The population of Gaza is victim of the greatest scandal of our time. Gaza is dying not because of a natural catastrophe, but because of a disaster carefully organized and executed by Israel. An international coalition, which brings together many organizations and movements, is preparing to send a fleet of ten boats to break the illegal Israeli blockade that is asphyxiating Gaza. Paul Larudee, a California participant in this bold enterprise, answers questions from Silvia Cattori.
Israeli tanks at Gaza borders
Silvia Cattori: With the Free Palestine Movement in California of which you are co-founder, you are preparing to go to the Mediterranean to join in a convoy consisting of an impressive fleet. You were at the origin of the project whose boats managed to dock in Gaza in August 2008. This success then led to the birth of the Free Gaza Movement (FGM). What was wrong with the previous movement that led you to launch another one ?
Paul Larudee: Originally, we were only a small group of people based in California that the project to go to Gaza by sea had put together. After successfully navigating with our group to Gaza for the first time in 40 years, I thought that Free Gaza should stop there and cease to send small boats not carrying substantial cargo. We needed to consider something more ambitious that would likely open up concrete prospects for the people of Gaza. I thought it was necessary to organize a regular system of transporting goods and passengers that could contribute to improving the lives of Palestinians in Gaza.
After that experience, our group split into several groups, including one that became the Free Palestine Movement. New groups were created and these developed other initiatives and continued the struggle to force Israel and Egypt to lift the blockade that imprisons Gaza .
Today the movement is gaining momentum. Through the efforts of several NGOs - not only European - supported by volunteers and individuals from 30 countries, a broad coalition has been created ; it is preparing to send a fleet of ten ships that will carry more than 500 people, and three cargo ships that will deliver 5,000 tons of urgently needed materials to Gaza.
It is the largest international initiative of this kind ever organized. People from 30 different countries will go on this convoy. The departure to Gaza is expected sometime in May and boats should reach their destination before the end of the month.
Silvia Cattori: With which group will the Free Palestine Movement sail?
Paul Larudee: We are sailing with the boats chartered by the Greek Free Gaza Movement. Each group is responsible for its own boats and the passengers it takes on board.
Silvia Cattori: A few days after the announcement of the coalition to help Gaza, there have been threats against activists . The organizers of this impressive convoy are no doubt aware that the Israeli army and its agents are certainly already preparing to derail this project?
Paul Larudee: With a fleet of this size, whose preparations have lasted more than one year, the organizers have done the best they could. The size of the convoy is proportionate to the enormity of the task. This should make any attempt to prevent the passage of the fleet more difficult.
Silvia Cattori: This is nevertheless a challenge whose outcome is uncertain. Israel seeks in particular to liquidate the Hamas leadership in Gaza. Its agents have always used the solidarity movement to get intelligence information in Palestine. The suspicion remains that Israel let several boats piloted by Free Gaza dock in 2008 because doing so was in its own interest. When it no longer found this to be serving its interest, it stopped them. . This leads us to believe it will not let your convoy pass unless it finds some advantage in it. Or, if there is a test of strength at sea, if your fleet has support from other countries, Israel might let it go. How will the organizers of the convoy resolve the crucial issue of infiltration?
Paul Larudee: We are open and transparent groups. We are of course aware of this and take precautions accordingly. I believe that our Palestinian allies who are awaiting our arrival know better than anyone that despite all precautions, infiltration of agents is possible. This is part of the game.
Silvia Cattori: Have you developed a strategy in case Israel blocks your passage?
Paul Larudee: Yes, of course. I think it will not be easy for Israel to stop us. There will be prominent people on board. There will be journalists. It will be difficult for the media which want to turn a blind eye to this not to speak about a fleet of this magnitude, involving so many prominent people whose goal is to bring relief to a population in great distress.
Israel has no legitimacy to stop our convoy from sailing in international waters, because we will not enter into waters recognized by any authority - including Israel - as Israeli territory. We are determined to not let its military stop us because it is our right to navigate in this area. We will resist, we will not yield. The Israeli Navy will have to use force, sending commandos to board our ships ....
Silvia Cattori: For 43 years, no Palestinian boat has ever been able to cross this area: the Israeli navy sinks the Palestinian boats. Isn’t anything possible?
