Finding a Freedom Flotilla Boat
The Freedom Flotilla Coalition (FFC) boats from 2018, Freedom and Al-Awda were illegally taken in international waters that year. The FFC needed a replacement to continue our mission of showing solidarity for Palestinians and the inhumanity of Israel’s blockade on Gaza. Ship to Gaza Norway, one of the FFC coalition members, found a fishing vessel similar to Al-Awda and prepared it for our 2023 flotilla campaign.
Navarn is a diesel-powered fishing boat of 55 feet, built in 1968. An agreement was made, and seller and buyer met for a handover.
Remembering Why The Flotilla Exists
To honor this year’s FFC theme, “For the children of Gaza”, the boat became known as Handala. During Handala‘s voyage along the Norwegian coast, several people teamed up so that the ship had a skipper, deckhands and a cook. The diesel engine started at 07.00 each morning and the shifts were up to 12 hours per day.
One might wonder why people muster on such an old boat and join such a voyage. How does one recruit a crew of volunteers to maneuver this large boat through snowy conditions in northern Norway to Oslo? The answer is quite simple: Solidarity, solidarity, solidarity. The voyage is about the great injustice imposed on Palestinians by Israel and our sympathizing and complicit governments.
The goal of Handala and this voyage is to break the blockade of Gaza in 2024. Over 2 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are confined. For them, the freedom to travel by land and sea to discover one’s own land is denied despite it being a right under international law.
Spreading the Word
The crew carried this message with them as the boat chugged past small islets and reefs with high snow-covered mountains as a background. Houses and farms cling to this landscape and give people shelter from the elements. Handala docked in cities and small towns along the way to Oslo. During the voyage Ship to Gaza Norway cooperated with the Norwegian Palestine Committee. Their local groups welcomed the crew with waving Palestinian flags and slogans, appeals and Palestinian dancing. Arne Birger Heli and Yonatan Shapira gave lectures and showed slides. In the city of Bergen several unions and political parties, Norwegian People’s Aid, and The Palestine store Handala turned up. Fauzia Hussain-Wiik from LO Bergen had the honor of naming the boat Handala. Handala is the name of a 10-year-old refugee boy, who has become a national symbol of Palestinian resistance, perseverance and the refugees’ right to return. There were strong appeals, flags and slogans, and everyone wished the crew luck on the journey. In all, Handala visited 8 places where the Norwegian Palestine Committee had arrangements.
After 3 weeks of sailing, Handala arrived in Oslo, where the Palestine Committee had organized an event. The crew on board Handala disembarked and went ashore. Now Handala was to be prepared to continue her voyage in Europe. Throughout this summer, Handala will sail from port to port in Europe and the crew will continue their educational work on the oppression of Palestinians and the violations of human rights committed by Israel with especially North American and European support.
As mentioned earlier, we are sailing under the banner: “For the Children of Gaza.” Half of Gaza’s population are minors. During the 16-year blockade, they have experienced five major Israeli military aggressions. Reports show that 4 out of 5 Gaza children live with depression, grief and fear. There is a lack of food, clean water, electricity, health services and medicines. Israel’s occupation must end.
The blockade must end. Israel must be held responsible for the illegal collective punishment of the people of Gaza.