The Gaza Strip is a piece of land 41 km long and between 6 and 12 km wide; its total area is just 365 square kilometres. Situated on the coast at the Eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, it has a population of 1.8 million Palestinians, making it one of the most densely-populated areas in the world, with the sixth highest population growth rate at 3.2 per cent per annum. This sliver of land is also, in all but name, the world’s largest open air prison, having been under siege by land, air and sea since 2007. Its immediate neighbours, Israel and Egypt, are complicit in the persistent and debilitating strangulation of the Palestinian population, blocking even basic necessities from getting into the enclave.
Gaza is a land almost forgotten by the mainstream media because the suffering imposed on the people there has become an almost acceptable norm. It is largely through social media that we are kept informed of the reality of life in the territory. There is regularly no electricity for up to twelve hours a day and severe water shortages, with more than 92 per cent of Gaza’s water being unfit for human consumption according to WHO standards; unemployment rates are amongst the highest in the world. In short, the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are suffering immeasurably under the iron fist of Israel’s Apartheid-like occupation and siege.
One of the ways that justice-loving people across the world have attempted to break the inhumane siege is by sea. The Freedom Flotilla Coalition (FFC) was formed in 2009 after Israel’s Operation Cast Lead over the winter of 2008/2009; in May 2010 the FFC headed to Gaza from Istanbul with the Mavi Marmara and five other ships loaded with aid and activists. Commandos of the Israel Defence Forces attacked this peaceful humanitarian mission, in what can only be described as an act of piracy in international waters. Nine Turkish civilians were killed and at least 400 people and crew were arrested, physically abused and detained for still unknown crimes; all had personal belongings, including electrical equipment, stolen by the Israeli authorities.
Since then, there have been almost annual attempts to send convoys of boats from around the world in a bid to break the illegal siege of Gaza in a peaceful way. This is a truly global campaign stemming from many countries, including South Africa, Canada, Norway and Spain. Until now every mission has been intercepted by the IDF and the boats hijacked, highlighting Israel’s absolute disregard for international law.
This year, 2016, is going to be momentous as the Freedom Flotilla Coalition sends out its first ever Women’s Boat to Gaza. Well-known women from all over the world will set out to break the siege in a bid to awaken public opinion about the dire humanitarian crisis that Israel has imposed on the people of Gaza. Their aim is to stand in solidarity with Palestinian women in the territory who are renowned for their strength, courage and unconquerable spirit of resistance. The women of Gaza are the epitome of the resilience and faith that lies in the heart of every Palestinian; they have an invincible hope and steadfastness of a strength that you will rarely find elsewhere; a certainty that despite their devastating circumstances their freedom will be a reality soon.
South Africa has been at the forefront of support for the Palestinian people, as South Africans can relate intimately to the victims of Israel’s brutal occupation, so similar is the latter to the once powerful Apartheid government in their homeland. It is no surprise, therefore, that there is a working committee of the global Women’s Boat to Gaza campaign based in South Africa whose members are working tirelessly to bring awareness, endorsements and support to this movement. We have no doubt that with pure intentions and truth on our side, this historic project will be a huge success.
The defining essence of the Palestinians — their will to live, their resolute spirit, their “never say die” attitude and their magnanimity towards visitors — is more powerful than everything that the Zionists can muster for their occupation and siege. The Women’s Boat to Gaza is a rallying cry to unite and defy Israeli terrorism, and show the world what the Palestinians have to face every day of their lives, especially in the Gaza Strip. The siege is immoral and illegal, and cannot be allowed to continue.
The writer is the Vice Chairperson of the Media Review Network, South Africa, on behalf of the Women’s Boat to Gaza.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.