Another mission accomplished, or so it seems. Israeli navy ships managed to thwart yet another civil society “provocation” (as described by a spokesperson for the Israel Embassy in Dublin, Irish Times, November 4). Thus, the 27 activists from 9 countries aboard 2 boats were rounded up and hauled, along with their “provocative” medical supplies, to the Israeli port of Ashdod.
The operation was conducted by a well-equipped Navy, one that is credited for sinking numerous Gaza fishing boats, while forcing fishermen to swim back to shore. Of course, one can hardly address such “valor” without mention of the May 2010 attack on the Mavi Marmara, which killed nine Turkish activists and wounded many more. But, unlike the disordered attack on the Mavi Marmara in international waters, the recent interception and boarding of the Canadian Tahrir and the Irish MV Saoirse was swift, well-organized, and supplemented with all the necessary soundbites to indict unarmed humanitarian activists and absolve an elite Navy.
The boats were stopped between 60 to 90 kilometers from the Gaza coast. The Electronic Intifada provided a live map, which followed their course after they departed the Turkish port of Fethiye on November 2. The map “showed the boats were still in international waters when the Israeli army made contact.” The Israeli military admitted that the interception happened in international waters (as reported in the Irish Times).
But all that matters little. The Israeli government is not a strong believer in boundaries. It is an occupation power, with military and espionage operations that reach far and wide, crossing Gaza to Damascus and Washington to Dubai.
Predictably, the U.S. government and mainstream media stood in solidarity with Israel in its latest escapade. Instead of warning Israel against harming U.S. citizens participating in a humanitarian mission, U.S. State Department officials “renewed a warning to American citizens…saying that breaching an Israeli blockade aboard two ships headed to Gaza may be a violation of U.S. law” (Calgary Herald, November 4). A department spokesperson, Victoria Nuland, also “reminded U.S. citizens that they could face civil and criminal penalties in their efforts to deliver resources to the Gaza Strip.”
In a New York Times report, Isabel Kershner mainly referenced military and official statements, giving negligible space to the activists who had been illegally detained. More, Kershner reminded Times readers that Gaza “is ruled by the Islamic militant group Hamas” (NYT, November 4). The fact that Hamas was democratically-elected by a decisive majority in January 2006 seemed immaterial. Also irrelevant was the fact that the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 prohibits collective punishment. Article 33 states that: “No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.”
It was particularly interesting to watch the short video clip released by the Israeli military (idfspokesperson. com) where a naval official called on the ships to turn around, saying: “Your attempt to enter the Gaza Strip by sea is a violation of international law. We remind you that humanitarian supplies can be delivered to the Gaza Strip by land and you are welcome to enter Ashdod port and deliver supplies through land crossings.”
If Israeli officials insist that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza, why did the navy official make a reference to the delivery of “humanitarian supplies?” As for the mention of “international law,” that referred to the politically-motivated Palmer Report, which, with no legal foundation, resolved that the blockade on Gaza was legal. The inquiry (released September 2011) was a late attempt at balancing numerous other reports that lashed out at Israel for imposing a devastating siege on Gaza. One such report by the UN Human Rights Council, condemned Israel’s violation of “international humanitarian and human rights law” and called the Israeli naval blockade on Gaza “unlawful” (the Guardian, September 22, 2010).
Israeli navy, military, and government officials must have been congratulating themselves on a job well done, as international activists were arrested, herded into police stations, and forced to sign their deportation papers. However, this latest mission—Freedom Waves—actually exposed as fraud the logic Israel used to justify its siege of Gaza. The October 18 prisoner swap of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit for a few hundred Palestinian prisoners was expected to bring an end to the Gaza siege. But it didn’t.
Writing in the Huffington Post, Just Foreign Policy Director Robert Naiman stated, “In practice, the issue of the Gaza blockade has been entangled with the issue of the captivity of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.” He cited a Washington Post article: “The blockade was widely seen as a punitive measure driven in large part by the outrage that Shalit’s abduction in 2006 generated in Israel” (October 26).
Now that Shalit is free, thanks to Tahrir and MV Saoirse, we know that the siege as a response to Shalit’s capture was a ruse and that Israel has no immediate plans to end the perpetual captivity of 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza. But we also know that Freedom Waves will continue. “Despite this Israeli aggression, we will keep coming, wave after wave, by air, sea, and land, to challenge Israel’s illegal policies towards Gaza and all of Palestine,” said Huwaida Arraf, a spokesperson for the activists. “Our movement will not stop or be stopped until Palestine is free.”
Ramzy Baroud is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle. com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press). Photo 1: Israeli vessels patrolling Ashdod Port, photo from Palestinechronicle.com. Photo 2: Freedom Waves.