By JAMES MARC LEAS
According to an article in the Jerusalem Post on May 25, 2010, the Israeli “Navy is preparing an operational plan to stop the flotilla of nine ships–loaded with hundreds of international activists and thousands of tons of supplies–– which are scheduled to try and break the sea blockade on Gaza by anchoring in the newly-expanded port later this week.” The article describes a military campaign coordinated with a major media campaign.
The web edition of the largest circulation paper in Israel, YNET News.com, reports that “Israel is also preparing for the media blitz certain to follow the flotilla, which many believe will harm the state's [Israel’s] already floundering reputation.” According to the article, “Foreign Ministry, IDF, and PR spokespersons are preparing interviews for global news agencies in order to explain Israel's position, mainly that the flotilla serves the terror organization ruling Gaza and not its residents.”
The 700 human rights workers on the nine boats of the International Freedom Flotilla come from 40 countries and include 35 members of parliament from 15 different countries . The humanitarian aid includes medical supplies, such as wheel chairs and medicine, toys for children, pencils, and building supplies, ranging from bags of cement to pre-fabricated homes.
According to the Jerusalem Post article, in preparation for the military campaign the Israeli Defense Force “has established a joint taskforce together with the Israel Police, the Foreign Ministry and the Prisons Service to coordinate efforts to stop the flotilla and manage the potential media fallout.”
The Jerusalem Post article also describes the basic elements of the Israeli government media campaign, “to stress that the supplies the ships are carrying are unnecessary and that Israel – together with various international organizations – already transfers these supplies to Gaza via land crossings.”
The article then gives the Israeli government talking points of its media campaign:
“Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said that existing land crossings were more than capable of meeting Gaza's needs;” that “15,000 tons of supplies enter Gaza each week;” and that “building materials are allowed in when monitored by international organizations who ensure that the materials will not be commandeered by Hamas for the fortification of bunkers.
Citing a story in the Financial Times, the article says that the 200 to 300 smuggling tunnels from Egypt into Gaza "have become so efficient that shops all over Gaza are bursting with goods."
Contradicting the Foreign Ministry spokesman, a United Nations report says says the “Livelihoods and lives of people living in the Gaza Strip have been devastated by over 1000 days of near complete blockade.”
Also contradicting, a May 23, 2010 article on the Israeli YNET News.com, “UN says Gaza blockade hinders reconstruction aid,” says “Most of the property and infrastructure damaged in Israel's offensive on the Gaza Strip was still unrepaired 12 months later and aid efforts have been largely ineffective, a UN report said Sunday.” The article goes on to quote from a UN report that says "In view of the scale of the needs, international assistance in Gaza is tantamount to tinkering at the edges."
Also contradicting, a January 20, 2010 World Health Organization fact sheet states that
“The lack of building materials is affecting essential health facilities: the new surgical wing in Gaza’s main Shifa hospital has remained unfinished since 2006. Hospitals and primary care facilities, damaged during operation ‘Cast Lead’, have not been rebuilt because construction materials are not allowed into Gaza.”
If tunnels are so efficient and food and building material so widely and cheaply available in Gaza as the Israeli government says, then the blockade is not working anyway. So why is Israel continuing the blockade, including threatening the flotilla?
Furthermore, the Israeli government has not backed up its far-fetched claim of tunnel efficiency by building its own tunnels to replace its traditional land, sea, and air import and export means.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu’s spokesman Mark Regev was quoted in the article smearing the human rights activists saying ‘they are the opposite’ for failing ‘to say anything about human rights of Israeli civilians who have been on the receiving end of Hamas rockets for years.’”
However, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs own website "One Month of Calm Along the Israel-Gaza Border." provides evidence that Israel successfully stopped rocket fire on June 19, 2008 with an Egyptian brokered ceasefire. Then the Israeli military launched an attack on Gaza on November 4, 2008 ending that ceasefire. Then, according to another Ministry of Foreign Affairs website , during the Israeli government’s 22 day Operation Cast Lead attack on Gaza that started on December 27, 2008, 776 rockets and morters landed in Israeli territory, a doubling of the intensity of rocket fire from Gaza from the previous peak, until a new cease fire was announced on January 18. Thus, it was Israeli government action that belies its supposed concern about the safety of Israeli civilians.
“Regev also condemned the activists for failing to say anything about ‘the human rights of Palestinians who live in Gaza under the jackboots of the Hamas regime that oppresses women, Christians, and gays - a regime that has brutally suppressed all political opposition, destroyed independent media, closed down internet cafés, and has even made it illegal for a male hairdresser to cut the hair of a woman.’”
