Israeli naval forces were deployed on Wednesday 5 October, 2016 to intercept an all-female, non-violent flotilla headed for the Gaza Strip. On 14 September, the flotilla – named Women’s Boat to Gaza – set sail from Barcelona. Two boats, the Zaytouna (Olive) and the Amal (Hope), left the Spanish port-city carrying notable female activists from across the globe.
Among the international sailors were life-long skipper and humanitarian aid worker Madeleine Habib (Australia), Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire (Northern Ireland), former Colonel Ann Wright who served for twenty-nine years in the United States’ military (USA), and Olympic volleyball champion and LGBT rights activist Leigh-Ann Naidoo (South Africa).
The main purpose of the flotilla was to challenge the “illegal and inhumane Israeli blockade of Gaza” which severely restricts the movement and access of people and goods since Israel tightened its grip in 2007. The Women’s Boat to Gaza organization seeks to promote the full rights of citizens across the whole of Palestine; highlight the illegality of the Israeli Occupation and the Apartheid Wall; and gather support for Palestinian refugees including their right to return home under Resolution 194 of the UN General Assembly (1948).
The Gaza Freedom Flotilla movement was established in 2010, when six civilian ships attempted to deliver humanitarian aid and construction materials to Gaza from Turkey. Nine civilian activists were murdered by Israeli forces on that occasion. Since then, many more civilian vessels have attempted to maneuver through the blockade.
The boat was rerouted to an Israeli port where the sailors were detained and subsequently deported to their respective countries as of Friday 7 October. But their spirits remain undeterred, and the support they have received continues to be overwhelming. Arab members of the Knesset – the Israeli Parliament – expressed their support for the flotilla and described the detention of the sailors as a “kidnapping.” Pink Floyd also issued a joint statement declaring its support for the women aboard the boat. Co-founder of the Rock band, Roger Waters, has campaigned for Palestinian human rights since he visited in 2005.
Talal Husseini is an Editorial Intern with IPS.