Israel Hopes Diplomatic Pressure Heads Off Gaza Aid Flotilla
Bloomberg Business Week
Israel made a final diplomatic push to halt a flotilla planning to break its embargo of the Gaza Strip and prevent confrontation similar to that of a year ago when nine Turkish activists were killed.
Israel submitted a letter to United Nations Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon this week calling the flotilla a provocation ‘designed only to serve an extremist political agenda.’ Israelâ’s UN Ambassador, Ron Prosor, told Israel Radio on June 23 the flotilla’s scope appears to be diminishing and he hopes that appeals to international leaders may prevent it from sailing.
The blockade ‘not only denies the whole of Gaza’s civilian population the possibility of a normal life, but also collectively punishes them for acts for which they bear no responsibility,’ Richard Falk, the UN special rapporteur on the Palestinian Territories, said on June 23.
Freedom Flotilla II, the group behind the plan, says it aims to draw attention to the effects of the embargo and increase pressure on Israel to end it.
About 10 ships with representatives from 20 countries are scheduled to set sail for Gaza this weekend in a renewed attempt to break Israel’s embargo, according to the group’s website. They are expected to reach Gaza ‘in the first days of July’ after departing from Athens and other European Mediterranean ports, Dror Feiler, an Israeli-Swedish flotilla organizer, said in a phone interview.
The international community should work ‘to guarantee the arrival of the freedom flotilla to the Gaza and to defy the Israeli occupation siege,’ Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, said in a statement yesterday.
U.S. Government Warning
The State Department warned U.S. citizens against ‘conspiring to deliver material support or other resources to or for the benefit of a designated foreign terrorist organization, such as Hamas,’ according to an e-mailed statement from spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. American novelist Alice Walker, author of ‘The Color Purple,’ told CNN this week she will join the flotilla for the sake of ‘the Palestinian children.’
The first Gaza flotilla ended in violence on May 31, 2010, when Israeli naval commandos rappelled from helicopters and opened fire after the ship Mavi Marmara, part of a six-boat flotilla, refused to stop. Israel says people onboard shot first and attacked with iron bars, a charge they deny.
The day after the raid, the shekel weakened to an almost 10-month low, while the benchmark TA-25 stock index posted a two-day drop of 2.6 percent amid concern that criticism over the raid would spur investors to sell. The stock index has since rebounded 13 percent.
Apology and Compensation
The raid spurred Turkey to withdraw its ambassador to Israel and freeze diplomatic contacts until it receives an apology and compensation. The international pressure it sparked prompted Israel to relax import restrictions through its border crossings, while maintaining the naval embargo to prevent arms smuggling.
No Turkish ships, including the Mavi Mamara, will be taking part in this flotilla, and the number of same Turks participating will be ‘small,’ according to spokesman for the Islamic aid organization Humanitarian Relief Foundation.
The reduced Turkish presence comes amid reports that officials from Jerusalem and Ankara are holding talks to try and repair their relationship. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a letter to Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan congratulating him on the June 12 elections.
Turkey was Israel’s closest ally in the Middle East before the raid and remains its biggest trading partner.
Turkey’s exports to Israel from January to April increased to $695 million from $600 million in the same period last year and its imports from Israel rose to $662 million from $420 million.
Egypt, under former President Hosni Mubarak, cooperated with Israel by imposing its own blockade on Gaza, a policy that was criticized by the protesters who drove Mubarak out of power in February. Egypt on May 28 permanently opened its border crossing to Gaza residents, though it still restricts the passage of goods.
Israel has said it will not allow the flotilla to reach Gaza and that any foreign aid for its residents can be transferred through its border crossings after being checked.
Israeli officials decline to comment on a specific strategy or tactics that the military might use to halt the flotilla. The navy has conducted riot-control exercises to prepare for it and plans to bring photographers on board with them to document any violent resistance, Haaretz reported, without saying where it got the information.
The military will also more closely monitor Internet sites associated with the flotilla organizers as part of its intelligence-gathering, the Israeli daily said.
‘A flotilla driven by hate has recently been organizing an attempt to reach Gaza’s shore with a clear intent to come to a confrontation with IDF troops,’ Israel Navy Chief Vice-Admiral Eliezer Marom said on June 19. ‘This is a flagrant attempt to delegitimize Israel and create a PR stunt.’
Less than a month after the May 31 confrontation, Israel loosened its land blockade with Gaza with the aim of allowing more food in and keeping weapons and other items with a possible military use out.
Israel launched a three-week military operation at the end of 2008 against the Gaza Strip that it said was aimed at stopping cross-border rocket attacks. More than 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed in the fighting.
Unemployment in Gaza stands at 37.4 percent, the World Bank said in April. Per capita gross domestic product in the Palestinian territory is about $775, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. By comparison, Israel’s GDP per capita is about $30,000, according to its Central Bureau of Statistics.
With assistance from Saud Abu Ramadan in Gaza, Benjamin Harvey in Ankara and Maria Petrakis in Athens. Editors: Karl Maier, Ben Holland, Alastair Reed.
