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Freedom Flotilla vows to break siege: 'This time we will reach Gaza'

June 10, 2015 6:15 P.M. (Updated: Oct. 18, 2015 7:13 P.M.)
Joel Opperdoes, second on the left, among other activists in Brest, France. (Claude Lostic)
By: Anna Kokko

BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- This summer, Swedish seaman Joel Opperdoes, 32, is not piloting cargo ships in the Baltic Sea.

Instead, he is the sailing across Europe with five permanent crew members on a fishing trawler named Marianne.

Their final destination is the main seaport of the Gaza Strip, which has been under a jointly enforced Israeli and Egyptian blockade for the last eight years.

“I strongly believe in international solidarity,” Opperdoes told Ma’an from Lisbon, Portugal, where the boat stopped last week. “I am happy to use my professional skills for something good.”

Marianne, which left from Sweden on May 10, is one of the boats taking part in the third Freedom Flotilla Coalition.

While the fishing trawler was brought together by Palestinian solidarity groups Ship to Gaza Sweden and Ship to Gaza Norway, several other international NGOs support the campaign. All are united in their goal to end the siege of Gaza.

Violent Israeli response to past flotillas

Two other boats will join Marianne in the Eastern Mediterranean. To avoid problems of sabotage, details of the journey are being kept secret.

The coalition expects to reach Gaza by the end of June. Yet the two previous Freedom Flotillas never made it to the besieged enclave. In 2010, Israeli forces killed nine activists on board the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara while it was still in international waters.

In 2012, the Israeli army boarded another pro-Palestinian vessel, Estelle, off Gaza's coast and took all 30 passengers to the shore in Ashdod, Israel. Opperdoes was one of them.

“After long interrogations, they accused us of entering the country illegally and deported us,” he told Ma'an.

Deportation came with a 10-year ban from re-entering Israel. Although a long-time Palestinian activist, Opperdoes has never set foot in the occupied Palestinian territories.

'We will enter Palestinian, not Israeli waters'

The Israeli Foreign Ministry declared in May that Israel “will not allow unauthorized vessels to enter its territorial waters,” the Jerusalem Post reported.

Despite a slight easing of restrictions by Israeli authorities this year -- exports to Israel were increased along with travel permits for businessmen -- severe travel restrictions for the majority of Palestinians still remain in place, and entering Gaza is only possible by land via Israeli and Egyptian controlled crossings.

But Ann Ighe, a spokesperson from the Ship to Gaza Sweden, said the flotilla coalition would enter Palestinian, not Israeli, waters.

"We do not recognize Israel’s self-taken role of not only controlling everything that comes in and out of the Palestinian territories, but also of stopping people and blocking imports and exports,” she said.

“It is a very basic question of Palestinian independence, and of human rights.”

If the Israeli forces attack Marianne, which is sailing under the Swedish flag, it could lead to diplomatic repercussions between Israel and the European country.

“If Israel hijacks the boat, this will happen on Swedish territory,” Ighe said.

Relations between the two countries cooled off at the end of last year when Sweden officially recognized the state of Palestine. To protest the move, Israel recalled its ambassador from Sweden, although he returned to work a month later.

Trawler loaded with solidarity

The humanitarian situation in Gaza remains critical after last summer’s six-week long war between Hamas and Israel, which killed 2,220 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 73 Israelis, the majority soldiers.

Over 17,000 housing units were destroyed and 560 factories and businesses damaged in the war, according to Israeli rights group Gisha, and more than 10,000 Palestinians are still living in UN shelters, compounding a 42 percent unemployment rate in the territory.

“Thus far, not a single home destroyed in operation Protective Edge [summer 2014 Gaza war] has been rebuilt,” said Eitan Diamond, Gisha’s executive director.

On board, the Marianne is carrying one solar panel to al-Shifa hospital and medical equipment for Wafa hospital, both in Gaza City. If everything goes as planned, activists will also leave the fishing trawler for Palestinian fishermen to use.

“The people in Gaza never have electricity all day long. Solar panels could be a sustainable solution for the power shortage,” Ighe said.

The spokesperson admits that bringing only one solar panel is mainly a symbolic message. Sending humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip is already a double-edged sword.

“Aid is clearly needed, but at the same time foreign governments -- including Sweden -- are using their taxpayers’ money to finance the occupation, as Israel does not carry out its responsibilities as the occupying power,” Ighe said.

Spreading information about Gaza

Another objective of the Flotilla Coalition is to raise awareness about humanitarian conditions in Gaza. Marianne has stopped in several ports across Europe to meet with local activists, and has even hosted public figures and journalists on board.

Former Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki has confirmed he will be on board during the last phase of the journey, as the boat approaches the shores of Gaza.

“In every corner [of Europe], there have been people who do not know what is going on in Gaza,” Opperdoes, the captain of Marianne, said.

According to Gisha's executive director, Eitan Diamond, the first flotilla in 2010 had a “tremendous impact” and even forced Israel to alter some of its most repressive policies in relation to Gaza.

“I’m not sure if the third Flotilla will have the same sort of impact and whether or not it will reach Gaza,” the director said. “But what is clear is that there is a great deal of importance in highlighting the plight of the people of Gaza.”

All of the activists on board have declared that they will continue trying until the Israeli blockade is lifted.

