Thursday, August 28, 2008

Day 28

I hope you have enjoyed reading my Gaza blog as much as I have writing it and sharing with you the amazing experience of me and my fellow passengers who took part in the historic free Gaza Movement.

However, this is not the end but just a beginning of smashing the medieval Israeli-led siege which has enveloped the good people of Gaza.

When our two boats The Liberty and Free Gaza sail from this tiny Palestinian port in a few hours time we plan to keep the channel between Gaza and Cyprus open.

I am told that leaving Gaza may prove to be slightly more tricky than arriving ... the psychological warfare between us and Israel has begun already and last night the Zionist State's naval gun boats sailed into our view off the Gazan coast.

We are told there will be missile testing.

When will Israel realise this peace mission is NOT about them and never was!
I have made many friends in Gaza and I intend to return soon.

As I reflect over the last amazing week there are highlights which will remain with me forever like the moment we sailed into the harbour to be given a euphoric greeting by the besieged Palestinians.

And, just a couple of days ago I had the privilege of meeting Ismael Haniyeh, the Prime Minister, who handed me a gold medal marking our historic voyage ... eat your heart out Beijing!
He really made me feel like an Olympian but of course the real heroes in all of this are not the 'boat people' from the Free Gaza Movement.

The real heroes are the people of Gaza who rise to the challenge of surviving the brutal siege which intrudes on their lives daily. For them, every day is an act of resistance and defiance.
Despite this blockade and collective punishment the morale of the Palestinians in incredibly high and I have to say Hamas has managed to turn Gaza into one of the safest cities in the world.
Crime is down by 80 per cent since Hamas took control. Perhaps the mayors of New York and London should invite their Gazan counterpart over to ask him the secret.

I walked around Gaza freely, spoke openly, had brutally frank political discussions with Gazans in rallies, on the beach, in the soul ... I can't enjoy that sort of freedom of speech in any other Arab country.

Ramadan is approaching soon and to the people of Gaza may I say an early Ramadan Mabrook ... you will forever be in my prayers and in my heart.

See you soon, insh'allah.

May be it is about time we re-opened Gaza airport and smashed the Israeli air blockade as well ... now there's an idea!

Day 25

I still cannot believe I am writing to you from Gaza. Since the Free Gaza Movement sailed its two boats into Palestinian waters the celebrations have not stopped and our groups have been very busy.

Today I joined some women, whose husbands, fathers and brothers are among the Israeli-held detainees, in a protest rally as a sign of solidarity in the hope that the Zionist State might show a little bit of humanity and release these political prisoners.

And yes, many - if not all - of them are political prisoners. This was reinforced today at the Gazan legislative council where we were told how 40 democratically elected MPs from Gaza are being held in Israeli jails having being kidnapped by the Zionist State for nothing more than being chosen to represent their people.

It is unbelievable - no wonder the Israelis like to shut out Western journalists from Gaza ... they really do not want the world to know what is happening here.

While I was doing this some of the other international peace activists were up at 4am to go fishing. The SS Free Gaza, with six Palestinian fishermen's boats, is currently 8-miles off the coast of Gaza as I write. I hear that they are being circled by three Israeli Dabur naval vessels. No shots have been fired and the fishing boats are continuing to exercise their right to fish and have not turned round.

The Oslo Accords allow Palestinian Gazans a 20-mile limit off the coast of the Gaza Strip. Currently the Navy is enforcing a 6-mile limit, so the Free Gaza Movement has broken that naval blockade, too.

And tomorrow we all intend to go to the Rafah crossing to demand the Egyptians open the border so we can get sick Palestinians out to receive urgent medical aid and make sure humanitarian aid on the other side can get in.

Egypt you have been put on notice - we are a determined group of peace activists who will stop at nothing ... especially brutal manmade barriers, blockades, walls and borders.

It is about time you and the rest of the Arab world started to show some solidarity with your Palestinian brothers and sisters. Do you really need to take lessons from a bunch of westerners in solidarity?

Mr Hosni Mubarak - time to rip down the borders.
You have been warned!

Day 24

Well, you would have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to know that I am writing to you today from Gaza.

I really was too overwhelmed yesterday to put pen to paper after the magnificent welcome me and my fellow peace activists from SS Liberty and SS Free Gaza received as we entered the port of Gaza ... the first ships to sail in since 1967.

But I really want to make one thing very clear to you here and now.

Israel did not give us permission to enter Gaza - the reality is they could NOT STOP us even if they tried.

And believe me some of the tactics to scupper our historic voyage were unbelievable.

Some of us, our family and friends have received death threats by telephone, text and emails while the whole Free Gaza Movement was targeted by Zionists lawyers who tried to sink our mission before it even began.

We were accused of being a front for a Hamas operated gunrunning venture and even Iran was accused of being party by supplying weapons.

Then Israel Foreign Minister Zvipi Livni made a snide comment a few days ago saying she hoped we could all swim while the Naval Commander announced he was running military exercises off the coast of Gaza and had thrown a 35-mile wide exclusion zone around.

As you know, we set off from Larnaca, determined but a little nervous on Friday and, in the dead of night, all of our communications went down ... satellite phones, radar etc. There we were sailing in rough seas, in the pitch black without any form of communication to the outside world.
It was psychological warfare but the Zionist scare tactics failed and driven by nothing more than people power and a couple of seaworthy engines the SS Free Gaza and the SS Liberty sailed into a tumultuous welcome in Gaza.

It was one of those defining moments in history - a bit like the first brick of the Berlin Wall being dislodged by ordinary citizens sick of the injustices imposed in a world run by political bullies.
All I could hear ringing in my ears was "Free, Free, Free Gaza and Allahu Akbar".

The emotion was unbelievable and the joy swept us all along on the crest of a gigantic Palestinian wave of delight and disbelief.

We have now smashed the medieval siege imposed by Israel but we will not stop.

Now we need to tear down the checkpoint and crossing at Rafah where so much humanitarian aid has arrived only to be refused entry.

The Egyptian Government should hang its head in shame that a bunch of largely white, non-Muslim westerners smashed the brutal siege by sea to reach the Palestinians and now they must do the same.

There were a few weasel words from Abu Mazen on the day we arrived ... why did the Palestinian leader take so long to send us a goodwill message? Was he waiting for the green light by his political masters in Washington and Tel Aviv? 'Fraid it was too little too late from a man who is doing his best to ignore the people of Gaza ... shame, shame, shame on you!
And as for the words of goodwill from the Arab League - back them up with hard cash to make this whole Free Gaza Movement permanent so we can open a ferry between Larnaca and Gaza which will run regularly.

Finally, a big thank you to all of you out there who have given us unstinting solidarity, support and encouragement.

It is time for the politicians to move aside and let the people take over - the people united will never be defeated.

Must dash - I am about to get my passport stamped with Gaza, Gaza City.

Day 21

When I was captured by the Taliban just after the horrific events of 9/11 my mother captivated the world's media for the entire 10 days I was held in Afghanistan.

She did better than any international diplomat as she briefed the press morning, noon and night and virtually became Britain's best known mum overnight.

Several days into my detention, the then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw called her to advise that her headline-grabbing over-the-garden-gate press conferences could jeopardise my life and so she should stop. Undeterred, she told the government minister to: "Get lost".

And when her local MP dropped by carrying the same message from Blair's government, he was given a nice cup of tea before she showed him the door as well.

So today, when one of the Free Gaza Movement organisers asked me if there was anyone who could act as a family spokesperson in the event of my arrest (or worse) I knew there was only one person I could turn to who would speak without fear or favour - my mum, the redoubtable Joyce Ridley.

And so, just a few hours ago, I made possibly one of the most difficult calls I've had to make to my mum. She already knew I was on the Free Gaza Movement peace mission thanks to a front page story in the Newcastle Journal, which was published before I had a chance to tell her.

In truth, she's not happy I am on board one of the two ships sailing to Gaza but this is what I said to her: "When the Holocaust was happening a lot of people around the world knew that atrocity against the Jewish people was taking place and yet they did nothing to stop the genocide. I was not around then, but even today there are those who still feel guilty because they sat back and did nothing.

"Well I am damned if I am going to sit back and do nothing as the slow genocide of Palestinians takes place in the world's largest open air concentration camp known as Gaza.

