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January 11, 2009

Never forget

Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images
6 January: Orthodox Jews dance with Israeli soldiers at the Gaza border Photograph: Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images

Says Angry Arab : Remember this picture, forever. Israelis dancing in the streets in celebration of the destruction of Gaza. Never forget, and never forgive EVER.

Free Gaza does it again



For More Information, Please Contact:

(Cyprus) Huwaida Arraf, +357 96 723 999 or +357 99 081 767

(Gaza) Ewa Jasiewicz, +972 598 700 497

(Egypt) Caoimhe Butterly, +20 121 027 072

(U.S.) Ramzi Kysia, +1 703 994 5422

(Cyprus, 11 January 2009) – The Free Gaza Movement ship, “SPIRIT OF
HUMANITY,” will leave Larnaca Port at 12:00 noon, Monday, 12 January,
on an emergency mission to besieged Gaza. The ship will carry
desperately needed doctors, journalists, human rights workers, and
members of several European parliaments as well as medical supplies.
This voyage marks Free Gaza’s second attempt to break through the
blockade since Israel began attacking the Gaza Strip on 27 December.
Between August and December 2008, the Free Gaza Movement successfully
challenged the Israeli blockade five times, landing the first
international ships in the port of Gaza since 1967.

The Israeli military violently attacked an earlier attempt by the Free
Gaza Movement to send an emergency boat filled with doctors and
medical supplies to Gaza.  In the early hours of Tuesday, 30 December,
the Israeli navy deliberately, repeatedly, and without warning rammed
the unarmed ship, the DIGNITY, causing significant structural damage
and endangering the lives of its passengers and crew. The ship found
safe harbor in Lebanon, and is currently awaiting repairs.

Fouad Ahidar, a member of the Belgian Parliament sailing to Gaza
aboard the SPIRIT OF HUMANITY, responded to concerns that Israel may
attack the unarmed mercy ship by saying, “I have five children that
are very worried about me, but I told them, you can sit on your couch
and watch these atrocities on the television, or you can choose to
take action to make them stop.”

Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip have injured thousands of civilians
and killed over 800 people, including scores of women and children.
This ongoing Israeli massacre severely and massively violates
international humanitarian law defined by the Geneva Conventions,
especially the obligations of an Occupying Power and the requirements
of the laws of war.

The United Nations has failed to protect the Palestinian civilian
population from Israel’s massive violations of international
humanitarian law. Israel has closed off Gaza from the international
community and demanded that all foreigners leave. But Huwaida Arraf,
an organizer with the Free Gaza Movements, stated that, “We cannot
just sit by and wait for Israel to decide to stop the killing and open
the borders for relief workers to pick up the pieces. We are coming
in. There is an urgent need for this mission as Palestinian civilians
in Gaza are being terrorized and slaughtered by Israel, and access to
humanitarian relief denied to them. When states and the international
bodies responsible for taking action to stop such atrocities chose to
be impotent, then we–the citizens of the world–must act. Our common
humanity demands nothing less.”

Israel has been notified that we are coming. A copy of the
notification to the Israeli Authorities is attached.

The media is invited to the Larnaca Port at 10:00am to for final
preparations and a press conference before departure.



Take Action! CALL the Israeli Government and let them know that the
SPIRIT OF HUMANITY is coming to Gaza. DEMAND that Israel immediately
STOP slaughtering civilians in Gaza and STOP using violence to prevent
human rights and humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people.


Mark Regev in the Prime Minister’s office:

+972 2670 5354 or +972 5 0620 3264

Shlomo Dror in the Ministry of Defence:

+972 3697 5339 or +972 50629 8148

Major Liebovitz from the Israeli Navy:

+ 972 5 781 86248

Official Notification of Intent to Enter

January 11, 2009

To: The Israeli Ministry of Defense, Fax: 972-3-697-6717

To: The Israeli Navy

To: The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Fax 972-2-5303367

From: The Free Gaza Movement

This letter serves as a formal notification to you as the Occupying
Power and belligerent force in the Gaza Strip that on Monday, January
12 we are navigating the motor vessel, Spirit of Humanity, from the
Port of Larnaca to the port of Gaza City.  Our vessel will be flying
the Greek flag, and, as such, falls under the jurisdiction Greece.

