22nd February 2011
We have recently returned from the Madrid meeting of the international flotilla and want to take this opportunity to bring you up to date on the U.S. Boat to Gaza campaign.
Enthusiasm and support for the international flotilla has continued to build with representatives from 22 countries at the meeting. Current plans are for the flotilla to sail in the second half of May. Although this is later than our previously anticipated end of March sailing, a later sailing date will mean many more country participants will be ready to go. Of the 22 countries, only a handful have a boat and are ready to go now, others have raised substantial amounts of money and will either have their own boat or will be ready to join up with others to float an international boat. There will be another international coordinating meeting at the beginning of March.
We are thrilled by the success of the people’s revolution in Egypt. Over time, we think this could be a tectonic shift in the environment in the Middle East and change the situation in Gaza as well. Right now, though, we are not expecting major changes in the siege of Gaza. Israel has, in fact, stepped up its attacks on fishermen and workers along the land border and has been bombing urban areas in the strip. Our mission, to break the siege of Gaza, is as necessary as ever.
Hedy Epstein, human rights activist and Holocaust refugee:
“It’s important to break the siege of Gaza which has been imposed by Israel for so many years. People in Gaza have the right to travel. People in the world have the right to visit Gaza. Gaza needs a two way street for its economy.”
Medea Benjamin, co-founder CodePink Women for Peace:
“When governments and international institutions fail to pressure Israel to lift the siege of Gaza, it’s up to civil society to act. The flotilla is a lifeline between 1.5 million imprisoned people and the world community.”
Anna Baltzer, author, human rights activist and organizer:
“The US Boat to Gaza and the rest of the flotilla exemplify true international solidarity that refuses to wait for permission from Israel to do the right thing and support freedom for the men, women, and children in Gaza. These defiant boats show that creative people of conscience united around a just cause can be stronger and more resilient than a military superpower.”
What have we been up to? The U.S. Boat to Gaza has raised more than $300,000 to date. (We are continuing to fund raise and our total needs will depend on the condition of the boat we are able to buy, needed repairs and equipment, etc. but we are certainly closing in on our goal.) We are working in Europe to find the right boat. Boats we have looked at would accommodate 40-60 passengers and our applications committee has been very busy working through the large number of wonderful people who want to be passengers. Because we won’t know the exact passenger carrying capacity of the boat until we have actually purchased one, the applications committee is in the process of creating a passenger list and a back-up passenger waiting list and we will notify all the people who applied to be passengers on the boat as soon as we can.
The challenges of organizing and managing the U.S. Boat campaign have led us to create a decision making council comprised of representatives from the active working groups. Those groups are: Applications, Outreach, Legal, Media, Endorsers, Fund raising, Boat/International, Trainers, Webwork, and Finance.
The Applications Committee has completed almost all of its work. The Outreach Committee is coordinating the efforts of a national network of activists across the country who are working on the U.S. Boat to Gaza campaign. A point person is designated for each geographical region. The Legal Committee is dealing with both the organizational and political-legal issues that a campaign like this entails. The Media group is working to get the U.S. Boat and the siege of Gaza in the news. The Endorsers Committee is working on keeping our current 80+ endorsing organizations informed about the progress of the campaign and reaching out to other groups to build support. The fundraising committee is continuing to raise money in a variety of creative ways. The Boat/International committee is responsible for finding and buying the boat and working with other countries participating in the Freedom Flotilla. The Training Committee is preparing orientation materials and non-violence training for the U.S. boat passengers and crew. The Finance committee is budgeting and managing the record-keeping.
This is a huge effort and, to date, entirely a volunteer effort. We are hoping to hire one paid staffer as a coordinator. We welcome participation from anyone who wants to help. We could use help particularly on fund raising, planning support actions, and working on local media across the country but we would welcome support and ideas in any of the committees. To help with the campaign, contact Nell Hirschmann-Levy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for all your support,
US Boat to Gaza Council Members