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The Flotilla didn’t make it to Gaza, but Israel didn’t win

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Israel Defense Forces violently intercepted the Swedish boat named Marianne in the early hours of June 29 to prevent it from landing in Gaza, using tasers against unarmed passengers. The 18 passengers, whose mission was to break the siege of Gaza, were taken to the Israeli port of Ashdod and the non-Israelis will be deported from Ben Gurion Airport.

The Marianne was originally part of a flotilla comprised of four boats with 48 passengers, including human rights activists, journalists, artists, and political figures representing 17 countries. Three of the boats returned to ports in Greece.

The passengers are an impressive group. Among them is Dr. Moncef Marzouki, former President of Tunisia who came to power after the 2011 popular uprising, and Dr. Basel Ghattas, a member of the Israeli Knesset from the Joint List, a party representing Israel’s Arab citizens and the third-largest in Israel’s parliament. On one of the boats that returned to Greece are two US citizens: retired US Army Col. Ann Wright and USS Liberty veteran Joe Meadors.

The participation of Parliamentarian Basel Ghattas caused an uproar in the Knesset, with several parliamentarians calling for his citizenship to be revoked. In an interview before leaving, Ghattas said he was participating in the flotilla because the Gaza blockade contravenes international humanitarian law, in that it imposes collective punishment on Gaza residents. “We must remember that it is these conditions that will lead us to another circle of war within a month, a year or two years from now. So why not do whatever we can, make every effort possible, to change the reality, save lives and avoid another war?” he asked.

Israel imposed its blockade on Gaza in 2006. Since then, there have been three major Israeli military offenses that have left the Strip devastated. The most recent massacre was in July-August of 2014, when Israel launched a 50-day military offensive against the coastal territory, killing about 2,200 mainly civilian Palestinians and leaving some 100,000 Gazans homeless.

A year since the bloodshed and destruction, Gaza has barely begun to rebuild. Israel maintains a complete air and sea blockade of Gaza and a partial blockade of goods and people through two land crossings. Israel forbids Gaza from having an airport or a seaport, except a small fishing harbor. Gaza fishermen are only allowed to fish a few nautical miles from shore. These are the conditions that the flotilla hoped to focus attention on.

The interception of the Marianne comes five years after the fatal interception of another Gaza-bound flotilla. Nine Turks and one Turkish-American were killed and several other activists were wounded on May 31, 2010 when Israeli commandos stormed the Mavi Marmara, the lead vessel in that flotilla. Israel’s actions garnered denunciations from around the world and triggered a breakdown in its relations with Turkey. In 2013, Israel apologized for “operational mistakes” and is still negotiating compensation for the families.

This year, the Israelis were careful to board the Marianne without firing shots. Nonetheless, the boarding of a ship in international waters is considered an act of piracy under international law.

A sardonic letter issued to the passengers by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office welcomed the passengers to Israel but wondered why they were sailing to Gaza and not Syria, “where Assad’s regime is massacring his people every day, with the support of the murderous Iranian regime.”

The letter said that Israel sends 800 truckloads of goods to Gaza every day, the equivalent of one ton per resident. “There is no blockade of Gaza,” Netanyahu stated. “You are welcome to transfer humanitarian aid through Israel. We are not, however, willing to allow weapons to enter Gaza and reach terror groups, as has been done in the past via the sea.”

If the Israelis were indeed concerned about weapons, they could have easily inspected the vessels. This is a point made by former Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor. “If the point is to make sure there are no weapons or explosives aboard, than we can easily check the boats and find out.” If the vessels contain only humanitarian goods, they should be allowed to reach Gaza, he reasoned.

It’s ironic that Netanyahu insists that there is no blockade while at the same time prohibiting the flotilla from reaching Gaza.

We asked 20-year-old Shrouq Aila from Gaza, a member of the group We Are Not Numbers, what she thought of Netanyahu’s letter.  “If there is no blockade of Gaza,” she asked, “why are the 1.8 million people trapped here not able to move freely, by land, sea or even air? Why are we always short on fuel, construction materials and even many medicines, because we have no say in what we can ship in or out?”

Another member of We Are Not Numbers, 20-year-old Ahmed Alqattawi, echoed that sentiment. “Just because Israel lets a few goods pass in through Erez crossing [the Israeli border] doesn’t mean there is no siege. The fact that they taunt us by opening and closing the border at their own whim, and that we have no say, indicates there is a siege. A strict one. Imagine how it would feel if someone else had the power to randomly cut off your oxygen supply, turning it back on when you are about to suffocate. Does that make your ‘master’ a humanitarian?

