Gaza Flotilla Faces Barriers

For updates on the developing situation, see ustogaza.org

From Revolution

As a small flotilla prepares to ... defy the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza toward the end of the month, it is becoming clear that these ships and boats will have to sail amid powerfully conflicting currents. A riptide of contradictions might allow this pro-Palestinian protest to have a major impact, but at the same time it represents not only a real danger to the lives and safety of this brave group but also difficult political conditions that must be carefully navigated.

 

The wellsprings of this protest were articulated by the African-American writer Alice Walker, best known for her novel The Color Purple, who is taking part in the flotilla. Speaking of the Israeli efforts to wall off and imprison the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, she said, "This is such a crime against the soul of humanity. We can't stand this. Who are we as human beings if we can even bear this? We cannot bear it. And we must not." Recognizing that all of the participants in this action face the possibility of being killed, she urged people everywhere to think about how they could live their lives in a way that gave them meaning. (Interview by Ali Abunimah posted on ElectronicIntifada.net)

This protest is up against an Israeli government, military and public opinion for which everything is justified by the goal of defending the existence of a Jewish state. "We will do anything we have to do to prevent a boat from breaking the blockade," a top Israeli naval official quoted by the New York Times told journalists June 16. "If there is the same violence against our forces on board, there is a pretty good chance there will be injuries." According to the Washington Post, he warned "there may be injuries and casualties."

What is the "same level of violence" that would allegedly justify killing and maiming protesters?

This threat refers to the anti-blockade ship the Mavi Marmara, boarded by heavily armed airborne Israel commandos on May 31, 2010. The "level of violence" was this: the Israelis assaulted the ship in international waters and opened fire even before they reached the decks. They killed nine passengers from Turkey, at least two of them executed while lying wounded on the deck, and injured 24 others, mostly by gunfire. The survivors were beaten and tortured. There were no deaths or gunshot wounds among the Israeli attackers. (See UN Human Rights Council report A/HRC/15/21)

New Obstacles in Greece

With their departure currently delayed for at least a few days, participants in the "Freedom Flotilla II" planning to defy the Israeli blockade on Gaza are facing new obstacles.

After the move by the Turkish government and the Islamic charity IHH to cancel plans for the ferryboat Mavi Marmara to sail as the flotilla's flagship, now the Greek government is acting against the six vessels currently docked in Greek ports, where hundreds of flotilla participants have gathered. The police are holding up the boat renamed "The Audacity of Hope" on which a number of American volunteers were to travel because of what Greek authorities say is a complaint from "a private party" questioning its seaworthiness. According to Israeli Army Radio, the Israel Law Center is behind the complaint. The Canadian boat "Tahrir" has also been subject to an unexpected going-over and other vessels are scheduled for non-routine inspections before they are allowed to depart. There are fears that a boat anchored in the Greek city of Piraeus which was to carry Greek, Swedish and Norwegian protesters may be held back following the discovery that its propeller shaft has been severed.

The protesters from more than 20 countries were encouraged when Greek dockers joining a country-wide general strike scheduled to begin June 28 voted to make an exception to the shutdown to allow the loading of these ships. Palestinians in Gaza have been holding rallies demanding that the flotilla members be guaranteed safe passage.

Israeli officials continued to threaten the flotilla participants, claiming that the ships and boats would be carrying "dangerous incendiary chemicals" and that the protest's purpose was to "spill the blood" of Israeli soldiers.

Two cargo ships and about seven passenger boats carrying hundreds of anti-blockade protesters are supposed to assemble at an undisclosed location in the eastern Mediterranean and head for Gaza. One of two French boats involved in the flotilla, called the "Dignité/Karama", left Marseille after a spirited rally in which Jewish Defense League attackers were rebuffed. It stopped off in Corsica and is now on the open seas heading for the assembly point.

The ships and boats are carrying 3,000 tons of humanitarian aid for the population of Gaza. Israel has blocked delivery of many supplies for the strip's 1.5 million inhabitants since 2006 and kept them prisoner as a collective punishment for electing a Hamas government. The International Committee of the Red Cross, UN bodies and international law experts have declared this blockade illegal.

Yet the U.S. and other governments continue to back the blockade in practical terms even though they may admit to its dubious legality. On June 22 the U.S. State Department issued a "travel advisory" warning that last year's Freedom Flotilla resulted in "the injury, death and deportation of U.S. citizens," as if the American government could do nothing to prevent this from happening again and would bear no responsibility if it did.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused the flotilla of planning "provocative actions by entering Israeli waters to create a situation in which Israelis have a right to defend themselves." This is factually and legally incorrect, since the waters off Gaza do not belong to Israel and the Mavi Marmara was in international waters when Israeli commandos attacked it and shot nine passengers to death in 2010. Of course Clinton knew this. Her statement seemed meant to give prior approval and a pre-established excuse for whatever Israel may decide to do to the passengers this time.

Excerpted from A World to Win News Service, June 20 and June 27, 2011. This article originally appeared in Revolution newspaper dated July 4, 2011.

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