Activist: Gaza entry only the beginning

Former university lecturer says colleagues hope to start a "revolving ferry from Cyprus to Gaza."

gaza boats 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
gaza boats 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Former university lecturer Jeff Halper told The Jerusalem Post that he hoped to cross back into Israel via Erez Crossing on Tuesday, while his colleagues, a group of activists who arrived in Gaza's port on Saturday, would began a "revolving ferry from Cyprus to Gaza." "Some people need to go home, so one boat is going to return," Halper said. "Others are going to stay here for a month, but overall, we're trying to create an ongoing ferry service that brings in people and supplies from Cyprus to Gaza This is not a one-time attempt." Halper also said that while he saw entering Gaza by boat during the ongoing Israeli blockade as a positive development, the true test would come with the group's exit. "They are going to take 10 Palestinian students with them," he said. "The idea is to get them out of Gaza, to Cyprus, and then off to universities elsewhere." Asked about criticism from Gaza Palestinians who said that his group brought far less humanitarian supplies with them than was initially expected, Halper dismissed the idea that the group's only goal was a humanitarian one. "This trip wasn't humanitarian," he said. "It was political. The point was to break the siege and change Israeli policy in Gaza. It wasn't a one-time thing. We are going to continue bringing boats into Gaza, and those will have humanitarian assistance on board." Halper said that the first two boats brought small quantities of humanitarian supplies, including hearing aids to be distributed at a Gaza hospital, as to not arrive empty-handed. But the boats, he said, would have to keep coming in. "They let these two boats in, so I don't see why they wouldn't let a third one in," Halper said. "We're trying to open Gaza up to the outside world. In an additional gesture of solidarity with the residents of Gaza, some 25 of the humanitarian volunteers are scheduled to go out to sea with Gaza fishermen on Monday. But defense officials said Sunday that despite the decision to permit the two boats into Gaza there was no change in Israeli policy and that the sea blockade imposed on the Palestinian territory would remain in effect. While Palestinians are allowed access to the immediate waters off the Gaza coast - strictly for fishing - the Israel Navy controls access to the port and following the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza imposed a blockade on sea access to the Strip out of fear that boats would be used to smuggle in weaponry ad explosives. Defense officials said Sunday that while most of Hamas's weaponry was smuggled into Gaza via tunnels dug under the Philadelphi Corridor, there were increasing efforts to smuggle weapons into Gaza via the sea mainly from Egypt. In some cases, boats drop floatable devices near the waters off the Gaza coast, which are then picked up by Palestinian fisherman. The officials said that if additional boats tried to reach Gaza - carrying supplies or international activists - they would likely be turned away although each case would be examined individually. Officials said that the activists - who have yet to officially request permission to leave Gaza - would be questioned upon their departure whether by sea or via the Erez Crossing. "We have no intention of opening up Gaza's port," one official said. "There is no change in Israeli policy and there is no need for the port since the Palestinians are getting everything they need via the land-based crossings." The decision to permit the boats into Gaza was made following a series of security consultations over the weekend. According to defense officials, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi was against allowing the boats into Gaza on the grounds that such a move would set a dangerous precedent. However, the Foreign Ministry and the Prime Minister's Office decided to allow the boats into Gaza since they were concerned that if the Navy tried to block them, the event would receive international media attention and could ruin the upcoming visits of Defense Minister Ehud Barak to Egypt and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Israel.