Three ships linked to the Freedom Flotilla movement left the Swedish port city of Gothenburg on Tuesday evening on their way to Gaza in order to express “solidarity with the besieged Gaza residents who are struggling to free themselves from the siege” and with the aim of “breaking the blockade,” The Jerusalem Post‘s sister publication Maariv reported.
The flotilla was led by a fishing boat named Al-Awda (Arabic for Return) which left the Norwegian port of Bergen on April 30 and also included two boats named Heria (Arabic for Freedom) and Maird, named after Irish peace activist Mairead Maguire who was on board a previous flotilla.
In the coming weeks, a fourth ship called Palestine is expected to join the flotilla, which will pass through ports in Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands. The crew, which consists of activists from 20 different countries, including Israel, will change several times during the journey.
“In response to the brutal Israeli blockade, for seven years the Freedom Flotilla Coalition has carried out non-violent direct actions aimed at raising international awareness and putting pressure on the international community to end the blockade,” a statement on an affiliated website, Canada Boat to Gaza, read.
“We sail this year for the right to a just future for Palestine […] We will continue to put pressure on our governments and protest their complicity with Israel’s crimes against humanity. We sail again to stand with the Palestinians of Gaza, as they demand their freedom of movement and their right to a just future in their land.”
One of the activists joining the flotilla will be Yehudit Ilani, spokeswoman for MK Haneen Zoabi, who is expected to board the Al Awada. Ilani was also part of the 2016 women’s flotilla but left the ship early for what she described as logistical reasons.
On Tuesday night, before this year’s Gaza flotilla left Gothenburg, a solidarity ceremony to was held in the Swedish city with the participation of hundreds of left-wing activists from Scandinavia and European countries to mark the official launch of the flotilla.
The ceremony coincided with Nakba Day, or “Day of Catastrophe,” which is observed annually by Palestinians and Israeli-Arabs to commemorate the events following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.
On #NakbaDay, join Libby Davies @libbydavies & Ann Wright @annwright46 online at 7pm ET, as we introduce our #FreedomFlotilla @gazafflotilla participants getting aboard #AlAwda (The Return) for #Gaza https://t.co/tvUF4Rcbre https://t.co/Ana3JKn5Bi via @CanadaBoatGaza
— Canada Boat to Gaza (@CanadaBoatGaza) May 15, 2018
Israel’s declared policy is not to allow any flotillas to reach the Gaza coast. In the past, the Navy took control of all the flotillas that made their way to the Gaza Strip while they were at sea. There were also reports of mysterious mishaps that disrupted flotilla ships at ports of origin but Israel has not taken responsibility for such mishaps.
In 2016, a women’s flotilla, the Zaytouna-Oliva, was towed to the port of Ashdod, and the foreign activists on them were expelled from Israel.
In June 2015, the Israel Navy intercepted the Swedish fishing boat Marianne av Göteborg some 85 nautical miles off the Gaza Strip Coast. Among the Marianne’s passengers were MK Basel Ghattas (Joint Arab List) and former Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki.
In 2010, Israeli commandos killed 10 Turkish activists after they raided the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara flotilla, which lead to years of tense relations between Israel and Turkey.
According to Canada Boat to Gaza’s statement, this year’s flotilla is expected to reach the Gaza Strip within 75 days.