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26 Oct, 2008

Nobel Peace Laureate To Lead Fresh Attempt to Liberate Gaza

Originally Published: 26 Oct 2008

The 1976 Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Corrigan-Maguire is to be on the next Free Gaza Movement boat that will sail from Cyprus to the besieged Gaza Strip on October 28, designed to further heighten the plight of the people in a land area known as the world’s biggest open-air prison.

A statement issued by the Free Gaza Movement quoted Ms Corrigan-Maguire as saying, “We sail to Gaza to show the people we love and care for them. What less can we do whilst our governments remain silent and inactive in face of such preventable suffering of the women and children of Gaza and Palestine.”

She will be one among 26 passengers including five physicians, Mustafa Barghouti, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and Jamal Zahalka, a member of the Israeli Knesset (parliament).

The Free Gaza Movement is backed by other groups such as the Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), Grassroots International, Global Exchange and Code Pink.

JVP describes the International Campaign to End the Siege of Gaza as “a Palestinian-led nonviolent campaign to bring peace and freedom to the people of Gaza.” The group’s donors alone contributed nearly $10,000 in just a few days, according to a JVP announcement last month.

The last effort to break the siege was made on August 23 when two small boats, carrying 42 determined human rights workers successfully entered Gaza Port, carrying a simple message: “The world has not forgotten the people of this land. Today, we are all from Gaza.”

Greta Berlin, one of the organisers of the second siege-breaking boat-trip said, “We intend to break Israel’s blockade as often as we can. This second trip is just one of many we intend to organise over the next year. We have lawyers, members of Parliament and other professionals already on our passenger lists for upcoming voyages.”

This second boat will deliver mostly medicines as a gift from the European Campaign to End the Siege of Gaza. The campaign’s head Dr Arafat Shoukri, stated, “Our choice of medicines has been in response to a specific request from the health authorities in Gaza. Many basic items such as cough syrup for children are non-existent in the territory and we are happy to make them available.”

Approximately 25 miles long and six miles wide, the so-called Gaza Strip has been under an Israeli blockade since mid-July 2007. It is connected with the outside world through six entry points, five of which are connected with Israel. Only one, the Rafah crossing, is connected with Egypt.

Movement of general people is only allowed through one Israel-linked crossing, the Eretz, and only for employees of foreign establishments. All trade has to be conducted through the border crossings with Israel.

Last week, the Popular Committee Against the Siege (PCAS) issued a “Report On The Drastic Consequences of Gaza Siege” saying that “the movement of people and goods from and to the Gaza Strip is paralysed, and all commercial transactions have been stopped in a manner that contradicts all agreements, intents, commitments and accords.’

The report said that “the siege’s drastic results on all economic sectors of life in the Gaza Strip make it a catastrophic zone of the first degree” for its 1.5 million inhabitants. It said 80% of the Gaza population now lives below the poverty line, and that 65% of the people have no work.

The report said direct monthly losses caused by the siege are estimated at US$ 45 million, including US$ 15 million in the industrial sector, US$ 10 million in agriculture and US$ 20 million in trade, services and fishing.

Imports of all raw materials for manufacture have been banned, and since the content of locally-made raw material in all of Gaza’s industrial facilities does not exceed 10%, costs have exceeded the total cost of production. According to the report, 55% of private sector establishments have had to shut down.

Imports of machinery and spare parts were necessary for the production of furniture, clothing and agricultural products, nearly all of which were exported. The ban on imports led to 33,000 out of 35,000 employees and workers in the industrial sector losing their jobs.

Same situation in agriculture. The Gaza Strip has 9,364 hectares of agricultural land, with an annual capacity of between 280,000 to 300,000 tons of farm products such as potatoes, strawberries and carnations, one third of which is usually exported.

According to the PCAS report, the agricultural sector counts for 40,000 permanent jobs (or12.7% of the working force), it also the source for food and life for one quarter of the population.

Now, says the report, exports of farm products have been banned, as have imports of seeds and seedlings, fertilisers and other agricultural requirements. The economic damage is estimated at US$ 10 million per month.

All of this is having downstream impact on basic health services which are suffering as 160 types of basic medicines have run out and another 130 kinds are expected to go out of stock “within the upcoming days.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that hundreds of patients with acute illnesses, and those which require highly specialised surgeries such as cancer patients, have been denied permission to travel abroad for treatment.

According to the PCAS report, the Israelis have denied permission to 1,150 patients, including 270 serious cases, to leave since the beginning of the siege. Of these, 252 cases have resulted in deaths.

About US$350 million worth of development projects have been stopped, including an estimated US$60 million worth of UN contracts for rehabilitation of street, water and sewage facilities.

Municipal services like garbage and sewage treatments are under pressure. Reduced supply of fuel to operate the power plant leads to power cuts and blackouts. Lack of spare parts means that half of the cars and various municipal vehicles are no longer operating.

This is the siege those boats are trying to break.

Further details about conditions in Gaza are available at http://www.freegaza.ps/english/