"I do not wield the power or influence of Tony Blair or any of the Quartet leaders. I do not have the power to order the Israeli soldiers to carry out the jack-boot policies of the Zionist State they serve without question.

"But I do have a voice and with every breath I will shout out loud about the injustices against the Palestinians and in particular the people of Gaza. One day we will all be held to account over the biggest crime against humanity of the 21st century.

"My only defence will be "I did what I could'.

I hope I am not arrested by the Zionist State because I don't want to have to put my 81-year-old mother through anymore stress again. I know she went through hell when I was arrested by the Taliban nearly seven years ago.

But, if things do go a wee bit pear-shaped I know Joyce Ridley will be a more effective international ambassador or envoy than that feckless, gutless, self-serving, deceiver Tony Blair or his cabal of Zionist cronies.

Day 20

It is not every day a boat gets an official escort into port but the Free Gaza and the SS liberty were given the VIP treatment by the Cypriot Coast Guard during the early hours of this morning as we headed towards Larnaca.
By 8.30am we pulled into the commercial port and there we were finally re-united with the rest of the Free Gaza Movement activists.
But the moment for me was tinged with sadness as I gazed around looking for Hedy Epstein, the Jewish, Octogenarian Holocaust survivor who is one of the main personalities in our team.
The bad news is that Hedy fainted yesterday in the searing heat of Nicosia and was taken to hospital. The good news is that she signed herself out and is taking things easy for the moment.
I am still hopeful she will join us on board our mission to smash the siege of Gaza, but she apparently has left that decision to the rest of us ... that, in itself, is a true act of selflessness and solidarity: qualities which I have evidenced several times since joining the FGM group.
So keep your fingers crossed - I hope Hedy still joins us, but I understand there could be a few more surprise guests coming on board which will make it impossible for the Israeli authorities to deploy their usual style of jack-boot management should they wish to stop us.
I know my column is read closely everyday by assistants to politicians in the Knesset to try and gauge the mood of those on board our two boats.
Well, for their benefit, I can tell you we are determined more than ever to smash the medieval siege of Gaza which is denying basic humanitarian aid, food and medicines to the Palestinians in what can only be described as collective punishment.
This is our mood despite the personal threats to our safety, that of our families, friends and supporters. I can't go into too many specifics but the dirty tricks that have been deployed to subvert and undermine this mission have been numerous and without result.
Why is the Zionist State so determined to stop a group of peace activists sailing into Gaza? It is a burning question and one which the Zionist State does not want to answer.
You see they do not want Press TV cameras, or anyone else's media organisations going in to the world's largest open air prison to reveal the true horrors being endured by the Palestinians.
Israel is overseeing the slow genocide of a people who have never wronged the Jewish people but are being made to pay for the sins of Europeans who did.
If we can get our boats through the Israeli blockade safely to show our support to the Gazans, then everyone's a winner.
The latest tactic being used is that we peace activists are at risk of being shot at by Palestinian terrorists if we enter Gaza so, for our own safety, we can not go.
Look! if we are prepared to face down the Israeli gun boats then we are prepared for anything. We are all sensible, responsible adults who are prepared to do whatever it takes to get to Gaza.
I would have more to fear wondering into any one of the illegal Israeli settlements - we know from recent events, these settlements shield violent and dangerous thugs.
Should, however, the Zionist State use force against a peaceful mission it will reveal its true, ugly nature to the watching world - and believe me the world will be watching through live streaming on board.
I've no doubt we will be talking tactics tonight, but in the meantime we are so happy to be finally united as one group.
Paul Larudee, one of the leaders of the FGM, said: "We've been waiting a long time to unify our group, which has been split between Cyprus and Crete. We are excited to combine both groups who have worked so hard on this project and are so enthusiastic about setting out for Gaza.
"On the way in today, we had the Cypriot authorities escorting us. Now, it's time for the world to escort us to Gaza."
After a thorough inspection of both boats, the port authority let the 20 passengers from Cyprus on board to make final preparations, including a memorial service for the more than 5000 Palestinians who have lost their lives since September 2000 as well as the 34 sailors aboard the USS Liberty who were assassinated by Israel in 1967.
They, like the Palestinians, will not be forgotten. That service should be on Thursday, August 21 just before the boats begin their final journey to Gaza.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if everyone in the region with a boat joined our flotilla of peace and descended into Gazan waters?
Just imagine, if the Israeli Navy does get stroppy which boat will they try and stop?
Please allow me to remind you of Pastor Martin Neimoller's poem, it is so relevant to what is happening in Gaza today:
When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists ,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn't a Jew.
When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.
Please, remain silent no longer. Shout out your support to the Free Gaza Movement, shout out your support for the Palestinians and help us in any way you can ... trust me we will hear you and be encouraged.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Boats break Gaza siege

A group of peace activists on board two boats have broken the Israeli imposed blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Israel had earlier announced that it would not allow the convoy of more than 40 activists to enter the Gaza Strip and ordered the Israeli Navy to confront it. But it had to change its decision.
The boats carried humanitarian supplies including hearing aids for children whose hearing systems have been damaged by Israeli bombs and sonic booms.

The boats entered Gaza's territorial waters on Saturday afternoon.

Tel Aviv also announced that it would act about future similar measures individually.

The Liberty and Free Gaza boats started their trip on Friday.

The activists had earlier said Israel had jammed their communication systems, saying the regime is trying to sabotage their efforts.

In a statement the group said Israel scrambled the boats communication systems adding that
"We are not experienced sailors. As a result, there is concern about the health and safety of the people on board."

"Thousands of people have gathered together to welcome the peace activists who just arrived in Gaza", Yousef El-Helou, the Press TV correspondent in Gaza reported.

"We've entered Gazan waters. We're flying the Palestinian flag, and we now believe that we're going to reach the shores of Gaza very soon. I missed the start of the Berlin Wall coming down by just a few days, but now I know how people felt when they tore down those first few bricks.
Today is a huge victory of people over power," Press TV's presenter and journalist Yvonne Ridley who was on board one of the boats, had said earlier Saturday.

It is the first time that a NGO has managed to practically break the year-long siege of the Gaza Strip.

Israel imposed the blockade on the coastal are after Hamas took control of the area.
The team of activists includes high-profile people such as Lauren Booth, the sister-in-law of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Hedy Epstein, a Holocaust survivor.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Day 19

By Yvonne Ridley

I have been at sea now for more than 24 hours since the Free Gaza sailed from the last of the Greek island ports en route for Cyprus.

Life on board is beginning to test us all now but morale is still very high and our bonds as a team are growing stronger.

We probably all pong since there are no shower or bathing facilities on board and I haven’t had a good scrub for three days at least.

There are a couple of toilets, but I’m feeling slightly queasy at the moment so we’ll skip those details.

Living conditions as you’ve probably gathered are very basic and below decks is so hot and humid that most of us prefer to sleep on deck.

It is amazing how the body can adapt to a hard deck and the roll of the sea, but when you are so tired sleeping comes easy.

Meals are communal affairs, standing around the midship talking about a variety of subjects although Gaza is never very far away.

Lauren Booth, sister-in-law of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, has assumed the role of ship’s chef and I step in as her able assistant … eat your heart out ‘Kitchen goddess’ Nigella Lawson!

Most of the food suits the dietary needs of the vegan and vegetarians on board, all very simple and healthy, but I have to admit I am craving for some halal steak or lamb chops and film-maker Aki Nawaz says he’s dreaming of chicken!

Today we had a tactical meeting covering a variety of “what if” scenarios with a veteran campaigner of the International Solidarity Movement which was founded in 2001 to act in support of Palestinian non-violent resistance.

There’s a few ISM people on board from across Europe as well a retired American film producer and executive. And there’s myself and Aki Nawaz who are capturing all the excitement as well as the mundane to make a documentary of the mission for Press TV.

Just to remind you, our mission is to smash the medieval siege of Gaza using two boats called the SS Liberty and the Free Gaza.

By tomorrow morning (Wednesday) we should have reached Cyprus to pick up the rest of the international activists including Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein and co-organiser Greta Berlin who make up the Free Gaza Movement.

I can’t wait for when we are all reunited and finally put to sea for Palestinian waters.

I told you yesterday how Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has acknowledged that our mission is peaceful but has said we should handover any humanitarian aid for Israel to distribute.

Well Ms Livni, I don’t think we can trust you dear.

