[News] Women prepared to break the siege of Gaza
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
"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
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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