Flotilla 1: Getting on board for Gaza
Israel escalates pressure, threats against flotilla, Bego Astigarraga
A moment before boarding the next flotilla, Gabriel Matthew Schivone
Bego Astigarraga, The Electronic Intifada
Bilbao 23 June 2011
BILBAO, Spain (IPS) –
As the second Gaza Freedom Flotilla, made up of some 10 ships carrying 1,000 activists from 20 countries, gets ready to sail for the besieged Gaza Strip, Israeli authorities are stepping up their threats.
The Israeli government is putting pressure on other Mediterranean countries from which the ships may sail late this month, although the exact date and place have not yet been revealed for security reasons.
Israel has warned foreign diplomats in Tel Aviv to get ready to “face the consequences,” says a statement issued by the “Rumbo a Gaza” (Sailing to Gaza) Spanish civil society initiative.
The Israeli daily Haaretz revealed that the Israeli military held a large drill for special commandos and snipers to prepare to intercept the flotilla.
Israel Navy commander Admiral Eliezer Marom said on 19 June that “The Navy has prevented and will continue to prevent the arrival of the ‘hate flotilla’ whose only goals are to clash with [Israeli] soldiers, create media provocation and delegitimize the State of Israel.”
Spanish government under pressure
The boat that will carry fifty persons from Spain — including this reporter — was named Gernika and will carry to Gaza a loose interpretation by Basque Country artists of the famous painting that Pablo Picasso painted in 1937 after German and Italian forces bombed the Basque village of Gernika (or Guernica) in northern Spain.
The Spanish government has avoided making statements on the issue. But Foreign Minister Trinidad Jimenez said the best way to help Gaza is by means of diplomatic pressure, not flotillas.
“We strongly advise against taking part in the Rumbo a Gaza initiative because of the grave danger that participants in the flotilla could face,” says a warning on the foreign ministry website.
Israel started tightening its stranglehold on the Gaza Strip after Hamas won the January 2006 Palestinian Legislative Council elections, and imposed a full blockade in subsequent years, and was heightened after the 2008-2009 winter invasion of Gaza dubbed “Operation Cast Lead.”
Israel argues the blockade is necessary for security reasons, while human rights groups counter that the siege amounts to collective punishment of Gaza’s 1.6 million residents and that it is illegal under international law.
Israeli authorities have prepared prisons to hold the participants of the flotilla, who will reportedly be arrested and thrown in jail for violating the blockade.
“Last year, 15 days before setting sail, we knew that if the international community did not act, a massacre would take place — which ended up happening,” activist Manuel Tapial, coordinator of the Rumbo a Gaza initiative in Spain and one of the participants in the 2010 flotilla, told IPS.
In the early hours of the morning on 31 May 2010, Israeli commandos firing machine guns air-dropped from helicopters onto the first Freedom Flotilla’s flagship Mavi Marmara, killing nine and injuring more than fifty of the civilians on board.
The rest of the 600 passengers were arrested and held without charges for a day and a half in Israel before they were deported.
No legal basis for intercepting ships
There is no legal basis for Israel to intercept ships and prevent them from delivering humanitarian supplies, say experts in international law.
“Israel only has jurisdiction over its territorial waters of 12 nautical miles, and neither the waters off Gaza nor international waters are under its authority,” University of the Basque Country professor of international law Juan Soroeta told IPS.
“No UN resolution authorizes the Gaza blockade,” said Soroeta. “On the contrary, it is an illegal, unilateral measure imposed by force by Israel in the context of an equally illegal occupation of Palestinian territory.”
UN Security Council Resolution 1860, adopted on 8 January 2009, calls for “the unimpeded provision and distribution throughout Gaza of humanitarian assistance, including of food, fuel and medical treatment.”
But reports from the international humanitarian organizations working on the ground there confirm that this point is not being fulfilled.
“We have repeatedly urged our governments and international bodies to use observers to inspect the ships and the humanitarian cargo and passengers they are carrying, both at port and at sea, but no one has yet responded to this proposal,” Tapial said.
The Mavi Marmara was expected to take part in Gaza Freedom Flotilla II, but its owner, the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), said the repairs of damages caused last year have not been completed and the ship is not in a condition to make the trip.
There has been speculation as to whether this decision has anything to do with secret talks held by Turkey and Israel.
But the fact that the flotilla is going ahead undermines the argument that the campaign was organized by the IHH, an Islamic charity, which Israel accuses of having links to terrorism
At the same time, within Israel, “a public debate is taking place on what to do, with some arguing that we should be allowed in because we are civilians only carrying humanitarian aid, while the blockade, according to Israel, is only against weapons smuggling,” Tapial said.
