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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

As flotilla bid falters, Gaza’s dreams of freedom go on

Israel seized a boat, returned a second in latest bid to break the naval blockade

Two Palestinian fishing boats sail carrying 20 people including medical patients and students unable to leave through overland crossings, in Gaza City, Tuesday, May 29, 2018. Palestinian activists have set sail in defiance of years of an Israeli and Egyptian naval blockade on the Gaza Strip. Khalil Hamra / AP
Two Palestinian fishing boats sail carrying 20 people including medical patients and students unable to leave through overland crossings, in Gaza City, Tuesday, May 29, 2018. Palestinian activists have set sail in defiance of years of an Israeli and Egyptian naval blockade on the Gaza Strip. Khalil Hamra / AP

As the yellow-hulled ship bobbed on the blue waters of the Mediterranean, a Palestinian flag fluttered wildly in the wind as it carried over a dozen passengers who said they sought one thing from their journey: freedom.

Parents had brought their children hoping they too could one day travel by sea like the vessel – one of two – that was about to attempt to break Israel’s naval blockade of six nautical miles after it set off as part of flotilla from the fishermen’s port in Gaza City.

Those on board the ship were handed diplomatic passports by the Gazan Interior Ministry, documents that few countries, such as Turkey, would recognise.

But their bid failed. Organisers claimed the boat had sailed six nautical miles past the Israeli blockade. Despite reportedly breaking the siege line, Israeli forces surrounded the ship, detaining the t least 17 people aboard. The navel protesters were then taken to the busy port city of Ashdod, north of the blockaded strip. The second ship was returned to Gaza.

The vessel was making its way to Cyprus, transporting sick and wounded Gazans as well as those who could not find work in the enclave that has an unemployment rate of 44 per cent.

Yet the interception did not appear to matter to its organisers, who said they wanted to send a message to the world.

“This journey is symbolism, but we will continue to launch more activities to expose the Israeli crimes against Palestinians,” Salah Abdul Atti, one of the organisers, told The National. “It is a message to ask for the lifting of the siege.”

Other boats will attempt to break the siege from outside of Gaza later this month. The journeys are to coincide with the eighth anniversary of the Mavi Marmara incident in 2010 in which Israeli commandos killed ten Turkish activists.

It also came after the Israel killed scores of Gazans who have been holding weekly rallies since March 30 to protest the enclave’s living conditions. Some of those wounded while protesting took part in the flotilla.

Mahmoud Abu Attaia, 25 years old was shot with live ammunition in in his right leg during the first demonstration. He said he wanted to leave in order to continue needed treatment that he couldn’t afford in Gaza and Israel was preventing him from traveling to obtain elsewhere.

"I know that it is dangerous, but I don't have any other choices,” he said. “We want to live and travel see the outside world.”

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Umm Mohammed Adalo, 38, arrived at the port to watch the departure with her husband and three children – one diagnosed with brain cancer who has been refused a transfer from Gaza through Egypt or Israel – to support the ship and its passengers.

"I come here to ask for our right in getting treatment outside of Gaza, I hope this journey succeeds so my son can travel by sea next time," she said.

For those on the ship, their dreams of breaching the blockade may not have been realised, but with every voyage of their ship, new hope and inspiration is given to their fellow Gazans.

“Each one of them is telling a painful story,” said Adham Abu Silmia, spokesperson of the committee of Breaking The Siege. “... All we seek is the freedom.”