Linda S. Heard / Online Journal – 2010-08-16 23:23:26
(August 11, 2010) — Two ships bearing medical equipment and medicines for Palestinians subsisting in the world’s largest open-air prison have sailed from the port of Tripoli in Lebanon en route to Gaza. What makes the Mariam and her sister ship the Naji Alali different from others attempting to break the siege is that they are manned solely by women.
The all-female passengers include Lebanese doctors, lawyers and journalists as well as the Shiite Lebanese singer/actress May Hariri. They are joined in sisterhood by a contingent of American nuns and other foreign activists. The organizers report being inundated with passenger requests including 400 from the US alone.
One of these courageous ladies, Serena Shim, chose to make the voyage despite being in an advanced stage of pregnancy. Others are suffering from cancer due to chemical weapons used by Israel during “Operation Cast Lead,” says one of the organizers Samar Al-Hajj — the wife of the Lebanese general Ali Hajj. They are Muslims and Christians but all are united in a single goal: To force Israel to cease its illegal and immoral imprisonment of 1.5 million men, women and children.
Al-Hajj has characterized this display of womanpower as being the “new secret weapon” against the “thieving enemy,” but she insists that the mission is driven by compassion rather than politics and says the activists hold no allegiance to any political party or organization.
The women’s intent is peaceful. There is nothing on board that could be construed as a weapon; not even a kitchen knife. But they are aware of the fate of nine activists who were murdered by Israeli commandoes on the Turkish vessel, the Mavi Marmara, last May and are readying themselves for any such contingency by carrying details of their blood type in the event they come under attack and require a blood transfusion.
They have also been asked to forego the outer trappings of their femininity, such as skirts and make-up and will be subject to food and water rationing that translates to no showering during the journey.
This particular flotilla may turn out to be a public relations nightmare for Israel whose government has sworn to intercept the ships. Israelâ€™s Ambassador to the United Nations Gabriela Shalev warns her country will use “necessary measures” to prevent the vessels reaching their intended destination.
The women, on the other hand, say they will not be persuaded to abandon their boats. If Israel resorts to force as it has done on previous occasions and any of the women are hurt, the Jewish state’s brutal reputation will be further enforced. How could its spin-doctors possibly explain an attack on defenseless women without becoming a laughing stock?
In fact, they are already preparing for this eventuality by suggesting the boats could be carrying weapons destined for Hamas and accusing the organizers of having links to Hezbollah. “If there was a mask of humanitarianism on previous flotillas, the mask have been removed completely from these boats, which are carrying representatives of Hezbollah and Iran,” says Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon.
The women deny any such relationship with the Shiite organization, while Hezbollah has deliberately distanced itself from the venture so as not to politically taint the humanitarian mission.
Hezbollahâ€™s Executive Council chief, Hashem Safieddine, has described “Israeli threats against women activists and journalists who are organizing new flotillas serve as proof of the immense fear the Zionists are living in.” If Israel “is terrified by a boat carrying women who want to deliver aid to Gaza, how will this Israel be able to face the rockets and resistance bloc in the next confrontation,” he added.
It may be that the vessels will ultimately be forced to divert to either the Israeli port of Ashdod or El Arish in Egypt, which is where a Libyan aid ship was recently forced to unload its cargo. But whatever is in store, nothing can detract from the bravery of these wives, mothers, daughters and servants of God who are knowingly putting themselves in harmâ€™s way for a greater cause. Their dedication and sacrificial spirit reaffirms my faith in human nature during an era in which materialism and selfishness has, sadly, become the norm.
Some weeks ago, I watched a documentary aired on Al Jazeera titled, “Gaza we are coming” that had me in tears. It focused on the very first expedition to Gaza by the Free Gaza Movement in August 2008. Filmmakers tracked the secret construction of two wooden boats in Greece, whose makers spearheaded by a pro-Palestinian Greek, Vangelis Pissias, were careful not to use mobile phones to contact one another and who arranged covert meetings to chart the project’s progress.
Following various setbacks, the vessels eventually set-off for Gaza carrying 44 international activists from 17 countries. At first, the mood was celebratory but as they neared the shore, they were challenged by Israeli ships and ordered to change course.
The crews and passengers, aware that they could be blown out of the water, voted as to whether they should ignore Israel’s warning and proceed or turn back. What really touched me was that they all voted to continue. I can hardly imagine their terror as they sailed those last few miles to a hero’s welcome by thousands of Palestinians who hadn’t seen a foreign boat enter their harbor in many years. A subsequent Free Gaza boat was rammed by the Israeli Navy and just managed to limp into a Lebanese port.
Equally commendable is the Viva Palestina movement that has organized several convoys overland to Gaza. In spite of many obstacles, it has launched “Viva Palestina 5 — a global lifeline to Gaza,” which will leave London on Saturday, September 18. This convoy will eventually merge with those from Casablanca and Doha and is timed to coincide with a large international flotilla.
The EU and the UN have called for an end to the blockade. Britain’s new prime minister, David Cameron, has urged its lifting, describing Gaza as a “prison camp.” US President Barack Obama has called the siege “unsustainable.” Do Israelis have no shame?
How long can Israel continue to impede the people of Gazaâ€™s fundamental human rights? How long will the international community turn a blind eye to Israel’s cruelty under the faux banner of security? As long as there are fearless people like the women of the Mariam and the Naji Alali, the people of Gaza can continue to hope in the knowledge they are not alone. God bless them and keep them safe!
Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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