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May 26, 2009

Gaza friends : Our boats will sail again to Gaza

By Mary Hughes Thompson

In August 2008 history was made when our two little boats, FREE GAZA and LIBERTY, sailed to Gaza to break Israel’s occupation and blockade that had condemned 1.5 million Palestinians to decades of poverty, hunger, humiliation, death and destruction.

Since then, until it was attacked and destroyed by Israeli naval gunboats in late December, our boat DIGNITY completed four more successful voyages, carrying journalists, medical personnel, parliamentarians and human rights advocates to Gaza. We also brought out of Gaza aboard our boats several dozen Palestinians, including students whom Israel had prevented from leaving to attend international universities, patients needing medical treatment not available in Gaza due to the siege, and others we were able to reunite with families outside of Gaza.

When DIGNITY was rammed by the Israeli navy, it was carrying doctors and medical supplies needed desperately to help Gaza medical personnel provide emergency care for hundreds of victims of Israel’s invasion. Some of these doctors and journalists were able to cross into Gaza via Egypt, but others returned to their home countries, devastated that Israel had prevented them from using their skills to save lives and report on the horrors that continued for several weeks against a defenseless civilian population. Several members of our Free Gaza movement who had sailed on our boats were on the ground in Gaza throughout the Israeli offensive, helping families and medical personnel, and sending eyewitness reports and videos to the world outside.

Boats carrying humanitarian and medical supplies sent from other countries were intercepted by Israel in international waters and prevented from reaching Gaza.

While grieving the loss of our beloved DIGNITY, we were encouraged to see that the Rafah border was allowing some groups and individuals, such as CODE PINK and VIVA PALESTINA, to cross into Gaza, and we were optimistic that others would follow until the Rafah border would finally be removed permanently. It appears now that Israel and Egypt have once again decided to close the gate to Gaza, turning away hundreds of international citizens seeking to visit and bring aid to a population in crisis after suffering through years of sanctions followed by a brutal and devastating military attack. Doctors are being denied access to patients they treated during the invasion. Thousands of people are still homeless, as Israel continues to deny them the materials and tools needed to rebuild their houses and schools.

Free Gaza cannot and will not allow Israel to stop our boats from reaching our friends in Gaza. With its mighty military machine, financed by US taxpayers, Israel has flexed its muscles and attacked unarmed civilians who had the audacity to challenge its inhuman blockade of Gaza and its people. We will not be stopped. We will get more boats, and we will sail again and again, delivering supplies and materials to help the people survive and rebuild their homes and their lives.

Before we sailed away from Gaza last August we promised our Palestinian friends that we would never forget them and we would never abandon them. It’s a promise we intend to keep.

Egyptian Government Attempts to Block Four Foreign Delegations From Reaching to Gaza Border

CODEPINK delegates say they will not turn back

CAIRO – May 22 – As more than 160 Americans and other citizens from around the world begin arriving in Cairo with the intent to cross into Gaza, the operators of Egyptian bus services say they been prohibited by the Egyptian government from transporting them to the border. The groups, made up of four delegations on the Egyptian side and one on the Israeli side, are part of a CODEPINK Women for Peace campaign to bring humanitarian supplies and build playgrounds for the children of Gaza.

“We had chartered a private bus company to take us from Cairo to Al-Arish, the closest town to the Rafah crossing into Gaza,” explained Sandra Ruch, who is leading a delegation of Canadians on the humanitarian mission. “However, the operators tell us now that the government has prohibited them from taking us anywhere near the border. They obviously believe this tactic will keep us away, but we are determined. The Gazans are completely isolated and struggling to survive. We cannot abandon them.”

The 10-member Canadian delegation is scheduled to be followed by a 14-member group from New York and a contingent of 40 students. The largest of the CODEPINK delegations, numbering about 80, is scheduled to set off for the border on May 29 – just days ahead of President Barack Obama’s landmark speech to the Arab world, planned for Cairo on June 4. The CODEPINK delegations are invited to the Gaza Strip by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

The delegations plan to enter Gaza to focus attention on the need to lift the 21-month blockade and to deliver medical supplies, toys and sports equipment to the children there, who make up more than half of Gaza’s population. The groups are also bringing supplies for playgrounds, since many of the schools and playgrounds were bombed during Israel’s invasion earlier this year, which killed more than 1,400, displaced more than 50,000 people and destroyed approximately 4,000 homes.

“The majority of Gazans are under 18, and many of the youth are traumatized and depressed,” said delegation coordinator Pam Rasmussen. “Thousands are now living in rubble or cramped tents, while mourning the deaths of loved ones and struggling to support their families despite an unemployment rate in excess of 50 percent. It’s important for us to go there to show that the international community cares about their plight.” The CODEPINK delegations are not alone. Three British medics began a hunger strike at the Egyptian border crossing on May 21 to protest being refused entry into Gaza to establish a cardiac surgery unit at al-Shifa Hospital, which currently has no such facility, and to help train medical students and junior doctors there. The British medics have been denied access to the Palestinian territory at the Rafah crossing since the beginning of May. CODEPINK delegations say they are determined to get to the border and cross into Gaza.

“We call on the Egyptian government to facilitate our travel to Gaza, not create obstacles,” said Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CODEPINK. “President Obama is coming to Egypt on June 4 to speak to the Arab world. He claims he wants to stand for peace and justice. We need to start by lifting the blockade of Gaza.”

For more information, please contact Medea Benjamin, CODEPINK co-founder, at 415-23…, Pam Rasmussen, delegation coordinator, at 301-51…, or Jean Stevens, CODEPINK national media coordinator, at 508-769-2138.

CODEPINK is a women-initiated grassroots peace and social justice movement working to end the war in Iraq, stop new wars, and redirect our resources into healthcare, education and other life-affirming activities. CODEPINK rejects the Bush administration’s fear-based politics that justify violence, and instead calls for policies based on compassion, kindness and a commitment to international law. With an emphasis on joy and humor, CODEPINK women and men seek to activate, amplify and inspire a community of peacemakers through creative campaigns and a commitment to non-violence.

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