To contact the reporter on this story: Calev Ben-David in Jerusalem at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Josef Federman
Israel on Sunday threatened to ban international journalists for up to a decade if they join a flotilla planning to breach the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.
The warning reflected Israeli jitters about the international flotilla, which comes just over a year after a similar mission ended in the deaths of nine Turkish activists in clashes with Israeli naval commandos.
Israel is eager to avoid a repeat of last year’s raid, which drew heavy international condemnation and ultimately forced Israel to ease its blockade on Hamas-controlled Gaza. Israel says the blockade is needed to prevent Hamas from smuggling weapons into the territory.
The Foreign Press Association, which represents hundreds of journalists working for international news organizations in Israel and the Palestinian territories, condemned the Israeli decision and urged the government to cancel the order.
“The government’s threat to punish journalists covering the Gaza flotilla sends a chilling message to the international media and raises serious questions about Israel’s commitment to freedom of the press,” the FPA said in a statement. “Journalists covering a legitimate news event should be allowed to do their jobs without threats and intimidation.”
It remains unclear when the current flotilla will actually set sail, but organizers have hinted it could be as soon as this week.
Organizers have said 10 boats, including two cargo vessels carrying aid supplies, will participate in the flotilla and that hundreds, including activists, journalists, politicians, writers and religious figures, will be on board.
About two dozen activist groups, many of them based in Europe, are organizing the flotilla. Among them is IHH, a Turkish Islamic charity that helped organize last year’s flotilla and is outlawed in Israel.
In a letter to foreign journalists, the Government Press Office’s director, Oren Helman, called the flotilla “a dangerous provocation that is being organized by western and Islamic extremist elements to aid Hamas.”
“I would like to make it clear to you and to the media that you represent, that participation in the flotilla is an intentional violation of Israeli law and is liable to lead to participants being denied entry into the State of Israel for 10 years, to the impoundment of their equipment and to additional sanctions,” Helman said.
The letter, he added, was reviewed and approved by Israel’s attorney general.
Organizers of the flotilla say the mission is necessary to draw attention to the plight of Gaza’s 1.6 million residents. The Israeli blockade has caused heavy damage to Gaza’s economy: Unemployment is estimated at close to 50 percent, and the territory still suffers from a shortage of badly needed construction materials.
Israel says there is no humanitarian crisis and says the flotilla is little more than a provocation aimed at stirring up trouble.
Israel has long had a strained relationship with the international media. During an Israeli military offensive in the Gaza Strip 2½ years ago, Israeli-based journalists were prevented from entering the territory, forcing the Supreme Court to order the army to allow reporters in.
Israel imposed a land and naval blockade of Gaza after Hamas, an Iran-backed group that has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings and other attacks, took control of the coastal strip. Israel withdrew its settlers and military from Gaza in 2005.
The international uproar over last year’s deadly flotilla raid forced Israel to greatly ease the land embargo, but the naval blockade remains intact.
Israel has already said it will block the flotilla this time. Naval officials say they will use different tactics in hopes of avoiding bloodshed.
Federman can be reached at www.twitter.com/joseffederman.
Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Israeli Video Blog Exposed as a Hoax
By Robert Mackey
A YouTube video featuring a man who presented himself as an American gay rights activist disillusioned with the latest Gaza flotilla campaign has been exposed as a hoax.
The man in the video, who introduced himself to viewers as Marc and claimed that the organizers of the latest flotilla of ships bound for Gaza had rejected his offer to mobilize a network of gay activists in support of their cause, was identified as Omer Gershon, a Tel Aviv actor involved in marketing, by the Electronic Intifada, a pro-Palestinian Web site.
As my colleague Ethan Bronner explains, pro-Palestinian activists, including the prominent American author Alice Walker, are planning to sail a flotilla of small ships from European ports toward Gaza to protest Israel’s naval blockade of the Palestinian territory.
Just hours after the supposedly homemade video was uploaded to YouTube on Thursday, Benjamin Doherty of the Electronic Intifada pointed out that it had suspiciously high production values — most obviously, lights and what is known as B-roll — and was attributed to an activist calling himself Marc Pax, who seemed to have no other online presence.
While it remains unclear who produced the video, and Mr. Gershon has not responded to a request for comment, bloggers were quick to point out that people in three different Israeli government offices promoted it on Twitter soon after it was posted online.
As the blogger Max Blumenthal reported on Friday, one of the first people to draw attention to the video was Guy Seemann, who is an intern in the office of Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister.
The same day, the Israeli government’s press office advised its Twitter followers to watch the video and follow Mr. Seemann’s feed.
Over the weekend, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs also posted a link to the video on its official Twitter feed.
After the Electronic Intifada revealed that the man in the video was an actor, the Israeli press office deleted its original message from Twitter and posted a new one, apologizing for having promoted “an apparent hoax.” The press office added, “We were duped.”
A spokesman for the Israeli prime minister told The Lede: “Mr. Seemann is a 25-year-old who is interning in our office. His tweet was a mistake on his part. It was done without authorization and without approval. His mistake has been pointed out to him.” Mr. Seemann, who denied that he had had any role in the production of the video and said that it had been sent to him by “a friend,” hasdeleted his entire Twitter feed. He declined to put The Lede in touch with the friend who informed him about the video.
Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told The Lede that its Twitter feed was also edited to remove a link to the video after it was “revealed to be not a documentary but rather a mockumentary.”
The foreign ministry appears to have become aware of the video from a message posted on Twitter by David Saranga, a former diplomat who recently taught at Israel’s Asper Institute for New Media Diplomacy. According to the institute’s Web site, Mr. Saranga has worked with students learning to use ” traditional P.R. and marketing techniques to distribute this content around the world, along with more Web-based approaches such as guerrilla marketing.”
Ali Abunimah, the Palestinian-American founder of the Electronic Intifada,suggested on Twitter that the video hoax was not a prank but part of a public relations campaign to support the Israeli government’s naval blockade of Gaza by seeking to tarnish the Gaza flotilla activists as homophobic.
While there is no evidence of homophobia by the activists, and indeed some of the participants in the new flotilla are gay, the Israeli actor featured in the video has recently worked with a producer who appears to be opposed to the flotilla campaign. The actor, Omer Gershon — who is a minor celebrity in Tel Aviv — recently directed and appeared in this commercial for Puma, which was produced by Elad Magdasi. The commercial is currently featured on the home page of Mr. Magdasi’s YouTube channel, which also features a link to videos made by “a nonprofit Israel advocacy organization” called Stand With Us.
The Stand With Us YouTube channel currently features a new video that argues that Israel’s military “lawfully enforces a naval blockade on the Gaza Strip,” which is necessary “to protect Israeli civilians from attacks by the terrorist organization Hamas.”
According to Stand With Us, the organization’s work “ensures that Israel’s side of the story is told.” Its YouTube channel also features a recent testimonial from Mr. Netanyahu, congratulating the organization “for marking another successful year of defending the truth.” Mr. Netanyahu told the group, “In creatively adapting to the online world, you are staying one step ahead of adversaries who are working day and night to delegitimize Israel.”
Update: Dina Kraft, a freelance journalist who has contributed to The Times, writes from Israel to point out that she has interviewed Omer Gershon in the past and tried to call him on Tuesday, but was unable to reach him. Ms. Kraft interviewed Mr. Gershon in September, 2009, as part of her research for this Times article about Tel Aviv. At the time, he was helping to run a popular nightclub in the city called Zippy Trippo.
In that article, Ms. Kraft pointed to Zippy Trippo as an example of “Tel Aviv’s ability to reinvent itself.” The underground club, she explained, had been just one year earlier, “a listening post for the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, dubbed by its workers as the Facility.”
The full letter (translated to from Hebrew):
26 June 2011
To: Mr. Oren Helman
Government Press Office
Re: Warning foreign journalists against covering the flotilla to Gaza
Today you were quoted in the Israeli press warning foreign journalists against providing media coverage of the flotilla planed to set out for the Gaza Strip, stating that covering the event from the ships themselves may bring about sanctions including the confiscation of equipment and a prohibition to enter Israel for the duration of up to ten years.
According to the Israeli media you suggested that foreign journalists cover this event from the Ashdod Port, where it is likely that representatives of various Israeli authorities will be present as past experience has shown that Israel intends to drag the ships to that port.
You added that covering the event from the ships themselves would be considered “a deliberate violation of the Israeli law”, stating that it is “vital that foreign journalists know the repercussions those who enter Israeli illegally may face”.
These statements are groundless and we therefore urge you to retract them.
The Government Press Office is responsible for maintaining the public interest of “a free press and open press coverage. This is not the sole interest of the journalists, the TV and radio stations, the newspapers and the wires agencies. Rather, this is a general public interest that serves – in addition to those wishing to express themselves – also the unraveling of the truth, the democratic process and social stability” (High Court of Justice, case 5627/02, Saif v. Government Press Office).
Media coverage of the flotilla by journalists present on the ships does not violate Israeli law. In fact, there is no clause within our books of law that forbids this kind of media work. On the contrary, it is the clear interest of the public that its press is free and provides open, extensive and full coverage of this event, in all its unfolding stages, and in any of the locations where it will take place. As much as it is important to have media coverage of events taking place at the Ashdod Port, it is equally important to provide coverage of events taking place on the ships. It would be wrong to claim that a journalist covering events at the Ashdod Port should be viewed as taking part in the activities of the Israeli authorities. Similarly, it would be wrong to claim that a journalist covering events from the flotilla’s ships should be viewed as if he or she were taking part in the activities of the flotilla. Journalists, by nature, do not take part in activities but rather cover them.
Another claim you had made which is baseless is that journalists who cover the flotilla while on the ships will be entering Israel illegally. Those journalists will be carrying out their work outside of Israel’s territorial waters. Should the Israeli authorities decide to drag ships into Israel’s borders, and as a result will bring into Israel those present on those ships, it may not be claimed that they had entered the country illegally. In other words, there is no fair argument in the position that a person who was dragged from the sea into Israel is an illegal alien on the grounds that Israel, taking action and bringing him in, did not provide him beforehand with the necessary entry visa.ambivalent coverage in
Attorney Oded Feller
Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI)