Saturday, 22 September 2012

Challenging the blockade of Gaza: message from a Canadian on board the Estelle

It is a great honour to be able to accompany the Swedish sailing ship Estelle for a few days, from Barcelona to Ajaccio (Corsica), on its way towards Gaza to challenge the illegal and inhuman blockade which has lasted now for more than five years.

The Estelle in a 90 year-old three-masted schooner purchased from a Finnish fair-trade organization by Ship to Gaza Sweden in April and renovated for this sea voyage. She began a Swedish coastal tour in June, with solidarity and information events in communities to raise awareness about the blockade in Gaza.

From Sweden she traveled to ports in Norway, France, Spain and will stop in Corsica and two Italian ports before continuing towards Gaza. The educational value from the hundreds of people who visited the ship in different harbours has made thousands of connections with the Estelle and her mission of solidarity. The beauty of a tall ship coupled with the pace of sail power (which the skipper and crew prefer to motors wherever possible) has brought this voyage towards Gaza into the hearts of communities as never before.

The Estelle is unique in that she has been both a commercially licensed cargo vessel and a sail training ship for some years. There are no passengers on a training vessel: everyone who is not part of the crew is a “trainee” and we all do a watch (two shifts of four hours each day), where each person contributes according to their ability.

While I am at the beginning of my learning curve when it comes to knots, rigging, steering or charting a course, I can mop a floor and wash dishes as well as the next trainee (which on our watch includes a Swedish MP who is Chair of his party’s parliamentary caucus). There are also several professional mariners who are donating their time: the ship and all aboard are in good hands.

The Estelle carries a varied cargo: from school supplies donated by school-kids to cement to aid the reconstruction of Gaza. But as always the most precious cargo on these trips is human solidarity: the Palestinians of Gaza need that much more than they need material aid. more

Israeli Military attempts to crush weekly Kufr Qaddum demonstration, 6 arrested

Soldiers chasing a group of international human rights defenders shortly before arresting 4, still being held in police custody. (Photo courtesy of The Kufr Qaddum demonstration)

Four human rights defenders (3 British citizens and an American), as well as two Palestinians, were arrested at the weekly Kufr Qaddoum demonstration. They are currently detained in the illegal Kedumim settlement police station for interrogation. The two Palestinians, Majed Faruq, 20, and Abd al-Latif Faruq, 24 were arrested from inside their homes as the army stormed the village.

Soldiers chasing a group of international human rights defenders shortly before arresting 4, still being held in police custody. (Photo courtesy of The Kufr Qaddum demonstration).

The villagers of Kufr Qaddoum demonstrate weekly against the closure of the road from their village to Nablus since 2002. The Palestinians are not allowed to travel the most direct route to Nablus, 13 km away, due to the positioning of nearby illegal Israeli settlement Kedumim. The commute to Nablus from Kufr Qaddoum is now doubled.

Although the weekly Kufr Qaddoum demonstrations have been going on for over a year, the Israeli military has recently upped efforts to stop the demonstration from occurring. In the past two weeks, the soldiers have entered the village before the midday prayer and the beginning of the march towards the closed road, surrounding the mosque and firing tear gas into the crowd. Three people, including an Israeli press activist, were injured as tear gas canisters were shot directly at them, hitting them in the arms. In addition to tear gas and sound bombs, after the arrests the Israeli military entered into the village with a skunk water truck. The checkpoints around the village were closed by the Israeli military until 5 p.m. more

Reports: Egypt wants to 'modify' peace treaty with Israel

Israeli media sources reported that the new Egyptian government, headed by elected Islamist leader, Mohammad Morsi, intends to hold deliberations on modifying the Egyptian-Israeli peace agreement, especially regarding security attainments in Sinai, the Palestine News Network (PNN) reported.

Egypt is mainly concerned about Article 4 of the Camp David peace agreement that focuses on security arrangement along the border, and limits the deployment of Egyptian armed forces in the area.

A senior Egyptian official close to President Morsi stated that Egypt is facing a fierce battle with armed elements in Sinai, and has the right to defend itself using all available means, and that the country needed to intensify its military deployment in the Sinai area.

The source added that the coming period will witness several meetings and deliberations between different Egyptian political factions in order to discuss modifying the peace agreement. more