MAAN NEWS AGENCY
Free Gaza ship departs with 11 students denied exit by Israel
Date: 12 / 12 / 2008 Time: 10:39
Bethlehem - Ma'an - A ship with the Free Gaza movement left the Strip late Thursday night with 11 Palestinian students aboard.
The students had previously been denied exit by Israel to attend universities abroad despite having all proper documentation from the institutions.
Over 700 students are currently trapped in Gaza, unable to obtain permission from Israel to continue their education abroad, according to the group.
Accompanying the students were two British academics, Jonathan Rosenhead and Mike Cushman, of the London School of Economics and the British Committee for Universities for Palestine (BRICUP), an organization of UK-based educators that calls for an academic boycott of Israel.
"As academics, we are particularly pleased to be traveling on the Dignity [the ship of the Free Gaza movement] on this mission to enable at least some of the hundreds of students trapped in Gaza by the Israeli siege to get out and take up their places at universities around the world," said a statement released by the group.
"This siege is an affront to any idea of academic freedom or human rights. How can anyone justify preventing young people from fulfilling their potential and learning how to serve their community more fully?" it continued.
In an act of "nonviolent defiance" against the ongoing Israeli occupation, the Free Gaza movement has been running "civil resistance ships" to Gaza since August.
The Dignity's voyage is the fourth such trip, and aimed to reunite families and deliver medical supplies, mail, and international humanitarian and human rights workers to the Gaza Strip.
Free Gaza spokesperson Ewa Jasiewicz said "though we carried in a ton of medical supplies and high-protein baby formula on our ship, our mission in Gaza was not to provide charity, but to give our solidarity to the people of Palestine, break the silence of the world over this continuing calamity, and physically break through the blockade of Gaza in an act of direct resistance against the siege."
"In the end, the oppression and humiliation of occupation assaults the humanity of both occupier and occupied and cannot and must not be tolerated any longer," Jasiewicz added.
For over two years, Israel has imposed an increasingly severe blockade on Gaza, dramatically increasing poverty and malnutrition rates among the 1.5 million people who live in the tiny, coastal region.
Osama Qashoo, another Free Gaza spokesperson, explained their voyage's success by saying that "the sea passage to Gaza is open." Three ships, one from Libya, one from Qatar, and a third from the Israeli Jaffa port were denied entry into Gaza just over a week ago.
Commenting on the Israeli action taken against the ships, Qashoo said "Our fourth mission was a quick response to Israel denying earlier attempts,” and an effort to maintain the opening the group had managed to force in Israel’s blockade of Gaza.
"We hope that other nations, civil society organizations, and activists around the world will learn from our experience, be strategic in their planning, and not let Israeli threats and aggression stop them from coming to Gaza," said the Free Gaza Movement.
"Freedom of movement and of education and to live in peace is everyone's right," the group added.
According to Caoimhe Butterly, a Free Gaza coordinator, the ship faced no interference or radio contact from the Israeli navy on its way into and out of Gaza waters. She did note, however, that the ship’s radar showed naval vessels passing within a few miles of the vessel.
Asked why the Free Gaza ship was allowed through while others were blocked, Butterly said it was a sign that Israel “does not see this project as a threat.”
***Updated 13:43 Bethlehem time