Humanitarian aid to Gaza
Regardless of the difficulties, the Freedom Flotilla II — Stay Human, named in honor of Italian peace activist Vittorio Arrigoni, who was murdered in April in Gaza, aims to deliver its humanitarian aid, including construction materials, medical supplies and educational materials.
The UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) “informed us in a letter that they could not receive our deliveries, so that Israel could not accuse them of being part of the conflict,” Tapial said.
“But if we make it there, I am confident that they will accept the material, and that they will distribute it equitably,” he added.
The 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid carried by the first Freedom Flotilla was confiscated by Israel along with the personal effects of the passengers and the reporters’ equipment.
None of the items were ever returned, making it “booty in the best pirate tradition,” said Spanish lawyer Enrique Santiago, who was involved in preparing the charges against Israel for the assault on the flotilla in international waters.
International support for the second flotilla has only grown, with backing from thousands of personalities from around the world, such as Nobel Peace Prize-winners Rigoberta Menchu of Guatemala, Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland, Jody Williams of the United States and Shirin Ebadi of Iran.
The four prominent peace and human rights activists called on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to urge the governments of the countries concerned to take the necessary measures to guarantee the safety of those taking part in the mission.
All rights reserved, IPS – Inter Press Service (2011).
A moment before boarding the next flotilla
I’d rather use my influence and power, in concert with other members of American civil society, to actively and nonviolently resist policies I consider abominable.
By Gabriel Matthew Schivone
You might wonder what would motivate a Jewish American college student to participate in what may be the most celebrated – and controversial – sea voyage of the 21st century, one that aims to nonviolently challenge U.S.-supported Israeli military power in the occupied territories. I simply cannot sit idle while my country aids and abets Israel’s siege, occupation and repression of the Palestinians. I would rather use my personal influence and power, in concert with other members of American civil society, to actively and nonviolently resist policies that I consider abominable. So, next week, I and more than 30 other American civilians will be sailing on the U.S. ship the Audacity of Hope, to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza.
I am one of a growing number of young American Jews who are determined to shake off an assumed – and largely imposed – association with Israel. Prominent advocacy organizations, such as the American Jewish Committee, which proudly proclaim their unconditional support of Israel, for several years have been declaring their “serious concern” over the increasing “distancing” of young American Jews from the state.
ut what Israel apologists like the AJC view as a crisis, I see as a positive development for American Jews, who, like other parts of U.S. society, are shifting from blind support for Israel to a more critical position that reflects opposition to our country’s backing for Israel’s policies.
If Israel’s apologists in the U.S. are alarmed by a falling off in unconditional support for Israel, they should be even more concerned that such a diverse range of youth – especially young Jews – are joining up with constituencies that actively organize against America’s role in the occupation. Today, the so-called crisis has expanded from the coasts to such places as Arizona. It probably was just a matter of time before a Jewish anti-occupation group emerged in my home state, given that a fairly substantial portion of the Students for Justice in Palestine chapter on the University of Arizona campus (in Tucson ) were Jewish. For our part, we Jews launched an initial chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace at the UA campus in spring 2010 – one of nearly 30 JVP chapters throughout the country, which has a mailing list of 100,000 – and thereafter branches in the general Tucson and Northern Arizona communities, and at Arizona State University, in Phoenix.
Through JVP, I discovered there were a great many others like me, who were experiencing profound internal conflicts regarding Israel. They included people who had been intimidated from expressing public criticism of Israel, and others who were afraid to speak out in defense of Palestinian rights for fear of being labeled anti-Semitic.
It was clear that a campus JVP opened up a powerful, organic outlet through which Jewish students could safely exchange and process – without fear, intimidation or a need for self-censorship – their critiques, concerns, ideas, knowledge, questions, discoveries and plans to promote achievement of a genuinely mutual peace in Palestine/Israel. Before JVP came along, it wasn’t possible to have an open discussion, or feel that we as Jews had an alternative to either unquestioning support of Israel (the status quo ) or staying silent and thus supporting it by default. I myself was silent and timid for much too long.
We are committed to acting out of Jewish ethical traditions, while holding Israel to the same standard as any other state in the international system – no more, no less. Before JVP, there was nothing on my campus that was critical of Israel from an American Jewish perspective. Zero. The group’s success demonstrated that young Jews – moved by their cultural or religious values, which include a belief in universal human rights – have been on campus all the while, ready and willing to join a human rights-based cause for justice in Palestine/Israel. All it took to gain support on campus and elsewhere in the state was a potent sprinkling of opportunity, initiative and political will.
