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Gaza Aid Flotilla to Include Bay Area Residents

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A cargo ship and a passenger vessel are part of the Freedom Flotilla Coalition’s planned aid mission to Gaza this month. (Courtesy of Freedom Flotilla Coalition)

Three Bay Area residents arrived in Istanbul, Turkey, on Thursday to join the Freedom Flotilla Coalition, an international aid group that said it would attempt to break through Israel’s naval blockade to deliver 5,500 tons of humanitarian aid to Gaza by sea.

The coalition has embarked on dozens of missions to deliver aid to Gaza since Israel imposed a near-total blockade on the territory in 2007. This latest mission, however, comes as more than 1 million people in Gaza endure “catastrophic food insecurity.” Members of the UN Security Council recently reiterated concerns over imminent famine in Gaza and called for “the immediate lifting of all barriers to the delivery of humanitarian aid at scale to the civilian population.”

KQED spoke to one of the activists from the Bay Area before he left for Turkey.

“It is an emergency mission,” said Carlos Michaud, an Oakland resident who decided to join the coalition earlier this month. “Mass starvation is imminent if aid isn’t delivered immediately.”

The flotilla is expected to comprise at least three vessels, including a cargo ship carrying most of the aid and two passenger ships. Several hundred people from dozens of countries plan to join the mission, many arriving in Istanbul this week. A press conference to announce more details of the trip is scheduled for Friday in a shipyard near Istanbul.

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Part of the purpose of the trip is to bring international attention to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, Michaud said. And though the goal is to deliver food, medicine and ambulances — he said it’s unlikely they will make it past Israel’s naval blockade.

“There’s no guarantee of any of this, including that the Israeli occupation forces will not become violent when we reach the naval blockade,” he said. “But we are unarmed peace activists and legal observers and journalists that will be publicizing that we are coming through on a peaceful aid mission.”

In 2010, the Israeli Navy raided the six ships of a flotilla aid mission to Gaza while it was in international waters. The raid killed nine flotilla activists, and another died after four years in a coma.

“We are fully aware of the dangers that we’re going into,” Michaud said. “This is by no means a suicide mission, but we are opting into a dangerous situation because we know that the unaccountable Israeli government is more accountable to what happens to us than to Palestinians.”

Michaud said the international outcry among Western media and politicians over Israel’s killing of seven World Central Kitchen workers in Gaza earlier this month shows “that some lives are more valuable than others.”

“We feel that [this mission] is our duty because our lives are more valued by the current power paradigm,” he said.

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Huwaida Arraf, an organizer of the Freedom Flotilla Coalition and a co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement, spoke to KQED from Istanbul.

“We are demanding safe passage to Gaza,” Arraf said. “What we need is to be able to reach Gaza and deliver the aid to the people of Gaza. That is what we need. And that is what we are demanding that our governments help ensure, but we don’t know what Israel will do.”

Arraf has been on eight flotilla missions bound for Gaza, but this will be her first as a mother.

“I’m a mother of two elementary school children. The world that I want to pass on to them compels me to do what I’m doing despite the risks,” she said. “Our governments need to be doing this; our governments need to be forcing Israel to stop slaughtering and starving the Palestinian people — but they are not, and that compels civilians to take action.”

Earlier this month, President Joe Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by phone that “the strikes on humanitarian workers and the overall humanitarian situation are unacceptable.” Since Oct. 7, the U.S. has approved more than 100 separate military sales to Israel, according to The Washington Post.

Israeli bombardment of Gaza since Oct. 7 has left more than 30,000 people dead and more than 75,000 wounded, according to local health authorities.

“We are fighting, not only to save people’s lives but also for a world in which this is never allowed to happen,” Arraf said.

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