This interview aired on Off the Hour on March 6, 2014. To listen to the audio, click here.
June Jang: Can you please introduce yourself?
Ehab Lotayef: My name is Ehab Lotayef. I am an IT engineer at McGill and I am on the steering committee of the Gaza’s ark project.
June Jang: We’re here today to discuss about Gaza’s ark. Can you please tell us about the organization and the purpose of the organization?
Ehab Lotayef: Gaza’s ark is a new and different way to challenge the blockade of Gaza. We, as a group of activists from different countries, have participated in Freedom Flotilla and are making attempts to go to Gaza by sea to challenge the Israeli blockade.After events of 2010 and 2011 where Israel boarded different boats and attacked the people on the boat and killed them, on Mavi Marmara in particular, we have decided that instead of sailing from Europe to Gaza, we will direct our efforts, slightly different but more practical, to help the people in Gaza by building a boat in Gaza and load it with products from Gaza and sail with it from Gaza to Europe. This has another big advantage because it is creating a lot of work opportunities in Gaza. Not really a lot, but it does make a difference to the economy in Gaza and it also makes the people in Gaza feel empowered; for they are taking part in breaking the blockade.
June Jang: Israeli views this blockade as a necessity. What is your view on that?
Ehab Lotayef: Actually, the blockade is totally illegal and inhuman in our opinion. If we even look at blockades at countries in full state of war with other countries, the international law and international norm is that the blockade is enforced by checking boats that are heading to the blockaded country or territory and if they are found not to carry any weapons, they are let through. So, in no situation was there a blockade that would not let even humanitarian aid, food supply and commercial material in or out. That is a very unique situation. Plus, of course, even the basic needs of such a blockade, when there is situation like Gaza when there are no really two countries at war with each other, it does not make sense. Moreover, this kind of blockade that Israel claims, that it is for its own security, is not logical in this kind of situation because what is the threat that boats going out from Gaza towards the world affect the security of Israel? This point is exactly why we are doing Gaza’s ark right now and the way we are doing it is really to expose that what really Israeli is doing is to starve and punish the population of Gaza and the blockade has nothing to do with security.
June Jang: Can you tell us about what kind of restrictions the Israeli has imposed upon the citizens of Gaza and how these restrictions have evolved over time?
Ehab Lotayef: Israeli has imposed, really, a multiple kind of restrictions on the people of Gaza; restriction of movement, going in and out; restriction of the amount of basic needs of the population to go, making the population totally dependent on aid material which is in itself a way of punishment; destroying all of the possibility of commercial exchange between the world and the people of Gaza which again has nothing to do with the security of Gaza. And over the past years, this blockade has been more or less the same. When there are situations like after the murders of the civilian activists at the Mavi Marmara, Israel eased the blockade a little. But this easing of the blockade is really all relative. Imagine a household that needs to bring in twenty bags of groceries a week for the household to be normally nourished, and you are allowing only three bags to enter a week and then you say “Okay, I’m now going to ease it and now I’m going to allow five bags a week.” But nobody looks at the fact that this household needs twenty bags a week. So, the situation is Gaza has not reached starvation, because Israel does not want to reach that because it will be very damaging to its image. But, it is far below what the people need and it’s also not only about food, it is about the population in Gaza being able to build their own environment. Unemployment in Gaza, for example, is so high compared to anywhere in the world. People are not finding jobs, youth are losing hope in their future. This is the damage this blockade is doing. It is not only direct starvation, also medicine, sewage equipments, right now and for years, the sewage from the whole of Gaza is being pumped into the sea at a very close distance from the shore without any treatment because there is no ability for what is being let in through the blockade to maintain or create a healthy sewage disposal system. So, it’s really destroying the place and the motive here has nothing to do with Israeli security. That is only a camouflage. What you can deduce, what anybody can deduce if they monitored the situation closely will realize that this blockade is to punish the civilian population in Gaza. Punish them for being there and punish them for having voted more for the Islamist group to rule them.
June Jang: Are there any similar events taking place in other parts of Palestine?
Ehab Lotayef: The situation in Gaza is unique. Israel occupied the West Bank in Gaza. Gaza is a portal strip which is really very small. It is the size of the island of Montreal, basically. West Bank is in the interior between Israel and Jordan. The situation in the two places is very different. West Bank right now is controlled by the Palestinian authority which is basically the Fatah movement. It is more friendly with Israel and Israel is more friendly towards it and it’s not as steadfast in its resistance to Israel as the Hamas government that is in Gaza. So the situations are very different on both sides.
June Jang: You mentioned that whoever looks at the situation in Gaza closely will realize it’s a punishment. However, it seems many of the international audiences, such as UN and United States, have different opinion. Some group say it is necessary and some group say it isn’t. Can you tell us about how the blockade is perceived by different groups and what they can do to improve the situation?
Ehab Lotayef: The groups, countries, and governments that accept this blockade as a legal act or a necessary act, I believe, are falling victim to Zionist and Zionist lobby intimidation because no logical exchange would lead to a conclusion that this blockade is necessary for Israel’s security, which is the main reason Israel is saying for reinforcing it. And as I said earlier, even if they do, why don’t they speak against Israel’s total blanket not allowing anything pass through the blockade when I mentioned earlier, the situation in all similar naval blockade throughout history were to blockade any transport of weapons or weapon supplies or ammunitions to the blockaded territory? But to not let any marine traffic in or out across the border has no explanation and no logical reason to exist at all.
June Jang: What can they do to help the situation?
Ehab Lotayef: I think, it comes down, as I said, there is a very strong Zionist lobby that supports Israel in many of the western countries. That lobby has got a lot of influence with many political classes which makes it very difficult for those politicians to speak out against Israel. What has to be done is the people themselves; the population has to get themselves more informed, more involved to make their voices loud enough and see and educate themselves and see this situation is a punishment for civilian population which is unacceptable and shouldn’t exist. And even those who have Israel’s interest in mind should realize that such a situation on the long term cannot in any way lead to the benefit of Israel. It creates a population and generation after generation of neighbours to Israel that will not disappear, they will not go away, they will be there fifty years from now a hundred years from now they will be there. The only difference they will be is that they will be more and more hating and hold grudges against Israel. That is not in the benefit of peace and not in the benefit of people living on either side of this blockade.