News has just reached me that the Scottish delegation which had a lorry load of aid for Gaza has been forced to turn back … after being detained at the Rafah Border for more than a month.

Quite frankly Ms Livni, speaking for myself now, you disgust me. Tell me why you and your government refused to let in medical aid bought by the good people of Scotland?

Your weasel words reveal you to be a liar of the worst kind – one without heart or compassion for the children of Gaza. You are a woman of straw and can not be trusted.

I thought your type had been dealt with at Nuremberg after the Second World War.

And yet today, to the eternal shame of the rest of the world, Ms Livni and her Zionist colleagues are overseeing the slow genocide of the Palestinians.

Probably just as well you did not accept the Free Gaza invitation to join our peace mission – I couldn’t have stood the smell of burning sulphur!

* More information about the FGM can be found on the website www.freegaza.org

18 Aug.

By Yvonne Ridley

Israel’s Foreign minister Tzipi Livni has warned the Free Gaza Movement that she will not tolerate plans by the international peace campaigners to sail in to Palestine.

In a long message sent to the peace activists yesterday, the foreign minister’s department was responding to an open invitation to Ms Livni to come on board either the SS Liberty or Free Gaza.

As you know, I am on board the Free Gaza which is presently heading for Cyprus where around 20 other international peace activists are waiting to join the floating peace mission.

Organizers are now confident of reaching Gaza, the world’s largest open air prison, by the weekend and were last night undeterred by the warning signals coming out of Livni’s office.

According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Zionist military officials say they will forcefully block our two boats if we try to break the medieval siege.

I can say with growing confidence, that the mood on board is defiant, but peaceful, and we will use the tactics adopted by Ghandi to repel any violence or aggression shown towards us.

I mentioned this to an old friend of mine, intelligence expert and acclaimed author of Gideon’s Spies, Gordon Thomas. After making a few calls himself he told me that Israel is in “no mood to put up with a group of peace activists who are trying to embarrass them.

“I am afraid Yvonne, if you and your friends do not comply then they will get tough. If you don’t turn back into international waters they will board your boats and tow you into Haifa.

“They are aware that Press TV, an Iranian broadcaster is on board, and you will not be treated like the BBC.”

According to the Foreign Ministry, Israel is within its rights to use force against us.

Well, all I can say is: “Bring it on”! We are not sailing into Israeli waters and therefore do not need or seek the permission of the Zionist State to enter Gaza.
Our boats will be checked by the relevant authorities before we sail and they will confirm we are armed with nothing more than goodwill and humanitarian aid for our Palestinian friends.

This is not a political mission and therefore we are not supporting any political groups.

However, I can tell you that the whole world will be watching the behaviour the Zionist State and how it treats peaceful people.

And we will have a web cam on board so you will be able to see for yourself what happens.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Day 15

As we sail from one secret location in the Greek islands to another I must say I am a wee bit concerned about the color of my lifejacket.

Now I know you would think my mind might be more focused on other burning issues ... like are we ever going to get to Cyprus to pick up the rest of our group? Or will we ever get to see Gaza's coastline and if we do, will we make it to the beaches? But the reason for today's particular focus is that news has just reached me on yet another shameful excuse the Israeli military has used for
firing upon a news team. First of all, let me remind you about the death of a Reuters cameraman.

Israeli military officials who investigated his death have now decided to take no further action against the tank crew that killed Fadel Shana and wounded his soundman Wafa Abu Mizyed in Gaza in April 2008.

Arab Media Watch, the International Federation of Journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists and other media watchdogs are calling for a full, independent inquiry. But what is really sad, is that most of the Western media has failed to report this latest shocking development. As AMW says, this is surprising given its life-threatening implications for all journalists reporting from the occupied Palestinian territories.

I certainly hope it does not deter the media from joining our venture to report our progress in breaking the siege of Gaza. Anyway, if I can return to the color of my lifejacket - it is navy blue and the reason I am slightly concerned is that the Israeli military claim that the tank crew which attacked the Reuters news team, was justified in its actions because the blue flack jackets worn by Shana and Abu Mizyed were "common to Palestinian terrorists." So I am today giving fair warning to the Israeli Navy, the peace activists on board the Free Gaza and the SS Liberty will all be wearing navy-colored lifejackets. Fire on you and us are firing on a peace-loving group of activists who are not armed, or dangerous and present absolutely no threat to the fourth largest military in the world.

Should we be unlucky enough to end in the sea our blue jackets will then inflate to reveal a bright orange color. Each jacket has a whistle which by anyone's standards is not a weapon. I just want to write this down for the record because it seems that Israel can silence the media with bombs and bullets and then come out with the most ridiculous defense for its disgusting actions. And for those more interested in the progress of our trip, I can say it has now taken on a new momentum since we left Chania in Crete.

For my landlubber friends waiting so patiently in Larnaca I can say with confidence that we are only days away from being reunited. And then, dear readers, we will be Gaza bound to smash the medieval blockade. By the way, to those of you who have responded so generously to my calls for funds to continue the Free Gaza project, thank you very much. And to those of you who want to support us further please check out the www.freegraza.org website.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Day 14

ISRAEL will stop at nothing to thwart the Free Gaza Movement.

And as our two-boat mission continues to head towards Cyprus there have been several attempts to undermine the heroic campaign to smash the siege of Gaza.

For instance, earlier this week someone fired a rocket at Israel from Gaza in defiance of the Hamas-brokered truce.

I can also tell you that whoever did fire the rocket into the Zionist State was also working for the Zionist State.

Yes, sadly, there are collaborators inside Gaza and the rocket firing was not only an attempt to wreck the cease-fire, it was a deliberate ploy to scupper the Free Gaza Movement which is gathering world attention and support.

As someone who has written about and studied the activities of intelligence agencies across the world for more than two decades, I can tell you that since the demise of the East German Stasi, there is no other spy agency as skilled at the art of black propaganda as Israel's Mossad.

And I see my conclusion is also shared by a senior leader in Hamas, Dr Mahmud Zahar, who has criticised the rocket attack from Gaza in violation of a seven-week-old calm.

He said: "I think those who are responsible are those who collaborate with Israel because there is a consensus by all Palestinian groups to respect the truce."

The rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed in an empty field outside the southern Israeli city of Sderot, causing no casualty or damage on Monday evening.

Speaking to Gaza radio station, Dr Zahar said whoever launched the rocket was "linked to Israel as they provide a pretext to exercise pressure on the Palestinian people."

And, of course, for every action there is a reaction by the Zionist State which uses such attacks to justify its vile actions. The following day Israel squeezed the immense pressure already exerted on the people of Gaza by closing the Nahal Oz crossing to Gaza Strip that is used to ferry in fuel and the Sufa passage for food deliveries to the impoverished and blockaded territory.

On his part, MP Jamal Al-Khudari, the head of the popular committee against the siege, strongly denounced the Israeli decision to close the crossings, stating that the Gaza commercial crossings are already paralyzed despite the calm.

In a press statement, Khudari underlined that the Gaza crossings especially Al-Mintar (Karni) crossing must remain open around the clock for more than a year in order to end the effects of the Israeli siege imposed on the Strip two years ago. The lawmaker also pointed out that Gaza needs more than 400 trucks laden with raw materials necessary for various industrial sectors.
Of course all this has given Israel yet another excuse to tighten its merciless grip on the world's largest open air prison, and firing the rocket has given the Israeli Navy a good excuse to try and stop our seaborne mission to smash the siege of Gaza using two boats - the SS Free Gaza and the SS Liberty.

Their efforts will, of course, be in vain because as regular readers of this blog know, the Free Gaza Movement activists are determined to let nothing stop them in their peaceful mission to reach the people of Gaza by sea.

We are not asking permission to enter Israel. We pose absolutely no threat to Israel. We just want to reach the beach on the Gaza Strip with messages of peace, goodwill and some hearing aids for all those Palestinian children with hearing problems caused by Israeli bombs.

Of course the collaborators who fired the rocket into Israel earlier this week have not helped our cause, but I wonder just what pressure the Zionist State put on them to do this destructive action.

I only say this because of a report released just a few days ago which revealed Israel's secret police are pressuring Palestinians in Gaza to spy on their community in exchange for urgent medical treatment.

The report was released by an Israeli human rights organisation. Physicians for Human Rights says the Shin Bet began interrogating Palestinian patients seeking permission to travel from Gaza to Israel for crucial medical help after Israel blockaded and then declared the tiny territory an enemy entity more than a year ago.