We asked our young friends in Gaza if they were disappointed that the flotilla would not arrive. Here are their answers:

“We knew Israel probably wouldn’t’ let the flotilla in, and that the UN and others would not defend our basic right to receive visitors. But it was a window of hope for hopeless people, a hope that with an open seaport, we could escape the siege and this largest open-air prison. We are waiting proudly for thousands more ships, and our wounds will be healed by your solidarity.”

–20-year-old Shrouq Aila

“While the flotilla didn’t make it here, Israel didn’t win. Every action in our support gives the Palestinian people more hope, trust and love, and the courage to continue insisting on our basic rights.” –20-year-old Khaled Ostath

“I think the flotilla participants are courageous. They are brave enough to face this brutal regime with high spirits, fully knowing that death is a possibility, as was the fate of the brave Turkish activists. It is when ordinary people, leading ordinary lives, join together to make a statement that change happens. Netanyahu should know; after all, that many Jewish lives were saved in the Holocaust because of ordinary civilians taking extraordinary actions.”

–22-year-old Mohammed Alhammami

About Medea Benjamin

Medea Benjamin, cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace, is the author of The Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the US-Saudi Connection.

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25 Responses

  1. amigo
    July 1, 2015, 3:03 pm

    Zionist logic,

    “Beat them until they learn to love us.”

    • lysias
      July 1, 2015, 4:14 pm

      The beatings will continue until morale improves.

    • ritzl
      July 1, 2015, 4:43 pm

      Heh, and Zionist math: 800 (trucks per day) X 40,000 (lbs./truck; very high avg. estimate) / 2,000,000 Palestinians = 2,000 lbs./person/day.

      Everybody else’s math: 800 X 40,000 / 2,000,000 = 12 lbs./person/day (includes dense stuff like fuel, shelter materials, and animal feed)

      • ritzl
        July 1, 2015, 4:46 pm

        Er, make that 16 lbs./person/day, actual.

      • Pretext
        July 1, 2015, 5:33 pm

        I came about it the other way (2000lbs x 1800000 Gazans)/800 trucks = 4.5 million pounds per truck. Even if Jewish trucks are just as superior as Jewish cows, that might stress their GVWR ratings, unless of course, they’re made from Jewish steel.

  2. just
    July 1, 2015, 4:25 pm

    Thanks Medea.

    “It is when ordinary people, leading ordinary lives, join together to make a statement that change happens. Netanyahu should know; after all, that many Jewish lives were saved in the Holocaust because of ordinary civilians taking extraordinary actions.””

    Mohammed Alhammami is spot- on, of course. As a matter of fact, one brave civilian died only today:

    “Nicholas Winton, who saved Jewish children during Holocaust, dies at 106
    Nicholas Winton, a humanitarian who almost single-handedly saved more than 650 Jewish children from the Holocaust, earned himself the label ‘Britain’s Schindler.'”

    But the jailers and Occupiers that rule over Palestinians and mete out punishment constantly cannot see that their own inhumanity is being witnessed by the rest of the world, and if they do they don’t care. Why were they violently prevented from finishing their humanitarian mission by 13 military ships, an attack helicopter, a low flying plane, and armed commandos? Why was a ship sabotaged again? Why were they hijacked and kidnapped and incarcerated?

    Someday, I hope soon, the smirks in Israel will be replaced with dismay. There should be no surprise, though. In the meantime, thank you to the wonderful activists of the flotilla and the Ship to Gaza Sweden! BDS!

    Never stop until freedom and justice comes to the Palestinian people.

  3. ritzl
    July 1, 2015, 4:29 pm

    Ahmed Alqattawi: “Imagine how it would feel if someone else had the power to randomly cut off your oxygen supply, turning it back on when you are about to suffocate.”

    Yep. Collective waterboarding (i.e. torture).

    Collective punishment is for wimps. So last century.

  4. just
    July 1, 2015, 5:07 pm

    The obvious lies told by Netanyahu, Lapid, and Ya’alon (among others), are just so mind- boggling:

    ““No siege on Gaza”

    In a statement Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu justified the seizure of the Marianne, claiming that the “flotilla is nothing but a demonstration of hypocrisy and lies that is only assisting the Hamas terrorist organization and ignores all of the horrors in our region.”

    Netanyahu insisted that “preventing entry by sea was done in accordance with international law and even received backing from a committee of the UN Secretary General.”

    “Israel is the only democracy that defends itself in accordance with international law,” Netanyahu insisted, adding that “there is no siege on Gaza.”

    The fact that 18 civilians aboard a yacht cannot sail to Gaza, and that there has been virtually no reconstruction in Gaza since Israel’s attack last year would tend to undermine Netanyahu’s contention.”

    It’s frightening that he still suffers from incessant delusions.

    “Collective punishment is for wimps. So last century.”

    It’s alive and well, ritzl! It’s emanating from the Knesset, from TA and from the PM’s house.

