Open Thread: The Gaza Freedom Flotilla

by Latoya Peterson

On Memorial Day, twitter was abuzz with news about the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and what happened.  Mainstream media, not so much.

Here’s a quick run down for those not familiar with the chain of events.

The Gaza Freedom Flotilla is a part of the Free Gaza movement.  The boat trips were designed as an act of international civil disobedience to challenge the State of Israel’s blockade which prevents ship travel into Gaza.  According to the Free Gaza’s “A Simple Idea” section:

The Free Gaza Movement began in the Fall of 2006 with a simple idea: Instead of waiting for the world to act, we would sail to Gaza ourselves, and directly challenge the Israeli siege ourselves. For almost two years, Free Gaza activists in Australia, Britain, Cyprus, Germany, Greece, Lebanon, Palestine, and the United States worked to raise money, locate ships and crew, and train and organize for our first attempt to break through Israel’s blockade. By August 2008 we were ready, and we sailed to Gaza in two, small, wooden fishing boats: the FREE GAZA and the LIBERTY.

The Free Gaza & The Liberty, in Larnaca Port (August 2008)Since then we have continued to sail to besieged Gaza, bringing in human rights workers and lawyers, journalists, academics, and parliamentarians, as well as several tons of desperately needed humanitarian aid. We are students and teachers, human rights observers and aid workers, lawyers, medics, activists – parents and grandparents. We are of all ages and backgrounds, from countries all across the world. We will go to Gaza again and again and again. We have not and will not ask for Israel’s permission. It is our intent to overcome this brutal siege through civil resistance and direct action.

We will continue to challenge Israel’s illegal closure of the Gaza Strip and collective punishment of its civilian population until the Israeli siege is forever broken and the people of Gaza have free access to the rest of the world.

The Guardian has posted a Q & A about the flotilla, which reads:

What was the aim of the Gaza Freedom flotilla?

The Free Gaza movement says it was intended to deliver aid to Gaza to get around the Israeli blockade and “to raise international awareness about the prison-like closure of the Gaza Strip and pressure the international community to review its sanctions policy and end its support for continued Israeli occupation”. The movement is an international coalition of pro-Palestinian human rights organisations and activists. It has been endorsed by Desmond Tutu and Noam Chomsky and counts on the support of a number of Jewish groups that campaign for the rights of Palestinians.

Israel‘s deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, said: “The armada of hate and violence in support of the Hamas terror organisation was a premeditated and outrageous provocation. The organisers are well-known for their ties to global Jihad, al-Qaida and Hamas. They have a history of arms smuggling and deadly terror. On board the ship we found weapons that were prepared in advance and used against our forces. The organisers’ intent was violent, their method was violent, and unfortunately, the results were violent.”

Israel has singled out the Turkish-based Insani Yardim Vakfi or IHH (“humanitarian relief fund”) as a radical Islamic organisation.

The boat was filled with both aid and an international group of activists, many of whom had protested directly on the ground in Gaza or had joined the 2008 flotillas.

On Sunday night, Israel made the decision to storm the vessel, with lethal results.The Guardian’s blog has a great running commentary of what is happening, with lots of videos.

Here, the Israel Navy issues a warning to the Mavi Marmara (the lead ship, and site of the siege) telling them that Israel supports the delivery of aid to Gaza, but only through sanctioned ports and land delivery. However, the aid is not getting to those affected in Gaza, which is one of the reasons why the ship was choosing to head there directly. (It should be noted that even when aid does go to Gaza, it is governed by politics first.)

There is some controversy about whether or not Israel had the right to storm the vessel. Some reports say that Israel followed the needed protocols before boardings, others say that the ship was not within the boundaries of Israeli waters and should not have been boarded at all. However, the government chose to act and the ship was boarded. As the soldiers began dropping onto the ship, the activists began to resist. Once again, reports vary as to what happened – this video, released by the Navy, depicts one solider being pitched overboard and others being attacked.

However, Al-Jeezera’s reporter, who was aboard the ship at the time of the siege, reports that the scene was calmer, and live fire by the soldiers continued even after the white flag for surrender was raised:

The reported civilian death count from the ship is “at least 10″ – some reports find as many as 19. I have not seen any released death counts for the soldiers involved, as of yet.

Onboard witnesses are starting to speak out, saying that the reports are distorted and that the activists were predominantly peaceful. However, the international community has already reacted condemning the excessive force used. The UN’s statement from the Security Council says:

“The Security Council deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries resulting form the use of force during the Israeli military operation in international waters against the convoy sailing to Gaza. The Council, in this context, condemns those acts which resulted in the loss of at least 10 civilians and many wounded, and expresses its condolences to their families.

“The Security Council requests the immediate release of the ships as well as the civilians held by Israel. The Council urges Israel to permit full consular access, to allow the countries concerned to retrieve their deceased and wounded immediately, and to ensure the delivery of humanitarian assistance from the convoy to its destination.

“The Security Council takes note of the statement of the United Nations Secretary-General on the need to have a full investigation into the matter and it calls for a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards.

“The Security Council stresses that the situation in Gaza is not sustainable. The Council re-emphasizes the importance of the full implementation of resolutions 1850 (2008) and 1860 (2009). In that context, they reiterate their grave concern at the humanitarian situation in Gaza and stress the need for sustained and regular flow of goods and people to Gaza, as well as unimpeded provision and distribution of humanitarian assistance throughout Gaza.

“The Security Council underscores that the only viable solution to Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an agreement negotiated between the parties and re-emphasizes that only a two-State solution, with an independent and viable Palestinian State living side by side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbours, could bring peace to the region.

Meanwhile, the US appears to be siding with the Israeli government:

The United States remains deeply concerned by the suffering of civilians in Gaza. We will continue to engage the Israelis on a daily basis to expand the scope and type of goods allowed into Gaza to address the full range of the population’s humanitarian and recovery needs. We will continue to work closely with the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, along with international NGOs and the UN, to provide adequate access for humanitarian goods, including reconstruction materials, through the border crossings, while bearing in mind the Government of Israel’s legitimate security concerns. However, Hamas’ interference with international assistance shipments and work of nongovernmental organizations, and its use and endorsement of violence, complicates efforts in Gaza. Mechanisms exist for the transfer of humanitarian assistance to Gaza by governments and groups that wish to do so. These mechanisms should be used for the benefit of all those in Gaza.

Meanwhile, half the world appears to be locked in protests, with the strongest coming from Turkey (four to six Turkish nationals have been reported among the deceased):