Updates on Gaza Freedom Flotilla
Free Gaza Movement, June 4, 2010
Rachel Corrie on Her Way
The Rachel Corrie cargo ship is 150 miles away from Gaza in international waters and on her way. They will arrive on Saturday morning, June 5. The 1200-ton cargo ship is the last ship from the Freedom Flotilla and is loaded with construction materials, 20 tons of paper and many other supplies that Israel refuses to allow into the imprisoned people of Gaza. The ship is named for the young American intentionally killed by the Israelis as she stood to block a U.S.-supplied bulldozer destroying Palestinian homes in Gaza in 2003.
Statement from Imprisoned Greek Activists, June 2, 2010
“Eleftheri Mesogeios, the cargo ship with Greek flag and 22 Greek passengers, which participated in the international “Freedom Flotilla” mission carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza, was under pirate raid by Israeli commandos in the international waters, during early hours on Monday May 31. The same violent attack had already taken place on the “Sfendoni,” a ship with Greek passengers as well, and all 4 other ships of the flotilla. There was use of live ammunition, unarmed citizens were murdered. Israeli commandos with their guns extended, violently attacked Greek passengers by using physical violence and electrified sticks, they handcuffed them, dragged them brutally to the deck. Israelis continued using violence when we arrived to the port of Ashdod in Israel where the ships and passengers were forced to go, where Greek people were brutally beaten with unprecedented violence and 3 of them were carried to hospitals and the others to separate detention centers.
All of us Greek men and women who are illegally imprisoned in Israeli prisons, we strongly refuse signing any statement forced on us by the terrorist state of Israel. We denounce by all means this murderous attack against our international mission.
We ask the Greek government to break all diplomatic relations with Israel, the state-piracy that abolishes 5,000 years of free navigation in the Mediterranean.
We state that as long as Gaza is under blockade, as long as Palestine is occupied, as long as the international community does not dare to impose on Israel international decisions, we will continue to prepare new missions and to sail for Gaza waters.
Until the biggest concentration camp created by Israelis in the 21st century ceases to exist.
Beersheba Prison, Israel
The 20 people included in the telephone list,
The 6 women,
Sabotage on the High Sea, June 4, 2010
On June 1, Colonel Itzik Tourgeman told the Israeli Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee that two more ships are on their way to try and break the naval blockade of Gaza. The head of research in the operations division said, “The ships have not reached their target as of today because covert action was taken against them.” http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/Flash.aspx/187299
We had suspicions about our two boats, Challenger 1 and 2 and their mechanical problems as they sailed toward the flotilla, but we were not going to say anything unless we could prove it. Turns out we did not have to prove it. Israeli mouthpieces did.
The British Guardian ran a piece the same day, saying, “Israel gave strong indications today that its forces had secretly sabotaged some of the ships bound for Gaza as part of the freedom flotilla.
“Matan Vilnai, the deputy defense minister, was asked on Israel Radio whether there had not been a smarter alternative to direct assault. He answered that ‘all possibilities had been considered,’ adding: ‘The fact is that there were less than the 10 ships that were due to participate in the flotilla.’
“An unnamed Israeli Defense Force source who briefed the Knesset’s foreign affairs and defence committee on the widely criticised armed interception of the flotilla at sea, also spoke of “grey operations” being mounted against the flotilla.”
We were lucky that our two captains were superbly trained and able to offload the passengers safely.
So we are going to make sure the Rachel Corrie is well protected and that Israel is put on notice that anything that happens to her, the passengers and the crew will rest with Israel.
And sabotage happens with more than deeds. It also happens with words. In today’s Haaretz, Barak Ravid reported, “A diplomatic solution seems imminent to allow the humanitarian aid vessel the Rachel Corrie to dock without incident at the Ashdod Port. According to European diplomats and senior Foreign Ministry officials in Jerusalem, quiet messages have been exchanged over the past few days between Israel and the group operating the ship, to allow it to dock.”
