On Wednesday evening, the long awaited Women’s Boat to Gaza set sail from Barcelona destined for the besieged city of Gaza. Boasting an all-female crew, sailing vessels Amal-Hope and Zaytouna-Oliva left the port of Barcelona to travel across the Mediterranean sea with hopes of breaking the humanitarian blockade of Gaza.
The boats will stop in Ajaccio, France and then travel through another Western Mediterranean port before reaching the shores of Gaza in early October. The boat launch is the culmination of months of hard work and perseverance from a myriad of women passionate about the Palestinian cause.Launched on 8 March 2016 on International Women’s Day, the initiative wants to raise awareness of the role women play in Palestine’s resistance movement, the survival of the Palestinian people as a whole, and the impact of the Israeli occupation.
Speaking to VOC News, Zeenat Adam, the coordinator for the project in South Africa, said they departed from Barcelona as the city had a twinning agreement with Gaza for the past decade. Despite being a ‘sister city’, very little contact is allowed between the two cities.
“We wanted to leave a port that identifies so strongly with the people of Gaza. We had launch events taking place to see the women off as they departed on the boat,” she said.
While farewell festivities took place at the port of Barcelona, in Johannesburg, a number of activists from Palestinian solidarity groups gathered for their own celebration to mark the event. The dinner was attended by former minister and pro-Palestine activist Ronnie Kasrils and other members of civil society.For the Barcelona-Ajaccio leg, the passenger lists include Malin Björk, a Member of European Parliament from Sweden; Zohar Chamberlain Regev, an Israeli who currently lives in Spain and Ann Wright, a retired U.S. Army Colonel and former U.S. diplomat who resigned in 2003 in opposition to the invasion of Iraq. The women participants, who differ for each leg of the journey, represent over 15 countries across six continents. Thirty women will form part of the crew on board. However, the name of the South African participants could not be revealed, as they have yet to depart. The blockade of the Gaza Strip refers to a land, air and sea blockade on the coastal enclave by Israel and Egypt from 2007 to present. There have been numerous attempts to break the blockade, but not without difficulties.
In 2010, a similar bid to break the blockade by a Turkish flotilla resulted in the killing of 10 activists by Israeli commandos, and caused a diplomatic row between Ankara and Tel Aviv.
In 2015, the last time the Women’s Boat to Gaza attempted to deliver aid to the territory, the Israeli navy boarded and took over its vessel, Marianne. The boat was then taken to the Israeli city of Ashdod.
Adam said they anticipated uphill from the Israeli media, who have tried to sway public opinion with negative reports on the flotilla initiative. However, the coalition remains positive and draws inspiration from the faith and resolve of the Palestinian people.The project has received wide support from activists and organisations in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town, where women took the initiative to host their own fund-raising events. Adam said a substantial amount of money was raised to sponsor some delegates. A campaign was also run on an online crowd-funding initiative called LaunchGood.com, which helped the coalition to reach their target.
“We decided that if there are excessive funds we have collected, that we would donate this to a charity in Gaza.”
You can follow the movements of the Women’s Boat to Gaza on Twitter @GazaFFlotilla or on Facebook: Women’s Boat to Gaza South Africa. VOC