Leftist activists aboard the ship Marianne of Gothenburg departed port in Sweden over the weekend, hoping to break an Israeli-Egyptian naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. Organizers of the campaign called their journey the Freedom Flotilla III, the third attempt by the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) to gain access to the enclave by sea.
The ship’s crew plans to stop again in Sweden and Copenhagen as they continue their 5,000 mile long journey. Organizers hope more ships will join the flotilla as they dock in other European cities. Activists on the vessel claim to be carrying solar panels and medical equipment, which they aim to deliver to Palestinians living in Gaza.
The Swedish trawler leaves for Gaza in an attempt to break blockade. (Photo: SHIPTOGAZA.SE)
Meanwhile, the Israeli government is already aware of the activists’ attempts to bypass the blockade. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Emanuel Nachson characterized ISM’s actions as an “unnecessary provocation,” arguing that the activists could send their aid via Israel if they really cared about Palestinian wellbeing.
The NGO failed to enter Gaza during two previous “Freedom Flotillas.” In May 2010, two cargo ships and five small boats were prevented from docking in Gaza, boarded, and subsequently brought to Ashdod. However one passenger ferry, the Mavi Marmara, refused to cooperate with the Israeli Navy. The passengers on the ship had links to a pro-Palestinian terrorist organization as well as AKP (the ruling party of Turkey), and the Muslim Brotherhood. They had brought weapons onboard in preparation for a confrontation. IDF commandos raided the vessel, unprepared for the violence they faced. Upon rappelling down from a helicopters, some of the ship’s passengers began hitting soldiers with metal pipes and stabbing them with large knives. In the end, nine Turks were killed and numerous soldiers were injured.
Jerusalem released videos showing the life-threatening attacks against its troops on the boat. Besides an assortment of knives and clubs, Israeli security forces also found bullet casings and military camouflage. Nevertheless, the international community condemned the Jewish state following the attack, although the UN’s official report was substantially less harsh.
In July 2011, ISM coordinated with other NGOs to organize the Freedom Flotilla II. But the Greek government prohibited eight of the aid ships from leaving port, citing security concerns. Instead, the government offered to send the flotilla’s aid shipment to Gaza itself. Similarly, Egypt, which manages the blockade with Israel, offered to search the ship and then transfer humanitarian donations to Gaza.