‘Jews for Justice’ aid boat sets sail for Gaza

Ha’aretz: A boat carrying Jewish activists from Israel, Germany, the U.S. and Britain set sail on Sunday for Gaza, hoping to breach Israel’s blockade there and deliver aid.

Richard Kuper, an organizer with the U.K. group Jews for Justice for Palestinians, said one goal is to show that not all Jews support Israeli policies toward Palestinians.

Kuper said the boat, which set sail from northern Cyprus flying a British flag, won’t resist if Israeli authorities try to stop it.

The trip came nearly four months after Israeli commandos boarded a flotilla of Gaza-bound ships. Nine activists were killed in the ensuing clashes. The voyage also came as Israelis, Palestinians and U.S. mediators sought a compromise that would allow Mideast talks to continue after an Israeli settlement slowdown expires at midnight.

Boat passenger Rami Elhanan, an Israeli whose daughter Smadar was killed in a suicide bombing at a shopping mall in Jerusalem in 1997, said it was his moral duty to act in support of Palestinians in Gaza because reconciliation was the surest path to peace.

“Those 1.5 million people in Gaza are victims exactly as I am,” Elhanan, 60, said in an interview.

Other voyage organizers included the group European Jews for a Just Peace and the U.S.-based Jewish Voice for Peace.

Refusnik Israel Air Force pilot Jonathan Shapira, another passenger aboard the ship, told Haaretz that “we hope that the soldiers and officers of the Israeli navy will think twice before they obey orders to stop us.”

“Let them remember the history of our people, and those who followed orders and later said ‘we were only following orders.’ We do not pose any kind of security threat to Israel’s citizens. We intend to continue forward with our crew and our cargo to the port in Gaza, where we are expected.”

The ship’s cargo includes toys, textbooks, musical instruments, fishing gear as well as prosthetic limbs for orthopedic treatments.

The organizers admit that they are a bringing “symbolic” amount of aid. “The ship will try to reach the Gaza shore in order to unload the supplies within the framework of a non-violent symbolic act of solidarity and protest, aimed at calling for the lifting of the siege and the free passage of supplies and people to and from Gaza,” the organizers said in a statement.

Shapira said that “I believe that the navy won’t want us to pass, but on the other hand, there has never before been a Jewish aid ship, manned by determined people including a Holocaust survivor, trying to reach Gaza. This may prevent them from shooting at us, like they did in the Turkish flotilla.”

The 33-foot catamaran Irene, carrying a total of nine passengers and crew members, set sail from the Turkish Cypriot north of the island because the Greek Cypriot south imposed a ban on all-Gaza-bound vessels in May, citing vital interests.

Prior to the ban, international activists had used south Cyprus to launch eight boat trips to Gaza, a coastal strip seized by the Islamic militant group Hamas three years ago.

On May 31, eight pro-Palestinian Turkish activists and a Turkish American died when Israeli naval commandos boarded a flotilla of Gaza-bound ships.

The Irene boat planned to deliver children’s toys, medical equipment, outboard motors for fishing boats and books to Gaza residents.

Kuper said the voyage intended to show that not all Jews support Israeli policies toward Palestinians and to underscore what he called Israel’s illegal, unnecessary and inhumane blockade of Gaza.

“Jewish communities around the world are not united in support of Israel,” Kuper said in a telephone interview from London. “Israel’s future peace is coming to terms quickly with the Palestinians.”

Organizer Alison Prager said from the boat before it left Cyprus that although many Jews have been on previous blockade-busting trips to Gaza, this was the first time Jewish groups have banded together to send a boat of their own.

Kuper said the trip was funded entirely by supporters’ donations.

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