'Freedom flotilla' boat on Europe tour to challenge Israel's Gaza blockade

'Freedom flotilla' boat on Europe tour to challenge Israel's Gaza blockade
The Freedom Flotilla Coalition's 'Handala' boat now on a tour of Europe will next year make a beeline for the Palestinian coastal enclave of Gaza, besieged by Israel for the last 15 years.
4 min read
06 July, 2023
Emblazoned across the side of the vessel is the phrase 'For The Children of Gaza' [Palestine Solidarity Campaign]

A boat named after a famous Palestinian symbol of resistance has set sail across Europe, to raise awareness on Israel’s 15-year-long land, air and sea blockade of the Gaza Strip.

The boat — named Handala, after the iconic illustration of a handcuffed Palestinian refugee child by Naji al-Ali — left the English port city of Liverpool for the Welsh capital Cardiff on Wednesday.

Its journey is being orchestrated by the Freedom Flotilla Coalition (FFC), an international group coordinating action between local campaigns around the world to end Israel’s blockade of Gaza.

The boat's Europe tour will end around the middle of August, James Godfrey from Gaza Freedom Flotilla Australia, part of the FFC, told The New Arab.

The boat will head next year to Gaza and try to break the Israeli naval blockade on the enclave that severely limits Palestinians' freedom of movement and the transit of goods.

Emblazoned across the side of the vessel is the phrase 'For The Children of Gaza', the name of the FFC’s 2023 mission.

"With over 50% of Gaza’s population of over 2 million being children and minors, the blockade is ongoing collective punishment of the civil population targets mostly the innocent, robbing them of their childhood; their rights to safety, education, and health; and their prospects for a decent future," the FFC said of the mission.

The mission has been spread over two years to allow 'Handala' to be used to benefit pro-Palestine campaigning in Europe.

"We decided that we'd retain the boat this year and not be jeopardised by sailing to Gaza, where in previous attempts we've made over the last 11 years we've been attacked and our boats have been confiscated," Godfrey said.

"We made a calculated decision to vary tactics, to retain our boat for a longer period of time and use it as a prop this year, to try and draw attention to the illegal blockade and to try to give local groups the opportunity to use the boat as a canvas to attract attention and draw support for their particular activities."

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The boat was christened 'Handala' in April 2023 in the Norwegian town of Bergen, from where it first set sail. From there it travelled to the Norwegian capital Oslo, then the Scottish port city of Glasgow.

The crew includes Zohar Chamberlain Regev, an Israeli citizen who has been part of previous attempts to break the blockade of Gaza,  and Musheir El Farra, a Sheffield-based native of Gaza who has lost family members in Israeli attacks. The boat is captained by Norwegian sailor Herman Reksten.

"In all my sailing career I have never seen a border until I came into a harbour. The blockade of Gaza is an artificial offshore border created to oppress the Palestinians of Gaza, who are mostly children," the FFC quoted Reksten as saying.

The UK leg of the journey is being supported by pro-Palestine groups including the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC).

The mission "is a way of educating people about the situation in Gaza, how people live here, what they face," PSC media officer Bhavesh Hindocha told The New Arab.

"The flotilla does an amazing job of bringing those issues into sharp relief by simply trying to sail to Gaza, which should be a standard thing that anyone could do."

Though Israel commits aggression across the occupied Palestinian territories — as clearly shown by its recent deadly offensive on Jenin refugee camp — its actions in Gaza are of a different strain.

"The flotilla very much concentrates on Gaza, it very much concentrates on children as well… there are so many particular issues to Gaza, that that’s the main focus of their work," Hindocha told The New Arab

"But inevitably it brings up the whole situation of Palestine, the apartheid system and the daily brutality."

International activists have sailed dozens of boats to challenge the blockade on Gaza since it was imposed. The Handala boat's mission was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

That action has often put them in grave danger. In May 2010, an elite Israeli naval unit stormed the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish ship that was leading the Freedom Flotilla, killing nine people. The FFC was formed as a response to the Mavi Marmara attack.