Typically, patients are taken to a small, windowless room, underground, beneath the security terminal at Erez, the only passenger crossing that remains open between Gaza and Israel, where they are questioned by Shin Bet agents for hours, the report says.

Refusal to cooperate often results in the denial of medical treatment. Based on the testimonies of more than 30 Palestinians - 11 of which are published - the report says the Shin Bet is using coercion and extortion to force patients to collaborate.

So you see, Israel's intelligence services are capable of anything and believe me, I could write much more on what they've tried to do to stop us but that can wait until another day.

In the meantime our focus is Gaza and getting there, insh'Allah.

* Yvonne Ridley and film-maker Aki Nawaz are on board the Free Gaza and the SS Liberty making a documentary for Press TV about the journey from the Greek islands to Cyprus and then on to Gaza.

Day 13

The first leg of our seaborne journey was completed early this morning after a night sailing in stormy waters which really tested the endurance of the Free Gaza and SS Liberty following our departure from the port of Chania in Crete.

We are now docked in another secret location in the Greek islands - sorry but there are genuine concerns for the security of our two boats so I can say no more about our location.

We have already been delayed by a few days but I am happy to say we are all as determined as ever to smash the brutal Israel blockade strangling the good people of Gaza.

News reports are scarce out at sea but I've just heard that America, Britain and France, fresh from their recent war games in the Atlantic Ocean are now preparing for a naval blockade of Iran giving rise to speculation in the region of war in the Persian Gulf area.

Well I know for sure that Iran is not Gaza. It is armed and has a capable navy ready to repel such nonsense on its own doorstep.

But, as I write I am told that the Western armada steaming towards Iran includes a US Navy super-carrier battle group, a US Navy expeditionary carrier battle group, a Royal Navy carrier battle group, a French nuclear hunter-killer submarine plus a large number of US Navy cruisers, destroyers and frigates playing the "enemy force".

I suppose it makes our little two-boat armada of the SS Free Gaza and the SS Liberty seem incredibly tiny, but I can tell you when it comes to determination, sheer guts and a total conviction of what we're doing is right then we totally out gun the bullying super powers.

You see all those sailors heading towards the Persian Gulf will have grave doubts about their mission and where it will end ... there's already talk of a Third World War erupting. US servicemen are increasingly going absent without leave and the suicide rate among the young military is increasingly high because of the Vietnam-style quagmire they've already got themselves into in Iraq and Afghanistan.

However, the crews of the Free Gaza campaign have no such doubts about our mission and why it must succeed. And, despite the enormous challenges we're still together.

And who knows, after we break the siege of Gaza may be we should then head towards the Persian Gulf and give the US navy a demonstration of the power of peaceful resistance.
Well perhaps I am getting ahead of myself now.

The one thing I do envy though is the enormous military aid thrown at the Persian Gulf-bound armada - I don't suppose you'll ever see the US Navy trying to raise funds at a bring and buy sale.

Well I don't mind admitting that our Free Gaza campaign was launched on a shoestring budget and floats thanks to cash gifts from our global supporters - but if you do fancy giving us some more help then go on to our website www.freegaza.com and buy a gallon or so of fuel or sponsor a leg of our journey.

And once we smash the Israeli blockade we really want to keep the shipping lanes open between Gaza and the rest of the world so intend to run a regular route to and from Cyprus and other ports in the region. So please donate and help keep our boats afloat.

Yvonne Ridley and film-maker Aki Nawaz are making a documentary about the Free Gaza campaign for Press TV.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Day 12

By the time you read this our two boats, the Free Gaza and SS Liberty should be sailing from Chania's old port in Crete despite a gloomy forecast of storms ahead.

Our captains have decided it is time to quit our dock for security reasons and so we are heading along the Crete coastline on our way to pick up the rest of our passengers who have been waiting patiently in Cyprus.

We could be in for a rough ride, but without going into too much detail, we probably are more at risk by not moving.

Israel has a history of using Mossad and Kidon to sabotage and destroy peaceful operations designed to help or show solidarity towards Palestinians.

From Crete we will head towards larnaca, Cyprus to pick up the rest of our group and then we are bound for Gaza to break the medieval siege imposed by Israel.

Media interest is once again gathering momentum and there are those who want to join us on board while others are considering hiring their own boats ... the more the merrier. Wouldn't it be great if we had a huge flotilla?

However, there are concerns from the media because Israel has a history of shooting, killing, and arresting journalists who try to report the truth about the brutal occupation of Palestine.

I was reminded of this only this morning as I read a release a few minutes ago from Reporters Without Borders. The human rights group was condemning today's announcement by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) to detain Ibrahim Hamad, a soundman employed by the Palestinian news agency Ramattan, for six months without bringing charges and without taking him before any court.

Hamad was arrested by Israeli soldiers at his home in Qalandiyah, near the West Bank city of Ramallah, on July 15. “The Israeli military may not under any circumstances arrest journalists or media assistants without giving a reason,” Reporters Without Borders said.

“If they think a journalist has done something wrong, they must say what it is and they must explain why they are arresting him. We call for Hamad's immediate release.”

When reached by Reporters Without Borders, the management of Ramattan firmly condemned his arrest and called for his release.

They also called on the Israeli authorities to explain why they are holding him. “This is not the first time that one of our employees has been arrested by the Israeli military,” the agency said.

Israeli boasts it is a democracy ... these are not the actions of a democratic state. These are the actions of a brutal state which tries to crush those dedicated to telling the truth about the full horrors of the Zionist regime and its determination to see through its deliberate and slow genocide of the Palestinian people.

We will be able to see in a few days time exactly how the Israelis react to a group of peaceful activists who want to sail into Gaza armed with nothing more than love and support for their Palestinian brothers and sisters.

If Israel is really a free and open democracy then its Navy will let us past, Mossad will stop trying to sabotage our journey and all of the journalists on board, including myself, will be able to report the truth about what is happening in the world's largest open air prison called Gaza.
In the meantime, I would urge the IOF to release our brother Ibrahim Hamad and allow him to continue his media work.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Day 11

Apologies to all, I was just too depressed to relay my latest news about the Free Gaza Campaign ... our seaborne mission to smash the Israeli siege has been delayed yet again, by bad weather.

Ken O'Keefe, one of the several captains to skipper the SS liberty and SS Free Gaza, reckons that conditions in the Mediterranean would prove too risky to set sail from Crete for Cyprus until later in the week.

"Safety comes first," he said in his coffee smooth, American accent.

The irony was not lost on several of us who fully expect to be facing down Israeli gunships very soon.

I was absolutely crestfallen and being told to swab the decks, clean the heads (toilets) and empty the rubbish bags did nothing to lift my spirits this morning.

After carrying out my chores along with everyone else, I decided to have a word with Captain Ken and he turned out to be just as amazing as many of the passengers.

He is a striking man with an amazing array of politically inspired tattoos. He also insists he is an Irishman with a passport from the Emerald Isle to prove it.

However, I can reveal he was actually born a US citizen and periodically burns his American passport to symbolically disown his country of origin.

The good captain describes himself as a citizen of the world and has no time for such a war-mongering, imperialistic entity as the United States, hence the change of nationality - lucky man has an Irish granny.

The funny thing is it seems the US does not want to let go of a potential tax payer and so his passport is renewed as a reminder of his fiscal obligations. Uncle Sam refuses to let him go.
We talked in the old harbor of Chania, Crete yesterday about the tactics he may have to employ when we sail into the waters off Gaza.

I will not go in to detail, but suffice to say he is as committed to this project as everyone else on board, and it seems putting his life on the line for humanity is nothing new.

Ken was one of nearly 100 human shields who went to Baghdad before 'Shock and Awe' was unleashed during the illegal invasion of Iraq, and although he was deported just before the war started, he was prepared to pay the ultimate sacrifice.

"I don't want to die, but there comes a time when you have to take responsibility as a citizen of the world. I am not a violent man but I can not stand by and watch the sufferings of others and do nothing," he told me.

And, of course, like all of us out here in Crete and Cyprus, he does not want to die. In fact, Captain Ken has a great deal to live for - his Palestinian wife is five months pregnant.

Well I might have blisters on my hands, housemaid's knee and bleach stains on my clothes, but talking to the captain of our ship yesterday really cheered me up.

