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In 2012 Charlie Andreasson was involved in of the previous international attempt to break the blockade of the Gaza Strip, which isolates its 1,7 million Palestinian inhabitants rom the surrounding world. As a sailor on board Ship to Gaza Sweden’s cargo schooner S/V Estelle, he sailed the entire way from Swedish waters until only 30 nautical miles remained to the Gaza coastal line. But there, in October,
Israeli commando soldiers wearing masks illegally boarded S/V Estelle on international
water, and the entire crew was imprisoned in Israel. What has become of the cargo of
international aid, remains unknown.
Then, as now, the international Freedom Flotilla Coalition (FFC)
was a part of the cooperation to break the illegal blockade against the Gaza Strip, which now runs on it’s seventh year. The coalition’s new cooperation project, where Charlie Andreasson is yet again involved, is called Gaza’s Ark. Through worldwide, small scale donations, Gaza’s Ark have been able to buy a boat measuring 24 meters, from the Palestinian fishing fleet in the Gaza harbour. The boat has been undergoing renovation since this summer, and has been prepared to make a journey on the Mediterranean Sea – considerably longer than the three nautical miles that Israel today allows Palestinian boats to go out at sea.
The Oslo Accord of 1993 stipulates a fishing zone of 20 nautical miles from the Gaza coast. Today, the Israeli blockade and military patrols at sea has stricken a very hard blow against the Palestinian fishing industry, as well as against the export from Gaza. It is not allowed at all, via sea, and barely at all by road transport. During the six years of the blockade, the total export from Gaza has been smaller that the export under an average eight weeks in 2007 – a decrease with 97 %. The consequences for the economy, wages and the labour market have been devastating.
– That is why we’re now transforming the Ark from a fishing boat to a cargo boat, to be loaded with goods that can be ordered and paid for in advance, says Charlie Andreasson.
Gaza’s Ark will be stowed with Palestinian export products, and then sail out from Gaza to mainly European consumers. Instead of breaking the blockade from the outside and bring aid, it will be broken from within using their own boat. This way, there will also be focus on the absurdity in the current export blockade.
Charlie is working as a helping hand finishing the Ark, using his work experience and knowledge when it comes to repairing. He’s been a professional sailor for many years, and usually lives on the island of Styrsö in the archipelago of Gothenburg, working for the ferry company Styrsöbolaget.
As a non-paid volunteer he’s now working together with paid Palestinians, who conducts and leads the renovation and repairs on board Gaza’s Ark. The project has been given much attention the last few months, in several Palestinian and Arabic TV channels and newspapers, and the inhabitants in Gaza have themselves showed both support and gratitude for the presence of international solidarity volunteers.
– They put their hope in us. Not personally, but to our voices and to what we have to tell
when we get back home.
The blockade against the Gaza Strip has tightened, and it’s effects has worsened even more during the last few months. After the military coup in Egypt, the Egyptian army intensified the destruction of the tunnels leading in to Gaza, so that only very few remain today. Furthermore, the border crossing at Rafah – the only opening to the world that the Palestinians of Gaza have – has been closed for longer periods, and is only open a few hours each time.
This Egyptian policy towards the Gaza Strip results in severe limitations in people’s freedom of movement, and also meant that Charlie had to wait almost four weeks to get in to Gaza. First a certain permit needed a renewal at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Cairo, then the border remained closed for another half a week.
– It has become more difficult to cross the border, and the selection of those that are allowed in is a lot tougher.
That Egypt now has sided with Israel, and both shut down the border and destroyed the tunnels, has meant a great deal of problem for the Palestinian population. It also meant that the project surrounding Gaza’s Ark has been delayed several months. Material and equipment that is not made by the Palestinians themselves has been a lot more difficult to get in from Egypt.
– It is getting more difficult getting the material we need. It would be possible to get it here without being smuggled, but the quantities of the goods crossing the Rafah border are too small. This means that the material that is left in Gaza is getting more expensive, and that the average household finds it even harder to support itself. And the shortage is getting more and more obvious, the number of people not making it is continuously growing. But despite the delay, and the difficulties finding necessary material, Gaza’s Ark is still a living and thriving project. The launch is set at spring 2014, when the boat will sail out with its export goods and break the internationally condemned blockade.