Nicosia, Cyprus - On Monday, a movement known as FreeGaza.org held a press conference in Nicosia, Cyprus, in which a group of 40 people from around the world announced that they would board two small boats to travel by sea to Gaza to "break the siege" that Israel has placed upon Gaza.
There was no acknowledgement that in June of 2007, the Hamas regime took over Gaza and formalized a total state of war against Israel with the aim of liberating all of Palestine and using Gaza as a stepping stone to recoup any and all land ruled by the Jewish state.
With increasing boatloads of Iranian military hardware landing on the Gaza coastline, the Israeli navy was forced to impose an embargo of goods coming into Gaza. Israel offered to oversee goods and services for humanitarian needs in Gaza, by allowing specified supervised land crossings for supply to Gaza.
The press conference, held at “Journalist House” in Nicosia, was launched with an opening statement by an Israeli American Jerusalem resident, Jeff Halper, who alleged that Israel was behaving in defiance of international law by closing shipping lanes to Gaza. He also claimed that the people of Gaza faced a severe shortage of milk and medical supplies.
Mr. Monir Deeb, a native Gazan who has lived in Los Angeles since 1979, explained to the media that he was boarding these boats to reunite with his siblings in Gaza. Mr. Deeb described Gaza as a "peaceful community under Israeli military siege" and said that this small convoy was meant to deliver a message to Israel to stop the siege of Gaza.
This reporter asked Mr. Deeb about the armed Gaza militias who have fired thousands of missiles over the past eight years against Israeli civilian communities that surround Gaza. I also asked for his comment on how the Hamas government is using the current cease fire period to regroup and train for the next attack on Israel. Mr. Deeb said that he "could not relate to this question," since it was "political" and his concern was "only humanitarian" in nature.
The convener of the FreeGaza.org press conference, Ms. Greta Berlin, an American woman formerly married to a Palestinian whose family was dislocated from Safed in Northern Israel during the 1948 war, gave examples of the humanitarian mission on which they were embarking. “One of her missions,” she said, “was to supply 9,000 hearing aids for Palestinian children who suffer hearing loss at a young age, due to Israeli missile attacks on Gaza.”
I asked Ms. Berlin if it were not the case that the missile attacks that she had claimed had been fired at Palestinians in Gaza by Israelis were actually fired by Palestinians towards the Western Negev, as they screech over Palestinian villages en route to hit Israeli civilian targets.
Ms. Berlin would not comment, saying repeatedly that the purpose of the voyage to Gaza was not political, even though the press statement issued by FreeGaza.org touched every raw political nerve possible.
FreeGaza.org also clearly stated that it strongly condemns Israel for not allowing "refugees and their descendants the right to return home" to the villages that have since been resettled by Israel after the 1948 war. Meanwhile, the "FreeGaza.org" press statement also decried "Israel's illegal occupation of Palestine," laying aside any pretensions that the group only favored Israel's full withdrawal from Gaza.
Ms. Berlin reported that the operation to bring two boats into Gaza was independent of any foreign entities. She mentioned that FreeGaza.org had already raised $210,000 of the total budget needed, more than $300,000 for the boats. However, on July 31st, the Palestine Information Center issued a press release in which it stated that a member of the Lebanese Parliament had confirmed to Hamas leader Abu Marzook in Cairo that the boats had been provided by Palestinian popular committees by the Hamas. That would mean, in effect, that FreeGaza.org received two sources of support for its work - from American Jewish groups and from the Palestinian popular committees which are run by Hamas.
Nothing like the profit motive to move things along the high seas.
The boats are timed to arrive in Gaza this coming Saturday night, which this year marks Tisha 'av, the ninth of Av on the Jewish calendar, a fast day which marks disasters which have befallen the Jewish people.
By coincidence or not, pro-Palestinian movements around the world have designated this Friday and Saturday as a time of solidarity with their cause.
Indeed, an international Palestinian solidarity conference will convene this coming weekend at Wyndam Ohare Hotel in Chicago, Illinois, where a coalition of fifty Arab groups will gather under the umbrella of the first “Palestinian Popular Conference in North America.” The theme of the conference, promoted in all of their publicity, leaves no room for the imagination: “Ending Zionist occupation and colonization of Palestine.