That and the news hundreds of people turned out to a press conference in Gaza earlier this week to discuss the arrival of the Free Gaza boats which will, Insh'allah, smash the Israeli blockade to break into the world's largest open air prison.

We are not going to let high winds get us down too much - so please keep the faith and see you all soon in Gaza.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Day 9

I started becoming politically aware as a child when I heard mention of the name Nelson Mandela and, depending on your viewpoint, he was either a heroic freedom fighter or a terrorist.
As I began entering my teens the whole grotesque business of Apartheid South Africa became more and more apparent and even more abhorrent in my eyes.

Why should someone be discriminated against on the color of their skin ... well that's like picking on someone because they're of a different faith, I thought.

Public awareness, boycott campaigns, political pressure, ordinary folk mobilizing and putting their lives at risk to highlight the struggle of black South Africans made headlines.

Of course, we know how the brutality of that Apartheid regime came crashing down and today no one speaks about Nelson Mandela other than in glowing terms.

Parallels are now being drawn with the Anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa and the demand for justice for Palestinians.

Israel is no longer seen as a victim but a jack-booted thug, bully and oppressor.

International outrage and cries for justice are growing ever louder and I can see public opinion turning away from the Zionist state on a daily basis - gone are the days of 'plucky little Israel' fighting for its very existence.

No one believes anymore that it will be driven into the seas. (Personally, I believe it will implode. It is a failed state which can only thrive on the misery and injustice of others).

Judging by the positive media our Free Gaza Movement is receiving it is quite obvious the tide of public opinion is turning just as it did against the oppressive regime in South Africa.

But in the meantime it has to be said that Mahmoud Abbas is no Mandela. He sits, almost in silence as the atrocities against his own people are continuing which makes me realize how vital is the success of our peaceful mission.

Despite a few minor hiccups delaying our launch, we will be sailing from Crete for Cyprus and then on to Palestine to smash the siege of Gaza using two boats crewed by an international brigade of peace activists from across the world.

We have been told to expect thousands of Palestinians taking to the beaches in Gaza to give us a welcome when our two boats SS Free Gaza and SS Liberty arrive.

Sadly, one face not among the crowds will be that of 12-year-old Mohamed Bahloul who is lying in a shabby, hospital ward in Gaza. He is suffering from kidney failure and is hooked up to a dilapidated dialysis machine which barely operates.

Sadly, Mohamed's case is all too common.

Welcome to the reality of life in Gaza - despite the ceasefire between the Hamas government in Gaza and Israel that ensured that homemade rockets are no longer fired at southern Israeli towns. Despite this ceasefire, there is no respite from poverty and the medieval siege in Gaza. And what's more the situation is getting worse by the day.

Hospitals are lacking equipment and medicine, and neither Israel nor Egypt allows Palestinians fro m Gaza suffering from life threatening illnesses to travel freely, and on a regular basis. Now even water in Gaza is polluted beyond foreseeable remedy.

"If there is a stronger word than catastrophe, I would use that word," said Nader al-Khateeb, the Palestinian director of Friends of the Earth Middle East. The catastrophe is a "result of Gaza's dilapidated water and sewage infrastructure undermined by [Israeli] attacks and fuel blockades."

This slow genocide of the people of Gaza is a shame to all of us.

And if, in any tiny way, our little peace mission to smash the Israeli blockade of Gaza, can relieve some of the suffering then we will have achieved a minor victory.

Because what I do know is that the Arab leaders in the region are doing nothing to help the plight of their brothers and sisters in Palestine.

And Western politicians may dismiss our efforts as amateurish, but at least we are doing something positive.Their achievements have amounted to very little after 60 years of diplomacy.

Some of the most disgusting behavior has come from neighboring Egypt as I mentioned yesterday when I attacked Hosni Mubarak a man who dances to the tunes played by the US and Israeli pipers.

In the meantime, Hamas is regularly derided for human rights violations reported in Gaza, which are now being used retrospectively to justify the brutal Israeli siege. At the same time, Mahmoud Abbas's party hardly receives any reprimand for its brutality towards its own people.
In truth, Abbas is a US controlled puppet who sits over an extremely corrupt regime bankrolled by America and other donors.

According to some western media reports, you might be forgiven for thinking that the conflict is entirely the fault of rival Palestinians, with the Zionist state being nothing more than an innocent observer which has to put up with its noisy neighbors.

However, let me remind you of the words of UN Special rapporteur on human rights, John Dugard who wrote last year, "The question whether Gaza remains an occupied territory is now of academic interest only.

In the course of the cynically named "Operation Summer Rains" that commenced on 25 June, the IDF has not only asserted its control in Gaza by means of heavy shelling, but has also done so by means of a military presence."

Make no mistake; Israel is presiding over a slow genocide of the people who exist in the Gaza Strip.

Meanwhile, I am told to watch out for new tactics from the Zionist military as they attempt to stop our boats from sailing into Gaza in a few days time.

Reports have just reached me that a couple of days ago as Palestinians, internationals and Israeli activists demonstrated against the Israeli Apartheid wall in Bi'lin. Soldiers began to spray an unknown substance over the demonstrators from a truck.

The liquid was discolored and foul smelling and a number of demonstrators vomited and many had to leave the area, as the stench was so unbearable. As demonstrators withdrew, soldiers also fired tear gas canisters at them.

This, apparently is a new low in the tactics deployed by the fourth largest army in the world ... a cowardly army which uses live rounds to kill and maim women and children.
Activists are awaiting results from analysis of the liquid samples that were collected during the demonstration and naturally, I have a personal interest in knowing their contents.

But all of this behavior from these silly men in uniforms only makes me more determined than ever to step on to the beach of Gaza. And once I get there the first person I am going to ask about is our little brother who is hooked up to a dialysis machine. Hang in there, Mohamed.
PS: Apologies to the wonderful Uri Davies who I interviewed the first day I arrived in Cyprus to join the Free Gaza Movement. I referred to him as an Israeli Jew. He says he is neither - he is in fact a Palestinian-Hebrew (citizen of the apartheid state of Israel and of the allegedly democratic monarchy of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland - NOT an "Israeli").

Glad that is sorted!

Mary Hughes Thompson

Nationality: Canadian

Mary was born in Bolton, England and immigrated to Canada, then to the United States. She is a member of the Writer’s Guild in Los Angeles, a licensed pilot and a proud grandmother. She’s been to the occupied West Bank six times, and this will be her seventh trip and her first to Gaza. In 2002, she was beaten by illegal settlers from Itamar near Yanoon, where she was helping Palestinian farmers harvest their olives.

'SS Liberty' Sails to Challenge Israel

July 30, 2008Military.comby Bryant Jordan

Forty-one years after the American surveillance ship USS Liberty was napalmed, torpedoed and strafed by Israeli naval and air forces during the Six-Day War, another "Liberty" will be setting out from a Cyprus port in August to try to break through the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.
The "SS Liberty" is one of two ships -- along with "SS Free Gaza" -- that will be carrying an international group opposed to Israel's blockade of Gaza. Israel imposed the blockade just over a year ago.

Karin Pally, a spokeswoman in Los Angeles for the group Free Gaza Movement, said the ship was named in honor of 34 Sailors and Marines killed in the attack and to help bring the Gaza
issue home to Americans.

Jim Ennes, an officer aboard the original Liberty and author of the book Assault on the Liberty said he was invited to take part in the protest sailing to Gaza but was not able to make it.
Until contacted by Military.com for comment, Ennes was unaware that organizers had named one of the ships after the Liberty, but he said he is "absolutely" pleased with the move and wishes he could be there.

Israel attacked the Liberty on June 8, 1967, later saying they thought it was an Egyptian vessel -- though survivors and others have long said the Israeli pilots and sailors knew exactly who they targeted.

The U.S. Navy began telling families of the American dead that the attack was accidental even before it convened an official board of inquiry, which about 10 days later delivered that same finding, according to Navy documents.

Six years ago the legal affairs adviser to the board, retired Capt. Ward Boston, broke his silence to say the investigation was a sham, and that the final version was altered to exonerate the Israelis. Boston died in June.

Pally said the two ships will include about 40 passengers from 16 countries, including Israel and the United States.

"Everyone is committed to non-violence," she said of the participants. "The Free Gaza Movement has arranged with a third party security expert to completely secure and search the boats before they leave Cyprus to make sure there are no weapons or anything dangerous aboard."