Paul Larudee: We have envisaged all kinds of scenarios. We are preparing to mobilize public opinion and promote awareness of our right of navigation. Lawyers are ready to respond and defend us if this right is threatened. We can count on the media effect that such an event would trigger. Over 30 countries will have nationals on board these ships. They will seek the support of their governments. As for the Free Palestine Movement, it can count on the support of members of Congress of the United States. Barbara Lee, a representative of our district in California, is ready to defend our rights. I’m pretty optimistic.
Silvia Cattori: When talking with people in Gaza, one perceives that they feel very disillusioned about the comings and goings of international activists. They say they have never seen tangible results. The first time, the arrival of the Free Gaza boats aroused joy. Then it left them completely indifferent. For them, it was a media circus without consequences. How will this new convoy really be able to change things?
Paul Larudee: After the first docking in August 2008 with two small symbolic boats, I wanted to transform this success into more substantial projects: sending a cargo ship, using this waterway for transporting goods, and allowing Gazans to trade freely. So I did not want to repeat sending small boats to Gaza. Now we see that a vast international coalition is currently undertaking this larger project. As the Free Palestine Movement, we have a mandate to ensure that there is a presence of U.S. personalities among participants in the convoy.
Silvia Cattori: One question is always asked by people who have contributed financially to the success of Free Gaza. How much money has been sunk into the purchase of boats and the expenses of activists?
Paul Larudee: Half a million euros was spent to purchase the first two boats and cover the expenses of the Free Gaza activists during two years of preparations. It is of course a lot. It is difficult to justify this level of spending in the long term. But this time, what will be spent by the groups that make up the fleet should be justified by more concrete results.
Silvia Cattori: Is your action humanitarian or political?
Paul Larudee: Neither. It is an action for human rights. We are not tied to political parties. We deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza where dire circumstances require us to do so. We want to call on the international community to enforce the rights of Palestinians in Gaza, including the right to leave Gaza. Freedom of movement is a right which must be guaranteed to everyone. The Free Palestine Movement is committed to upholding international law and the human rights of the Palestinian people.
Silvia Cattori: The only solution will be political. This is why Palestinian activists  consider that the support of the movements is only effective if it is based on two requirements: the refusal of colonial occupation and recognition of fundamental rights of Palestinians. Are all those who will sail with the Free Palestine Movement determined to accomplish this?
Paul Larudee: All participants understand that these principles are the basis of this project and our message. However, there are strategic considerations: the presence of a given prominent person is in itself an act of resistance to occupation, even if this person has not spoken out about these principles. Each person has his or her own reasons for agreeing to join this project. And we have our own strategic reasons in determining whom we choose to invite.
Silvia Cattori: Do you envisage other actions?
Paul Larudee: Yes we have many projects. Our goal is always the same: to challenge Israel on its human rights violations. We are considering sending a plane to Gaza at the end of the year. Right now, we are focused on the preparations for our participation in the fleet.
Silvia Cattori: Is this only the beginning of a long struggle?
Paul Larudee: We hope that it will not be too long for the Palestinian people, and that the liberation of Palestine is not too far away. Patience is a virtue, but impatience is also virtuous.
Translated from French by Elizabeth Wright (20.04.2010)
Original text in French (13.04.2010):
 The Gaza Freedom March, Viva Palestina, the Greek Free Gaza Movement based in Athens, and the Free Palestine Movement based in California.
 This coalition is composed of the European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza (ECESG), the Turkish Human Rights NGOs Insani Yardim Vakfi (HHI), the Greek Ship to Gaza campaign , the Swedish Ship to Gaza campaign , and the Free Gaza Movement.
 Three times, in 2008, Israel let the Free Gaza boats pass. Subsequently, other attempts have been stopped.
 The Palestinian campaign for the academic and cultural boycott of Israel (PACBI) has asked the international solidarity movements who want to support their just cause to comply with two conditions. First: every project must express a form of resistance to occupation. Second: those involved in projects must support the fundamental rights of Palestinians, and have positions that do not allow dismissal of these rights.
These are measures that should be maintained until Israel recognizes the Palestinians’ inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law by ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall; by recognizing the rights of Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality, by respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.