Six years ago, our two ramshackle boats, Free Gaza and Liberty, were hiding out somewhere in the Mediterranean, battling mechanical problems and bad weather as they slowly and furtively made their way to Cyprus. Thirty of us impatiently waited for the boats (and the 14 passengers and crew already on
the boats) to come and get us. We came from 17 countries, from Palestine to Pakistan, from the U.S. to Europe to Australia, our ages from 81 to 22.
Finally, on August 21, 2008, they sailed into Larnaca, Cyprus, and we left the next day, arriving in Gaza thirty-three hours later, bedraggled and seasick but overjoyed.
No foreign vessel had docked in the port of Gaza for 41 years, as Israel tightened the screws of its blockade ever tighter, a 20-year blockade they said was all about security, but we knew was about collective punishment and plundering Gaza, stealing its natural gas.
For one brief shining moment, Gaza had an open port.
Musheir ElFarra was the only Palestinian from Gaza sailing that day. His words should never be forgotten.
“It was a great feeling to arrive on that boat, a feeling of freedom that I had never experienced. It was the first time in my life that I had visited home without the humiliation of being questioned or interrogated by the Israelis, without being threatened, having my travel documents thrown in my face, and not knowing whether I would be able to get out or not. It is a sense of liberation I hope every Palestinian will experience one day. I am proud of being one of the first Palestinians from the Occupied Territories to enter Palestine without Israeli permission since 1967.”
Now, in these terrible times for the people of Gaza, many of us wonder if our voyage was worth it. Whether the next four journeys when we landed safely resulted in any changes. Whether the brutal attack on the Freedom Flotilla in May 2010 when Israeli commandos murdered ten of our passengers made a
difference; whether the world would finally listen to a people who simply wanted what all of us want…freedom.
Today on our 6th anniversary, we remember the promises we made to the Palestinians of Gaza: 1. We will return, 2: We will take as many Palestinians out of Gaza as we could (we finally took 28, most of them students who are doing very well) and, 3. We will let the world know what Israel is doing to an imprisoned population.
As we mark the anniversary of our arrival, the Freedom Flotilla Coalition is already planning another voyage, hopefully in 2014, the International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.
So to all Palestinians in the occupied territories: We are coming. We have not forgotten you. We will return. We sail until Palestine is free. —Greta Berlin
The Free Gaza Movement calls upon the international community to join the Movement’s efforts to help end the human suffering created by Israeli’s strangulation of Gaza and West Bank.
On August 23, 2008, 44 ordinary people from 17 countries sailed from Cyprus to Gaza on two small wooden boats, the SS Free Gaza and the SS Liberty. The Free Gaza Movement did what our governments would not do – take action to defend the health, lives, and dignity of 1.5 million Palestinians under siege in the Gaza Strip. We proved that Israel cannot sustain its illegal blockade in the face of widely reported humanitarian efforts by non-violent activists acting in accordance with international law.
Today we call for a much broader effort; specifically, we are calling on other members of the international community – governments, non-governmental organizations, and others dedicated to protecting human rights – to join us by providing their own ships, humanitarian goods, and human capital to throw open wide the sea link to Gaza.
Despite its high profile pullout of illegal settlements and military presence from Gaza in August and September 2005, Israel maintains “effective control” over the Gaza Strip and therefore remains an occupying force with certain obligations.
Among Israel’s most fundamental obligations as an occupying power is to provide for the health, safety, and welfare of the Palestinian civilian population. An occupying force has a duty to ensure the food and medical supplies of the population, as well as maintain hospitals and other medical services, “to the fullest extent of the means available to it” (Fourth Geneva Convention, arts. 55, 56).
This includes protecting civilian hospitals, medical personnel, and the wounded and sick. In addition, a fundamental principle of International Humanitarian Law, as well as of the domestic laws of civilized nations, is that collective punishment against a civilian population is forbidden (Fourth Geneva Convention, art. 33).