This, too, is sabotage in writing. We called Haaretz and the reporter. He did not return our call.
We have no intention nor would we ever have any intention of ever docking in Ashdod.
Did Israel Deliberately Murder Civilians Aboard Freedom Flotilla?
Witness Gaza, June 2, 2010
Israeli Ambassador to the United States admits that ships were “too large to stop with nonviolent means.”
On May 31, 2010, elite Israeli military commandos stormed six humanitarian aid ships taking part in the ‘Freedom Flotilla’ to Gaza, killing between 9-20 civilian passengers and injuring dozens more. As the facts of the attack come out it is clear that these killings cannot in any way be justified.
Prior To The Israeli Attack – The Freedom Flotilla
The Freedom Flotilla was an effort by a coalition of human rights and humanitarian organizations to nonviolently break through Israel’s illegal blockade, and deliver much needed humanitarian and developmental aid to the Palestinians of Gaza. Almost 700 passengers from 40 different countries joined the flotilla, including: human rights workers, humanitarian aid workers, Members of Parliament, doctors, nurses, teachers, community leaders, and international journalists.
The lead coalition partners included:
Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH), the largest coalition partner, contributing 2 Turkish-flagged cargo ships, the Turkish-flagged passenger ship “Mavi Marmara,” and 380 Turkish nationals to the effort. This was IHH’s first attempt to break the Gaza blockade.
The European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza, contributing the Greek-flagged passenger ship “Sfendoni.” This was the European Campaign’s second mission to Gaza.
The Free Gaza Movement, contributing the U.S.-flagged passenger ship “Challenger I.” This was Free Gaza’s ninth mission to Gaza.
A Ship to Gaza, Sweden, and A Ship to Gaza, Greece, contributing the Greek-flagged cargo ship “Eleftheri Mesogeios.” This was the first voyage of A Ship to Gaza, Sweden, and the fourth of a Ship to Gaza, Greece.
All ships were thoroughly searched by local port authorities in Greece and Turkey prior to their departure. Additionally, the coalition hired an independent security firm to search the ships and certify that no weapons were on board. All passengers went through nonviolence training and were likewise searched for weapons prior to boarding. The Turkish government, a member-state of the NATO alliance, vetted all the Turkish passengers to insure there was no one with ties to extremist groups. These precautionary steps were deliberately taken to prevent Israeli propaganda officials from ever being able to claim that the Freedom Flotilla posed any ’security risk’ to Israel.
There was a live satellite feed broadcasting the voyage from the Mavi Marmara, as well as GPS transponders showing the exact location of the flotilla at all times to anyone viewing the coalition website. The intention of the Freedom Flotilla was never to ‘provoke a confrontation,’ but simply to deliver much-needed humanitarian aid to besieged Gaza, and in so doing to draw attention to the brutal Israeli policies that are forcing the Palestinian people into a state of impoverished dependency.
Prior To The Israeli Attack – The Israeli Government
On May 27, Bloomberg News reported that Israel was threatening to use its military forces and “use all available means to stop the ships” (‘Israel Threatens Naval Action to Stop Aid Ships Bound for Gaza’).
On May 28 the Associated Press reported that the Israeli government was prepared to stop the flotilla “at any cost,” including being “prepared to use force.” (‘Israeli gunships head to sea to block flotilla’). It was further reported that masked naval commandos were being “trained” to stop the flotilla.
On June 1 the Guardian reported that Matan Vilnai, Israel’s deputy Defense Minister, suggested that the Israeli military had sabotaged several of the Freedom Flotilla ships. The flotilla was in fact delayed by two days due to unexpected mechanical problems, and 3 of the original 9 ships intending to join the flotilla were forced to drop off. (‘Gaza aid flotilla: Israeli sabotage suspected,’ Guardian, 1 June 2010)
The Massacre Aboard The Mavi Marmara
On May 31, under cover of darkness, Israeli military forces surrounded the Freedom Flotilla in international waters. Armed and masked commandos stormed all 6 ships from sea and from air, killing between 9 and 20 civilians. After more than 2 days, Israel still refuses to release the names and identities of the dead, nor even confirm the number of passengers killed by their forces.