The larger of the two ships, the SS Free Gaza, will be equipped with a Web cam and will be posting streaming video to their Web site -- www.freegaza.org -- during the voyage, Pally said.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

SS Free Gaza and SS Liberty Arrive in Chania, Crete,Saturday, 9 August at 21:00 p.m.
For further information, contact:
+6932 766496 for directions or Greta Berlin, +357 99 08 17 67

Nicosia/Lefkosia, Cyprus, August 9. The Free Gaza Movement announced yesterday that their boats, the SS FREE GAZA and the SS LIBERTY, destined to break the Israeli siege of Gaza, will arrive in Chania, Crete, today, Saturday, August 9, at 9 p.m. where a press conference will be held to welcome them, near Souda Bay’s US Sixth Fleet and NATO base.

Human rights activists Lauren Booth (sister in law of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair), Huwaida Arraf (a Palestinian-American residing in Ramallah, Palestine), and Jeff Halper (an Israeli Jew nominated for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for opposing demolitions of Palestinian homes) will be available at the press conference for interviews.

"This will be the first time that our two boats will be publicly displayed and photographers are welcome to come, take photos and post their images." said Paul Larudee, on board the boats sailing toward Chania. "Internationals are gathering across the world – in Beijing and Cyprus – with the common dream of peace and justice for everyone."

Some survivors of USS Liberty request: “What is the possibility of you and the crew of the SS Liberty throwing 34 long stemmed roses into the sea as a memorial to the 34 Americans killed aboard the USS Liberty? We will pay for the roses or whatever else you have in mind. The survivors of the Liberty and their families would be eternally grateful to you and your ship mates for this gesture as no one has ever done anything like this before.” Another wrote: “I am one of the survivors of the USS Liberty. A very tired man, who woke up somewhat when I heard of the SS Liberty. I was the petty officer in charge of the body recovery and identification, and I remember it almost like it was yesterday. May God Be With You.” So, when we leave Cyprus next week, we hope to have a ceremony for all of those Americans (whose names we shall read out) killed by the Israelis on board the ship in 1967.

For more information: www.freegaza.org – live video streaming will soon be available
Media: http://www.freegaza.org/index.php?language=EN&module=latest_news

Free Gaza Movement Welcoming Ceremony

Sunday 10th August 2008

Dear all,

On behalf of the Free Gaza Boat, The Palestinian International Campaign To End The Siege On Gaza and The Popular Committee Against Siege would warmly like to invite you to participate in our cultural activities that will take place at the Gaza port "Fishermen Port" to be held on 10th of August 2008 next Sunday at 6:30pm till 8:30pm. The activities will be launched by The Popular Committee and The Palestinian International Campaign to End the Siege in co-ordination with a number of local NGOs. These activities represent the pre-welcoming phase to the arrival of Free Gaza Boat.

A press conference will be held during the event.

We appreciate your attendance with great gratitude.

Day 8

HOORAH! The hour has arrived ... by the time you read this I should be onboard one of the two boats bound for Gaza to break the Israeli-enforced siege.
At around 9pm on Saturday evening the SS Free Gaza and the SS Liberty sailed in to the idyllic port of Chania on the Greek island of Crete, where film-maker Aki Nawaz and myself have been marooned for the past few days. Actually we can't complain too much - this is an amazing location ... and completely free of the drunken British drongos who usually engulf the Mediterranean at this time of year.
We linked up in Chania with fellow passengers journalist Lauren Booth (aka Tony Blair's sister-in-law), Palestinian-American Huwaisa Arraf who lives in Ramallah and the remarkable Jeff Halper, an Israeli Jew nominated for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for opposing demolitions of Palestinian homes. It's a very exciting day for Aki Nawaz and myself - not only do we finally get to find our sea legs, but it is the first time that the two boats have been publically displayed.
On board already to greet us was co-organiser of the Free Gaza Movement, Paul Larudee and a group of other activists.
The plan now is to sail to Larnaca in Cyprus where we will pick up the bulk of the other Free Gaza campaigners who number nearly 40 and represent 15 different nationalities - our country's flags will be hoisted up the masts. But before we head to Gaza from Cyprus there's another more poignant ceremony to do.
As you know, one of our boats is called the Liberty in memory of the USS Liberty which was bombed, napalmed and torpedoed by Israel during the Seven Day War.
I wrote about the incident in a previous blog about how 34 US naval men were killed and 172 injured. Well it turns out that some of the survivors have heard about our plans to smash the siege of Gaza and they've made a request. One wrote: “What is the possibility of you and the crew of the SS Liberty throwing 34 long stemmed roses into the sea as a memorial to the 34 Americans killed aboard the USS Liberty?
"The survivors of the Liberty and their families would be eternally grateful to you and your ship mates for this gesture as no one has ever done anything like this before.” Another wrote: “I am one of the survivors of the USS Liberty. A very tired man, who woke up somewhat when I heard of the SS Liberty. I was the petty officer in charge of the body recovery and identification, and I remember it almost like it was yesterday. May God Be With You.”
So, when we leave Cyprus early next week, we hope to have a ceremony for all of those killed by the Israelis on board the ship in 1967. Co-organiser Greta Berlin says the names of the dead will also be read out. Jim Ennes, an officer aboard the original Liberty and author of the book Assault on the Liberty was invited to take part in Free Gaza campaign to smash Israel's siege by peaceful means.

Until our project was launched he was unaware that organizers had named one of the ships after the Liberty, but he is said to be "absolutely" pleased with the move and wishes he could be there.

Just to fill you in a little more on the background of the USS Liberty - this is one massacre the White House never commemorates because there has been, and continues to be, a huge cover-up.
While the Bush Administration loves to make a big deal about the terrorist bombing of the USS Cole on October 12 2000 while it was berthed in Aden, Yemen, in which 17 American sailors were killed, nothing is ever mentioned about the deliberate attack on the Liberty.
You tell me what is the difference between an act of state sponsored terrorism or terrorism carried out by individuals - innocents die in both and the death of innocents is to be condemned at all times. The fact is Israel deliberately attacked the Liberty on June 8, 1967, later saying they thought it was an Egyptian vessel - though survivors and others have long said the Israeli pilots and sailors knew exactly who they targeted.

The US Navy began telling families of the American dead that the attack was accidental even before it convened an official board of inquiry, which about 10 days later delivered that same finding, according to Navy documents.

Only six years ago the legal affairs adviser to the board, retired Capt. Ward Boston, broke his silence to say the investigation was a sham, and that the final version was altered to exonerate the Israelis. Boston died in June.

Personally, I think we should also drop a rose into the water for him for finally having the courage to tell the truth.

A lot of deceit and lies have floated to the surface since the Free Gaza Movement launched its campaign two years ago. Now, at last, the dream and vision of the organisers has become a reality - we are on our way to Gaza armed with nothing more than a vision of peace and a desire to expose the truth. And, as we are beginning to find out, telling the truth in these treacherous times is becoming an act of resistance in itself.
* For more information: www.freegaza.org – live video streaming will soon be available. And since funds are now running low, if you can donate towards this amazing project then please do so. This breaking the siege og Gaza is not a one off - the aim of the campaign is to raise awareness as well as open a direct sailing route between the people of Gaza and Cyprus.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

We brave death to break the Gaza siege

Press TV producer and presenter Yvonne Ridley talks to George Galloway from a gulf in Greek waters. Yvonne and her fellow peace activists are sailing to Gaza to break the Israeli blockade of the coastal strip and deliver humanitarian aid to Palestinians.

George Galloway: Why is she in a Greek gulf? Is she sheltering from a storm to come? However, she cannot shelter from the storms still to come because they are to sail all the way to Gaza.

May God go with them and certainly, they have the highest hopes of all good people from all around the world. Here, we have Yvonne Ridley as the first caller on Comment this evening. Hello Yvonne Ridley welcome to Comment on Press TV. You are sheltering from a storm was it a typhoon or what?

Yvonne Ridley: No, we have got two boats: the Free Gaza and the Liberty that are sailing towards Cyprus and the trip has been delayed because of high winds, and so I, myself flew to a secret destination to link up with the boats to film the whole voyage for Press TV. Everything is shrouded in secrecy because of course Israel has a history of trying to scupper these little ventures. So that's why I am secretive at the moment about our exact location, as my mother used to say, "Loose lips sink ships".

