MESOPOTAMIA NEWS : A “flotilla” of three small boats has begun its voyage to the Gaza Strip, expected to arrive around the end of July 2018, having conducted a propaganda tour of several European ports
- On July 16, 2018, four boats anchored in the port of Palermo, Sicily, and from there three of them set sail together for the Gaza Strip on July 21, 2018. The most prominent figure in organizing the flotilla is Zaher Birawi, a Palestinian anti-Israeli activist living in Britain, affiliated with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. Birawi has many years of experience in organizing flotillas and convoys to the Gaza Strip. His official title is “coordinator of the international committee for breaking the siege on the Gaza Strip.”
- In a newspaper interview Zaher Birawi said the boats carried 45 passengers from 15 countries, and a symbolic quantity of medical equipment. Among the passengers he noted Yahya al-Sa’ud, a member of the Jordanian parliament. Birawi said the boats were planning to set sail on the evening of July 21, 2018. He said he had faith that this time the boats would reach the Gazan shore despite Israel’s past attempts to attack the boats in international waters (Safa news agency, July 21, 2018).
- The activists aboard the boats come from several countries. Most of them are European anti-Israeli activists, prominent among them are veterans of previous flotillas. Among the passengers are a former member of the Norwegian parliament, a member of the Algerian parliament and a member of the Jordanian parliament. There are also Palestinian academicians living abroad and a several Jewish activists and activists who are former Israelis (the names of the passengers known to the ITIC and basic information about them appear in the Appendix).
- Passengers also include media personnel, some of whom provided live coverage of the propaganda events organized by the activists in the ports where the boats anchored, as well as coverage of the condition of the boats and their location. Apparently, so far the reports have not had significant political or media effect. However, as the boats approach the Gaza Strip the volume of media reports is likely to increase, especially in the pro-Palestinian media around the globe. In ITIC assessment, the media campaign planned to accompany the flotilla will peak with one of the following scenarios: the Israeli navy will prevent the boats from reaching the Gaza Strip; the passengers aboard the boats will be detained and friction will develop; some or all of the boats will reach the Gaza Strip. Regardless, for the flotilla’s organizers, the size of the media circus created will the measure of the flotilla’s success or failure.
- On May 20, 2018, a flotilla of four small boats left Norway. It was organized by two umbrella organizations sending flotillas to the Gaza Strip: the Freedom Flotilla Coalition and the so-called “International committee for lifting the siege on the Gaza Strip.” The flotilla consists of four boats and about 45 activists. On July 21, 2018, the first boat (the al-Awda) left Palermo, Sicily, for Gaza. Two other boats (the Falestine and the Huriya) set sail on July 22, 2018. The fourth boat (the Mairead) did not set sail.
The four boats (Freedom Flotilla Coalition Facebook page, May 22, 2018).
- En route to the Gaza Strip the boats anchored individually at a number of European ports, where they held propaganda activities to gain support before the flotilla set sail for it final destination. At some of the ports the boats were visited by government representatives or anti-Israeli activists. Some of the boats, especially the two smallest, experienced several technical difficulties and anchored at various ports for repairs. In some of the countries the boats received a chilly reception. So far the flotilla has not won significant political or media coverage, but that may change as the boats approach the Gaza Strip.
- The four boats of the flotilla are:
- The al-Awda (The Return): The largest of the boats, it flies the Norwegian flag. There are about 20 activists on board. After setting sail from Norway it visited a number of European ports before finally anchoring in Sicily. The ports included Copenhagen, Kiel, Amsterdam, the Isle of Jersey, La Rochelle in southern France, Cagliari in Sardinia and Ajaccio in Corsica.
Right: The al-Awda in Ajaccio (Facebook page of Nabi Habri, July 9, 2018).
Left: The al-Awda (the Sardinia-Palestine Friends Association Facebook page, July 8, 2018).
- The Huriya (Freedom): The Huriya is a sailboat flying the Swedish flag. En route it anchored at Brighton, Cagliari and Naples. Before reaching Cagliari it was forced to make an unscheduled stop in Algiers because one of the passengers had an attack of appendicitis (Facebook page of Jens Marklund, the ship captain, July 3, 2018).
The Huriya (the Sardinia-Palestine Friends Association Facebook page, July 8, 2018).
- The two smaller boats are the Falestine and the Mairead (named for Mairead Maguire, a social activist from North Ireland). There are about eight activists on each boat and both fly the Swedish flag. After setting sail they visited Rotterdam (where one of the boat underwent repairs), Lyons and Marseilles, where according to reports, one of the boats was damaged when it bumped into the police vessel guiding it into port, and repairs were necessary.
(Facebook page of Claude Léostic, president of the PFP,
a network of pro-Palestinian French NGOs, July 7, 2018).
Right: Layla Shaheed (second from right), the Palestinian representative to the EU and French politician Jacques Lang (second from left) try to meet the boats in Paris (Twitter account of French politician Esther Benbassa, June 17, 2018). Left: Flotilla activists meet with the chairman of the Asturias, Spain parliament (parliament website, June 15, 2018).
- During the voyage the boats were delayed in a number of ports in Spain, France and Portugal and the activists were not permitted to hold their planned political activities. On occasion the local police and coast guard searched the vessels. For example, the German ministry of the interior ordered the coast guard to take control of the al-Awda and collected passports and personal information about the passengers. In France as well the authorities caused difficulties for the ship. Dutch security personnel boarded one of the boats three times and checked the names of the passengers (al-Arabi al-Jadeed, May 31, 2018).
A French police skiff prevents the boats from anchoring
(Twitter account of French politician Esther Benbassa, June 17, 2018).
- According to the flotilla organizers, the passengers aboard the boats are Palestinians living abroad and European and other international activists (Shehab, May 22, 2018). Most of them participated in previous flotillas. Not all will continue with the flotilla to the Gaza Strip and there are many who spent a number of days aboard the boats and were replaced by other activists. There are also media personnel abroad, who report live about events the activists organized in ports of call, the condition of the boats and their location.
- The most prominent figure of the flotilla is Zaher Birawi, a Palestinian anti-Israeli activist who lives in Britain and is affiliated with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. He has a long history of organizing convoys and flotillas, and his official title is is “coordinator of the international committee for breaking the siege on the Gaza Strip.” He was also on the committee that prepared the violent “return marches” in Gaza and gave a stage to the activities in the Gaza Strip on the al-Hiwar TV channel, which broadcasts from London and where he is program director (Facebook page of al-Hiwar TV, March 9, 2018). Zaher Birawi met the boats at their stops in Copenhagen and Portugal, but apparently he did not sail on any of them.
Right: Zaher Birawi greets the flotilla passengers (Facebook page of the Malaysian organization MYCARE, May 21, 2018). Left: Zaher Birawi and one of the boats in the port of the Portuguese resort town of Cascais (Facebook page of Zaher Birawi, June 21, 2018)