  5. a blah chick
    July 1, 2015, 5:26 pm

    “Israel is the only democracy that defends itself in accordance with international law,” Netanyahu insisted, adding that “there is no siege on Gaza.”

    Orwell just rose from the dead and set himself on fire.

    • just
      July 1, 2015, 7:38 pm

      Well said, abc. Gideon Levy invokes Dr. Strangelove, and again with cows:

      “Seeing Gaza through the eyes of an Israeli Dr. Strangelove

      Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said there is no humanitarian distress in Gaza. The defense minister also said that the situation in Gaza “isn’t pleasant.” If that’s his definition of the situation in Gaza, then it’s not pleasant to live in a country in which Ya’alon is defense minister.

      Ever since Dov Weisglass, an adviser to then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, spoke of tightening the blockade on Gaza and putting its residents “on a diet,” we haven’t heard such inhumane remarks about everything that’s going on only an hour’s drive from Tel Aviv. Ya’alon, the newest (and strangest) friend of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, said that there is no siege on Gaza, and in the same breath said he would not allow the recently launched flotilla to enter the (unbesieged) Strip. But his remarks about the lack of humanitarian distress reveal the true world of this Dr. Strangelove from the cowshed of Kibbutz Grofit.

      Ya’alon is right; no one is dying of starvation in Gaza. Cattle feed is indeed being supplied to the biggest pen in the world. There is no humanitarian disaster. But something else is happening in Gaza, something apparently unique to its residents; they aren’t satisfied with just food. These are strange people who have needs other than just a pita with onion and tomato. For example, sometimes they need water, which is becoming increasingly polluted at a shocking pace; it’s no longer possible to drink the salty water coming out of the taps. Ya’alon would surely be willing to send bottles of mineral water through the transit points, but it’s not certain that everyone in Gaza can afford to live off bottled mineral water.

      Gaza’s sewage is flowing directly into the sea – the same sea as Israel’s – and its groundwater is becoming filthy at an alarming rate. Gaza’s residents also need electricity – can you believe such a thing? In the upscale community of Maccabim-Reut they’ve never heard of such people, but that’s Gaza’s spoiled population for you. And they only get electricity for a few hours a day, in this heat. Ya’alon surely remembers that Israel bombed the only power plant in Gaza and destroyed it, but even this is not a (humanitarian) disaster.

      Even before the horrors of Operation Protective Edge, a report by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency stated that by 2020 Gaza would be unfit for human habitation. But who knows what could happen by 2020 – God is great, and so is Ya’alon. Meanwhile, the residents of Gaza, some two million people, if we are permitted to call them that, have a few other needs. Some 100,000 survivors of the warrior Ya’alon’s last campaign have yet to return to their destroyed homes, not one of which has been rebuilt. They are homeless, crowding into the homes of relatives, taking shelter in the rubble or in UNRWA shelters (which house around 10,000 of them). But what are they complaining about? They’re not on the street.

      Around a thousand of their children have been left disabled for life from that war, but that’s not a tragedy, either. One can of course live with the poverty and unemployment data that have no parallel: 43 percent unemployment among the adults and 60 percent among young people, with 80 percent receiving welfare and 40 percent beneath Gaza’s poverty line, which is not the same poverty line as in Maccabim-Reut. A disaster? No.

      … Another lost Gaza generation – no picnic, but no tragedy, either.

      Neither is the siege a picnic. Eight years without anyone but the privileged few able to leave Gaza – not to study, not to work, not to visit anyone, not to attend funerals or family celebrations. Not even to just take a break from the inferno. This isn’t considered a disaster, or even a siege.

      Ya’alon has a solution: Let them export strawberries instead of Qassam rockets. That’s an idea. Earlier this year, Israel for the first time allowed Gaza to export a certain amount of agricultural produce. The number of trucks that left the Strip was less than five percent of the number that used to leave before the non-blockade. Unpleasant, but no disaster.”

      Nobody does it better than Levy.

      • just
        July 1, 2015, 7:58 pm

        Euro Med Monitor:

        “… “According to the testimonies of activists aboard, the Swedish-flagged ship was 100 miles away from the Gaza Strip, in international waters, when Israeli navy forces seized control of the ship,” says Abdu. “This was a violation of Swedish sovereignty.”

        Abdu adds that this act was perpetrated in violation of articles 94 and 89 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which state that, “Every state shall effectively exercise its jurisdiction and control in administrative, technical and social matters over ships flying its flag,” as well as that “No state may validly purport to subject any part of the high seas to its sovereignty.”