However, if the Israeli government is concerned about jackboots of a regime, why does the Israeli government suppress civil liberties of Israeli human rights organizations, as described in a New York Times article, “Israeli Rights Groups View Themselves as Under Siege,” published on April 5? One could well ask about the jackboots of the Israeli occupation of Palestine that includes targeted assassinations, detention without trial, torture, demolishing houses, bombing civilian neighborhoods, destroying civilian infrastructure and siege on a defenseless civilian population in Gaza.
“Palmer also charged that organizers of the flotilla ‘are less interested in bringing in aid than in promoting their radical agenda, playing into the hands of Hamas provocations. While they have wrapped themselves in a humanitarian cloak, they are engaging in political propaganda and not in pro-Palestinian aid.’”
If it were true that the purpose of the human rights workers is to score political points why does the Israeli government play into their hands by engaging in a blockade that involves the illegal collective punishment of the entire civilian population of Gaza? Collective punishment puts Israeli government political and military leaders in breach of article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention
Any attack on the ships of the International Freedom Flotilla could also put Israeli government officials in violation of several articles of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Part VII :
article 87(a) provides for “freedom of navigation.”
article 88, states, "The high seas shall be reserved for peaceful purposes."
arrticle 89 states, "No State may validly purport to subject any part of the high seas to its sovereignty."
article 90 states, "Every State, whether coastal or land-locked, has the right to sail ships flying its flag on the high seas"
By failing to defend the high seas from Israeli-government piracy other governments and the UN are acquiescing to degradation of international law regarding the freedom of navigation.
Defend the International Freedom Flotilla
As Richard Falk, Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University said, “by now it has been demonstrated that neither governments nor the UN will challenge this blockade, only people of conscience and courage will.” Support demonstrations are taking place in cities around the world demanding action from the US government and the UN to defend free passage in international waters and to end the illegal siege of Gaza.
Readers can track the flotilla, click links to latest news, and find a list of emergency response plan actions that they can take at http://gazafreedommarch.org/cms/en/flotilla.aspx
James Marc Leas is a Jewish patent lawyer who is a co-chair of the National Lawyers Guild Free Palestine Subcommittee. He participated in the NLG delegation to Gaza in February, 2009.
NICOSIA - Hundreds of activists on Friday braced for the final leg of their attempt to bust the Gaza Strip embargo, a bid Israel vowed to defeat as each side accused the other of violating international law.Two cargo ships and five smaller boats loaded with thousands of tonnes of supplies and hundreds of passengers steamed towards a rendezvous off Cyprus where they planned to regroup before setting out for the Palestinian territory.
Organisers said an eighth ship, the Rachel Corrie that had left from Ireland, was lagging behind and would travel towards Gaza separately.
The ships will meet in international waters, they said.
"The Cypriot government does not want us to leave from Cyprus. I can only assume pressure was put on them," said Audrey Bomse, a member of the Free Gaza Movement (FGM) that organised the flotilla.
A Cyprus government official said of the flotilla that Nicosia had not received any formal request from the Palestinian Authority for humanitarian aid.
Bomse told AFP that a plan to ferry about 25 multi-national MPs from Cyprus to one of the ships also had been abandoned.
"This is a group of MPs waiting to be ferried to another boat. The government said if we kept it quiet we would be able to do it but there was a huge amount of pressure and I suppose they gave in to Israel," she charged.
Bomse added that the plan had been modified, and the group would now try to get the MPs on board the flotilla from the Turkish-occupied northern part of the island.
"We will now have to go to the north and lose the Cypriot and Greek politicians, but we have members of parliament from Ireland, Italy, Sweden, Norway and Bulgaria. We are going to put them on a boat in Famagusta," she said.
Greece and Cyprus regard the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, where Famagusta is the main port, as an illegal entity.
Bomse said that the new arrangement had now delayed the flotilla's departure for Gaza until later on Friday.
Israel earlier told the ambassadors of Cyprus, Turkey, Greece, and Ireland -- the countries from which the ships set sail -- it "issued warrants that prohibit the entrance of the vessels to Gaza" and that the flotilla would be breaking international law.
Israel made it clear it intends to halt the vessels and detain the hundreds of people aboard in the port of Ashdod before deporting them.
Bomse suggested this may just be "sabre rattling."
"We are planning on getting there and staying in Gaza for two days," she said.
But Israel has stepped up its warnings in recent days and readied naval forces.
Organisers dismissed the claim that their blockade-busting bid is illegal.
"Most despicably of all, Israel claims that we are violating international law by sailing unarmed ships carrying humanitarian aid to a people desperately in need," the FGM said in a statement.
"These claims only demonstrate how degenerate the political discourse in Israel has become."
