A CHESTER bar owner was among international protesters who sailed into the Gaza Strip to bring attention to Israel’s blockade of the Hamas-controlled territory, despite vows by the Israeli government to stop the ship.
Rod Cox, owner of Alexander’s Jazz Theatre Bar, was one of 27 passengers from several nations including Mairead McGuire, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in Northern Ireland.
Speaking from Gaza, Mr Cox said the blockade meant the economy was crippled because nothing could be imported or exported, including vital medical supplies, and 85% of the population relied on food aid.
He said: “The British government is just so cowardly, they won’t do anything even though under international law they are required to, so the only way something is going to get done is if a bunch of people get in a boat and go there.”
Mr Cox said Gaza should be allowed to become an ordinary and prosperous country.
In 2005, Mr Cox led a successful groundbreaking overland journey to Palestine to open up a new route for the export of Palestinian olive oil.
In 2007, he led the attempt to bring the national Palestinian youth football team to Chester for training and Premier League matches. His efforts were frustrated at the last minute after the UK government refused to provide visas for team members.
The 66-foot yacht Dignity, chartered by the US-based Free Gaza group, sailed from the nearby island of Cyprus on Tuesday last week and arrived in Gaza in on Wednesday. They were greeted by Hamas policemen and a small group of Palestinian activists.
The Gaza Strip is a narrow piece of land along the Mediterranean coast between Israel and Egypt. Just 40km (25 miles) long and 10km wide, it is home to more than 1.4m Palestinians.
Egypt administered the Strip for 19 years after 1948, but Israel captured it during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and Gaza has been under Israeli control since then.
In 2005, Israel pulled out the troops occupying Gaza, along with thousands of Jews who had settled in the territory. As far as Israel was concerned that was the end of the occupation.
However, that has not been accepted internationally as Israel still exercises control over most of Gaza’s land borders, as well as its territorial waters and airspace.