In Athens, as I write, waiting to board the Audacity of Hope, I am wearing a Star of David amulet around my neck, which was given to me the night before I left Arizona by a dear friend and fellow JVP organizer. She got it from a silversmith in Haifa while on a “Birthright” trip as an adolescent. For her, it had always been the reminder of the crude brainwashing she felt she had encountered on that trip. But when she came across the star recently, she decided it might be put to good use if I were to wear it on my journey. And so that’s what I’m doing.
I wear it as a symbol of the basic values of Judaism that I feel are not emphasized sufficiently today: the imperative to welcome the stranger as you would want to be welcomed; and of helping to free the slave from a bondage that you would not wish to suffer.
As a consequence of various nonviolent actions undertaken all over the world, led crucially by Palestinians on the ground, the Israeli occupation will one day end. Those of us who face up to the unavoidable choice of either tolerating or resisting these crimes will determine how long the death and suffering of mainly Palestinian noncombatants continues, and how long a lasting peace in Palestine/Israel remains out of reach.
Gabriel Matthew Schivone is a Chicano-Jewish American from Tucson, and coordinator of Jewish Voice for Peace at the University of Arizona
Participants aboard the Canadian ship dubbed the Tahrir are gearing up to join the upcoming Gaza flotilla.
Social activist Stephan Corriveau warned all of us due to set sail on the Canadian ship dubbed the Tahrir – one of the boats participating in the upcoming Gaza flotilla – that we would have no opportunity to bathe during the three-day journey to Gaza but would have drinking water. There was no point in bringing a change of clothes, the Montreal-based Corriveau noted, because there would be nowhere to change, encouraging us to take as little as possible. In the best case scenario, we will make it to Gaza and can buy some clothing there, he said.
There are about 50 of us, men and women, due to sail on the Tahrir, whose name is a reference to the Cairo square where protests earlier this year led to the downfall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s regime. Several hundred other activists, from about 20 countries, and several dozen journalists are currently preparing to set sail for Gaza.
At several Mediterranean ports, ships await their participants for the upcoming flotilla. The vessels were acquired in a transatlantic fund-raising effort which began about a year ago, immediately after the Israeli Navy killed nine partcipants aboard a Gaza-bound flotilla ship, the Mavi Marmara, last May. The new flotilla has been organized by a coalition of organizations, all of which refuse to accept the Israeli argument that the Gaza Strip is no longer besieged and that if there is a siege, it is only because of the arms Hamas has been smuggling into the territory. The activists’ participation is designed to apply popular pressure on their own governments to stop cooperating with the Israeli policy.
Canadian activists raised about $350,000 over the past year for the operation, setting up an account in the name of a group called Turtle Island Humanitarian Aid. The Canadian government has announced it does not support the flotilla, viewing it as a provocation against Israel. Other governments have had a similar reaction to the effort in response to the participation of their nationals. Only the Irish government has called on Israel to refrain from violence in response to the flotilla.
Last Thursday, the Greek port authority announced it had received a claim contending that the the American boat, whose delegates are mostly from the U.S. but some are Israelis, was not seaworthy and the ship’s departure would be delayed until the claim was investigated. Flotilla organizers say they believe the claim to be politically motivated. Their lawyer is currently negotiating with authorities over the issue but the plan is to set sail with the rest of the flotilla.
Although the Tahrir has been generally referred to as Canadian, it was purchased for about $500,000 with contributions that also came from Australia, Denmark and Belgium; nationals of all of these countries will be on board when it joins the flotilla. The donations came primarily from individuals and non-governmental organizations, said David Heap, a Canadian professor of linguistics and French who has a history of activism against apartheid in South Africa and on behalf of native peoples in North America.
Heap said he was not surprised by the Canadian government’s opposition to the flotilla, and claimed Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper had been a founder of a think tank that supported South Africa during the apartheid regime and that opposed sanctions against the regime and the release of anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela.
In advance of the departure of our ship, we – the particpants – sat in a Greek hotel, getting to know one another and rehearsing the prospect that the Israeli Navy would take control of the ships in the flotilla. In simulation drills over several hours, about 50 civilians – ranging in age from 20 to 69 – attempted to imagine themselves facing Israeli warships and M16 rifles with fighter helicopters hovering overhead, along with water cannon, tear gas and Taser stun guns. The participants also imagined verbal abuse along with physical blows, dogs, and masked commandos.
The activists concluded from the exercise that they should acknowledge their fears and learn as a group of people, mutually responsible for one anther, how to confront their fears.