Jewish activists set sail for Gaza to breach blockade

A BOAT carrying Jewish activists from Israel, Germany, the US and Britain set sail yesterday for Gaza, hoping to breach Israel’s blockade there and deliver aid.

Richard Kuper, an organiser with the British 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, killing nine activists. The voyage also came as Israelis, Palestinians and US mediators sought a compromise that would allow Mideast talks to continue after an Israeli settlement slowdown expired 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 organisers included the group European Jews for a Just Peace and the US-based Jewish Voice for Peace.

The 33-foot (10-metre) 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.

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 is a “symbolic statement” 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,” said Kuper.

“Israel’s future peace is coming to terms quickly with the Palestinians.”

Organiser Alison Prager said from the boat 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 their own boat.


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