A Swedish ship, named Estelle, is en route to Gaza and is currently anchored in Naples as it continues its long journey in an attempt to breach the Israeli blockade of goods in and out of the Strip. In June Estelle set out from Sweden on her five month voyage to Gaza. The ship is scheduled to arrive on 20 October.
Over the years, several flotillas have tried entering Gaza. Some have made it whilst others have been turned away by Israeli forces. Mikael Löfgren, the media co-ordinator for Ship to Gaza, said that so far the trip has been smooth sailing. “We have had some difficulties in terms of pressure from people that may not want us around for long,” Löfgren explained, “but otherwise people have been supportive and friendly.” Being far away from Israel, the true challenges have yet to begin. Löfgren’s main concern is always that their ship will not be allowed to leave a harbour once they haul anchor, a direct violation of the European Union’s guarantee of freedom of movement.
Israel has released statements threatening to contact the governments of those on board the Estelle. According to Löfgren, Israel is trying to pressure those governments into ensuring that their citizens are not on the boat, but so far they have failed. In 2010 a flotilla breaching the blockade was fired upon and Israeli commandos killed nine civilians onboard the ship.
The objective of the voyage is to place international pressure on Israel and its allies over the blockade imposed on Gaza since Hamas came into power in 2006. The blockade, a security measure Israel claims is needed to avoid Hamas from acquiring weapons, has led to Israel controlling all goods entering the country. This blockade has left Gazans with severe shortages in necessity goods such as medicine and has severely limited their ability to exert their sovereignty. According to the United Nations, 75 per cent of Gazans are dependent on international aid, while 85 per cent of Gaza’s fishing waters and 35 per cent of its farmland are inaccessible due to the restrictions imposed by Israel. The UN also estimates that almost 70 per cent of Gazans live under refugee status and in refugee camps.
The UN has called the blockade a violation of human rights in contravention to international law, which amounts to collective punishment.