Two Bristol people are currently on-board a flotilla of eight boats carrying thousands of tons of aid to Gaza. The boats are currently anchored off Cyprus and were expected to proceed toward the Gaza coast later today. However Israel has vowed its navy will stop the flotilla using “force”. The Israeli military is planning to intercept the flotilla and tow the ships to the Israeli port of Ashdod where all those on-board will be deported.
The Bristol pair are Sakir Yildirim from Fishponds and Cliff Hanley from Southville. They have been organising a local fund-raising project – The “Bristol Cement For Gaza” project. This was formed by members of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign http://www.bristolpsc.info/ and Bristol Gaza Link http://www.BristolGazaLink.org. Over six thousand pounds has been raised has been raised by a variety of means. The group has run street-stalls in shopping centres throughout the city over the last few weeks. Local shops have been collecting money in donations tins from customers. Local groups have run film nights and fund-raising events. Appeals have been made at the Turkish mosque on Gloucester Road, and at the large Turkish Mosques in London. Donations have also been made by numerous private individuals across the city. People have also had the chance to write messages of support on a giant “Solidarity” banner which will travel with the consignment of building materials to Gaza.
Sakir and Cliff flew to Turkey earlier last week and boarded the passenger ship “Mavi Marmara” which sailed on Friday. This ship together with 3 cargo ships loaded with humanitarian aid are currently anchored off Cyprus. The ships have been organised by the Turkish aid organisation IHH http://www.ihh.org.tr and are carrying 10,000 tonnes of cargo and about 700 passengers. The cargo includes prefabricated homes, building materials, cement, steel, spare parts, medical supplies, a CT scanner, a complete dental surgery and paper for schools. Crayons and chocolate are also on board for Gazan children. The cargo has been paid for by donations. They are meeting up with four boats from other countries including Greece, Kuwait and Algeria and Ireland. Also due to travel on the flotilla are 15 MPs from the EU. They were expected to proceed toward the Gaza coast on Sunday.
This is the biggest attempt to take aid to Gaza so far but looks likely to run into a major confrontation with Israel. Israel has imposed an economic blockade on Gaza since the Hamas Government was elected. Nearly all exports and imports are banned and only a limited supply of food and medical aid is allowed in. Free Gaza has organised six previous aid boats to the Palestinian territory, the last three of which were blocked from reaching their destination by the Israeli military. The Israeli navy enforces a 20-nautical mile (23-mile) closure of the sea off Gaza, which has had a devastating impact on its fishing industry.
The Turkish Prime Minister, Racep Tayyip Erdogan, has called on Israel to allow the boats through. A call echoed by other Governments around the world including Norway, Sweden, Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Italy, Russia and from the EU foreign affairs chief Cathy Ashton. At the same time, Israel has remained bellicose and truculent in its responses. Yigal Palmor, an Israeli foreign ministry spokesman has said “The boats will not be allowed to enter Gaza territorial waters. This is a territory in a self-declared state of war with Israel. There can be no uncontrolled transportation in or out of Gaza.” Earlier on Friday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called the Freedom Flotilla “violent propaganda against Israel’s sovereignty”, and added that Israel would not allow such a threat to continue.
The Israel Navy has prepared for the arrival of the Gaza aid flotilla by sending ships to counter the convoy in the Israeli-controlled waters. Israel announced that it will prevent the ships from reaching their destination, and warned that it will not hesitate to make use of “limited force” if it becomes necessary. Israel plans to overtake the ships as soon as they enter a 20-mile Israeli-controlled zone off Gaza. They will then be towed to the Israeli port of Ashdod. They have taken journalists on a tour of a detention centre being prepared at the port for holding the aid activists. They plan that Israelis on board would be arrested, Palestinians would be questioned by the Israeli secret service, and foreign nationals would be deported.
Israeli press is reporting that: The ships should expect the special anti-riot unit of the Israeli Prison Authority who have been given a special permission to operate outside the borders of Israel. The Navy will start an attempt to catch the different boats separately. There will use electronic masking devices to prevent broadcasts of the confrontation
Both Sakir and Cliff have visited Gaza before. Sakir Yildirim, originally from the Blacksea area of Turkey, drove an ambulance to Gaza in February 2009. He was so shocked by the devastation there he pledged to return. Last Christmas he did – driving a massive 44 ton truck organised by Bristol-Gaza-Link as part of the Viva Palestine convoy. Cliff Hanley, Secretary of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in Bristol. Cliff has visited Gaza once before, in January of this year, also as part of the Viva Palestina Convoy. Cliff is a well known artist in Bristol, see http://www.cliffhanley.co.uk/. While in Gaza he met up with local artists and he intends to develop this link.
Sakir Yildirim, who has visited Gaza twice before, says “In the past Israel has been ruthless and unlawful with boats heading for Gaza; they’ve threatened to fire on them, rammed or boarded them, and imprisoned everyone on board. So obviously everyone is a bit tense right now. But what’s different this time is it’s a really big project. Plus it’s backed by the Turkish Government right up the Prime Minister and other Governments around the world. And we have right on our side of course! So I’m sure we’ll get there safely.
He goes on to say “I’ve been lucky enough to have been to Gaza twice before. The injustice is appalling, but their steadfastness is a lesson for us all. The people there are amazing. And the welcome they give visitors is fantastic.
Cliff Hanley Secretary of the Bristol Palestine Solidarity Campaign says “I’d sooner be over here doing something practical to help Palestine. Instead of sitting at home and writing futile letters to my MP!”
He goes no to say “Once again the people have Bristol have generously supported our appeal. So we’re determined to get to Gaza and to see the money being used to rebuild homes, schools, and hospitals.”
Freedom Flotilla solidarity activists have begun protests outside downing street (30 May 2010) The foreign office and parliament, they are calling out for support to maintain protest all afternoon.
A group of activists began a protest outside downing street at 12.30 today, unfurling banners and using a megaphone to highlight the imminent military threat that the ‘freedom flotilla’ boat convoy faces from israel.
The activists are calling for the the government and foreign office to speak out against any obstruction, attempt to board, or imprisonment of british citizens on the boats. There are currently thought to be six boats approaching gaza, with more than six hundred international activists and monitors, including MPs from several countries. Israel has threatened to use military force to stop the flotilla which is attempting to deliver 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid to gaza. among the items on board are building materials such as glass, tiles, cement and wood, as well as medicines, clothing, paper, blankets, and also books, musical instruments, baby food and choclate, all of which are banned by the present israeli siege on gaza. Shortly after the protest began outside downing street, diplomatic police arrived, followed by police from charing cross. rather than using socpa, they first suggested that member of the public had complained that they felt intimidated by the protest, but then they quoted anti-terrorism traffic regulation orders (ATTRO) to suggest moving the protest to the ‘free speech’ zone on the other side of the road well away from downing street. while open to negotiation, the activists were resistant to this request. They are planning to continue protests outside parliament square, the foreign office (also in whitehall), and at downing street for the rest of the day.