Israel imposed a crippling blockade on Gaza in 2007 after Hamas -- an Islamist movement committed to the destruction of Israel -- violently seized power in the impoverished, overcrowded Palestinian territory.
Because of the blockade, only limited reconstruction has been possible in the wake of the devastating 22-day offensive Israel launched on December 27, 2008.
In New York, UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Thursday appealed to all sides to act with care and responsibility.
"We strongly urge that all involved act with a sense of care and responsibility and work for a satisfactory resolution," Ban's spokesman said.
Pro-Palestinian activists have landed in Gaza five times, with another three attempts unsuccessful since their first such sea voyage in August 2008.
To date, the aid has been largely symbolic, but organisers say the flotilla now under way is laden with 10,000 tonnes of aid, ranging from pre-fabricated homes to pencils.
Live Images - Interview to A.DeJong, passenger
On Wednesday May 12th News from Within interviewed Lubna Masarwa of the Free Gaza Movement on the upcoming Freedom Flotilla. Lubna discussed the work of the Free Gaza Movement, an international group attempting to break the Israeli siege of Gaza by shipping humanitarian goods and activists. The Freedom Flotilla is composed of three cargo ships and five passenger vessels heading to Gaza from Ireland, Greece and Turkey. Lubna shared the mission of the Flotilla and ways for the international community to get further involved in helping end the Gaza siege.
- The Freedom Flotilla of nine vessels sailing to the Gaza Strip is exposing the partisan nature of the response of the United Nations and the international community to Israel's three-year siege on Gaza. The siege -- enforced by land, air and sea -- has blocked the import and export of supplies, goods and persons in and out of the Gaza Strip for 35 months, punishing 1.4 million Palestinians in the tiny territory. More than half of Gaza's population are children and nearly 80 percent of the population lives in poverty. Ninety percent of the natural sources of water are undrinkable, and school and health services continue to deteriorate, 17 months since Israel's military invasion of Gaza in 2008-09. UN and international aid agencies have sent in limited food and humanitarian supplies to Gaza which managed to prevent starvation and the spread of disease. In an effort to cause the fall of the Hamas authorities in Gaza, Israel has prohibited the UN and humanitarian organizations from sending in the amounts and the type goods that they deemed essential for redevelopment. Therefore, the aid has never been enough to stop the deterioration of livelihoods and critical services like water and sanitation, education and health. >>>
An Israeli clampdown aimed at Hamas has had devastating consequences for the residents of Gaza. Reza Aslan on the humanitarian workers trying, once again, to get the world’s attention.
A group of about 800 humanitarians, peace activists, and aid workers set sail to Gaza aboard nine ships early Thursday morning, carrying some 10 tons of humanitarian aid, including food, medicine, diapers, toys, and reconstruction material meant to ease the suffering of the 1.5 million Palestinians living in that tiny strip of land. The plan is to force their way through the three-year blockade put in place by Israel after Hamas won Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006 and seized control of Gaza.
The ships are expected to reach Gaza’s shores this weekend, though it is unlikely that they will be allowed to dock. The Israeli navy has sent a fleet of its own ships to intercept the aid workers at sea. The navy’s plan is to force the flotilla to dock at the Port of Ashdod, about 25 miles south of Tel Aviv, where a tent city has been set up to house the passengers who are to be deported to their home countries. The Israel Defense Force announced that those who refuse to be deported voluntarily will be imprisoned in Be’er Sheva and forcefully deported from there.
According to the Israeli government, everything is just fine in Gaza.
This is not the first attempt by the group, known collectively as the Free Gaza Movement (freegaza.org), to break through Israel’s blockade. In the summer of 2008, the organization set sail from Cyprus on two small wooden fishing boats carrying 44 activists from 17 countries. That mission successfully docked at Gaza, the first international ships to have done so since 1957. Bolstered by their initial success, the Free Gaza Movement helped organize four more successful trips in 2008, transporting tons of aid and dozens of United Nations workers, international activists, and members of European parliaments to the Gaza Strip.
But circumstances changed after the devastating war in December 2008 between Israel and Hamas (Operation Cast Lead, as the Israelis called it). When the Free Gaza Movement tried to deliver three tons of medical supplies and a handful of doctors and surgeons to Gaza, they were intercepted by the Israeli navy, which rammed their ship, almost sinking it. In January 2009, the group bought another ship and once again set sail to Gaza. Once again they were turned back by the Israeli navy. Last June, the organization tried a third time to break through the blockade, this time taking with them Nobel Peace Prize winner Máiread Corrigan-Maguire and U.S. Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney. The Israeli navy boarded that ship, confiscated the materials on board, arrested the passengers, including Maguire and McKinney, and detained them in an Israeli prison for a week. Although the ship was never returned, the Israeli government claimed to have delivered the medical supplies on board to Gaza, though all the other material, including the food, toys, and reconstruction material were seized and, presumably, destroyed.
The Israeli government has instructed the Free Gaza Movement to try to deliver its supplies through official channels, but considering that those channels are strictly controlled by the government itself, it is difficult to take the suggestion seriously. If such “official channels” were actually effective in delivering aid to the Gazans, then there would not be the massive starvation and malnutrition that we are seeing today in Gaza.
Then again, according to the Israeli government, everything is just fine in Gaza. No need to worry. Israel Defense Minister Ehud Barak has made the extraordinary claim that there is absolutely no shortage in humanitarian aid to the Gazans and that food and supplies are regularly and freely transferred to the area.
That will come as a surprise not only to the hundreds of thousands of starving Gazans living on piles of rubble that used to be their homes, but to just about every single human-rights and international aid organization in the world, including the United Nations, all of which have repeatedly reported that the blockade is causing extreme hardship, severe malnutrition in children, and increased poverty in Gaza. The World Health Organization recently passed a resolution demanding that Israel end the blockade, claiming that it has caused a devastating shortage of medicines in the Gaza Strip. (Predictably, the United States opposed the WHO resolution, saying that it “stirred up tensions.” Heaven forbid!)
Amnesty International has written numerous reports about how the blockade has destroyed the livelihoods of Gaza’s farmers and fishermen and limited access to medical care. The U.N.’s Association for International Development Agencies has documented the disastrous impact of the blockade on Gaza’s health services. According to one report, long delays for those seeking medical treatment in Israel caused the deaths of 28 people last year alone. The Vatican has called Gaza “one big concentration camp.” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated that the blockade has imposed “unacceptable hardships” on innocent civilians while “empowering extremists.” Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who has called the blockade a “crime and an atrocity,” echoed Ban’s statement. “I think politically speaking [the blockade] has worked even to strengthen the popularity of Hamas and to the detriment of the popularity of Fatah,” Carter said.
Confronted with these statements and statistics, the response of the Israeli government has been as predictable as it is absurd. After all, all of these international aid and human-rights organizations are against Israel, didn’t you know? Amnesty International is “borderline anti-Semitic,” as Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League has declared. Human Rights Watch has an “anti-Israel bias,” according to AIPAC. And please don’t get Israeli politicians started on the United Nations! Whatever criticisms these organizations have against Israel are obviously biased and need not be taken seriously.
As to why they continue the blockade in Gaza, well, that’s an easy question for the Israeli government to answer. “Hamas, which rules Gaza, is a terror organization supported by Iran,” said Defense Minister Barak. “It smuggles weapons and rockets with the sole purpose of harming Israelis, as it has done many times in the past.”
OK, fine. Hamas is bad. It should be punished. We get it. But what about the rest of the 1.5 million men, women, and children living in what has become the most densely packed region on earth? How can the cutting off of food, medical supplies, gas, and electricity to the entire population of Gaza be understood in any other way except as an act of collective punishment?
Despite the unprecedented humanitarian crisis facing Gazans, Israel’s blockade has gotten very little international attention. Despite a promise by the international community to pledge more than $4 billion of aid to help rebuild Gaza in 2009, almost none of that money has reached Gazans. Most Americans, it seems, could not care less about what is taking place in Gaza. Ask the average pundit on TV about it and the response will inevitably be, “Hamas.” End of conversation.
And yet, do we not have a moral obligation to put politics aside and stand up against the suffering of our fellow human beings no matter where they are? Are we not obligated to work toward overturning the profoundly immoral policies that have made the situation in Gaza intolerable for its inhabitants? And if the world’s governments are not willing to take action to address this unprecedented crisis, then does it not fall on the citizens of the world to do something about it?
“When the tsunami hit Indonesia, the world came together to provide aid for those affected,” said Ramzi Kysia, a volunteer who has been with the Free Gaza Movement since 2006. “When the earthquake hit Haiti, again, the world came together to help those who were suffering. And yet what we have in Gaza is a manmade disaster, a manmade humanitarian crisis. But it is every bit as bad as any natural disaster.”
I, for one, hope the flotilla makes it to Gaza, but I’m not holding my breath. In any case, what Gazans need is not charity but political action. Last June, President Obama sent a note to the Israeli government officially protesting the blockade and demanding that the border crossings into Gaza be opened to facilitate reconstruction. The U.S. demanded that the Israelis allow more food and medicine into the territory, that cash transfers to banks in the Gaza Strip be permitted, and that construction materials such as cement and iron be let in.
That was one year ago, Mr. President. What happened?