Unlike her brother-in-law, Quartet envoy to the Middle East Tony Blair, who frequently travels from Israel to the Palestinian territories and back, Lauren Booth has found herself stuck in the Gaza Strip.
The British left-wing activist arrived in the Hamas-controlled coastal enclave as part of the dozens of 'Free Gaza' activists who set out on two boats from Cyprus last month with the intent of "breaking" the Israeli naval blockade imposed on the Strip. Booth is one of the 10 activists who chose to remain in Gaza while her companions set sail back to Cyprus.
Since then she has been stuck in Gaza, unable to exit through Israel or Egypt.
In a telephone interview with Ynet on Wednesday, Booth slammed Israel's policies and called Gaza "the largest concentration camp in the world today. I was startled the Israelis agreed to this.”
Booth displays her Gaza-issued passport (Photo: AFP)
Despite her current predicament, Booth said she has no regrets. "My children are the ones who are suffering, because I'm being prevented from leaving and they can't see me. I don't regret it, because I wanted to come here and help these children who are suffering on a daily basis," she said.
Booth asserted that the current siege is not the result of the policies of the Hamas government. "There's been a siege for 20 years already. Palestinians' freedom of movement has been restricted since the 80s. This is an inexcusable outrage on an international level."
She spoke of the situation in Gaza and said, “Yesterday, I visited mothers of children under the age of five. Nutrition here has deteriorated threefold over the last two years because it is impossible to bring food through the crossings. Unemployment has risen, so people can't even afford to buy what food there is left."
'It's as bad as Darfur'
When asked about Israel's right to respond to incessant attacks emanating from Gaza, Booth evoked Holocaust-related rhetoric. "There is no right to punish people this way. There is no justification for this kind of collective punishment. You were in the concentration camps, and I can’t believe that you are allowing the creation of such a camp yourselves.”
“The Palestinians’ suffering is physical, mental and emotional," she went on, "there is not a family here in which someone is not in desperate need of work, shelter or food. This is a humanitarian crisis on the scale of Darfur.
Booth said that while the media does focus on Gaza, its journalistic criterion remains deeply flawed.
“One Western person is stuck in Gaza and the media turns it into a huge story. A million and a half people are stuck in Gaza, and it's a non-story. I am telling you, what is going on here is a tragedy. Whatever is being done, it's not enough.”
One person Booth doesn't think is doing enough, is her brother in law Blair. “I don’t think he has a real idea of what's going on here. I think that the Israeli government is working very hard to keep him in the dark.”
Winter fuel shortageDespite the morale boost from the sea-faring activists, Gaza residents are concerned of the impact the Israeli siege may have as winter nears, and are preparing for long months with limited amounts of fuel. Director of the Palestinian Energy Authority in Gaza warned of an exacerbation of the fuel siege during the cold season. The director said the amount of fuel currently being brought in to the Strip through Israel serves a mere 35% of the Palestinians' needs.
Meanwhile on Wednesday, Egyptian security forces prevented a convoy of local operatives from reaching the Rafah crossing and from there to Gaza.
Hamas slammed Egypt’s decision, and said that the security forces’ actions hurt the Egyptian nation’s feelings and those of the Palestinians.
Ali Waked contributed to the report