Freedom Flotilla 2 hits the waves at the end of this month with 12 ships from 23 countries – including Canada, Ireland, Britain, Australia, Turkey, Tunisia, Algeria, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia and the US. Spearheaded by the Free Gaza Movement, which had previously sailed five successful missions to Gaza aboard two small adapted pleasure boats, last year’s flotilla had ended with boats attacked by Israeli commandos. Eight Turkish and one US civilian were killed, over 40 were injured and 700 were jailed as a result.
The UN fact-finding mission report on the incident, released last September, found evidence of grave breaches of the Geneva Convention, including wilful killing and torture committed by Israeli forces. Israel has justified its soldiers’ actions as self-defence and has said it will use snipers and attack-dogs to stop future flotillas.
Israel has vowed to stop this year’s flotilla, but activists are planning a co-ordinated defence using nonviolent direct action and anti-piracy tactics. Says writer and anti-war activist Fintan Lane of the Irish Boat to Gaza effort: ‘We’ll be doing everything in our power to prevent the Israeli army coming onto our boats, because if they board us they will kill us.’
Ports of departure are as yet unannounced, as are the flags and location of vessels. This is to stave off Israeli sabotage – a tactic Israel admitted to using against the last flotilla. Free Gaza’s cargo ship The Rachel Corrie sustained mysterious damage to its propeller, and the Challenger 1 and 2 yachts both sustained damage to steering, bilge pumps and hulls.
Every national campaign participating in the flotilla has a grassroots fund- and awareness-raising effort. The US boat to Gaza, named The Audacity of Hope after one of Barack Obama’s books, has retired US Army Colonel Ann Wright at the helm. She explains that protests against the mission have backfired and motivated more people to join the effort. ‘Our fundraising events have provided a tremendous opportunity to educate communities about the plight of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. Some of the events, particularly at colleges and universities, have had people protesting against the fundraiser and the flotilla. Generally, the protests have ended up getting more attention and [have led to] more participants in the fundraiser and subsequent events.’
Cargo ships, yachts and at least two large passenger vessels, including the refurbished Mavi Marama, raided and seized last year by Israel, will sail again. The message of the flotilla is clear. If the state-level international community will not end the illegal blockade on Gaza, then the grassroots international community will.