Friday, 31 October 2008

Free Gaza boat makes landfall

Good news from Gaza for once. The Free Gaza Movement, a US/international activist group, has managed to land another boat filled with humanitarian supplies in the besieged Palestinian territory. The Israeli government sealed Gaza in completely over 16 months ago following a deliberate destruction of its civilian infrastructure similar to that which it attempted to in southern Lebanon. It was already a difficult, dangerous and often humiliating process attempting to get in and out of Gaza for Palestinians, but in 2006 Israel turned it from virtually a prison to an actual prison.

Since then Palestinians have faced a desperate struggle to get essential supplies. A jubilant but brief mass breech of the Gaza-Egypt border helped, but since then Palestinians have relied on smuggling goods through tunnels dug under the border. Forty people have died in these dangerous attempts to survive.

The 'international community' has done nothing for Gazan Palestinians. It refuses to put any real pressure on Israel despite the clear humanitarian implications. To give just one example, the EU could suspend its Association Agreement with Israel, which gives Israeli goods preferential access to European markets, but which has a clause which allows suspension of the agreement in response to human rights concerns.

In this context, the Free Gaza boat is a hugely important symbolic gesture. The supplies its delivering are real, although small compared to the needs of 1½ million Gazans. Israel obviously decided that the negative PR it would get from stopping the boat would be less that it would get from ignoring it, and that its small load would not really affect the blockade. But either outcome is vastly better than if no-one had gone. It says to the world, and to the Palestinians, that we have not forgotten Gaza, and piles on the pressure for change. Congratulations to the Free Gaza Movement.

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