We will be sailing from Cypriot waters into international waters, then
directly into the territorial waters of the Gaza Strip without
entering or nearing Israeli territorial waters.  We expect to arrive
at the Gaza Port on Tuesday,  January 13, 2009.

We will be carrying urgently needed medical supplies in sealed boxes,
cleared by customs at the Larnaca International Airport and the Port
of Larnaca. There will be a total of 30 passengers and crew on board,
among them members of various European Parliaments and several
physicians.  Our boat and cargo will also have received security
clearance from the Port Authorities in Cyprus before we depart.

As it will be confirmed that neither we, the cargo, any of the boat’s
contents, nor the boat itself constitute any threat to the security of
Israel or its armed forces,  we do not expect any interference with
our voyage by Israel’s authorities.

On Tuesday, December 30, an Israeli Navy vessel violently, and without
warning, attacked our motor vessel Dignity, disabling the vessel and
endangering the lives of the 16 civilians on board.  This notice
serves as clear notification to you of our approach. Any attack on the
motor vessel, Spirit of Humanity, will be premeditated and any harm
inflicted on the 30 civilians on board will be considered the result
of a deliberate attack on unarmed civilians.

The Steering Committee of the Free Gaza Movement

Contact: Huwaida Arraf, Free Gaza Movement, 357 96 723 999

Vittorio Arrigoni reporting from Gaza

Vittorio Arrigoni on the ground in Gaza, January 9, 2009



Israelis watching the devastation from afar, even laughing.

My toothpaste, toothbrush, shavers and shaving foam. The clothes I’m wearing, the cough medicine I’m using to get rid of a persistent cough, the cigarettes I bought for Ahmed, and some tobacco for my arghile. My cell phone, the laptop onto which I compulsively type my eye-witness accounts from the hell surrounding me. All that’s needed for a modest, yet dignified existence in Gaza comes from Egypt, and arrives on the shops’ shelves through the tunnels. These are the very same tunnels that the Israeli F16s hasn’t stopped heavily bombing in the last 12 hours, destroying along with them thousands of Rafah houses near the border.

A few months ago I had three teeth dodgy fixed, and at the end of the operation I asked my Palestinian dentist where he’d gotten all of his dental equipment from – the anesthetic, the syringes, ceramic inlays and all the other tools. With a sly look on his face, he’d made a certain gesture with his hands: from under ground. There’s no doubt that through the tunnels underneath Rafah, explosives and weapons were also smuggled, the very same that the resistance is using today to try and contain the terrifying advance of the armour-plated Israeli death-machines. But it’s next to nothing compared with the tons of consumer goods flowing into famished Gaza under this criminal siege.

It’s easy enough on the internet to find photos documenting how even livestock comes in from Egypt through the tunnels. Sedated, strapped-up goats and cows are lowered into an Egyptian well, re-emerging on this side to provide milk, cheese and meat. Even the main hospitals in the Strip stocked up surreptitiously at the border. The tunnels were the only resource allowing the Palestinians to survive the siege, a siege which long before the current bombings, was the cause of a 60% unemployment rate and forced 80% of families to live off humanitarian handouts.

Our colleagues at the ISM in Rafah describe the umpteenth siege that they witnessed. Caravans of desperate refugees leaving their homes facing Egypt, on mule-drawn carts or hodgepodge vehicles. A déjà-vu scenario – in previous days, leaflets were raining down from the planes intimidating the Palestinians into evacuating. Since Israel always keeps its threatened promises, bombs are raining down from the planes now. Today’s new homeless will spend the night with their relatives, friends and acquaintances in Gaza. No one dares crowd the United Nations schools anymore, after yesterday’s massacre in Jabalia. But a considerable number haven’t gone anywhere, as they have nowhere safe to go. They shall be spending the night praying to God that they’ll be spared, since no one on earth seems to take any interest in their existence.

