The IHH-led campaign “Palestine Our Destination, Freedom Our Load” was launched with a meeting at the foundation’s headquarters. Bülent Yıldırım, chairman of the IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation, a number of activists from Greece, Britain, the United States and Indonesia, Cihat Gökdemir, head of Mazlum-Der Istanbul Branch, TGTV Chairman Necati Ceylan, Erol Erdoğan, Istanbul provincial head of Saadet Party, Bayram Karacan, Istanbul provincial head of BBP, two Palestinians being treated in Turkey and scores of people were present at the press conference.
These medicines and dialysis machines not available in Gaza
Showing medicines and dialysis machine in front of him, Yıldırım said “These medicines used by cancer patients and this dialysis machine used by people suffering from kidney failure are not available in Gaza. These are just two simple examples. Even basic humanitarian stuff is not allowed into Gaza under the embargo. This embargo is sanctioned neither by the international law nor human conscience. Unfortunately, it has been in effect for four years. We will sail in May to break the embargo.”
Yıldırım noted they had been campaigning in various countries to promote the flotilla initiative and they were receiving new participants each day.
Yıldırım: We can sleep in the ships for months if needed
Yıldırım stated the IHH had purchased a passenger ship with the capacity of 1,080 persons and a cargo ship that can carry 3,500 tons of cargo. “The last time we travelled to Palestine overland we said we could even sleep in the desert. And now we are saying we can sleep in the ships for months. If Israel keeps us at the sea, it will be the losing side. This will lead to more reporting about the embargo. Israel has become very isolated at the international level. If Israel has a humane side as it claims, it has to let us enter Gaza. Then the world will say ‘Israel also has a humane side.’ This flotilla will serve as a test of sincerity for Israel. If it fires at our ships, it will be interpreted as declaration of war on our countries. Israel and Egypt should permit this international movement,” he added.
We are doing what our states should be doing
Another participant Huwaida Arraf, spokeswoman of the Free Gaza Movement, is a Ramallah-born Palestinian Christian married to a Jew. Arraf recalled they had sailed for Palestine in ships three times in the past.
She expressed pride for being part of the initiative and said: “A humanitarian tragedy is unfolding in Gaza and governments of world countries are remaining silent to it. We are doing now what our governments should be doing. We know it well that the power of humanity fighting for human rights is much stronger than arms. We managed to deliver aid to Gaza before and we were given a hero’s welcome. The truth is the real heroes are the people of Gaza, who are resisting. We had promised them we would return in a bigger movement and we are going to keep our promise with this organization.”
Israel fired at our ships in earlier attempts, Arraf said and added “Israel fired and sank our ship. But we were not discouraged. We organized three flotillas of aid ships and achieved to reach Gaza at the third attempt. And we are now sailing with the IHH to make the embargo meaningless.”
‘We are ashamed of our governments’ silence’
Representing Greece’s Ship to Gaza organization at the press conference, Vangelios Pissias said they were ashamed of their governments’ silence on the issue. The Palestinian question is unifying and lessons should be learnt from the resistance of Gaza, he indicated. The Greek activist said irrelevant problems between regional countries should be made history and urged Mediterranean countries to unite against the Israeli aggression.
700 died from embargo
Mazen Kehil, representative of the European Campaign to End the Siege of Gaza, recalled 700 Palestinians had died because of the embargo and called for unity of world countries on the Gaza issue. The ships will not be carrying arms but only humanitarian supplies, Kehil noted and urged all countries to support the flotilla. Indonesian activist Nur Fitri said they were taking part in the organization to prove the Indonesian people are standing by the Palestinian people and added they were planning to found a hospital in Gaza.
Palestine Our Destination, Humanitarian Aid Our Load
The campaign with the slogan “Palestine Our Destination, Humanitarian Aid Our Load” includes seven ships in total, two from Turkey, two from Britain, one from Greece and one from Ireland. The goal of the campaign is to support the Palestinian people, to show that arbitrary Israeli blockade is not recognized, to prove that the embargo can be legally broken, to put pressure on Egypt to open Rafah border, and to deliver humanitarian supplies.
The ships will be carrying tons of medication, medical equipment, cement and iron. Houses, hospitals and schools that were damaged in the last Israeli offensive have not been repaired yet, because Israel and Egypt do not let construction materials into Gaza under the embargo.
The flotilla of passenger and cargo vessels is expected to set sail in May. The vessels will be carrying over 1,000 passengers to Palestine including human rights advocates, activists, representatives of civil society, journalists and artists.
IHH president stated that ship-owners were refusing to rent their vessels for security concerns and they, therefore, decided to purchase vessels for the organization. He said: “The IHH has so far purchased two vessels, one passenger boat and one cargo ship. They were financed by donations to the Palestine fund. Mavi Marmara passenger ship was purchased at TRY 1,800,000 and the cargo ship at TRY 850,000. Mavi Marmara has the capacity to carry 200 tons and 1,080 passengers. And the cargo ship has a capacity of 3,500 tons. The flotilla will also be joined by three vessels from Britain, one from Greece and one from Ireland. There will be seven vessels in total.”
Responding to the question “What will be done with the ships after the organization?” Yıldırım said “The ships will be used in future aid flotillas. And after the removal of the embargo they will be donated to the Palestinian people.”
Route of flotilla
Passenger ships will depart from Istanbul and sail for Gaza in international waters, calling at the ports of Antalya, Kyrenia and Famagusta. The ships laden with relief supplies, however, will call at Istanbul and Mersin ports. Some of relief supplies will be loaded to ships in Istanbul, while those collected in Anatolian cities will be loaded in Mersin. The journey will take between 10 to 15 days depending on weather condition and possible Israeli hurdles.
What supplies will be carried in ships?
Many relief supplies that are not allowed into Gaza because of embargo will be carried in ships, including construction materials such as cement, iron, etc., generators (over 100 KW), MR devices (preferably new or less than two years old), ultrasound machines, dentist chairs and equipment, CBC blood testing and devices (preferably new or less than three years old), and electric wheelchairs. The participants will return to Turkey in the same ships after delivering relief supplies to Gaza.