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Commentary :: Human Rights
BTL:Groups Raise Funds to Launch U.S.-Gaza Aid Ship
27 Sep 2010
BETWEEN THE LINES Syndicated Radio Newsmagazine
Groups Raise Funds to Launch U.S.-Gaza Aid Ship

Interview with Nada Khader, executive director of WESPAC, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

Across the U.S., funds are now being raised for a group calling itself "U.S. Boat to Gaza," which is seeking $370,000 over the next month to purchase a ship that will challenge the Israeli blockade and bring material aid -- including construction supplies -- to Palestinians living in the besieged Gaza Strip. Although Israel has eased its blockade of Gaza in recent months, there are still severe limits on construction and raw materials allowed into the territory governed by the militant Hamas party.

The U.S. vessel is set to join a flotilla of other ships from Europe, Canada, India, South Africa and parts of the Middle East, and is due to set sail for Gaza this fall. U.S. organizers say their Gaza-bound ship will be named after President Obama's best-selling book, "The Audacity of Hope." This flotilla will sail the same route as the group of ships boarded and seized by Israeli commandos at the end of May, during which eight Turkish solidarity activists and one Turkish-American youth were killed.

In mid-September, southern New England activists sponsored a cruise on the Connecticut River to raise money for the "U.S. Boat to Gaza." as participants onboard the sunset cruise enjoyed a Middle Eastern buffet, Palestinian music and heard from three speakers. One was Nada Khader, a Palestinian-American who is the executive director of the WESPAC Foundation, a peace and justice action and educational network in New York. Khadar previously served as a consultant for the United Nations Development Program in the Gaza Strip. In her comments, she addressed the suffering of the people in Gaza and urged Americans to support the U.S. boat to Gaza.

NADA KHADER: Even in 1988, before the Second Intifada, before the election of Hamas into government, conditions were bad. I remember being invited to the Jabalya refugee camp and I was invited by the family to have some tea. And the tea in the Middle East is heavily sweetened, they like their sugar in their tea, and even with the sweetened tea, I could taste the salt in the tea, so the people are drinking salt water in Gaza, and the children's kidneys are damaged, and the elderly are damaged.

I was staying in an apartment in the nicest part of the Gaza Strip, in Gaza City. I was paying $500 a month to stay there. I had a view of the Mediterranean. I was on the fifth floor. The apartment was gorgeous, three bedrooms. I didn't need all that space, but when I would take my daily shower in the nicest residential area of Gaza, there was just a trickle of water coming out, and by the end of my five-week stay there, my hair was coming out in clumps and my face had all broken out. Even the local vendors and grocers were telling me -- even back in '98, going back 12 years -- certain items were not available. I could notice the people are not healthy; they're not eating the traditional Palestinian foods, which, a lot of it is plant-based. So when Israel and the U.S. and Egypt and the international community punish the people living in Gaza, they're mainly punishing children under 16, because the majority of the 1.5 million people who live there are children. So you see stunted children; you see very high rates of anemia. It's a very disturbing experience.

Also, the poverty -- poverty imposed not just by capitalism, but compounded by a brutal occupation and siege -- sights you wouldn't see in Palestine before...children who are left to their own means in the streets; poverty making people behave in ways they wouldn't ordinarily; Saudi money trying to come in and influence internal Palestinian politics; men who are deprived of their livelihoods and some of whom cannot navigate the brutality of occupation, so they take it out in the domestic zone -- higher rates of domestic violence. All these issues compounded; so it was a very, very difficult experience for me. And that was back in '98, before the Second Intifada, before the election of Hamas. After the election of Hamas, really the Gaza Strip was hermetically sealed. Even in '98, I remember crossing the Eretz Crossing, and what the Israelis have done is they've built a passageway with barbed wire. It was sort of what you see with cattle to walk through to get to their pasture. It looked like it was built for cattle, for cows, and that's where all these thousands of men had to wait every morning to see if they could get into Israel to get a job to feed their families.

So those are the memories I have, and now, as we all know, the situation is even worse. So that's why it's the responsibility of international civil society, since our governments are not doing the right thing, the onus is on ordinary people like you and me to do the right thing. I did speak with Laurie Arbeiter this morning, who is one of the main organizers of the U.S. Boat to Gaza. And I had some questions for her that I wanted to share with you. She said they are working closely with the Free Gaza Movement, with Adam Shapiro and Huwaida Arraf, who have been the ones organizing these boats to Gaza in the past. What makes this extra tricky is, they hope to be part of a flotilla with boats from other countries, so that means it's even more difficult to know when the exact timing of when this boat to Gaza will be, because these other countries have to raise the funds as well. The total amount of money needed is $370,000 to buy this boat. And this boat will carry 60 people, and space has to be reserved for the crew and for media, and, of course, for high-profile people, which is very crucial for this kind of organizing. So that means there might be anywhere from 25 to 40 slots remaining for ordinary people like you and me. The application will be going online in three or four weeks, but right now the push is for fundraising.

Visit the "U.S. Boat To Gaza" project's website at This segment was recorded and produced by Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus.

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