George Galloway: Yes exactly, now you have a secret weapon on board and that is the sister-in-law of Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, Lauren Booth. She is of course a great supporter of the Palestinian people. That's quiet an achievement to get her on board.

Yvonne Ridley: Yes, she is a great fan. She is like you George. She shoots from her lips, and she speaks the truth and she's actually thrown the challenge to Tony Blair, because of course he tried to get into Gaza and backed off when the intelligent services in Israel told him that he could be a target. She said to him come onboard the ship, have the guts to sail with us to break the siege of Gaza.

George Galloway: Well, Yvonne you have, as I say, the best wishes of everyone watching this, all your friends around the world. It is a very brave thing that you are doing. What are the chances of you steaming into the harbor in Gaza? It would be such a lift to the people there.

Yvonne Ridley: It would be terrific. Nearly 40 activists from nearly 20 countries around the world including an 83-year-old Holocaust survivor, Hedy Epstein, have joined us. We are all determined that we are not going to be stopped. They can try every trick in the book. They are trying international diplomacy. They are trying to bully different governments. They are trying also to stop us from going ahead. We are determined through hell and high waters to sail into Gaza. There are tens of thousands of people expected to come on the beaches to greet us. In short, George unless the Israelis are trying to blow us up on the waters, we are not going to stop. Both skippers on these boats are Irish because we know the determination of Irish. So I think we have got a good chance of doing it

George Galloway: well it seems that you have got the winds in your sails. You have the prayer of the good people of the world. May God go with you! We look forward to seeing you touching the sands of Gaza, lifting the hearts and the spirits of the besieged people there. Thank you very much Yvonne Ridley of Press TV!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Gaza siege, security concerns or collective punishment?

Among the peace activists who are to break the Gaza siege are Lauren Booth, British journalist and the sister-in-law of former UK PM Tony Blair.

The following is Lauren's interview with Press TV:

Q: Any chance the Israeli authorities are going to let you through so that you can break the blockade of Gaza?

A: Well interestingly yesterday on the BBC, one of the diplomats from Israel said under no circumstances will any of these ships be allowed to arrive in Gaza. And really, that was a mistake, a diplomatic error on his part of Israel because it shows that security questions are not the reason they are blockading the sea and the lands and the air around Gaza.

It appears to be a collective punishment for the 1.5 million civilians living there and to say that you won't let any boats in even when all security measures have been met, which they have been, and will be - that was a mistake.

Q: At the moment, the reports I have say the Israeli foreign ministry is following developments. So, as far as you are hearing they are saying no at the moment?

A: The people here, the organizers believe that it is very likely that there will be an interception at sea by the Israeli navy. But everybody on this boat, the journalists included, sincerely hope that we will get through because let's remember that 80 percent of Gazans have been forced into poverty and rely on aid. They need this source open and they need the world to start taking their human rights seriously.

Q: Are you getting full support from the Cypriot government?

A: The Cypriot government has agreed because the ships have passed customs checks, so they have agreed that they should be allowed to sail.

Q: You are getting quite a lot of the attention being the sister of Nora, the wife of the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Did you ask, in fact, whether the present envoy of the Quartet would come along on your attempt to break the blockade of Gaza?

A: You know it's a really good idea, and I'd like to take this chance and invite Tony Blair as the Middle East envoy to come onto the boat or to sail alongside us and come and see Gaza for himself because I've been there and sadly recently he has not. And if he were to go, he'd see that for shops, of course, Israel only allows nine basic materials instead of the 200 needed to maintain the society. It's his job to be going, not mine. Why isn't he there?

Q: Describe who else is on board with you.

A: There are some fantastic people here. There is Hedy Epstein. She is an 82-year-old Holocaust survivor. She is a human rights activist full of energy, very keen to see justice in Palestine.

We have Sister Ann Montgomery, Catholic nun, 81.

There are campaigners who are 22 years old, mothers, parents, attorneys, doctors, all from around the world. I am very proud to be spending time with these people.


Day 7

By Yvonne Ridley

This Sunday, around the time our peace flotilla will be attempting to smash the siege of Gaza by sea, a group of Scottish activists will be launching their own protest on land.

A Tartan army is gathering at 2pm in Mound Precinct on Princes Street to show support for another group of blockade breakers who are desperately trying to get urgent medical aid through to Palestinians. And the rally is also being held to show their outrage as well towards the Zionist State which can no longer shake off its reptilian image to ordinary people across the world.

Israel says it pulled out of Gaza two years ago and there is NO siege. Poppycock!
The Zionist State is lying and with the help of Egypt's despicable President Hosni Mubarak, they are exerting more pressure on the weakest members of the Gaza community.

Mubarak, who makes some of the most brutal, oppressive Pharonic dynasties look like a bunch of Tupperware Agents, is a disgrace to humanity.

Great leaders are respected for their courage and wisdom - Mubarak, a man who bellydances and contorts himself to please his Zionist masters in Tel Aviv, has neither of these qualities.

Of course his real masters are in Washington and it's their dollars that have turned him into the Chief Pimp of Arab politics.

The latest example of Mubarak's craven behaviour surfaced when humanitarians Linda Willis and Khalil al Niss were kept waiting at the Rafah-Gaza border to deliver medical supplies to a hospital in Gaza.

They spent 10 days driving across Europe with 1.5 tonnes of medical supplies donated by kind-hearted Scots but for the past two weeks their van has been held up by officials.

Mubarak's men are refusing them entry saying they do not have the correct paperwork.
I feel ashamed that only yesterday I was writing to you all, complaining that some high winds had delayed our own peace mission by a couple of days - I really do salute the stamina of Linda and Khalil.

Sadly Linda, 51, a nurse has now been forced to return to Edinburgh leaving Khalil, 49, who is from Jerusalem, to wait, and wait and wait.

One of the hospitals is just five minutes from the border where these jumped up soldiers of Mubarak are refusing to let him pass.

The venture is supported by the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign and they have now enlisted heavyweight political leader Alex Salmond.

The van is packed with medical supplies including medication for heart conditions and diabetes, as well as syringes, bandages, swabs, antibiotics, blood bottles for taking samples, and more advanced equipment such as endotracheal tubes for use in surgery.


As I said before, this aid mission is stuck at the Rafah crossing, the only Egypt-Gaza gateway which has been continuously closed since June 2007, with brief openings for extreme cases. They were initially made to wait more than 24 hours at the border town of Nuweiba, where Egyptian authorities sent them to six departments to fill out forms.

The couple have been interviewed by numerous officials from the Egyptian border, Egyptian intelligence, and the weak and feckless Palestinian Authority, but still lack the permission to deliver the medical supplies.

The two recently submitted to Egypt's Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman a letter with the signatures of six Scottish MPs supporting their mission. Although the letter was requested by the Egyptian authorities handling the case, no reply has been forthcoming.

They have also faced down threats to impound their van.

Well I will be making dua for my brother Khalil's patience and I hope he succeeds in his mission, just as we are determined to succeed in ours.

Insh'Allah we'll all meet in Gaza to exchange stories and tales about overcoming the pettiness of the Zionists and their feckless supporters.

The parallels being drawn between Israel and Apartheid South Africa are growing stronger by the day.

This is not the way to win over the international community and the more Israel stamps its jackboots and refuses peace missions and initiatives the more damaged is its reputation.

Might is not right. But our determination to succeed smashing the siege by land and sea is far more powerful than any red tape, petty politics or artillery.

Well done to everyone who turns up to protest in Edinburgh on Sunday - please continue to protest, shout and highlight the brutality of the Zionist State.

And as for you Khalil - well, we'll see you in Gaza soon, insh'Allah.

Kathleen Wang

Nationality: US

Kathleen, an LA resident since 1967 raising and supporting her family, says her sympathies lie with those families who are prevented from caring for their beloved children and grandchildren due to the cruel Israeli occupation of Palestinian Territories. She tends her 8 grandchildren whenever possible and delights in her new great-grandchild.


Donna Wallach


Nationality: US/Israeli

Donna, 57, is an anti-Zionist activist working for social and environmental justice. She lives in San Jose, California (USA) and is of Eastern-European Jewish descent. She joins the boat crew in grief and outrage that all historical Palestine is still occupied by the apartheid state of Israel.

