Gaza to be able to sell it. Israel can’t claim security issues when the boat is sailing out, right? As soon as we leave we are going to declare Gaza port open for shipping. It creates as kind of dilemma for Israel. They have no reason to stop a civilian ship leaving Gaza. This is a dilemma for them because they would have a hard time explaining that to the world. What ever they choose to do they will choose wrong.
CW: Do you know where the ship will be going to when it leaves Gaza and have you had any reactions by Governments to the project?
CA: At the moment I don’t know for sure. The plan was to aim for Cyprus but so far they have not cooperated. There have not been any comments by Israel on the project as far as far as I know.
CW: What kind of things are you hoping to export?
CA: The produce that is going with the ship is already paid for by donations by people who will want to sell it when it arrives. The stock has been bought from cooperatives in Gaza and include traditional Palestinian products like olive oil, embroidery, carpets, wooden boxes etc.
CW: Have you encountered any problems so far or are you on schedule with the plan to leave Gaza?
CA: The launch has been delayed a few times we are now planning on setting off in the spring. But it is becoming harder and harder to complete the work and find the materials needed to continue because of the tightening of the siege and the recent collapse of the tunnels from Egypt.
CW: What kind of support do you need from people outside of Gaza?
CA: What we need more than anything from the world and from the solidarity movement is publicity about the project and for people to be ready to support the ship when it sails. International reaction is really important and can have an impact on how the Israelis act.
Children going out to release symbolic model freedom boats from the Gaza port on a Gaza’s Ark activity day. Photo: Corporate Watch, November 2013
Solidarity Not Aid
Gaza’s Ark aims to take direct action against the siege by providing hope for a future of ‘trade not aid’ in Palestine. Coming up with ways of supporting an independent Palestinian economy not reliant on Israeli controlled borders and intermediaries is the most urgent and biggest challenge for the solidarity movement. There has been no exports from Gaza via the sea since the signing of the Oslo accords, and there has been a near total ban on exports from the Strip since the tightening of the siege in 2007. Only a tiny amount of agricultural produce gets exported each year, all of which goes through Israeli companies. There is also ban on Gaza produce being sold in Israel and the West Bank -traditionally Gaza’s biggest markets. This amounts to a de facto boycott of Gaza’s export industry.
During Corporate Watch’s visit to the Gaza Strip at the end of 2013 almost everyone interviewed made made their hopes very clear: they wantboycott divestment and sanctions of Israel, but they also want opportunities to trade and make a living. Gaza’s Ark is the first project to challenge the siege and demand the right of Palestinian trade simultaneously. And this is only the beginning. As Ehab Lotayef from Gaza’s Ark said about this morning’s attack: “You can sink a boat but you can’t sink a movement”.