An Israeli military spokesperson, Avital Leibovich, confirmed the attack took place in international waters, stating: “This happened in waters outside of Israeli territory, but we have the right to defend ourselves.”
Did the passengers aboard the Mavi Marmara, possess a similar right to defend themselves?
Israel released highly edited videos of the confrontation, claiming that civilian passengers aboard the Mavi Marmara, attempted to “lynch” the well-armed military commandos when they first stormed the ship. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak praised the commandos, stating: “You carried out the mission and prevented the flotilla from reaching Gaza. We need to always remember that we aren’t North America or Western Europe, we live in the Middle East, in a place where there is no mercy for the weak and there aren’t second chances for those who don’t defend themselves.” (‘Barak: In the Middle East, there is no mercy for the weak,’ Haaretz, June 2, 2010.)
Again, one wonders whether this sentiment extends to the civilians killed by those commandos as well.
In contrast to the Israeli account of events, which is self-evidently absurd, Jamal Elshayyal, an Al-Jazeera correspondent aboard the Mavi Marmara, was able to issue a brief report before Israeli forces cut all communications with the ships. Elshayyal’s report contradict the Israeli version of events, stating that Israel fired live ammunition on the civilians after they had raised a white flag. (The live report can be seen at www.youtube.com/watch?v=xFEBbDkyrqQ)
Eyewitness testimony from the handful of passengers who have been released directly contradicts Israel’s version as well. According to Nilufer Cetin, who sailed on the Mavi Marmara, with her one-year-old baby, “The operation started immediately with firing. First it was warning shots, but when the Mavi Marmara would not stop these warnings turned into an attack,” she said. “There were sound and smoke bombs and later they used gas bombs. Following the bombings they started to come on board from helicopters.”(“Israelis opened fire before boarding Gaza flotilla, say released activists,” Guardian, June 1, 2010)
Cetin’s account is just one of several contradicting the Israeli narrative. Haneen Zoubi, a Member of the Israeli Knesset, and just one of several parliamentarians aboard the flotilla, stated that Israeli warships surrounded the Mavi Marmara, firing on the ship before the commandos stormed aboard.
At a press conference in Nazareth, shortly after her release, MK Zoubi also stated that: “Israel had days to plan this military operation. They wanted many deaths to terrorize us and to send a message that no future aid convoys should try to break the siege of Gaza.” (“Israeli Knesset member rejects navy account of attack,” Irish Sun, June 2, 2010)
Yonatan Shapira, former pilot in the IDF for the very squadron that conducted the assault on the Mavi Marmara stated: “No Israeli pilot would drop commandos on a ship in the middle of the sea, in the middle of the night, during such an operation without the soldiers carrying live ammunition. Paint ball canisters may have been attached to the automatic weapons that they had, but there is no doubt that the soldiers had and were prepared to use live ammunition”
In an interview on the Diane Rehm Show on June 2, a nationally-broadcast radio program in the United States, Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, stated that in planning their assault the Marmara, the Israeli government had concluded that the ship was “too large to stop with nonviolent means.”
There is clear evidence present that the State of Israeli may have deliberately and with forethought intended to provoke a conflict in order to assassinate civilians sailing aboard the Freedom Flotilla, and therefore violently discourage any further attempts to deliver humanitarian aid to the Palestinians of besieged Gaza.
The Free Gaza Movement calls upon the international community to enforce international standards and laws, fully investigate these crimes, and hold Israeli officials accountable for the willful murder of international human rights and humanitarian aid workers aboard the Freedom Flotilla.