Only then can the people of Gaza set sail on a trip across Europe -- or even just reconnect with Palestinians in the West Bank, a mere 40 kilometers away.
carlos / usa
What NGO should we donate to to support the Gaza flotilla?
10/06/2015 19:43
Outlier / USA
They may reach Gaza, but their boat and cargo likely will not.
10/06/2015 20:47
Carol Scheller / Switzerland
You can make a Paypal donation on this site :
10/06/2015 21:10
Legal Eagle / Australia
The UNDP should be leading the flotilla with container ships full of reconstruction materials - it's a sorry pass when it's left to civil society to forge the humanitarian corridor guaranteed under international humanitarian law. SHAME, UN - and RESPECT to the Marianne and all who sail with her.
10/06/2015 22:33
james / usa
They should name the flotilla boat The USS Liberty as that scene from 1967 has not been forgotten and will most certainly be avenged....
11/06/2015 22:35
zohra / canada
Its a shame that UN is silent. I pray that
All these brave people on board makes it to Gaza
safe and sound. We praise your bravery and courage.
This is indeed a noble cause...helping the hospital with the solar panel. Lits of respect and love to you all!!
12/06/2015 18:09
Two Certainties / One Truth
Surely, They Will Not Reach Gaza, Just As
Surely, They Will Start The Violence, When
Israel Will Try To Divert Them Peacefully !!
13/06/2015 00:58
Loraine tymons / United Kingdom
Every time these brave people go on these missions to help Gaza, I am ashamed that it is not blazoned in all our newspapers and on the TV . I praise your bravery and courage and wish you every success. The waters outside Palestine do not belong to Israel!!! every success!!!
13/06/2015 11:41
Gerry / Ireland
The "Two certainties" comment, with all its capital letters, must have been written by someone looking at the situation from the privileged side of the checkpoint !
14/06/2015 01:33
Rod / USA
These are delusional people that unfortunately will put innocents in danger.
14/06/2015 04:22
@loraine tymons / UK / Chad
The flotilla organizers blatantly violate international law by trying to breach a legal maritime blockade. According to international and customary law, Israel has the legal right to impose a land and naval blockade on Hamas-controlled Gaza.
14/06/2015 08:49
Theiteou / Greece
The flotilla organizers intend to aid and support Hamas, which is designated a terrorist organization by members of the international community, including the U.S., Canada, Israel, the EU, Japan, and Jordan. Hamas' founding document calls for the murder of Jews, the obliteration of Israel, and Israel's replacement with an Islamist theocracy.
14/06/2015 08:50
Mr Kushite / Sudan
If the crew of the Marianne really were peace and human rights activists, they would not go to Gaza but to Syria, where the brutal Assad regime has arrested, tortured, and murdered thousands of nonviolent, freedom-seeking demonstrators and has caused tens of thousands of others to become refugees.
14/06/2015 09:01
Susu / Bolivia
@ Loraine tymons, Palestina as a sovereign state does not exist, Palestina therefore under international law does not have territorial waters. The territorial waters outside of Gaza do in fact belong to Israel.
14/06/2015 10:19
Mel / UK
Remember the stalwart words of 1.8 million people after Israel's 50 day hi-tech bombardment of blockaded Gaza? "We were, we are, we will be!" Bravo!!!!
14/06/2015 11:21
Outlier / USA
Mel, also remember Hamas said it "won." Gazans will never see Hamas "lose," as they will all be dead.
15/06/2015 19:50
carlos / usa
Money goes out today to flotilla.
15/06/2015 21:18
@ Mel / USA
Unless You Negotiate a peace agreement with the state of Israel,
You Will Remain What "You Are", A Stateless People Forever.
Forever Poverty And Statelessness Is Your Choice - "Bravo" !!
15/06/2015 21:38
@ Gerry / USA
I live on "the privileged side of the" Ocean, in the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave, that:
-1- Saved the rest Europe from the Nazi invasions, and
-2- Never resorted to terrorism, like the Irish and Palestinians !!

God Bless America And Israel - Two Nations Under God !!
15/06/2015 21:49
@ Gerry / USA
Maybe Israel could use another boat, freely provided by Sweden,
since the Blockade confiscating such a vessel is too, after it tries to breakthrough the Blockade !!
15/06/2015 21:56
Gerry / Ireland
Gerry in USA, you say that you live in the land of the free. That might be true if you are white and not being chased by a Police Car. Also, you refer to the Irish and the Palestinians resorting to terrorism. I can only imagine what the USA would do if occupied by Russia. Tablets are available Gerry!
16/06/2015 02:41
Reader / from Edmonton
Once again Israel is being forced to hijack ships in international waters. Poor Israel.
16/06/2015 19:44
Truth / USA
Israel should sink the entire flotilla as an example to future idiots who will think about trying to defy water boundries of a sovereign nation and seek to aid and abait terrorists.
23/06/2015 22:18
Tobias / USA
Under the Law of the Sea, Israel can do at least two things:
-1- It can sieze such vessels and not return them, or
-2- It can warn them and then fire upon them, and
Israel should start siezing such vessels, that violate international, and auction them off, to help fund the Blockade !!
25/06/2015 21:15
Obvious / Truths
They Made Vows To Reach Gaza, Like The Other
Liars Before Them, And The Results Are Obvious:
-1- The Activists Do Not Reach Gaza, And
-2- There Is No Violence, Unless Activists Start It.
07/07/2015 01:54
John / UK
To those claiming Israel is within its rights to seize these boats containing aid, they need to take a close look at International Maritime Law. It is stated that embargos are only legal if it is in self-defence. The boats have been checked numerous times for weapons by various authorities.
12/09/2015 21:41
Zion / Israel
Am I the only one who isn't a hasbara troll?
12/09/2015 22:34
Arnold / Canada
Whatever happened to the flotilla?
07/10/2015 21:47
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