Darlene Wallach

Nationality: US

Darlene, 57, is an anti-Zionist activist for social and environmental justice. She lives in San Jose, California (USA) and is of Jewish Eastern-European descent. Darlene spent almost two months in Palestine from May to July 2002. She visited Gaza, Ramallah and then a night at the Balata Refugee camp where she was detained and arrested with seven other internationals. All eight received deportation orders from the minister of the interior. They had witnessed brutal collective punishment of the Palestinians. Although Darlene fought the deportation order and was the first person to be let out of prison on bail, she was nonetheless eventually deported.

Ren (Lawrence) Afif Tawil

Nationality: US

Ren was born in San Francisco, CA (USA) in 1953, as was his mother. His father Afif George Tawil was born and raised in Jerusalem, Palestine but was visiting the US in May of 1948 and as a result could not freely return and became a 'displaced person'. He first became aware of the politics surrounding the 'Palestinian Problem' after the June War of 1967 as an 8th grader, and has maintained an interest ever since.

Courtney and Kathy Sheetz


Nationality: U.S.


Kathy, 61, is mother of a lawyer, a doctor and fellow passenger on the Free Gaza, 25-year-old videographer Courtney. Grandmother to four girls and another on the way, Kathy spent the last 12 years on grassroots and human rights organizing in Haiti. A retired nurse, Kathy brought her justice-activist daughter Courtney with her to World Social Forums in Mumbai and Port Alegre. Courtney has gone to Haiti with her since age 8, and now is completing her bachelor’s degree in New York City and has made videos in Haiti and with the MST landless movement in Brazil.

Adam Qvist


Nationality: Danish

Adam, 22, an essayist and co-author of the novel “City Might Fall” (2008), works on sexual and reproductive rights with the Danish Family Planning Association of Sex and with the European Youth Network for Sexual Rights: YouAct. He’s visited Palestine in 2000 and 2007.


Haq Nawaz Qureishi


Nationality: Pakistani/British

From Bradford, UK, Haq Nawaz, 26, is a member of the punk rock band Fun-da-mental and was in the band The Cult. He owns and runs the London record label Nation Records and is going to Gaza to take a stand against Israeli oppression.

Mike Prior

Nationality: British

Mike, 66, is from Manchester, UK. He has been to Palestine three times since 2003. He has been refused entry to Israel because of his work with ISM and has since been active in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

Ken O'Keefe


Nationality: Irish/U.S.

Ken, 39, grew up in California and was in the U.S. Marines in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. He initiated P10K (www.P10K.net) in 2004 to recruit international observers to live side by side with Palestinians. He was jailed by Israeli troops for refusing to sign a statement agreeing not to return to Gaza and deported from Israel after 20 days in jail as a 'security threat'. Now in Hawaii, he has become a legislative representative of District 6 (Oahu) of the Reinstated Hawaiian Government (www.Hawaii-gov.net).

Thomas H. Nelson


Nationality: US

Tom practiced corporate law with Oregon's largest law firm for nearly 20 years. He became involved in Palestinian issues in 1997 and co-founded Americans United for Palestinian Human Rights. When he left the firm 12 years ago, Tom first formed his own small-firm partnership and now is a solo practitioner near his home in Zigzag, Oregon, in the foothills of Mt. Hood.


Andrew Muncie


Nationality: Scottish

Andrew, 34, is from Spean Bridge in the Highlands of Scotland. He has philosophy degrees from Aberdeen and Edinburgh Universities and has been deported twice from the West Bank by the Israeli government – once when trying to prevent a collective-punishment house demolition in the Balata refugee camp by the Israeli army and the second time whilst working with the Tel Rumeda project in Hebron.


Anne Montgomery


Nationality: US

Anne, 81, is a Catholic nun of the religious Order of the Sacred Heart. She taught for 30 years and became a peace activist after age 50. She joined Christian Peacemakers Teams (CPT) in 1995 and has worked with CPT in Palestine.

Theresa McDermott

Nationality: Scottish

Theresa, 41, a postal logistics worker from Edinburgh, spent a month in Palestine in 2004.

Dr. Edith Lutz


Nationality: Germany

Edith, 59, is married with 4 grown children. A former professional nurse, Edith became a teacher. Engaged in Judaic studies, her thesis on H.Heine, she is co-initiator of Schalom5767 and initiator of "Abrahams Töchter" ('Abrahams's daughters'). She joins this voyage to help children in Gaza and highlight the core of Jewish religion: love and humanity instead of force and hatred.

Jenny Linnell

Nationality: British

From the UK, Jenny has been involved in human rights work for many years.

Paul Larudee, Ph.D.


Nationality: US

Paul, a cofounder of the Free Gaza Movement, is a San Francisco Bay Area activist on the issue of justice in Palestine.

He was born to an Iranian Presbyterian minister and his American missionary spouse in 1946 and grew up in the American Midwest.

Ramzi Kysia


Nationality: Lebanese/US

Ramzi is an Arab-American writer and non-violence trainer and activist. Since September 11, he has spent almost four years working in the Middle East, including a year in Iraq with Voices in the Wilderness, a year in Lebanon (during the 2006 Israeli bombardment), and several months in Jordan, Syria, Yemen, and Palestine. He was last in Palestine in May/June 2005.


Fathi Jaouadi

Nationality: Tunisian

Fathi is married and has one son. Doing an MA in Documentary Film-making at Brunel University in London, Fathi is part of the film crew on the boat. (See www.arabdochouse.org)

Jeff Halper


Nationality: US/Israeli

Jeff is an American/Israeli professor of anthropology and coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), a non-violent Israeli peace and human rights organization that resists the Israeli occupation on the ground. In 2006, the American Friends Service Committee nominated Jeff to receive the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize with Palestinian intellectual and activist Ghassan Andoni.

Musheir El-Farra



Nationality: Palestinian/British



Originally from Khan Younis in the southern part of the Gaza Strip, Musheir is married to Dr. Wesam Al Qarra and has three children. Born in Khan Younis on 25 May 1961, he is a civil and structural engineer and coordinates support for four children’s projects in the Gaza Strip: Al Asria Children’s Library project in Jabalia refugee camp; "New Horizons" children’s centre in Nussairat refugee camp; "Never Stop Dreaming” Children’s Centre in Khan Younis, and the "Children’s Mobile Library". He made a documentary film called "Voices through the Rubble" about the situation in the Gaza Strip in 2004 and is making another documentary about the visit of Al Asria children Folk dance group to Britain in 2005. He writes political and social articles in Arabic in Al-Quds newspaper.


Hedy Epstein


Nationality: German/US

Hedy was born in Freiburg, Germany on 8/15/1924, the only child of Ella & Hugo Wachenheimer. She lived in Kippenheim, 30 km north of Freiburg, where her father's side of the family had lived for generations. She left Germany at 14, in1939, on a Kindertransport (children's transport), to London, England - one of almost 10,000 mostly Jewish children. Both her parents, as well as other family members, perished in Auschwitz in 1942.

In July 1945, she returned to Germany to work for the American government, first with the U.S. Civil Censorship Division and then as a research analyst at the Nuremberg trial of the Nazi doctors who performed medical experiments on concentration camp inmates.

In May 1945, she arrived in the United States and quickly became involved in peace and social justice issues. Since 2003, she has visited Israeli-occupied West Bank five times to witness the effects of Israel's occupation.

Ana Maria Del Mar


Nationality: Spanish



From Vilanova I La Geltru, Cataluna, Ana Maria worked 25 years as a criminal lawyer and has visited the West Bank six times. In 2005, badly injured by an Israeli soldier while at a non-violent demonstration against the building of the separation wall in Bil’in, she had her upper arm broken in two places. She was injured again in 2006 at another Bil’in demonstration when shot at close range with a plastic coated bullet. On this trip to Gaza she hopes to help ease the Gazan people’s suffering and help prevent the Israeli government from persecuting innocent civilians.

Dr Bill Dienst

Nationality: US

Bill is a family and emergency Room physician for Omak, a town in rural Washington in the north-western United States. In 1985, after an intensive summer course in Arabic, Bill took an extra year of medical school, and spent a half year in Egypt, the West Bank and Gaza volunteering with various Palestinian healthcare organizations, initially with the Palestine Red Crescent Society headquartered in Egypt.

He has been to Palestine on trips sponsored by the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, by Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility to Israel/Palestine and with the Palestine Medical Relief Society.