What is the Freedom Flotilla Coalition?
The Freedom Flotilla Coalition is composed of civil society organizations and initiatives from many countries. We have been challenging the illegal and inhumane Israeli blockade of Gaza for many years and are committed to continue the struggle until the blockade is unconditionally lifted and Palestinian people everywhere achieve their full rights, including the right to freedom of movement.
What is the Just Future For Palestine (JFP) Flotilla campaign?
We believe that every Palestinian person has a right to a just future that includes freedom of movement and the right to return to their homeland. Our campaign emphasizes this basic human right, by drawing attention to the fact that Palestinians living in Gaza, as well as the West Bank and diaspora, have been denied these rights for decades, and over the last 12 years because of Israel’s illegal occupation and blockade of Gaza.
Which countries are participating?
The Freedom Flotilla Coalition campaigns participating in the JFP Flotilla include: Ship to Gaza-Norway, Canadian Boat to Gaza, Freedom Flotilla-Italy, Palestine Solidarity Alliance-South Africa, Rumbo a Gaza-Spain, Ship to Gaza Sweden, International Committee for Breaking the Siege of Gaza, US Boat to Gaza, Kia Ora Gaza – New Zealand/Aotearoa, MyCARE Malaysia, IHH Turkey, National Collective for Palestine and Platform of NGOs for Palestine in France, and Gaza Freedom Flotilla Australia.
Is the JFP Flotilla a non-violent initiative? Do you carry weapons on board?
Our goal is to peacefully end the illegal Israeli blockade. Every initiative that the Freedom Flotilla Coalition has launched has been grounded theoretically and practically within the framework of non-violence. During our last stopover in Palermo, all of the participants in the last leg took part in a two-day, non-violence training course to assist them in preparing for being attacked, hijacked, and imprisoned. We always choose to counter oppression using non-violent strategies. We do not carry any weapons. The only weapons that come aboard our boat are those carried by coastguards, police and military personnel. On 29 July and 3 August 2018, significant quantities of weapons were aboard our boats, as they were violently attacked in international water by the Israeli Occupation Forces.
You say your campaign supports the full rights of the Palestinian people: what are they?
While our focus is on opposing the illegal blockade against the Palestinian people of Gaza, we see this in the larger context of supporting the right to freedom of movement for all Palestinians. The Israeli occupation violates the human rights of Palestinians daily to move freely around their country and to leave and return to their country. We also support other broad-based demands for Palestinian rights based on International Law, including:
- Ending the Israeli occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Apartheid Wall in line with the 2004 opinion of the International Court of Justice;
- Recognizing the fundamental rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
- Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194 of 11 December 1948.
For information about the devastating effects of the blockade, see this fact sheet https://www.unocha.org/story/opt-us5397m-urgently-needed-support-humanitarian-needs-19m-palestinians-2018 produced by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Why is the Israeli blockade of Gaza illegal?
Israel has occupied the Gaza Strip since 1967 and, as the occupying force, it is responsible for the well-being of the population within this territory. In 2011, five independent UN human rights specialists reiterated that the blockade of Gaza is illegal (How can Israel’s blockade of Gaza be legal?) because of its disproportionate effects on the civilian Palestinian population. The United Nations has warned that if the siege of Gaza continues, normal life will not be viable there in 2020. The current blockade has been imposed for more than 12 years by Israel and Egypt, with support from many international governments, and restricts the movement of people and goods. By applying restrictive measures that affect the population as a whole, it violates Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits collective punishment. For more background, see the 2017 Report of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid) and this report from Amnesty International (Israel remains occupying power in Gaza and thus bound by the Law of Occupation).
When and where did the JFP boats sail?
We sailed from May from several ports in Scandinavia. Two boats – ‘Al Awda’ (The Return) and ‘Freedom’ travelled via European canals and rivers, while two others – ‘Mairead’ and ‘Falestine’ sailed along the Atlantic coast. All of the boats made many port stops before meeting again in the Mediterranean Sea for the final leg towards Gaza in late July. Information and photos about events and visitors along the way are recorded throughout our website, as well as on our social media sites, Facebook and Twitter.
Unfortunately due to a mechanical issue and a crewing issue, the two small yachts (‘Falestine’ and ‘Mairead’) ended their voyage in the Mediterranean and could not directly confront the illegal Israeli blockade. ‘Al Awda’ and ‘Freedom’ left Palermo on 22 July 2018 on their final leg to the port of Gaza, Palestine.
Who was on board?
We selected participants from different countries and we welcomed representatives from civil society, including politicians, activists, journalists, trade union leaders, artists, professors, faith leaders and students for different legs of the journey. Many of their biographies are available on our website under ‘Participants’.
When you stop at ports, do local people participate?
Yes. We stopped at nearly 30 ports between Scandinavia and the Western Mediterranean and in most of these there have been public outreach events. Please contact the campaign nearest to you for details of how you can get involved.
Did the JFP boats take aid to Gaza?
The Just Future for Palestine flotilla is a solidarity mission, not an aid mission. Most Palestinians in Gaza are dependent on aid because of political decisions by our governments who are complicit with the blockade. While it is vital that organizations like UNRWA continue to deliver aid to Gaza, this is not the role of an activist coalition like ours: our goal is to end the illegal israeli blockade of Gaza, not just make it “more humane.” We had not planned to take any material aid, however we did transport some medical supplies – see here for details. Of course, we know that we cannot meet the huge and ongoing medical needs in Gaza today. We received the full list of medications needed in Palestinian hospitals in Gaza for the next three months, and it is staggering. It includes many delicate and heat-sensitive medications that we cannot risk shipping by sea. The only sustainable way to ensure that Palestinians in Gaza receive the medical treatment they deserve is to end the blockade, permanently and unconditionally. When Palestinians achieve full freedom of movement as set out in international law, they will no longer need international aid.
