An all female flotilla carrying 13 women activists from 13 different countries will attempt to breach Israel’s sea blockade on the Gaza Strip Wednesday.
As of 13:15 Israel time (1015 GMT) the ship was 60 nautical miles from shore.
Activist Mairead Maguire from Ireland spoke with i24news from the ship Zaytouna-Oliva as it makes its final approach to the coastal enclave.
“Our goal is to raise awareness of plight of the Palestinian people and to break the ridiculous blockade on the Gaza strip,” she says, explaining that the message they wish to deliver is one of peace and hope rather than one of conflict.
She delved deeper into the aspirations of the all-female team, disclosing that “We are highlighting the plight of the Palestinian people and the plight of Palestinian women in particular. We are making a stand for women activists as well—and showing that the women of the world care.”
The mood onboard is fairly quiet as the group of women anticipates reaching shore by evening, but they are in good spirits.
“The women on the boat have had lots of training and preparation for this, and have also had time during the voyage to prepare,” Maguire says. “We are looking forward to delivering a message of hope and freedom to people of Gaza.”
— Women’s Boat To Gaza (@GazaFFlotilla) October 5, 2016
However, she notes, it is not likely that they will actually reach their destination.
“We have a hope, not an expectation of reaching Gaza, and meeting the wonderful people who have prepared a welcome for us,” she tells i24news, adding “We expect that we will be intercepted before being able to do so.”
Asked if they have any fears about encountering the Israel Defense Forces, Maguire says not at all.
“We are not afraid of the IDF. We understand that they are doing their job and we are a group of unarmed women bringing a message of peace,” she says.
“We expect that they will treat with us dignity and will treat them with dignity as well.”
At the time of the interview, Maguire said they had not encountered any Israeli ships or resistance.
“Right now we are alone in the beautiful blue of the Mediterranean,” she said.
After withdrawing from the Gaza Strip in 2005, Israel began to enforce the naval blockade around the coastal enclave the next year. It then tightened the blockade in 2007 after the Islamist militant Hamas group took control of the territory.
Israel argues that the blockade is necessary for the defense of the state, as it prevents Hamas and other militant groups from obtaining materials used to build rockets and bolster its military arsenal.
One such rocket was fired earlier Wednesday into the Israeli town of Sderot, landing next to an elementary.
The blockade means that all shipments to Gaza must first dock at an Israeli port for inspection and approval before goods can be transferred to Gaza.
Many countries condemn the blockade, saying that it isolates the population and prevents the arrival of necessary goods such as food, medicine and building materials.
There have been several attempts in recent years to breach the blockade, both by activist flotillas and shipments intended for Hamas.
One of the most high-profile attempts in 2010 turned deadly when Israeli commandos stormed the Mavi Marmara flotilla ship attempting to reach Gaza. Ten Turkish activists died in the incident, which then spiraled and resulted in Turkey severing ties with Israel.
The two countries have since reconciled, signing an agreement this summer in which Israel agreed to apologize to the families of the victims and pay $20 million in compensation. They payment was made on September 30th.
Jessi Satin is an i24news journalist and photographer