Canadian, European, and Palestinian activists plan to launch a flotilla – dubbed “Gaza’s Ark” – from Gaza to Europe carrying produce and textiles, with the goal of raising awareness of the strife caused by Israel’s illegal blockade of the territory. Charlie Anderson, a Swedish activist in Gaza, said that a fishing boat would be converted to a cargo vessel, and that it would depart for Europe in September carrying Gazan agricultural produce and textiles in the hope of raising awareness of how the illegal blockade has severely reduced the quality of life in Gaza.

Citing security concerns, Israel implemented an illegal land and sea blockade of the Gaza Strip in 2006, after announcing that it was “hostile territory.” The blockade restricted the movement of goods in and out of Gaza. A tightening of the blockade occurred in 2008 when Israel declared a maritime zone off of the Gaza coast, thereby severely reducing the size of the fishing zone agreed to in the Oslo Accords. Gazan fishermen have routinely been shot at and arrested by Israeli naval forces.

In 2010, Israel drew international condemnation for its violent attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla in international waters, which caused the deaths of nine activists during a confrontation with Israeli soldiers aboard the vessel Mavi Marmara. The organizers of the Gaza’s Ark flotilla stated that they have no intention of confronting the Israeli military if it decides to board their vessel.

The blockade, which is illegitimate and a violation of international humanitarian law, severely harmed Gaza’s economy, increased poverty and food insecurity, and caused employment to soar to one of the highest levels in the world (37.4 percent in 2010). The blockade also undermined the functioning of Gaza’s healthcare system, causing shortages of medical supplies and equipment, limiting the movement of patients and healthcare personnel, and severely restricting Palestinians’ access to vital healthcare services outside of the Gaza strip.

Since 2010, Gaza’s economy has slowly started to recover, and unemployment has decreased slightly. The health of Palestinians in Gaza, however, continues to be negatively affected by the blockade. The United Nations has urged Israel – the occupying power – to abide by its international humanitarian and human rights law obligations, and to “fully abolish the blockade.”