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European Jewish Group to Launch Flotilla to Break Gaza Blockade

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BEIRUT: A Jewish European peace group is to launch a boat to break the blockade of Gaza in the coming months, organizers said, almost a week after nine activists were killed making the same trip.

European Jews for a Just Peace (EJJP) - an umbrella organization of Jewish groups from 10 European countries against the occupation of Palestine - aim to deliver humanitarian aid such as school books and medicines to the Gaza Strip, and to draw attention to the blockade which they call "immoral."

"We want to show that not all Jews support Israel," said Edith Lutz, a German member of the EJJP. "We are calling for a just solution and for an end to the blockade."

On board the ships will be activists from across Europe including Germany and the UK, as well as an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor from Israel. The voyage was originally meant to carry only a small number of activists together with journalists from Europe and Israel, but organizers say that a huge response from the Jewish community has meant that a second boat has been arranged, and the possibility of a third is being discussed.

"In the beginning it was not meant to be an exclusively Jewish trip, we had a variety of people. But many more Jewish people came forward wanting to come on board, and we realized this was important politically," said Lutz.

This sentiment was echoed by Glyn Secker, a member of the British based Jews for Justice for Palestinians who will captain the ship. "I think it will have particular significance because it is a group of Jewish people saying that as Jews, we are critical of Israeli policy. We believe that there should be a just peace for the Palestinians," he said.

Organizers hope to draw attention to the injustice of the blockade whilst delivering much-needed supplies to the impoverished territory of 1.5 million people, 80 percent of whom rely on some sort of food aid according to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA.

"The supplies are symbolic," said Secker, "they include medical supplies, books, art materials and some musical instruments to give to the children."

"We want to make a very clear moral statement that the way Israel is treating the Palestinians is, we believe, extremely immoral. We want to say emphatically: 'not in our name,'" Secker added.

Another motivation for the trip, organizers said, was the effect Israeli policies have on the treatment of Jews living outside of Israel.

"We are frightened that Israeli policies will help anti-Semitism to grow. We also want to show that these actions are not Jewish," said Lutz.

The group said they will depart from a port in an undisclosed country toward the end of July. The current number of people on board is approximately 40, but organizers said this number could grow by the time they depart.

Egypt and Israel have maintained the blockade since Hamas won elections in Gaza in 2006, with Israel describing it as an essential measure to stop weapons from reaching Hamas militants.

Rights group Amnesty International has condemned it as "collective punishment" and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay last week said the blockade was illegal and should be eliminated.

The activists planning the journey said they were shocked when they heard about the deaths of other activists trying to deliver aid last week, and were unsure whether they would reach their target.

"I cannot tell you whether the trip will be a success or if will get to Gaza. But we will be successful in telling the world that we don't agree with the blockade," said Lutz.