Monday, May 31, 2010

International solidarity and the Freedom Flotilla massacre

Editorial, The Electronic Intifada, 31 May 2010
Israeli naval ships flanking the Mavi Marmara.
Israeli soldiers aboard the Mavi Marmara.

A passenger aboard the Mavi Marmara carries a bloody stretche

Early this morning under the cover of darkness Israeli soldiers stormed
the lead ship of the six-vessel Freedom Flotilla aid convoy in
international waters and killed and injured dozens of civilians aboard.
All the ships were violently seized by Israeli forces, but hours after the
attack fate of the passengers aboard the other ships remained unknown.

The Mavi Marmara was carrying around 600 activists when Israeli warships
flanked it from all sides as soldiers descended from helicopters onto the
ship's deck. Reports from people on board the ship backed up by live video
feeds broadcast on Turkish TV show that Israeli forces used live
ammunition against the civilian passengers, some of whom resisted the
attack with sticks and other items.

The Freedom Flotilla was organized by a coalition of groups that sought to
break the Israeli-led siege on the Gaza Strip that began in 2007.
Together, the flotilla carried 700 civilian activists from around 50
countries and over 10,000 tons of aid including food, medicines, medical
equipment, reconstruction materials and equipment, as well as various
other necessities arbitrarily banned by Israel.

As of 6:00pm Jerusalem time most media were still reporting that up to 20
people had been killed, and many more injured. However, Israel was still
withholding the exact numbers and names of the dead and injured.
Passengers aboard the ships who had been posting Twitter updates on the
Flotilla's progress had not been heard from since before the attack and
efforts to contact passengers by satellite phone were unsuccessful. The
Arabic- and English-language networks of Al-Jazeera lost contact with
their half dozen staff traveling with the flotilla.

News of the massacre on board the Freedom Flotilla began to emerge around
dawn in the eastern Mediterranean first on the live feed from the ship,
social media, Turkish television, and Al-Jazeera. Israeli media were
placed under strict military censorship, and reported primarily from
foreign sources. However, by the morning the Jerusalem Post reported that
the Israeli soldiers who boarded the flotilla in international waters were
fired upon by passengers. Quoting anonymous military sources, the
Jerusalem Post claimed that the flotilla passengers had set-up a "well
planned lynch." ("IDF: Soldiers were met by well-planned lynch in boat

The Israeli daily Haaretz also reported that the Israeli soldiers were
"attacked" when trying to board the flotilla. ("At least 10 activists
killed in Israel Navy clashes onboard Gaza aid flotilla")

This narrative of passengers "attacking" the Israeli soldiers was quickly
adopted by the Associated Press and carried across mainstream media
sources in the United States, including the Washington Post. ("Israeli
army: More than 10 killed on Gaza flotilla")

Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon stated in a Monday morning
press conference that the Israeli military was acting in "self-defense."
He claimed that "At least two guns were found" and that the "incident" was
still ongoing. Ayalon also claimed that the Flotilla organizers were
"well-known" and were supported by and had connections to "international
terrorist organizations."

It is unclear how anyone could credibly adopt an Israeli narrative of
"self-defense" when Israel had carried out an unprovoked armed assault on
civilian ships in international waters. Surely any right of self-defense
would belong to the passengers on the ship. Nevertheless, the Freedom
Flotilla organizers had clearly and loudly proclaimed their ships to be
unarmed civilian vessels on a humanitarian mission.

The Israeli media strategy appeared to be to maintain censorship of the
facts such as the number of dead and injured, the names of the victims and
on which ships the injuries occurred, while aggressively putting out its
version of events which is based on a dual strategy of implausibly
claiming "self-defense" while demonizing the Freedom Flotilla passengers
and intimating that they deserved what they got.

As news spread around the world, foreign governments began to react.
Greece and Turkey, which had many citizens aboard the Flotilla,
immediately recalled their ambassadors from Tel Aviv. Spain strongly
condemned the attack. France's foreign minister Bernard Kouchner expressed
"profound shock." The European Union's foreign minister Catherine Ashton
called for an "enquiry."

What should be clear is this: no one can claim to be surprised by what the
Palestinian Centre for Human Rights correctly termed a "hideous crime."
Israel had been openly threatening a violent attack on the Flotilla for
days, but complacency, complicity and inaction, specifically from Western
and Arab governments once more sent the message that Israel could act with
total impunity.

There is no doubt that Israel's massacre of 1,400 people, mostly
civilians, in Gaza in December 2008/January 2009 was a wake up call for
international civil society to begin to adopt boycott, divestment and
sanctions (BDS) against Israel similar to those applied to apartheid-era
South Africa.

Yet governments largely have remained complacent and complicit in Israel's
ongoing violence and oppression against Palestinians and increasingly
international humanitarian workers and solidarity activists, not only in
Gaza, but throughout historic Palestine. We can only imagine that had
former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni indeed been arrested for war
crimes in Gaza when a judge in London issued a warrant for her arrest, had
the international community begun to implement the recommendations of the
UN-commissioned Goldstone Report, had there been a much firmer response to
Israel's assassination of a Hamas official in Dubai, it would not have
dared to act with such brazenness.

