'Women's Boat to Gaza' counting down to challenge 10-year Israeli siege
Mariam Mecky, , Friday 23 Sep 2016

The women's boat to Gaza mission arrived on Friday in Sicily, its last stop before it heads to Gaza aiming to break the 10-year blockade of the strip and highlight the essential role of Palestinian women in the resistance movement, according to the mission's website.

The Israeli naval and land blockade has restricted the movement of 1.8 million Palestinians and goods to and from Gaza since the Islamist Hamas movement became its de-facto ruler in 2006, inflicting increasing hardship on the impoverished population.

The only border crossing with Egypt, at Rafah, has also been mostly kept closed by Cairo for three years on security grounds, with periodic openings for Islamic holidays.

The women's boat is planned to arrive in the besieged Gaza Strip in the first week of October, David Heap, an organiser at Freedom Flotilla Coalition, Canadian Boat to Gaza told Ahram Online.

"We intend to raise awareness about the historic struggle that women in Gaza, in the West Bank, inside the green line and in the diaspora, have waged against the occupation, and which they continue to do," said the launch statement sent to Ahram Online by Wendy Goldsmith of the Canadian Boat to Gaza campaign in March.

The women's boat to Gaza, which was officially launched on International Women’s Day, 8 March, by the Freedom Flotilla Coalition, is the fourth freedom flotilla mission after the last attempt in 2015 ended with the seizure of the boat by Israeli forces in international waters.

The two boats that make up the women's boat mission, theAmal-HopeandZaytouna-Oliva,have docked at a number of Mediterranean ports since 12 September, but the Amal-Hope broke off at Barcelona due to unexpected engine problems with onlyZatouna-Oliviais continuing the journey.

In Italy, a warm welcome is planned by the local organisers of the women's boat, along with a number of activities such as non-violence training, meetings with citizens, student groups and the mayor of Messina, the women's boat to Gaza website said.

Fifty-five members of the European Parliament, led by MEP Martina Anderson, sent a letter to Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, calling on the EU to "ensure the safe passage of the flotilla to Gaza and pressuring Israel to lift its illegal blockade of Gaza."

"We, the undersigned Members of the European Parliament, from different political groups and parties, stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people, and call upon the European Union to help restore that hope," the letter said.

The petitioners also insisted that Israel comply with international law as a step towards restarting the Middle East process.

Among the diverse group of women on board are Swedish Member of European Parliament Malin Björk; a retired American army colonel and former diplomat who resigned in 2003 in opposition to the invasion of Iraq, Ann Wright; Irish Nobel Laureate and peace activist Mairead Maguire; and Turkish athlete and coach Cigdem Topçuoglu, whose husband was killed in the Israeli attack on the first freedom flotilla in 2010.

The first attempt to break the siege with a flotilla, which was organised in 2010, ended in the killing by Israel of nine activists in international waters on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara.

A second attempt was organised out of Greece in 2011, but the vessels were turned back by the Greek coastguard.

Freedom Flotilla Coalition is an international coalition composed of civil society organisations and initiatives from all over the world challenging “the illegal and inhumane” Israeli blockade of Gaza.

"As always, our goal is to challenge and break the illegal and inhumane blockade, and draw the world's attention to the situation of Palestinian women in Gaza, in particular the effects of the blockade on their freedom of movement, their lives and their families," Heap concluded.