By Ramzy Baroud, Palestine Chronicle
Another mission accomplished, or so it seems. Israeli navy has managed to thwart yet another civil society ‘provocation’ (as described by the Israeli Embassy in Dublin, Irish Times, November 4).
Thus the 27 activists from nine countries aboard two boats were rounded up and hauled, along with their ‘provocative’ medical supplies, to the Israeli port of Ashdod.
It was a successful operation conducted by a well-equipped navy, one that is credited for sinking numerous Gaza fishing boats, while forcing fishermen to swim naked 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 interception and boarding of the two boats – one Canadian (Tahrir) and the other Irish (MV Saoirse) – was swift, well-organized and supplemented with all the necessary sound bites to indict unarmed humanitarian activists and absolve an ‘elite’ navy force.
The boats were stopped between 60km and 90km from the Gaza coast. The Electronic Intifada had provided a live map, which followed their course shortly 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” on November 4 (as reported by Maan News Agency). The Israeli military also 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, Washington to Dubai. This versatility is what enabled a geographically small country like Israel to enjoy a formidable reputation of military brutality (for example, Cast Lead 2008-09) and electrifying unpredictability (for example, spying on the United States, the very country that consistently allows Israel to violate international law).
Predictably, the US government and mainstream media stood in unhinged solidarity with Israel in its latest escapade. Instead of warning Israel from harming any US citizens participating in the humanitarian mission, US 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 US law” (according to the 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.”
The reporting of the story was meant to serve as a ‘reminder’ of the risks of such an act. In her New York Times report, Isabel Kershner anchored much of her article in Israeli military and official statements, giving negligible space to activists who were illegally detained. More, the report opted to remind 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 on their website – – where a naval official called on the ships to turn around. The official used some phrases rarely used by Israeli spokespersons. “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,” the unnamed official said.
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 underhanded 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 in September 2011) was a tardy attempt at balancing numerous other reports that lashed out at Israel for imposing a devastating siege on Gaza, interrupted by a very costly war and a fatal attack on the Mavi Marmara. 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, the latest mission – named ‘Freedom Waves’ – actually exposed as fraud, the logic Israel used to justify its siege of Gaza. The October 18th prisoner swap that saw the freedom of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, and few hundred Palestinian prisoners, was expected to bring an end to the Gaza siege altogether.
But it didn’t.
Writing in the Huffington Post, Just Foreign Policy Director Robert Naiman claimed, “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 stating: “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, Israel is clearly uninterested in ending its ‘collective punishment’ of Gaza. The latest act of piracy is the latest indication that the blockade will remain in place, under an array of pretexts and justifications.
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 with equal certainty that the 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 spokeswoman for the activists. “Our movement will not stop or be stopped until Palestine is free.”
Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) 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, London), available on Amazon.com.
David Cronin, electronic intifada,
Trevor Hogan, best-known as an international rugby player, was one of 14 Irish people detained by Israel over the past week after they tried to break the illegal siege of Gaza.
In a telephone interview this morning, Hogan recalled how the MV Saoirse (called after the Gaelic word for freedom) and the Canadian-flagged Tahrir were approaching the waters off Gaza last Friday (4 November) afternoon when they were intercepted by the Israeli navy.
“They were circling us for ages, with their rifles trained on us,” he told me. “It was surreal looking out our window at these guns.”
Still in international waters, the two boats were surrounded by numerous Israeli vessels. Hogan estimates there were 15 or 16 vessels in total, including several full-sized warships. Eventually, the MV Saoirse was attacked by water cannons.
“The water cannons destroyed the electricity,” said Hogan. “They flooded the engine room. We had to use emergency power. The boat could have sunk if it went on much longer.”
Balaclava-clad Israeli commandos then boarded the Saoirse. “We just stayed sitting down peacefully,” he added. “They wanted to search us on deck but we refused. We all acquitted ourselves well. One sudden move and they were sure to fire. My heart was pumping looking at this.”
Hogan expected to be beaten when the Israelis brought their captives to the port of Ashdod. But the arrival of an Irish diplomat at the port “calmed things down.”
Women “stressed and traumatized”
Hogan said that the Israelis kept him and the others awake on their first night in Givon Prison. But the treatment was even worse for the two women, Zoe Lawlor and Mags O’Brien, on the boat, who were detained separately from the 12 men.
“There was solidarity among us [the men],” he said. “We were all together. We managed to meet them [the two women] for 20 minutes each time the consular was there. You could see that the girls were stressed and traumatized. They were under serious pressure.”
Yesterday morning, seven of the 14 were scheduled to be flown from Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv to London. Yet they were prevented from boarding a British Airways flight by the Israeli authorities and placed into cells in the airport.
“Givon was tough enough,” Hogan said. “Ben Gurion was a lot worse. We thought we were going home and then we were banged up in cells. It was more decrepit. There was no information and no free association. We were held apart.”
Israel has blamed British Airways for the episode at Ben Gurion, alleging that the carrier would not take the seven campaigners. “Maybe there was an element of the airline being at fault,” Hogan explained. “But there was more to it than that. It was part of a pattern. They wanted lessons to be learnt and that’s why they made life as difficult as they could for us. We didn’t sign anything saying we were criminals, [even though] there were threats made that we would be kept [in prison] indefinitely.”
Five of the Irish, including Hogan, were put on a later flight and arrived in Dublin late last night. Two others, Fintan Lane and Zoe Lawlor, were stopped from taking that later flight and were instead made to travel via Istanbul. They and the seven remaining prisoners are expected to land in Dublin today.
Hogan retired from professional rugby earlier this year because of persistent knee injuries. His efforts to reach Gaza as part of the Freedom Flotilla II during the summer and now with the smaller Freedom Waves initiative have been supported by a number of Irish sports personalities.
He is adamant that the attempts to penetrate the Gaza blockade have been worthwhile. “We don’t want to make out that we are the victims or martyrs,” he said. “We were in Givon Prison. But Gaza is the world’s largest prison. Whatever we have gone through, the Palestinians have to go through 10 times worse.
“It was very interesting to notice the attitude of the Israelis towards us. They couldn’t comprehend why were doing this. What we were doing challenges their mindset and that is why it is such an effective tactic. They treat the Palestinians as if they are subhuman. They don’t think Palestinians deserve to live in a normal society, to be able to import and export and fish and farm. It’s great to be able to meet that mindset head on.”