Please support and connect with Free Gaza at:
April 8, 2015 Dr. Bill Dienst Standing Firm amid the Ruins: Blind Brothers Fight for Justice in Jeruslaem
• Israeli Soldier has Turned Conscientious Objector After Realizing Israeli Military Uses Palestinians for Target Practice (4.7.15)
March 30, 2015 Dr. Bill Dienst Improvisational Advanced Cardiac Life Support in Gaza
March 30,2015 Gerri Hayes Completing Our Work in Gaza—Realizing There is No Completion
March 24, 2015 Dr. Bill Dienst Upon Our Return to Gaza report on conditions in Gaza.
November 17, 2014 History of Washington State Physicians for Social Responsibility Work in Palestine by Dr. Geri Haynes in Palestine-IsraelJournal of Politics, Economics & Culture.
November 11, 2014 Living in an Open Air Prison—a Blog by Dr. Geri Haynes & photos by Dr. Bob Haynes. Washington State Physicians for Social Responsibility trip to Gaza, Bethlehem, and Jersusalem.
November 5, 2014—WA State Physicians for Social Responsiblity
Day Two in Gaza: Teaching, Operating, Delivering the Gifts by Dr. Bill Dienst
This morning, all of the physicians in our group worked at Shifa Hospital. Grant O’Keefe is in general and trauma surgery, Don Mellman and Ralph Ryrdell saw patients and observed surgeries in their neurosurgery specialty area, and Bill Dienst and Bob Haynes taught Advanced Cardiac Life Support. Maxine Fookson, pediatric nurse practitioner, lectured to nursing students and John Van Eenwyk, psychologist, lectured and consulted with the staff of GCMHP.
Ned Rosch and I delivered suitcases full of medicines to the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme. The medicines, funded by donations from Iowa and Washington state, were joyfully received. Many of these medicines were out of stock in the GCMHP pharmacy and are needed for the care of traumatized, war-affected Gazans.
Ned and I were then given a tour of children’s facilities in Deir Al Balah, an impoverished area in central Gaza. The inspiring work being done by Reem Abu Jaber and her colleagues to help the children of this area is many faceted. A Waqf (Google - this was Reem’s gift) kindergarten founded four years ago is functioning beautifully. Last April, Reem (who was the original director of Qattan Center for the Child in Gaza City), received permission to open an Arts and Cultural Center for Children. NAWA receives educational support from Waldorf Steiner personnel of Germany and is opening its doors to an increasing number of children. This is a resident area, not a refugee area, and the UN does not serve resident children. On the logo for Nawa, a quote from Edward Said reads, “ The Power of Culture rather than the Culture of Power.” NAWA presently functions in a very small space but will soon move to a larger home - thus, increasing its capacity to serve neighborhood children. Reem’s new project – planned for opening in April 2015, is the renovation of a 1700-year-old Christian monastery. This centrally located building will be the first library for the children of Deir Al Balah in more than 40 years. Children and friends in the US sent with us books and financial support for Reem’s projects.
This afternoon, members of our group toured Beit Hanoun children’s specialty hospital, which was damaged by Israeli weapons in the war this past summer. The neighborhoods around the hospital were badly damaged in a process known as “mowing the lawn.” Families continue to live in makeshift shelters. Many of these shelters were constructed of cardboard-like material that was damaged by recent heavy rains. Some of the homeless are camping in local UN schools (UNRWA) while students continue to double shift for classes. The physical and psychological toll of war lives in every resident of Gaza. No one was untouched by the summer’s tragedy. That people are able to carry on with love for one another is humbling. When night falls, Israeli planes regularly fly above Gaza – emphasizing the precarious nature of the present ceasefire. Nearly everyone we talk with mentions the expectation that war will come again.
This evening, a nurse from Al Aqsa Hospital visited us in the Marna House garden. This gentle and generous young man told stories of members of his own family who died or were desperately injured this summer. His grandmother’s chest was lacerated by a piece of shrapnel and this nurse changed her dressings every day for three weeks, carefully observing for and protecting against the possibility of infection. One of his cousins was blown from her home and is brain damaged. Realizing that his relatives were homeless, he gave up his apartment to 10 family members and now is happily “rebinding connections” with his parents. Through the war, I was in touch with this nurse and know that he worked endless shifts in his hospital and slept rarely. He is an inspiring soul.