Thanks to a comment made elsewhere on this blog, my attention has been drawn to the publication of a document — that appears to be quite authentic — prepared by the Free Gaza movement as part of the strategic planning for the Freedom Flotilla that met a tragic end as it sailed toward Gaza when it was the target of an Israeli naval assault at sea on 31 May.
The English-language document is published on a Hebrew-language page, here, of the Terrorism Info website, [see Note at bottom of this page] which is said to have close relations with the Israeli military and other branches of the Israeli government and state apparatus.
UPDATE (Sunday 27 June): This whole page is now published in English here. It says the documents presented were “found on the Mavi Marmara” — and that “found on one of the computers seized aboard the Mavi Marmara was the draft of an inside document (“not for distribution”) dated March 7, 2010″. The Mavi Marmara was the large passenger boat charted by the Turkish relief organization IHH, and carrying over 600 people participating in the Freedom Flotilla — where 9 men were shot during the Israeli naval assault on 31 May. This page also states that “It therefore appears that the term ‘non-violent resistance’, which appears in the instructions of human rights organizations which took part in the flotilla, was open to interpretation by the various organizations and the various activists, who were eager to confront the IDF soldiers”
The Terrorism Info website began to classify the Freedom Flotilla as a terrorist threat from early April.
This just-published Free Gaza document is dated 7 March 2010.
Because most of the webpage is in Hebrew, it is not immediately possible for me to know how this document was obtained — my assumption is that it was found on the computers taken when the participants in the Freedom Flotilla expedition were detained by Israeli forces.
In a section entitled “MISSION STRATEGY”, the document states: “Basic Principle – We will not turn back. The only way for Israel to stop us is to use force“.
But this does not say that participants in the Flotilla were prepared to use force…
Nor is it at all clear that every one of the approximately 700 persons on board this expedition were fully aware that the organizers were anticipating possible Israeli use of force — in fact, many seemed deeply and profoundly shocked.
The planning document does, however, talk about “Resistance”, and says:
“On this next mission, we will be traveling with VIPs. Is there a likelihood that they will be willing to take action to resist interference from Israel? Not likely, though we can ask. At this point, we can assume no, and move forward in planning. Once we invite, we can check again. If the minimum goal for the mission is media attention, etc. then is there a point of having any kind of resistance, including pre-emptive measures to prevent them from taking the ships? We need a concrete decision here in order to make plans, and in order to work with our partners to develop clear understandings of what we are doing”.
There is no evidence that any such clear understandings were reached.
The document shows — as we reported earlier, on 6 May — that one major aim, indeed the major aim, of the organizers of the Freedom Flotilla was to attract media attention to the situation in the Gaza Strip, and to the Israeli military-administered siege on the land crossings into and out of Gaza.
There is little apparent Palestinian involvement.
The Free Gaza planning document states:
“Given the responses to the email that was sent out asking for each of us to identify our minimum goal for this mission and the minimum ship requirement for launching this mission, the responses lined up pretty much in accordance with this position:
MINIMUM GOAL: The goal of this mission is to generate a lot of media about the blockade on Gaza and the illegal/criminal nature of it, as well as the situation of Palestinians in Gaza. Secondly, but connected is the goal of taking legal/political action, including jail stays, pushing foreign governments to do more than make statements, but to take punitive action towards Israel [sic]”…
This is neither shocking nor surprising, and does not discredit the efforts of the Free Gaza movement and/or its partners in the new coalition that formed the Freedom Flotilla.
That bringing a symbolic quantity of humanitarian assistance to Gaza appeared to be, at least for the planners if not for all the participants, of secondary importance, does not condemn their attempt. [A deal has reportedly just been struck some 70 truckloads of this aid from the Freedom Flotilla to be brought into the Gaza Strip under UN auspices.]
It is perfectly clear that the reference to taking “punitive action towards Israel” does not mean using a military or terror tactic, but instead refers to shaping public opinion and eliciting reactions from other governments.
It is also perfectly clear that Israeli government and military were well aware of this strategy and these priorities, as shown by the audio exchange between a well-spoken Israeli naval officer and the MV Rachel Corrie which was posted to Youtube by the IDF spokespersons office, and which we previously reported on here, and I will post the Youtube of the audio exchange again here now:
The Free Gaza document shows — also interestingly — that the trailing-behind of the MV Rachel Corrie was a deliberate tactic, to allow for a second stage attempt. It was not an accident of circumstances shaped by various unclear technical difficulties.
Two things in this document are very striking:
(1) The curious fact that the formal declared Israeli naval blockade of the Gaza Strip seems to have been of not-even-minor interest to these groups — perhaps because they (and many others) denied its legal validity. It is also true that the Israeli authorities did nothing to confirm or explain the continuing existence of such a formal naval blockade.
