A ship dubbed “Al-Awda” (The Return) is to sail to Gaza from Norway next month to challenge the decade-long Israeli blockade in the region.
As part of this year’s campaign launched by the international Freedom Flotilla Coalition (FFC), the boat, together with five others, will sail to the Gaza Strip on May 15, the 70th anniversary of the foundation of Israel — an event Palestinians refer to as the "Nakba" or "Catastrophe.”
“The goal of the flotilla is to bring up the problems in Gaza and to say an unlawful and inhuman blockade has been going on,” Huseyin Oruc, deputy head of the Istanbul-based Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), told Anadolu Agency.
As of the end of 2016, 1.3 million Gazans depended on international aid in order to survive, while nearly half of families in Gaza lacked access to secure food supplies, according to the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
The flotilla also aims to reiterate that Palestinians driven from their homes in 1948 have the right to return, he said.
On March 30, Palestinians began a six-week “Great Return March” along the eastern Gaza border with Israel to demand the right to return to their towns and villages in historical Palestine.
Since the border rallies began, at least 35 Palestinians have been killed and hundreds injured by cross-border Israeli gunfire.
The IHH, which organized the ill-fated 2010 Mavi Marmara boat convoy to Gaza, is one of the founding members of the coalition, which was formed that same year.
Israeli commandos killed 10 Turkish activists on the convoy, which was headed for Gaza to deliver humanitarian aid.
– Boats to stop at European ports
Under the slogan "Right to a Just Future for Palestine,” the boats will stop at a number of European ports, including ones in Denmark, Britain, Italy, Spain, and Greece, before their last leg to Gaza.
Calling the voyage “symbolic and meaningful,” Oruc said: “There will be around 60 people, who will be symbolic figures on board at the last stop.”
“There will be one participant from Turkey in each of the ships as well."
The participants, including from Turkey, have yet to be selected.
The boats will also carry medical supplies and various other materials which Gazans have difficulty obtaining, according to Oruc.
Israel intercepts every ship to Gaza
Every year for eight years now the Freedom Flotilla Coalition has been launching a new campaign challenge the blockade. The IHH supports the campaigns logistically, financially, and with media relations.
“To date Israel has intercepted every ship sailing towards Gaza without exception and detained those on board," Oruc said.
Since 2010, no coalition boat bound for Gaza has reached the region.
"But nobody in the coalition cares. All of us say we will set off again and try to reach Gaza, and we will be one of the reasons why the embargo is lifted,” he added.
Oruc stressed that the load the flotilla carries every year conveys hope to Palestinians despite all the pressure from Israel.
It is important to show that the coalition has not fallen apart despite all the pressure and killings, he added.
If everything goes as planned, the boats are expected to arrive at the Gaza Strip by the beginning of July.