A SCOTTISH woman is joining hundreds of human rights observers on an international convoy carrying 5500 tons of humanitarian aid to challenge the ongoing Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Margaret Pacetta, from Scotland, is currently in Istanbul, preparing to sail with the international Freedom Flotilla Coalition (FFC) on one of several vessels carrying aid.

The FFC, a non-partisan international coalition, campaigns for freedom and human rights – which includes the breaking of the blockade of Gaza in solidarity with Palestinians.

The group’s non-violent direct-action missions have been taking place since 2010 by working with civil society partners, rather than any party, faction, or government.

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This mission is being led by the Spanish branch of the organisation,  Rumbo a Gaza. It has said it will not allow Israel to inspect the shipments.

“For everyone’s safety and to ensure that aid reaches those who need it, the FFC will be bringing hundreds of international humanitarian observers from many countries and different backgrounds,” a statement said.

This is where Pacetta comes in. The 69-year-old grandmother from Bishopbriggs is representing Glasgow Palestine Human Rights Campaign – a component part of Gaza Genocide Emergency Committee (GGEC).

GGEC told The National they “wish the Flotilla a safe voyage” amid their fears for it in international waters as Israel has already killed over two hundred aid workers in Gaza since October 7.

When asked how her friends and family feel about her mission, Pacetta said: “Well, my husband is kind of used to it. He also knows I need to do it and so he’s very supportive.

“The people of the campaign I’m in – Glasgow Palestine Human Rights Campaign – are also very supportive, along with all the other Palestine groups.

“I’ve got some friends who are very worried about it, but its just something in my life that I have to do. My daughter is also extremely worried about it but she knows I need to do it.”

Pacetta added that she will miss her two dogs as she describes her previous time visiting the region.

In 2016, Pacetta, who is a founding member of the Glasgow campaign group, was planning to visit one of the students she had been supporting in a refugee camp in the West Bank, when she was detained.

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Alongside her husband John, Pacetta has held a regular fund-raising stall in Glasgow City Centre and fundraising has helped at least seven Palestinian students to graduate including a nurse, a film maker, a journalist, a physio and a GP.

Pacetta shared that upon arrival in Israel, she was detained and showed a picture of her at the Glasgow stall, understood to have been sent to the authorities before the trip. In response, she received a lifetime ban from entering the West Bank.

When asked how she felt about the ban, she said: “Well, I worked with the international solidary campaign in Palestine and so you get to know a lot of people there and know that they have went through it too.

“The fact they gave me a lifetime ban purely for running a Palestinian stall – a humanitarian stall, a human rights campaign – is disgusting.”

The National:

The Scot said she is now glad to be part of the mission despite the ban – and the potential risks.

“Recently ships have not been getting in. It’s now a case of we’re not turning back, we’re going. Whether they come on board and take over the ship, we have no idea.”

While speaking, Pacetta repeats several times that it “could be any one of us” and she “needs to do it”.

When asked what particularly drives her, she shared an experience she had when she visited the West Bank in 2005 while on her way to Iraq to be a human shield with Edinburgh Stop the War.

She said: “I’ve never been to Gaza but what I’ve seen in the West Bank will always, always remain with me. I’ve seen people murdered in cold blood. I’ve seen children murdered in cold blood. Sadly, on the very first day I got there, I saw two children murdered in front of my eyes.

“I was devastated at the brutality and asked the Israeli forces why they shot children. Their answer was ‘they are terrorists’. I told him to look at the parents holding their dead children in their arms. I told him I believed they were 5 and 6 years old. Again, he shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘they would have grown up to be terrorists’ and smiled. I never made it to Iraq.”

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Later she shares the story of a Palestinian friend who had been short in the stomach by Israeli forces with a tear gas cannister “burning him inside out”.

“I always called him my big gentle giant. He was fantastic, always laughing, in his thirties, would do anything for anybody, especially internationalists and in front of our eyes, the Israelis shot directly at his stomach a burning hot tear gas cannister.

“These are things that always remain with you and people need to know it’s happening.”

The mission comes as famine is looming in Gaza, with aid organisations and governments criticising bottlenecks at the Israeli border for restricting the flow of food support.

The head of the UN humanitarian office for Gaza and the West Bank has this week said 41% of UN requests that required going through Israeli checkpoints were denied during the week from April 6-12, and last week a convoy from the UN children’s agency Unicef and the UN World Food Programme was caught in crossfire in an area that was supposed to be safe.

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Andrea De Domenico said convoys often spend hours at checkpoints and are only cleared in the afternoon, too late to make deliveries and return safely in daylight hours.

According to the international community’s authority on determining the severity of hunger crises, famine is imminent in northern Gaza where 70% of people are experiencing catastrophic hunger.

And its recent report warned that escalating the war could push half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people to the brink of starvation.

De Domenico said 90% of the funds being sought for the rest of the year is for Gaza and 10% is for the West Bank, which has seen an upsurge in violence and settler attacks.