Boats Carry ‘Message Of Solidarity’ To Palestinians Under Israeli Siege

An international group of female activists has set sail from Barcelona to the Gaza Strip as part of the latest attempt to end the Israeli blockade, Anadolu Agency reported.

Around 20 women from a range of countries were given a warm farewell by cheering crowds including Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau on Wednesday evening.

The two sailboats are expected to arrive in Gaza in early October to deliver urgent food and medicine to the enclave, organizers told the media.

“The Women’s Boat to Gaza seeks not only to challenge the Israeli blockade but to also show solidarity and bring a message of hope to the Palestinian people,” the organizers said on their website.

“By launching a women’s boat, women from all over the world aim to highlight the undeniable contributions of Palestinian women who have been central within the Palestinian struggle.”

Khadija Benguenna, a journalist and a popular female news presenter of Al-Jazeera, declared intention to join the new flotilla of international activists that aims to break the siege on Gaza.

Two boats, Amal and Zaytouna, with 30 women on board each, have left Wednesday evening for the Gaza Strip from the Spanish city of Barcelona, hoping to break a nearly decade-long Israeli blockade. The passengers, including Swedish European Parliament Member Malin Bjork and Dr. Fouzia Hassan of Malaysia, aim to reach Gaza by early October. “We are carrying food and medicine on the boat that will be distributed to Gazans upon arrival,” Zohar Chamberlain Regev, a spokeswoman of the initiative, told Al-Jazeera. “But mainly we are carrying a message of hope and solidarity, because we think Gazans want that most of all.” She said she had high hopes that the flotilla would not be stopped by the Israeli navy and reach the destination. “We know that we are not a threat to Israel. We are not heading to an Israeli port so they have no reason to stop us,” she said. Last time the Women’s Boat to Gaza attempted to deliver aid to the territory in 2015, the Israeli navy boarded and took over its vessel, Marianne. The boat was taken to the Israeli city of Ashdod. In 2010, a similar bid to break the blockade by a Turkish flotilla resulted in the killing of 10 activists by Israeli commandos, and caused a diplomatic row between Ankara and Israel. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently described the blockade as “a collective punishment for which there must be accountability.”

The nearly decade-long blockade of the Gaza strip by Israel was imposed to put pressure on ruling party Hamas. Since then, the blockade has cut Gaza’s gross domestic product in half and led to the highest unemployment rate in the world, according to a 2015 World Bank report. Gazans suffer from poor access to basic services and most cannot leave the enclave without special travel permits.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has referred to the blockade as “collective punishment”.