Some 40 peace activists from all over the world plan to set sail on Friday from Cyprus to the beaches of Gaza, in an attempt to break the blockade on the Strip. Jeff Halper, an Israeli taking part in the mission, told Ynet, "I believe it is my responsibility as an Israeli who lives in a society that allows occupation to say – no more. We hope the excursion will open a new channel to the Strip."
The activists taking part in the boating trip are members of the US-based Free Gaza Movement, and have arrived from a number of different countries, including Tunisia, Germany, and the US. Also participating is Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein, who resides in Missouri and will celebrate her 84th birthday either at sea or in Gaza.
The activists plan to sail in two boats and to arrive in Gaza without entering Israel's territorial waters. They have not coordinated the activity with the IDF, but media coverage of the event has led them to understand that it will not be smooth sailing.
"We predict the Navy will attempt to detain us," Halper said. "International law gives Israel every right to inspect us for weapons, but beyond that they have no right to delay us in any way. Any siege, especially one that is aimed against civilians, is illegal."
The activists have not yet planned every detail of the event. "It is currently unclear how long the boating trip will last, because we haven't decided whether to use sails or motors. In any case fuel must be conserved for the trip back, in case the Navy detains us for a while," Halper explained. "I have decided to participate in the event in order to say in a clear voice to Barak and Olmert: 'You will not do this in my name'."
Halper said this was not a one-time show. "If we succeed in breaking the siege once, more ships and boats will come, and a channel will open between Gaza and the outside world that can also transfer assistance and supplies," he said. "The Israeli government is attempting to present us as eccentric, but I think it will be trapped because it can't stop us."
Hawida Araf, a Palestinian resident of Jerusalem who was raised in the US, will also participate. "As a Palestinian, I am appalled at the ongoing situation in Gaza and shaken at the international community's disregard for human rights in this case," she said. "I think people must take action and so I have decided to participate in this symbolic boating trip."
Gush Shalom spokesman Adam Keller, who took part in a failed attempt to organize a similar event on the shores of Israel last June said, "We had a feeling we had missed out. I hope this time we are able to get the message across that there is a siege on Gaza. Any logical person can understand that the Gaza Strip is under Israeli control."