All-female aid ship to Gaza: spiritual mission or dangerous PR gesture?

This is a guest post by Martin In The Margins

What on earth is a Catholic archbishop doing, blessing the latest attempt to break the Gaza blockade? According to The Guardian an all-female Lebanese aid ship, the Mariam, named after the mother of Jesus, will set out shortly from Beirut. Apparently Christian and Muslim activists ‘gathered yesterday near a statue of the Virgin Mary at Maghdousha in south Lebanon’ for the archbishop’s blessing.

Lending a spiritual veneer to this kind of venture seems completely inappropriate, since its intentions are clearly military-political, designed to break a defensive blockade imposed by a neighbouring state, and at the same time overtly propagandist. In the wake of the original flotilla fiasco, the aim of this new mission is surely to provoke another incident and to heap further international calumny on Israel. Sending an all-woman crew seems cynically designed to increase the PR value of the initiative. The organisers must know that there is zero chance of the Miriam being allowed to dock in Gaza, and every chance of embarrassing media images of Israeli soldiers forcibly removing female activists from the ship.

Hizbullah denies any involvement in the mission, but doubt has been cast on this claim by news that it has vetoed the involvement of Lebanese singer Haifa Wehbe, on the grounds that her reputation for ‘nudity, degradation and immodest dress’ would damage the reputations of the other women on board.

If the Catholic church in Lebanon were really motivated by humanitarian sympathy, it would support the work of the NGOs already working in Gaza, or send aid by legitimate means via Israel (as many as 100 trucks a day cross from Israel into Gaza carrying humanitarian aid). In blessing the Miriam, the archbishop is either naively allowing himself to be used for propagandist ends, or worse, indulging in dangerous political meddling.

9 Responses to “All-female aid ship to Gaza: spiritual mission or dangerous PR gesture?”

  1. dinner Says:

    I am a little confused. This site defines itself not as a pro Israel site but as an anti racist and anti boycott site. I notice you are not suggesting there is anything antisemitic about this action, nor is it action in support of a boycott. On the contrary, it is in opposition to a blockade.

    You can agree or disagree with the actions of the women involved, but I don’t see what it has to do with the purpose of this site. If it is inappropriate for religious organisations to involve themselves in military political affairs it is surely inappropriate for anti racist sites to reduce themselves to regurgitating pro Israel talking points.

    I wasn’t impressed by the point about 100 trucks of aid arriving daily either, as you must know that a major reason the blockade is so controversial is Israel’s restriction of humanitarian and development aid to minimum levels.

  2. Alex Says:


    A major reason that it is so controversial is that Israel is doing it.

    While ideally Engage wouldn’t be posting on events such as this, the disinformation, exceptionalism and distortions surrounding coverage on matters Israel mean that sites like Engage do need to send things like this.

    Particularly as, along with the unions, several churches are hardly covering themselves in glory with their various stances, it is necessary to hear that they are playing an active role in such matters.

  3. zkharya Says:

    It seems to me it is entirely possible that, say, the Lebanese Arab Catholic church’s allying itself with an Islamist government dedicated to eternal jihad until the extinction of any kind of Israel (rather like Hizbullah, which holds the rest of Lebanon somewhat in fear) constitutes an anti-Jewish Christian and Islamic nationalism which could reasonably be defined as a form of anti-Jewish discrimination, prejudice or racism.

  4. zkharya Says:

    Might I ask, dinner, if you are Ben White?

  5. zkharya Says:

    ‘On the contrary, it is in opposition to a blockade.’

    Yeah, of a government, and thus a de facto state, dedicated to eternal jihad until the extinction of any kind of Israel.

    You can see why your obfuscating about not involving ‘themselves in military political affairs’ isn’t going to wash with Israel. The reason being it is hypocrisy.

    As far as Israel is concerned, eternal jihad until her extinction is de facto both a military and political matter.

  6. absolute Observer Says:

    Here is a picture that all anti-racists and anti-fascists should know. It is the Church blessing the Spanish fascists.
    In other words, the Church is not always on the sides of the angels.

    Secondly, there is something decidedly old-fashionedly nasty about a ship called the “Virgin Mary” coming to give aid to people being screwed over by the Jewish state. Indeed, such imagery touches on some really bad Church history and its attitudes and actions to Jews.

    Now, if the Church does want to get involved, it has every right to do so – including sending aid ships; but this crass lack of sensibility borders on the reigniting of views of Jews the Church, at least until recently, has been keen to ameliorate.

    At the moment, it’s a bit like setting up the Myra Hindley Chair in Child Welfare.

  7. Lynne T Says:

    The recent flotilla from Turkey was comprised of six ships, only three of which actually carried humanitarian goods. The notorious Mavi Marmara, while carrying the largest number of passengers, carried absolutely no humanitarian goods. Will this ship actually carry anything other than “true believers”?

    It seems we are witnessing a new phenomenon “activism tourism” — people who will pay money to show their ostensible moral superiority, but do no actual good to anyone. I think in particular of a certain resident of BC who took photos of the event which he smuggled out to the Turkish press and denounced Israel’s conduct, but unwittingly provided ample evidence that the provacateurs were among the ship’s passengers.,1518,700992,00.html

  8. Absolute Observer Says:

    Maybe it is not Engage who has the problem of separating out criticism of the seige of Gaza, flotillas and the like and overt genocidal antisemitism.

    Sorry, the boat is not the “Virgin Mary”, it merely sailed with her best wishes.

  9. Harry Goldstein Says:

    dinner, this is indeed an anti-racist and anti-boycott web site. Hence it is a vital part of its role to point to the genocidal antisemitism of Hamas and Hisbullah, and to criticise those who (whether knowingly or innocently) provide propaganda or other support for such organisations.

    It is also part of its role to expose criticisms of Israel based on misinformation and double standards, and to insist that Jews have the same rights as all other people (including the right of self-determination and self-defence).

    You may have noticed that, within this framework, this site carries a variety of viewpoints about the Israel/Palestine conflict, but the above represents the ‘bottom line’ on the subject.

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