The death toll at present is at 768 Palestinians, with 3,129 wounded, and 219 children killed. The count of civilian victims on the Israeli side is thankfully still only at 4. At Zaytoun, an Eastern neighbourhood of Gaza City, the Red Cross ambulances could only rush to the scene of a massacre after several hours, under the coordination of the Israeli military summit. When they finally got there, they picked up 17 corpses and 10 injured, all belonging to the Al Samouni family. A perfect execution: in the tiny bodies of the children it was possible to notice bullet holes rather than wounds caused by shrapnel.

The last two nights in the Gaza City hospitals were quieter than usual, as we assisted a number of injured in the tens rather than the hundreds. Obviously after the massacre at the Al Fakhura school, the Israeli Army surpassed the daily budget of civilian casualties as an offering to its blood-thirsty government in view of the imminent elections. We have an inkling that tonight the morgues will once again be filled to bursting point.

With our sirens screaming, we continue to rush pregnant women into hospital as they give birth prematurely. It’s as if nature and the conservation instinct were inducing these brave mothers to predate the arrival of these new lives to make up for the growing number of dead. These newborns’ first cry, when they survive, can for a moment cover the rumbling of the bombs.

Leila, a colleague at the ISM, asked our neighbours’ children to write some of their impressions on the atrocious tragedy we’re enduring. Here are some extracts of their words, the horrors of war seen through the pure and innocent gaze of Gaza’s children:

Suzanne, aged 15: “The life in Gaza is very difficult. Actually we can’t describe everything. We can’t sleep, we can’t go to school and study. We feel a lot of feelings, sometimes we feel afraid and worry because the planes and the ships, they hit 24 hours. Sometimes we feel bored because there is no electricity during the day, and in the night, it is coming just four hours and when it comes we are watching the news on TV. And we see kids and women who are injured and dead. So we live in the siege and war.”

From Fatma, 13: “It was the hardest week in our life. In the first day we were in school, having the final exam of the first term, then the explosions started, many students were killed and injured, and the others surely lost a relative or a neighbour. There is no electricity, no food, no bread. What can we do – it’s the Israelis! All the people in the world celebrated the new year, we also celebrate but in a different way.”

From Sara, 11: “Gaza is living in a siege, like a big jail: no water, no electric power. People feel afraid, don’t sleep at night, and every day more people are killed. Until now, more than 400 are killed and more than 2000 injured. And students had their final first term exams, so Israel hit the Ministry of Education, and a lot of ministries. Every day people are asking when will it end, and they are waiting for more ships with activist like Vittorio and Leila.”

Darween, 8: “I am a Palestinian kid,
I won’t leave my country 
so I will have lots of advantages
 because I won’t leave my country 
and I hear a sound of rockets
so I won’t leave my country.”

Meriam is four. Her siblings asked her, “what do you feel when you hear the rockets?” And she said, “I feel afraid!”, before running to take cover behind her father’s legs.

Gaza is sadly shrouded in obscurity in the last ten days. I can recharge my computer and phone only in the hospitals. We watch TV with the doctors and paramedics while waiting for an urgent call. We listen to the rumblings in the distance, and after a few minutes the Arab satellite networks refer exactly where the explosions take place. We often watch ourselves pull bodies out of the rubble, as if having seen it all in the flesh weren’t enough already. Last night I switched over to an Israeli channel with the remote. They were showing a traditional music festival, complete with scantily-clad showgirls and firework displays in the end. We went back to our horror, not on screen but in the ambulances. Israel has every right to laugh and sing even while they’re massacring their neighbours. Palestinians only ask to die a different kind of death – say, of old age.

Stay human

More pictures here

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