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New Zealanders to join second aid flotilla to Gaza

New Zealanders to join second aid flotilla to Gaza

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – Towards the end of June 2011, a humanitarian flotilla will set sail to break the illegal and inhumane siege of Gaza. New Zealand has joined with initiatives from 14 national groups and international coalitions who have united to form the Freedom Flotilla II (FF2). FF2 will consist of at least 10 vessels carrying humanitarian aid and approximately 1,000 passengers, including journalists, politicians, humanitarian aid workers, dignitaries, doctors, professors, artists and human rights activists.

The international community, which includes the New Zealand Government, is failing in its obligations to condemn Israel’s violations of international law and work towards a peaceful resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict. FF2 aims to raise public awareness about Israel’s military occupation of Palestine by challenging Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza directly.

New Zealander Harmeet Sooden will be participating in the FF2 aboard the 25-metre Canadian boat *Tahrir*. The name ‘Tahrir’, meaning ‘Liberation’ in Arabic, was chosen to honour those who gathered in Tahrir Square in Cairo seeking democratic change and spreading hope across the Middle East. The Tahrir will also host delegations from Australia, Belgium and Denmark.

Mr Sooden has undertaken other human rights assignments with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) and with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) in Iraq. In 2005, he was kidnapped together with three colleagues while participating in an international CPT delegation in Iraq and held for four months. One member of the group, Tom Fox, was murdered. He returned to Iraq with CPT in 2009. In 2008, Mr Sooden attempted to travel to the OPT via Israel to work with ISM, but was denied entry, detained, assaulted and removed by Israeli authorities on the pretext of being a ‘threat to the security of the State of Israel’.

Vivienne Porzsolt, born in New Zealand in 1941 to a secular Jewish family that fled Czechoslovakia during World War II, is part of the Australian delegation on the *Tahrir*. She is a member of Jews Against the Occupation – Sydney and has been active in several social justice causes, including the anti-apartheid movement.

In May 2010, an attack on the original Freedom Flotilla by the Israeli Navy resulted in the deaths of nine passengers on the *Mavi Marmara* and the wounding of over 50. The Israeli Government continues to threaten the use of force against the FF2. “Israeli naval forces fired shots towards a Malaysian aid ship just last week,” says Mr Sooden, “so it’s imperative that New Zealanders join with us in demanding that the New Zealand Government take concrete steps to guarantee the safety of all participants in this non-violent, legal action to challenge the US-supported Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza.” Ms Porzsolt adds, “We hope to shame all those governments who are complicit with this injustice and lawlessness. Ordinary people must act when their governments won’t.”

The Tahrir campaign in New Zealand is supported by the Palestine Human Rights Campaign and Global Peace and Justice Auckland.

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