Other than this medical aid, the JFP boats only transported the participants (including media) along with the hopes of an ever-growing international community to end the blockade. We hope that upon reaching the shores of Gaza, this voyage will open the channels for others to travel to Palestine and more importantly, for the Palestinian people to use their own territorial waters for fishing, other maritime resources, travel, exports and imports. While our most important cargo is always human solidarity, we also plan to give our boats to fishers’ organizations in the local community who have been our partners since our previous campaign, Solidarity with Gaza Fishers.
What is the current situation on the ground in Gaza?
The United Nations Secretary General has found that the blockade and related restrictions contravene International Humanitarian Law as they target and impose hardship on the civilian population, effectively penalizing them for acts they have not committed. Major escalations of hostilities in the past years have resulted in extensive destruction and internal displacement. More than four years after the massive Israeli bombardments of 2014, most people and institutions are still struggling to cope, with the work of humanitarian and development agencies to meet the basic needs of the most vulnerable impaired by ‘severe underfunding’ (see United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Fact Sheet- August 2016: https://www.ochaopt.org/location/gaza-strip). Since the early 1990s, Israel has restricted movement for Palestinians in Gaza, and since 2007, the Israeli military has destroyed agricultural fields, schools, hospitals, factories and other workplaces, water supply and sewage treatment infrastructure, electricity generation plants and homes throughout the Gaza Strip, depriving people of the resources they need to live. The Israeli Occupation Forces have made swimming in the Mediterranean unhealthy, because their bombs have destroyed local sewage systems which the blockade makes it impossible to repair. Over two million Palestinian people struggle for life in Gaza, with 72% of Palestinian people living in Gaza, 65% of whom are children, suffering food insecurity. The majority of the population of Gaza are refugees, or their descendants, from other parts of Palestine, unable to return home since 1948 – the densely crowded conditions in the Gaza Strip can only be resolved by addressing their right of return under UN resolution 194.
The current electricity crisis has serious implications on the health, water and sanitation sectors and will have a cumulative impact on the overall humanitarian situation. Currently, Palestinians in Gaza have as little as four hours of power per day, coming on at various times of the day or night, making everyday tasks next to impossible. While international observers often compare Gaza to an open-air prison, conditions there are in many ways worse than in prison.
Are there any risks for participants?
There are always risks whenever the illegal actions of the Israeli Occupation Forces are challenged, especially since our governments fail to hold Israel accountable for its violent actions against civilians. However, these risks are minimal compared with those faced every day by Palestinian people in Gaza, who have no choice whether or not they live in an occupied territory that is regularly attacked. Since our missions often face a “media blockade” with a failure to report violence by Israeli forces, you can play an important role as “passengers on land”. This includes acting as “life preservers” for those on board: you can help by pressing local and national media to cover our voyage, and demanding that politicians speak out for the safety of our participants and for the rights of Palestinians in Gaza. The more eyes, ears and keyboards follow our mission, the safer our participants will be and the better the outcomes for the Palestinian people of Gaza.
How are Just Future for Palestine flotilla boats funded?
Each of the participating campaigns is raising funds by connecting with individuals and organizations who support our efforts. The Freedom Flotilla Coalition is a network of grassroots civil society individuals and groups and is not affiliated with any political party. Any donation is welcome, no matter how small.
Does the Freedom Flotilla Coalition support the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement?
The Freedom Flotilla Coalition does not take an official position on BDS, however some of our member and partner campaigns endorse BDS in their own countries.
Why is the JFP Flotilla challenging the Israeli blockade by sea?
International civil society organisations have been challenging the illegal Israeli land and naval blockade of Gaza in a variety of ways for more than 11 years. While other organisations have importantly focussed on challenging the land blockade, the Freedom Flotilla Coalition challenges the Israeli blockade by sea to draw attention to the effects that this has on Palestinian people in Gaza, including: Palestinian fishers in Gaza, who are frequently shot at by the Israeli Navy while trying to provide for their families and the general population, and Palestinian people denied their ability to trade and travel via the port of Gaza.
How does this Freedom Flotilla mission relate to the current refugee crisis and the many people travelling across the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe?
We believe that the refugee crisis stems in part from a lack of political will to solve situations which force people to leave their homes in search of safety. The Palestinian people of Gaza do not even have the option to set sail towards freedom, as the Israeli Occupation Forces blockade their access to the Mediterranean Sea. Let us not forget that five million of the world’s refugees are Palestinians, including 70% of Palestinians living in Gaza.
How can I support the campaign?
There are many ways to become involved:
- follow us on the web, Facebook or Twitter, or Instagram and share information with your family, friends and/or work colleagues
- send a message of support from your union, political party or community association through one of our partner campaigns
- make a donation to one of the organizations participating in the project; find the one nearest you here
- Help organize events to raise funds and awareness for our campaign or joining one of our work teams by contacting the Freedom Flotilla organization closest to you
While room on board our vessels is always limited, there is room for everyone to get aboard the Freedom Flotilla campaign as “passengers on land”. Your vital contributions can include raising awareness in your community about the Israeli blockade of Gaza, helping to raise funds and other needed resources for our voyage, following our boats and participants on board, and demanding that your governments hold Israel accountable for their safety and for the full rights of the Palestinian people.