A Swedish ship, the Estelle, has set sail from Naples, Italy, and will sail to Gaza to challenge the Israeli blockade. The vessel is carrying only humanitarian goods There are 17 activists on board the ship, including people from Canada, Sweden, Norway, Israel, and the United States. The ship left Naples on Saturday September 6. There was a crowd of well-wishers to see them off as the sailing ship left Naples. Spokesperson Ann Ighe said:"We think it will take around two weeks to get to Gaza, but it will obviously also depend on the weather conditions." An international pro-Palestinian coalition organized the mission to carry humanitarian goods to the Gaza Strip.
Israel claims that the blockade is required to prevent weapons entering the strip from along the coast. The Gaza strip is controlled by. The naval blockade, together with restrictions on the flow of goods and people through the land crossings as well, has imposed harsh conditions on Gazans. Even importing building material to rebuild is often prohibited because the material may be what the Israelis call "dual use", that is they could have military as well as civilian uses.
In June 2010 , after international pressure, Israel relaxed the regulations to some degree. In May of 2011 Egypt opened the Rafah border crossing and relaxed requirements for women and males below 18 or more than 40 to enter Egypt without a visa. There are still severe restriction on movement of goods to and from Gaza. However, there is considerable smuggling still through tunnel.
Opinions vary about the legality of the blockade. The UN Palmer report claims the blockade is legal. However, the head of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Navi Pillay, as well as the International Committee of the Red Cross consider the blockade illegal. This opinion is shared by most experts on International law, according to Richard Falk. The first Freedom Flotilla in May of 2010 ended with a number of people being killed when Israeli commandos boarded the Mavi Marmara the lead ship. Thrity three relatives of Turkish activists, who were killed in the Israli raid, have filed a lawsuit against Israel seeking compensation for losses.
Ighe stressed that the Estelle was a non-violent ship. She said. "When people think of flotillas, they think of the Mavi Marmara. But the Estelle is very different, she was chosen to change the perception of the campaign, to show that it's a non-violent campaign. It is a vessel that has travelled for Greenpeace protests and on fair-trade missions. The Estelle is a peaceful ship." Luigi de Magistris, mayor of Naples, said:"This is not an initiative in favor of Hamas but in favor of Palestine, of the Palestinians who live in Gaza, and in favor of two states living as neighbors in peace and security." Among the goods carried by the Estelle are: 600 soccer balls, 41 tons of cement, theater equipment, and musical instruments. The Estelle has an engine as well as sails Dror Feiler, who was also aboard the Marmara in 2010, said: "We hope the Israeli government will understand that there is no point in preventing us from reaching Gaza, Our flotilla does not pose a security threat to Israel. The sail is not against the State of Israel, but against the Israeli government's policy. We believe it is completely legitimate and consider the blockade to be detrimental to both Israel and the Palestinians. It only creates bitterness and hatred." All of the activists aboard the Estelle were required to sign a non violence declaration. Feiler went on:"We do not hit, or yell. If IDF soldiers board the ship and try to prevent it from reaching Gaza, we will try to protect our vessel with our bodies."
An attempt to break the blockade last summer was foiled when Greek authorities intercepted the boats and towed them back to port. In November, Israel intercepted two other boats with 27 passengers. No doubt the Estelle will be escorted to an Israeli port where goods will be offloaded and those meeting Israeli regulations will be taken into Gaza. The issue for Israel is not security as much as an affirmation of their power to impose the blockade.