[News] Women prepared to break the siege of Gaza

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Jul 23 18:48:23 EDT 2010

Women prepared to break the siege of Gaza

Mona Alami, The Electronic Intifada, 23 July 2010

BEIRUT (IPS) - The Maryam, an all-female Lebanese aid ship, currently 
docked in the northern Lebanese port of Tripoli, is getting ready to 
set sail for Gaza in the next few days. The ship, which aims to break 
Israel's siege on the Palestinian territory, will carry about fifty 
aid workers, including some US nuns keen to deliver aid to the 
long-suffering women and children of Gaza.

"We were all drawn to the project ... united by a feeling of stark 
injustice," says Samar Hajj, one of the organizers of the Maryam, 
which is named after the mother of Christ.

Israel's siege began in 2006 after Hamas won Palestinian legislative 
elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Its watertight blockade 
has been maintained with Egypt's help, since Hamas sought control of 
the territory in 2007. It has resulted in crippling shortages, making 
daily life difficult in Gaza.

On 31 May, Israeli forces attacked Mavi Marmara, a Turkish 
humanitarian aid vessel bringing aid to Gaza, killing nine Turkish 
activists -- one a US citizen -- on board. After the attack, which 
sparked a wave of global condemnation of Israel, Hajj gathered to 
protest against Israel in downtown Beirut with 11 other friends. "We 
were appalled at the violent images we saw on TV and wanted to take action."

The women later got in touch with Yasser Kashlak, a 36-year-old 
Syrian of Palestinian origin, who heads the Free Palestine Movement. 
Kashlak had contributed to the financing of other vessels that tried 
breaking the siege, including the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and the Naji al Ali.

"After the Mavi Marmara incident, one of the women hailed Mary during 
our weekly meeting. Her exclamation came like a revelation, so we 
decided to call our ship Maryam [Mary in Arabic]. The name was 
perfect for a vessel that comprised only women. Who could disparage 
the Virgin Mary, a recognized saint in most religions?" says Hajj.

The ship is slated to make a stopover in a friendly port before 
heading to Gaza because of the palpable hostility between Lebanon and 
Israel. Last month, the Cypriot government banned any vessel headed 
to Gaza from its docks. But activists can still sail from a port in 
Turkish Cyprus.

"We have the option to sail from a number of friendly ports and are 
completely aware of our obligation to transit through a foreign port 
to avoid our trip being labeled an act of war," says Hajj.

Hajj estimates that she has received about 500 applications for the 
trip, but the Maryam will transport only about fifty women, half of 
who are Lebanese nationals, the rest being Arabs, Europeans and from 
the US. The organizer explains that carrying Palestinians on the ship 
is not an option because of the risk of arrests by Israelis.

"The ship will transport cancer medicine and other necessary items 
for women and children. We will not carry any weapons or terrorists, 
irrespective of what the Israeli army might say," says Hajj.

While they wait to set sail, the headquarters of the Maryam remains 
agog with activity as women from different backgrounds, political 
affiliations, nationalities and religious beliefs converse, argue and joke.

"All women traveling on the ship have taken on the name 'Maryam' and 
are distinguishable by a number, like 'Maryam 1,' 'Maryam 2,' etc. We 
prefer to keep identities secret to avoid pressure from respective 
embassies," adds Hajj.

"Maryam 1" is a middle aged Indian lawyer and the wife of an admiral. 
"I am a follower of the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi who fought 
against every form of oppression peacefully in the course of his 
life. He was also opposed to the occupation of Palestine," she says.

The lawyer explains that before deciding to join the Maryam, she 
studied the legal implications of the attack on the Freedom Flotilla, 
which she says was illegitimate.

"What the Mavi Marmara attack highlighted was that two sets of rules 
were applied to humanity, depending on a people's color, race and 
religion. But what people fail to realize is that suffering is by 
nature indivisible."

Sitting across from her was "Maryam 2," a former biologist of 
Lebanese-Armenian descent. "I have been closely following the 
Palestinian issue and have been moved by the blatant injustice that 
is practiced against Palestinians by the Israelis," she says.

At the daily meetings, "Maryam 2" bonded with other women from 
diverse backgrounds, particularly a Turkish journalist. Turkey and 
Armenia have been at odds since the Turkish massacre of Armenians in 
the early 20th century.

"The journalist, who barely speaks English, told me I was a godsend 
when she discovered I could speak some Turkish. Here at the Maryam 
headquarters, nationality and religion dissolve behind the common 
resolve of breaking the siege of Gaza," she says.

The sail date for both aid ships from Beirut has yet to be announced. 
Lebanese Transport Minister Ghazi Aridi said the Naji al-Ali is now 
docked at the northern Lebanese port of Tripoli and can set sail once 
it is cleared by port authorities. However, the pan-Arab daily 
al-Hayat reported recently that the sail of the two ships has been 
postponed until further notice, particularly after Iran canceled 
sending two aid ships to the area. The report was denied by Saer 
Ghandour, the organizer of the Naji al-Ali sailing, who added that 
the ship's formalities were still in process.

Meanwhile, most Maryam passengers are impatient to set sail. "We will 
not fight Israelis with weapons, stones or knives, but with our free 
will," says "Maryam 3," a single woman working in the Lebanese 
government. "And we will not surrender."

In Israel, the army chief, Gabi Ashkenazi, told the Knesset's Foreign 
Affairs and Defense Committee on 6 July that every effort should be 
made to ensure that no more flotillas set sail for Gaza.

"Now a Lebanese flotilla with women and parliament members is getting 
organized. Israel is trying to prevent its departure in open and covert ways."

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