        On July 1, the Geneva-based Euro-Med issued a press release in which testimonies of activists aboard the Marianne were documented. The passengers said that Israeli navy forces commanded them to move the Swedish-flagged ship to Ashdod seaport, but the crew refused to do so. Israeli soldiers then initiated an assault in which electrical stun guns, which Euro-Med says constitutes “humiliating treatment of humanitarian activists who traveled a long distance to challenge an unlawful blockade that has been condemned repeatedly with UN resolutions.” Fourteen of the 18 civilian passengers and crew remain in Israeli custody more than two days after their violent abduction.

        “Israel is reportedly trying to force these activists to sign a statement ‘confessing’ to attempting to enter Israel illegally, in exchange for their release,” says Abdu. “However, the activists have rejected to the offer due to the falsity of the accusation. This is their right and it should be protected.”

        Euro-Med Monitor calls on Israel to halt its illegal control of international waters in the eastern Mediterranean, and to cease its frequent acts of piracy in the area. It also demands that Israel immediately free the innocent activists, and that the passengers’ governments, including those of Norway, Sweden, New Zealand, Canada and the United States, ensure their safety and protection.”

        Didn’t know that there was a US citizen aboard… First that I’ve read about Israeli demanding a signed statement. No surprise. They weren’t trying to enter Israel~ legally or illegally.

      • ritzl
        July 1, 2015, 10:28 pm

        Thanks, just. On the Euro-Med report, almost the same script as last time. Coerced confessions to false allegations, etc. I hope these heroes left their credit cards at home. Israelis stole and used the last bunch.

        Yep. Pirates.

        The possibly big difference this time is the Marianne is Swedish-flagged. The Mavi Marmara was Comoros-flagged, iirc. Sweden MAY be less likely to acquiesce to having its ships hijacked in international waters than Comoros.

      • just
        July 1, 2015, 11:46 pm

        Thanks for your comment, ritzl.

        I know that “retired US Army Col. Ann Wright and USS Liberty veteran Joe Meadors” were part of this humanitarian mission, and I so appreciate their efforts. I hope they speak out some more.

        I shouldn’t be shocked that there’s nary an official peep about this flagrant act of piracy, kidnapping, and sabotage, but I am. It’s distressing, to put it mildly. Perhaps Sweden will lead the way~ again.

      • lonely rico
        July 2, 2015, 7:36 pm


        “In accordance with international law, the Israeli Navy advised the vessel several times to change course,”
        the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement.

        “Following their refusal, forces
        and searched the vessel in international waters
        in order to prevent the intended breach of the maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip.

        So you see, it was

        JUST A VISIT,

        in accordance with international law,

        international law which Israel respects, upholds and cherishes !

  6. Citizen
    July 1, 2015, 8:38 pm

    I thought Bibi’s sardonic letter revealed the Israeli mentality very well. Also reminds me of Dick Chaney’s.

  7. Citizen
    July 1, 2015, 9:38 pm

    It’s amazing Israel commits what amounts to an act of piracy on the high seas and no state in the world will do anything about it. ‘Untouchable’ Israel continues to cripple Gaza with its illegal sea blockade – Intifada Palestine

    Good explanation of why the occupation is illegal & the blockade is illegal despite Israel’s hasbara saying the reverse, and ditto for the Israeli navy’s interception:

  8. Citizen
    July 1, 2015, 9:49 pm
    • ritzl
      July 1, 2015, 10:57 pm

      Thanks, Citizen.

    • lonely rico
      July 2, 2015, 7:50 pm

      The piracy on the high seas, and the cruel, criminal blockade continue.

      The seizure took place almost unnoticed by the press in Canada.

      Letters written to my local MP (Mulcair), prime minister (Harper) and minister of foreign affairs (Nicholson) generate no interest/reply.

      The kidnap of Canadian citizens, and the suffering of the Palestinians elicits no comment.

      The morally crippled politicians of Canada are shameful and disgusting.

  9. a blah chick
    July 2, 2015, 7:03 am

    So, let me get this straight: Israel wants the activists to sign documents stating that they were trying to enter Israel illegally so that means Gaza is a part of Israel but Israel does not recognize it as a part of Israel and there is no siege in Gaza but they stopped the ships because there is a siege….

    It seems to me that a halfway decent journalism student could shatter these rationales in a 5 minute interview, why can’t our overpaid lug heads in the media do it?

    • diasp0ra
      July 3, 2015, 7:44 am

      You think they came to be overpaid lugs by making waves or challenging the status quo?

  10. Vera Gottlieb
    July 2, 2015, 10:42 am

    If the ship was in international waters when it was intercepted, then israel is committing piracy.

  11. RockyMissouri
    July 2, 2015, 12:06 pm

    So many honorable human beings on the flotilla..!! Doing something courageous for others…and placing themselves in danger, because doing nothing, is unconscionable …

    They are AWESOME, and I am humbled.

  12. genesto
    July 2, 2015, 12:09 pm

    Israel can never win when it employs hatred and violence to solve its problems.

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