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All prisons are penetrable

The second crew of ‘Free Gaza’ activists left the Gaza Strip yesterday on board SS Dignity, and have just arrived safely back in Cyprus. Like the first two ‘Free Gaza’ boats which sailed to Gaza back in August, SS Dignity also managed to break the Israeli siege, and it docked in Gaza Port on 29 October. The SS Dignity crew didn’t stay very long - just three days in all - but another ferry is expected to set sail from Cyprus next week. If it too manages to break the siege and land in Gaza, the Free Gaza Movement hopes it can establish a monthly ferry service from Cyprus to Gaza.

The international media has devoured the story of Palestinian and international human rights activists, doctors, academics, parliamentarians and lawyers sailing through Israeli gunboat-infested waters to reach the besieged Gaza Strip. But inside Gaza, the reaction has been decidedly mixed. Some of my friends support the Free Gaza movement, but others tell me they think the crew are nothing more than tourists who sail here for their own adventure. The fact that the crew stayed in a fancy hotel for the three days they were in Gaza didn’t really help public relations - the majority of Gazans couldn’t afford dinner at the Marna House Hotel, never mind the luxury of a room there.

But a handful of the SS Dignity crew opted not to leave when the ferry set sail yesterday, and instead they’ve stayed behind, to work alongside local Gazans who are campaigning to end this brutal siege. They’ve joined the six internationals who chose to stay on in Gaza in August, rather than leaving when the first two boats set sail back to Cyprus.

The ‘gang of six’ has spent the last three months accompanying local fishing boats which are violently harassed by the Israeli military when they fish in their own waters just a few miles out to sea, and they’ve also been helping with the Gaza olive harvest. Many local farmers have land around the border areas of northern and eastern Gaza, and are frightened to access their own land because of repeated shooting from the Israeli military, who have established a unilateral ‘buffer zone’ across the Gaza Strip. Local farmers have been delighted that a small crowd of internationals are prepared to stand by them while they harvest their olives, and they say they want more internationals to come to Gaza and witness the effects of the siege for themselves.

The Free Gaza movement has flaws, including its obsession with attracting celebrities to join the forthcoming crews to Gaza. The crews need to be more media savvy, because the mainstream media are lazy buggers - they’re happy to focus on the foreigners who sail to Gaza, as opposed to the dirty complex politics of the siege itself. But these vessels have done something wonderful - they’ve proved that the siege of Gaza can be broken. The international community has shamefully forgotten Gaza, and left 1.7 million people to rot in silence. But - if people are willing to take the risk - then freedom in Gaza has a chance. History shows us that bars will break, and all prisons are penetrable.

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