GAZA (2 Sept. 2008) - Four foreign nationals from the UK, USA, Ireland and Australia, who helped peacefully challenge the siege of Gaza by traveling through international waters with the Free Gaza Movement, have so far been refused exit to Israel via Erez Crossing, or to Egypt via Rafah Crossing.
For over two years Israel has severely restricted access to Gaza, blocking aid shipments and trade. As a consequence, Gaza's economy has collapsed, forcing most industries to close and dramatically increasing malnutrition rates among children. Eighty percent of families in Gaza are now completely dependent on United Nations food aid.
Travel outside of Gaza has been likewise blocked by Israel. Over 200 people have died as result of not being able to leave Gaza for medical treatment. Hundreds of Palestinian students, accepted to universities abroad, have also been denied exit visas by Israel.
Among the internationals currently stranded in Gaza are Irish activist and former Hawaiian legislator Kenneth O’Keefe, British journalist Lauren Booth, the sister-in-law of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Dr. William Dienst, a family and emergency room physician from the USA. This refusal of entry by Israel and Egypt effectively confines the internationals to the 40 by 10 kilometre enclave of Gaza, along with 1.5 million Palestinians, likewise sealed off from loved ones who live abroad and denied freedom of movement for purposes of education, medical care, leisure, or work.
The four internationals attempted to peacefully exit Gaza through Israeli controlled Erez crossing on August 29th; Israel denied the exit, stating that the activists had entered Gaza illegally by sea, even though that voyage had been formally allowed by the Israeli Foreign Ministry and Internal Affairs Ministry, according to newspaper reports. An official statement by Israel’s Defence Ministry (August 25th) declared the Free Gaza Movement did not violate any laws, and that their action posed “no security threat” (Ha’aretz).
Diplomatic channels are trying to negotiate the exit of the human rights workers, who wish, like Palestinians, to exercise their human rights under Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state and (2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.
For more information, please contact:
Gaza: Ken O’Keefe, +972599327112
Dr. Eyad el Sarraj, +972599408438
Jerusalem: Angela Godfrey-Goldstein, +972547366393