As protest and solidarity actions begin in Palestine and across the world,
this is the message they must carry: enough impunity, enough complicity,
enough Israeli massacres and apartheid. Justice now.

Israel boat raid sparks condemnations, protests

By SELCAN HACAOGLU and LEE KEATH, Associated Press

ANKARA, Turkey – Turkey withdrew its ambassador to Israel and called for
an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council as condemnations erupted
across Europe and the Arab world Monday over Israel's deadly commando raid
on ships taking humanitarian aid to the blockaded Gaza Strip.

Government after government demanded an explanation from Israel, which
said its soldiers were trying to defend themselves against armed
activists. The White House said it was trying to learn more about "this

"It should be known that we are not going to remain silent in the face of
this inhumane state terrorism," said Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip
Erdogan. Most of the nine dead were apparently from Turkey, once a close
ally of Israel.

In Istanbul, a crowd tried to storm the Israeli Consulate. North of
Jerusalem, Palestinians hurled bottles and stones at Israeli soldiers. In
Jordan, hundreds urged their government to follow Turkey's lead and cut
ties with Israel. Dozens of Egyptians protested outside the foreign
ministry in Cairo criticizing the Egyptian government holding pictures of
late President Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Israel said the activists attacked its commandos as they boarded the six
ships taking tons of supplies to Gaza, while the flotilla's organizers
said the Israeli forces opened fire first.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the violence. The European
Union's foreign affairs chief, Catherine Ashton, said the bloc was deeply
concerned and she called on Israel to carry out an inquiry. British
Foreign Secretary William Hague deplored the killings and called for an
end to the Gaza blockade.

Greece, Egypt, Sweden, Spain and Denmark summoned Israel's ambassadors
demanding explanations for the violence, with Spain and France condemning
what they called the disproportionate use of force. Greece suspended a
military exercise with Israel and postponed a visit by Israel's air force
chief. Germany called for an immediate investigation but was careful not
to directly place blame, and said it was seeking information on six German
citizens believed to have been aboard the ships.

In Tehran, dozens of angry students pelted the U.N. offices with stones
and eggs in protest, burning Israeli flags and chanting, "death to Israel"
and "down with U.S." Police blocked them from reaching the building. The
president of Iran, a key supporter of Hamas, called the raid "an inhuman
act." In Baghdad, an estimated 3,000 Shiite followers of the anti-American
cleric Muqtada al-Sadr shouted "Death, death to Israel!" and "Death, death
to America!"

Riot police used tear gas to drive back hundreds of protesters
demonstrating outside the Israeli Embassy in Paris. There were also
demonstrations in Rome, Cyprus and more than 20 cities in Greece.

In Athens, riot police used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse around
2,500 Greeks and Arabs protesting outside the Israeli Embassy. Some
protesters threw stones and tried to push past police lines to reach the
embassy. About 2,000 people demonstrated peacefully in Thessaloniki.

Abdel-Rahman al-Attiya, the head of the Gulf Cooperation Council, a
regional group, said "Israel is a renegade entity that violates
international law" and said the attack should be considered "a war crime."

In Saudi Arabia, which has promoted a wider Arab-Israeli peace proposal
calling for a land-for-peace swap, the Cabinet headed by King Abdullah
called on the international community to hold Israel responsible for its
"barbaric" policies.

But the strongest reaction came from Turkey, where Deputy Prime Minister
Bulent Arinc said Turkey was canceling three joint military drills and
calling on the U.N. Security Council to convene in an emergency session
about Israel. Turkey is currently a member of the council.

He also said a Turkish youth soccer team currently in Israel would be
brought home.

The raid also brought heightened attention to Israel's blockade of the
Gaza Strip, imposed after the Palestinian militant group Hamas seized
control of the tiny Mediterranean territory in 2007. The blockade — along
with Israel's fierce offensive against Gaza in the winter of 2008-2009 to
stop Hamas rocket fire on Israeli villages — has fueled anti-Israeli
sentiment around the Arab world.

The Cairo-based Arab League called an emergency session for Tuesday to
address the attack, as the two only Arab states with peace deals with
Israel — Jordan and Egypt — sharply condemned the violence.

The incident also put Egypt in a tight position. The only Arab country
bordering the Gaza Strip, it has helped enforce the blockade by cracking
down on smuggling tunnels that are a key source of goods to Gaza's 1.5
million people and by rejecting pressure that it open its border crossing.

A group founded by Nelson Mandela that includes Nobel Peace Prize winner
Desmond Tutu and former President Jimmy Carter said "the treatment of the
people of Gaza is one of the world's greatest human rights violations and
that the blockade is not only illegal, it is counterproductive."

In Beirut, about 500 Palestinian and Lebanese activists protested in front
of the U.N. headquarters, setting Israeli flags on fire. In neighboring
Syria, more than 200 Syrian and Palestinian protesters staged a sit-in
before the offices of the United Nations.


Lee Keath reported from Cairo. AP correspondents from around the Mideast
and Europe contributed to this report.

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