Gaza flotilla activists hold a banner as they protest against the Greek government’s ban in front of the parliament in Athens on 5 July. Photograph: John Kolesidis/Reuters
Khalil Shaheen, head of economic and social rights at the Palestinian centre for Human Rights, believes the most important message carried by the Gaza aid flotilla, which is attempting to leave Athens, is solidarity.
«The flotilla is not solely a humanitarian convoy,» he explains, «It is intended to put political pressure on the occupying forces to ease and lift the siege. Palestinians aren’t sitting here waiting for the humanitarian aid to arrive in Gaza; what they are waiting for is support, peace and justice.»
For this reason, most Gazans are quick to dismiss the Israeli-Greek offer to offload and transport to Gaza the humanitarian aid aboard the flotilla.
Rana Baker, a student at the Islamic University in Gaza, says what Palestinians need most is support. She is firmly against the delivery of aid via the flotilla, believing that it overshadows the real needs of Palestinians. «Aid makes it sound like we are dying of hunger, that we’re poor, helpless and dependent. Although a huge part of the population is poor, we are surviving. We don’t need aid, we need encouragement.»
Baker believes the flotilla is essential to challenging the injustice of collective punishment, but she wants Palestinians to end the siege themselves. «I don’t want people to break something for me, I want to break it myself. Calling it an ‘aid flotilla’ suggests that we can’t do anything for ourselves.»
Sabir Za’aneen, Head of Beit Hanoun Local Initiative, organises a weekly Tuesday demonstration against the «buffer zone» near the Erez crossing with Israel. This week he made a speech calling for the flotilla to be allowed to arrive in Gaza.
«Of course, I think Israel is the root cause of the problems facing the flotilla in Greece,» says Za’aneen, who believes the flotilla threatens the Israeli government because its arrival would challenge their depiction of life in Gaza.
«Israel says that there is no real siege, that the Rafah crossing is open. This is a lie, we cannot cross. They don’t want people coming in because they don’t want them to see the big prison that is Gaza.»
A widespread belief among Gazans is that Israel hopes to distance itself from responsibility for the flotilla by using diplomatic ties with other countries to stop it progressing.
Baker says: «Israel doesn’t want to engage itself in the issue, to be publicly described as the body which stopped the flotilla – now they can say the Greek government did it.»
However, Tahani Abu Sha’baan, a Palestinian activist who works for the Gazan thinktank Palthink, believes that Greece and Israel will eventually allow the flotilla to arrive. «More campaigners will put pressure on the Greek government and it will allow them to leave. I don’t think Israel would dare to repeat their actions last year [nine people died during the flotilla] because it would beg the question: why doesn’t Israel want these people to see our situation? It would cause suspicion.»
Shaheen views the restrictions imposed by Greece as complicity in besieging Gaza. «While the Greek government prevents the flotilla from setting sail, they are promoting the impunity of Israel and assisting the occupying forces in oppressing Palestinians. This is a shame, because all the flotilla aims to do is break a siege which has been declared illegal.»
Mobilising against flotilla obstacles
Gaza resident and member of the International Solidarity Movement, Joe Catron, attended a pro-flotilla rally held at Gaza port on 2 July. He believes the flotilla has already achieved its aim of raising awareness and fostering support for Gazans.
«The dirty campaign against this flotilla has informed much of the world about Israeli subversion, from coercing foreign governments to act against the express wishes of their citizens to sabotaging civilian ships in international ports under the cover of darkness,» he says.
Gazans are mobilising to support the flotilla and to reciprocate the solidarity it offers. Although many of Gaza’s residents are dependent on food aid, they are keen to stress that this would not be the case if Gaza’s borders were opened and control of their economy was handed back to them. In such a situation, Gazans would be free to challenge poverty levels and manage their own development.
Khalil Shaheen says: «It is no good simply offloading the aid into Gaza. Our demand is to end the siege not just to give milk to children. The aim of the flotilla is to break the siege; delivering the aid via Israel simply does not achieve this.»