For More Information, please contact:
Greta Berlin or Mary Hughes, +357 99 187 275 / + 357 96 383 809
Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH):
Ahmet Emin Dag, +90 530 341 1934
European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza:
Mazen Kahel, +33 1 4681 1292
Yonatan Shapira, former IDF pilot
+1 443 465 7610
Statement from Cindy Sheehan
on Israeli Attack on Gaza Flotilla
First and foremost, we mourn the deaths of the 20 humanitarian aid workers that were spinelessly slaughtered by the terrorist state of Israel. Our hearts and thoughts go out to the families in this terrible time of senseless loss. We also wish a speedy and complete recovery to the up to 80 people who were wounded by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in this abominable attack in International Waters.
We severely condemn, with the very harshest tone imaginable, the murderous attack conducted upon the innocent unarmed humanitarians of the Free Gaza "Freedom Flotilla" within International Waters.
This act demonstrates the overly sociopathic mentality of the Israeli government in its continuing criminal actions committed upon the Palestinian people and upon those coming to their aid. This act was not simply an international criminal act upon the passengers of the humanitarian "Freedom Flotilla" but was indeed a rabid, viscous and delusional attack on humanity itself.
In conducting an act of this nature Israel has once again demonstrated to the entire world its arrogance in believing it can continue with its predictable path of violent, arrogant and cowardly behavior. Because of Israel’s past-unpunished crimes, it believes it can act with impunity in any form no matter how murderous.
Our response to these terrorist acts must be large and sustained. We people of conscious can no longer sit by idly and watch Israel literally get away with murder, time and time again.
Knowing that the U.S. is criminal Israel’s biggest funder and cheerleader and knowing how futile it is to get the murderous U.S. Government to ever do the humane thing and condemn Israel; however, in a perfect world this is what we seek:
The Obama administration MUST declare Israel’s actions as criminal and must follow through with harsh and long-term penalties. Any other response from the Obama administration will be deemed as being complicit to murder, oppression and terror.
1. The immediate expulsion of the Israeli Ambassador from the United States and the withdrawal of the U.S. Ambassador in Tel Aviv.
2. Complete and immediate withholding of any and all funds (including military aid) from the United States to Israel.
3. That the IDF be designated as “terrorists” and Israel as a “terrorist state.”
4. Trials in Nuremburg for Benyamin Nethanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman and the IDF troops that participated in the massacre.
5. The end to the siege of Gaza by Israel.
6. An immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.
From people of conscience we call for:
1. Large and sustained public protests outside every Israeli Embassy/Consulate in the United States
2. Increased effort of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) Movement (http://bdsmovement.net/)
3. Increased efforts to protest the United States’ war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.
4. Increased efforts to protest nuclear proliferation, especially by Israel and the U.S., two states that have clearly demonstrated their lack of compassion for innocent peoples.
To follow updates on the Freedom Flotilla go to: http://witnessgaza.com/
Israel Murders Human Rights Workers Delivering Humanitarian Aid
Marjorie Cohn, International Association of Democratic Lawyers
On Sunday, Israel murdered human rights workers who were attempting to deliver 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza, because Gaza has been virtually cut off from the outside world by Israel. At least 19 people were reportedly killed and dozens injured when Israeli troops boarded the 6-ship Freedom Flotilla convoy in international waters and immediately fired live ammunition at the people on board the ships. The convoy was comprised of 700 people from 50 nationalities and included a Nobel laureate, members of parliament from Ireland, Germany, Sweden, Turkey and Malaysia, as well as Palestinian members of the Israeli Knesset and a Holocaust survivor.
Israel’s armed attack on these human rights workers constitutes a clear breach of international law. The human rights workers should be released immediately, medical treatment should be provided for the wounded, and all humanitarian aid materials should be immediately transferred to Gaza.
Human rights organizations and bar associations, including the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, the National Lawyers Guild, the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, MADRE, the European Association of Lawyers for Democracy, World Human Rights, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, and the governments of Britain, France, Germany and Turkey have condemned the Israeli assault. The U.S. government, has not yet spoken out in opposition to the assault by Israel, the largest recipient of U.S. aid since World War II.
