SHIPS CARRYING up to a hundred international volunteers are set to travel from Cyprus to the Gaza Strip in August to mark the fortieth anniversary of the capture of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem by Israeli forces in the 1967 Six Day War.

The action is meant to test the legitimacy of Israel’s withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territory in 2005.

The effort is a part of the Free Gaza Movement, a campaign launched by the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), which has reportedly cost the organisation upwards of $300,000.

One of the boats being used, which can carry up to 60 passengers each, will bear the name Free Gaza. The volunteers involved will reportedly include Greeks, Americans, Australians, Italians and Britons as well as Israelis and Palestinians, including Holocaust and Nakba survivors.

“Many of us have also been stopped from entering the occupied territories, because we have gone before to bear witness to what Israel does to the Palestinians” said volunteer Greta Berlin in an interview with American periodical CounterPunch.

Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, but it remains tightly in control of the territory’s borders. Entry into Gaza by internationals remains extremely difficult through its Erez border with Israel, and practically impossible through its border with Egypt.

Israel has maintained control of Gaza’s sea and air traffic since 2000, after an escalation in terror attacks, in what it sees as legal action through the Oslo II accords.

The volunteers taking part in the effort to reach Gaza by sea face arrest by Israeli authorities. The Limassol port authorities and Salamis shipping company have said it would be practically impossible for the ship to arrive in Gaza. Berlin, however, says the volunteers will resist arrest, citing their right to enter as observers under international law and that they come at the invitation of numerous NGOs.

The project is a part of the ISM’s Freedom Summer 2007 campaign, which has been running since June 21. As well as taking part in the sea effort, volunteers with Freedom Summer 2007 will engage in peaceful protests against the continued construction of Israel’s West Bank barrier in the towns of Bil’in and Um Salamuna.

“When international volunteers are absent, the Israeli army use lethal tactics of repression, such as live ammunition on unarmed protesters,” read a statement on the ISM website. “The world may believe that the Israeli occupation ended with the Gaza pullout, but volunteers who witness settlement expansion on Palestinian land know that the occupation in the West Bank gets worse.”

The ISM was founded in 2001 by Palestinian activist Ghassan Andoni and Israeli activist Neta Golan. The organisation advocates non-violent protest against what it calls oppressive military occupation and repression of the Palestinian people, and documents to international media what it calls human rights violations on the part of Israeli forces.

It also advocates forms of resistance by the Palestinian people through direct-action efforts to challenge curfew and checkpoint restrictions imposed by the Israeli military. Its members have been found escorting civilians and ambulances to shield them from Israeli attacks.

ISM critics have often referred to these actions as human shield tactics, referring to its members as anarchists and communists, and as having supported the terrorist activities of the recently-dismissed Hamas government.

Copyright © Cyprus Mail 2007 This piece ran on July 5th, 2007