BEIRUT, June 20 (JMCC) - Perfume, lipstick, gossip, and embraces. The participants in the Lebanese flotilla that is seeking to set sail towards blockaded Gaza
are not the usual suspects - they are women of suave sophistication from Beirut’s chattering classes.
The vessel is expected to have as many as 70 people on board.
“There are doctors, lawyers, journalists, Christians and Muslims – we have people from all kinds of sectors and religions,” said Mona, one of the organizers.
We called the boat, St. Mariam
, the Virgin Mary in English, because she is respected by all religions,” added activist Tania al Kayyali.
The women gathered at a Beirut hotel on Sunday to discuss final preparations and promote the event. Along with the briefing on medical supplies, sleeping arrangements and other logistics came a warning of the harsh conditions to be faced.
“No showers, no skirts and no makeup,” said coordinator Samar Alhaj to light-hearted giggles from the frocked audience.
BELIEF IN THE CAUSE
The preparations however are also a reminder of the potential danger in this expedition. “Have blood tests in case we come under attack from Israel and you need a blood transfusion,” said Alhaj.
Uniting the ladies in the face of the danger is a genuine sense of injustice at the existence of the blockade
. “These people need aid,” says Serena Shim who is to board the boat despite her six-month pregnancy.
“This is something I believe in, and when you have this true belief you are not afraid,” said Kayyalli.
remains concerned that because the flotilla
originates in Lebanon -- considered a hostile state -- it will be used to smuggle weapons into Gaza. In a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Israel’s ambassador to the UN Gabriela Shalev has warned that Israel reserves the right to use “necessary measures in line with international law
to halt the ship’s arrival into Gaza.”
The Israeli government has warned that it will see the launch of this flotilla as a provocative sail. The ramifications of the trip, it warns, could have wider ramifications for the security of the entire Middle East region.
The organizers of the St. Mariam
are keen to frame the trip as purely humanitarian. “We have a goal, our goal is to arrive to Gaza. It is the responsibility of the government to deal with the politics. We are not political,” said Samar. Hezbollah
also claims to have no involvement. The official website declares that the party has decided to “stay away from this humanitarian move, whether at coordination, logistical support or direct participation levels.
Hezbollah is working hard to ensure that their involvement is not a pretext that Israel can use to attack,” says Heba Mrad, Hezbollah correspondent.
Look at me, am I from Hezbollah?” asks Nadine Abdul Halel, a participant dressed in a sky blue minidress and bikini. “And I believe in sex before marriage!”
RESISTANCE AT SEA
The flotilla is bringing medical instruments and therapy for cancer.
“This is to highlight that since Cast Lead cancer rates have increased in Gaza by 30 percent. All precautions are being taken not to further aggravate Israel. We will not even bring cooking knives,” said Samir, who warned in the meeting that no one should dress in a way that can identify them with a political party.
“We are not planning to fight or attack,” says Kayyali when asked how they will react should Israel try to stop their advances. “But we will not leave the St. Mariam
,” she says, suggesting a form of passive resistance.
LOCKED DOWN AT PORT
Despite ongoing preparations the St. Mariam’s
maiden voyage may be stopped before it can begin. The Arab daily Al-Hayat
on Sunday reported that the boat may be unable to leave Lebanon’s shores on the basis that travel to Israeli occupied territory is illegal under Lebanese law without a permit, which the ship has not yet obtained.
Organizers deny that this will be a problem. “Tomorrow we will present the papers to get our permit, and we expect that we will have the go ahead within two hours,” says Alhaj.
In an impassioned speech to the other activists, Alhaj later warned that they intend to depart with or without permission.
On Monday morning, however, the Lebanese transportation minister said two vessels had been given permission to sail to Cyprus - whether the ships move on to Gaza from there will depend on Cypriot officials.