There should be an international investigation of crimes committed during and after Israel’s armed attack on the Freedom Flotilla and prosecution of all Israeli officials and soldiers responsible.
Israel must end its illegal blockade of Gaza, which constitutes unlawful aggression under General Assembly Resolution 3314 (1974). When the Security Council convenes, it should order Israel to cease its acts of aggression.
Marjorie Cohn, a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and past President of the National Lawyers Guild, is the deputy secretary general for external communications of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, and the U.S. representative to the executive committee of the American Association of Jurists.
Obama Must Join Global Condemnation of Israeli Flotilla Assault
Medea Benjamin, CodePink, June 1, 2010
Just one day after Israeli commandos stormed civilian boats that were bringing humanitarian aid to Gaza, leaving nine dead, a group of Nobel Peace prize winners put out a statement condemning the attack. South African President Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, whose lives have been indelibly shaped by a cruel apartheid system, were joined by other Nobel laureates, including former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. They called Israel’s three-year blockade of Gaza illegal under international law and “one of the world’s greatest human rights violations.”
Conspicuously absent from the Nobel Peace prize signees was President Barack Obama. Instead of expressing outrage at an attack on civilian ships in international waters, Obama issued a tepid statement saying he "deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained."
All over the world, government representatives are condemning the Israeli government’s action. Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa labeled the assault a “terrorist act.” French President Nicolas Sarkozy condemned the disproportionate use of force and addressed his condolences to the families of the victims. European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton called the blockade of Gaza “unacceptable and politically counterproductive.” Greek Deputy Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas said, "There is no excuse. The level of violence cannot be excused.”
But at the United Nations, Deputy Permanent U.S. Representative Alejandro Wolff seemed to be doing just that: making excuses for Israel’s actions. His statement read as if the problem was not the Israeli government and its inhumane siege of Gaza, but the humanitarian effort of the Free Gaza Flotilla. “Direct delivery [of aid] by sea is neither appropriate nor responsible, and certainly not effective,” he said, while railing against Gaza’s governing Hamas and referring to Israel’s security concerns.
On no other foreign policy issue is this administration so out of touch with the majority sentiment worldwide. When President Obama visited Cairo just a year ago, he promised a new era in U.S. relations with the Muslim world where there would be a sustained effort to “listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground.” The voice of the Muslim world — indeed the entire world — is speaking right now. You can hear that voice at demonstrations from Ankara to Beirut, from Rome to Sydney, from New York to San Francisco.
People the world over are calling for an end to the siege that since 2006 has made life miserable for the 1.5 million inhabitants of Gaza, most of whom are under 18. They are calling for accountability for Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s 22-day military assault of Gaza in 2009 that left over 1,400 dead, thousands wounded and countless homes, schools and businesses destroyed. They are calling on Israel to open the borders so that people can get medical treatment or import the building materials they need to rebuild their shattered lives.
This is why efforts like the Freedom Flotilla are so critical. They not only bring aid, but they show that the world has not abandoned the Palestinians in Gaza. UN Special Rapporteur for the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Richard Falk, noting the world governments’ failure to help the people of Gaza, cited non-violent grassroots campaigns such as the flotilla as "the only meaningful current challenge to Israel's violations of its obligations as the Occupying Power of the Gaza Strip under the Geneva Conventions and the United Nations Charter."
The killing of humanitarian aid activists must mark a turning point in U.S.-Israeli relations. President Obama must join other Nobel Prize winners and world leaders in condemning Israel’s abuses. Verbal condemnation must be accompanied by action: an immediate cut off of aid to Israel. Currently, Congress is in the process of appropriating a record $3.2 billion in military aid to Israel. This aid must be frozen while the investigations of this crime move forward.
President Obama is a constitutional lawyer. He must understand that the blockade of Gaza is illegal under international law. So is attacking civilian boats in international waters. The Israeli government must be held accountable for its actions. Global leaders, including its most revered members such as Nelson Mandela have come out on the side of justice and law. So must President Obama.