Israel is set to block eight ships carrying 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid, cement, school supplies, and medical equipment to Gaza.
Eight hundred activists and politicians are also onboard the ships which are on their way to the troubled region.
Organizers behind the flotilla are hoping to draw global attention to the fact that Israel has no right to starve 1.5 million Palestinians. The Free Gaza movement has organized several other aid ships to Gaza in the past, the last three of which were stopped by Israel.
The size and magnitude of the flotilla sends a strong and symbolic message, whether or not the ships are actually permitted to enter Gaza.
“It’s drawing attention to the world about a gaping humanitarian wound that goes unaddressed,” said Brian Becker, the director of the ANSWER Coalition in Washington DC.
Gaza has been under an Israeli- and Egyptian-imposed blockade since Hamas came to power three years ago. Israel insists Hamas is a terror organization, supported by Iran which is helping to smuggle in weapons through its borders. Some say, however, that the policy is backfiring.
“The real aim is to overthrow the Hamas regime. But we are living already a few years later. We know that not only has the blockade not led to the overthrow of the Hamas regime, but on the contrary – Hamas is at least as strong as it was before, if not stronger,” says Uri Avnery, founder of the Gush Shalom Peace Movement.
This is the not the first time protestors have tried to reach Gaza by sea. Israel in the past has intercepted vessels at gunpoint and arrested international campaigners. The welcome this time around will be no different.
Israel says it is a propaganda stunt – describing it as a “politically motivated media-event” – and has urged the convoy to turn back. It says its navy is on standby to intercept it. The government insists humanitarian aid is already flooding into Gaza through the approved channels and 100,000 tons of humanitarian supplies have been sent into Gaza already this year.
Gideon Spiro is an Israeli journalist who managed to get into Gaza on one of the earlier missions. His job was to speak to soldiers in Hebrew and convince them that blocking the convoy violated international law – and was an illegal order they were obliged not to obey. On his return to Israel he was interrogated by Israeli police for eight hours.
“Our ship brought medicines, which was very welcomed by al-Shifa hospital in Gaza because they were short of many medical stuff. But it was also a political declaration move by saying that we are against collective punishment,” Gideon Spiro says. “What Israel is doing is that there will be enough not to die, but too little to live properly.”
According to the United Nations, the number of Gazans living in what is described as abject poverty – unable to provide for their families – tripled in last year to 300,000. This amounts to one in every five Gazan.
While it is easy to blame Israel for the situation in Gaza, Brian Becker places equal blame on the United States, citing the close ties between the US and Israeli governments.
“If the American government, if the Obama administration wanted this to end, it would end. Israel couldn’t really stand up against the United States. But, Israel has a partner with the United States government,” said Becker.
There will likely be a great showing of solidarity for those aboard the flotilla. However, it remains clear that the US will not act. Like past administrations, including the Bush Administration, the Obama administration “is complicit with the starving down” of Gaza, said Becker.
The international flotilla is the most daring attempt yet to break Israel’s blockade of the Gaza strip and a desperate call on the world community to focus on the troubled region and Israel’s barbaric policy towards its neighbor.