Many journalists disappointed as Gaza ship leaves without them

The ship called "Brotherhood" was scheduled to leave Lebanon on Monday with 50 tons of aid for Gaza and 85 journalists, activists and doctors. In the end, only eight people were allowed to board the "Free Gaza Movement"-chartered ship.
Only eight passengers were allowed to board the ship to Gaza; dozens of journalists were turned back. © Al Akhbar

TRIPOLI, February 4, 2009 (MENASSAT) — On Monday, February 2 the ship Brotherhood (Al-Oukhouwa) was packed and ready to set off on its journey to the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip to deliver badly needed humanitarian aid supplies.

Chartered by the Free Gaza Movement, the aid ship was loaded with medical supplies, food, clothing and toys for Gaza.

Among the passengers boarding the Brotherhood were 85 journalists, activists and doctors from a variety of countries including Syria, France, Malaysia, and Canada.

And as final preparations were being made on Monday to set sail from the northern Lebanese port city of Tripoli, the Brotherhood was stopped by the Lebanese port authorities who told aid organizers that Lebanese law banned passengers from traveling on cargo ships.

Despite previous authorization from the government, Free Gaza Movement organizers said they were forced to leave without their "human cargo" in order to deliver the humanitarian aid to Gaza.

"We have decided to go ahead with this mission in solidarity with the people of Gaza so that they don't feel cut off from the world," organizer Hani Suleiman told AFP before the boat left Tripoli around midnight on February 3.
"The fact that this ship is carrying journalists and activists along with aid does not make a huge difference to Gazans," one of the journalists agreed.

In the end, eight people were allowed to leave with the aid supplies, including Hilarion Capucci, the former Archbishop of the Greek Melkite church in Jerusalem, who was exiled in the 1970s after serving time in an Israeli jail for allegedly running guns for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

Journalists from Al-Jazeera and Lebanon's New TV did manage to leave with the aid ship despite objections from other media organizations.

Free Gaza Movement organizers gave no explanation for the move.

Back to Beirut

Still, the move to exclude certain media organizations caused rancor with the dozens of journalists that were not allowed to travel to Gaza.

"I wanted to expose underreported stories in Gaza: the suffering that lives on in peoples' memories and the thoughts and dreams of the children there," said Taghrid al-Somairy, a Kuwaiti journalist at Al-Jareeda.

For many, the disappointment was more simple.

A photojournalist told his friends, "When I first knew that I was going to Palestine, I started thinking about the trip in great details: the first step I would take on the land, and the pictures I would take. But now, we are back to reality."

Journalist Ali Halawi from the Lebanese newspaper al-Balad shared similar sentiments. 

"For the past few days, I have been obsessed with Gaza. I was constantly thinking about what I was going to write."

"The Lebanese state dragged us into a legal trap," Halawi said. "The authorities knew the boat would be transporting civilians on a cargo ship, but they waited until the last minute to say that it is illegal."

Conspiracy theories were rife as to why the Lebanese authorities rescinded their original authorization, and most participants had expected to meet resistance from Israel and not the Lebanese army.

Mohammad Arbid from Al-Hurriya magazine, whose father was displaced from Gaza in 1948, said he had wanted to write about the Israeli crimes against Palestinians to provide evidence for a lawsuit against Israel.

Activist Lina Tabbal also wanted to collect evidence to present them to the United Nations and Amnesty International. 

"I condemn the [Lebanese] government's decision and I see it as primarily political," Tabbal said.