The formal Israeli naval blockade was declared on 3 January 2009, as the Israeli military began the ground phase of Operation Cast Lead. The naval blockade — like the other naval warnings and instructions published earlier — appeared to be mainly aimed at discouraging the Free Gaza expeditions trying to get to Gaza by sea.
Two Free Gaza expeditions left from Cyprus during Operation Cast Lead: one at the end of December 2008, just three days into the war, and the other one in mid-January 2009, when Operation Cast Lead was at its peak (and as the UN Security Council passed resolution 1860, calling for provision of humanitarian aid throughout the Gaza Strip, though it did not say it should be done by sea).
(2) The Free Gaza planning document shows that the organizers thought, astonishingly, that it might somehow be possible to outrun an Israeli naval assault — and reach Gaza’s shores anyway.
The document says:
“If we do agree to pre-emptive action, then we can consider that there are basically 2 ways the Israelis have boarded ships – with speedboats the way they boarded the Spirit, and with a helicopter the way they boarded the Lebanese cargo ship. Since we will have both kinds of ships, we must anticipate both types of boardings. There is a fundamental question to answer before choosing any strategy – do we want to do all we can to keep the ships in our hands, given that if the Israelis take the boats the chances of us launching another mission become near impossible. Assuming that we want to keep the boats, then these are possible strategies:
SCENARIOS AT SEA
“In the event of an aerial boarding, one option is to try to prevent the boarding itself. If the soldiers are coming from the air, then there might be steps to take that can dissuade them from making such a boarding. Put obstructions on the deck of various heights and with sharp points might make such a landing too risky. If the soldiers do land on the ship, then our choices would need to focus on two areas – the wheelhouse and the engine room. For the wheelhouse, we would have to try to make it impenetrable. This would require switching any glass to bullet-proof glass, replacing doors with steel doors (if not already steel) and adding locks that cannot be broken by conventional tools. For the engine room, we will have to check with the crew about what can be done in terms of safety. And we will have to investigate what possible options would be available. In any event, even if we prevent a boarding or a take-over of the controls of the ship, Israel can still bring a tugboat out to force our ship. I do not know at this point how that would work if we still maintain ability to maneuver the ship if the tugboat can still force us. If it can, then the only question left in terms of trying to prevent a takeover of the ship is how long it would take them to bring a tugboat out and if we would have enough time to get to Gaza. If they stop us at the 20-mile limit, that means we need 3 hours at the speed of the cargo ship to get to shore. Assuming the tugboat would come from Ashdod at 15 knots per hour, it does seem that we could conceivably have enough time to get to Gaza. The Israelis might then open fire on the ship, though would not do so if their soldiers were on board. Another mechanism using some kind of explosive might be used to dismantle the ship, but that would be a serious escalation from the kind of force they have been using to date. Even hitting the Dignity is different than firing or using explosives. That said, we have to take this into consideration.
“If we are putting VIPs on board the cargo ship, then they and the crew must be willing to go along with this strategy. If the VIPs are not, then we have to decide if we want to not put VIPs on the cargo ship and thereby have this defensive option open to us. Another scenario might be that the Israelis try to block the cargo ship while letting the passenger ship go. Assuming we are not successful in preventing the cargo ship from being taken but the passenger ships are not interfered with, then the question to us is whether our mission is worth continuing with only passengers. This is something we have to decide as a board. If we decide to forego going to Gaza, then it seems the only option at that point would be to take the passengers and follow the cargo ship and force the Israelis to deal with us trying to enter Israel. The likelihood is that they would simply detain everyone and move for deportation. We can then put into motion whatever strategy we choose for a DETENTION SCENARIO.
“For the passenger ship, it does seem that there would be a way to deter the kind of boarding we had with the Spirit. This would require putting steel poles pointing out from all directions on the boat out over sides of the ship, thus creating a kind of ring of steel poles jutting out 5 feet or so from the ship. I do not know how this would affect the handling of the ship, but assuming it is do-able, then the question is what would be the Israeli response. One option they would have – given they would not get close enough with the speedboats to get onboard – would be to come up alongside and ram the steel poles to break them off. But I think that would not necessarily work for them as they may break but not completely and would leave what remains as a continued deterrent to their boarding. A more likely option is that they would simply ram the ship, like they did with Dignity.
“Dennis will have to speak to how this new ship would respond to such a ramming. The decision then rests with us in terms of do we want to cause them to escalate. We can also take similar action as with the cargo ship in terms of barricading the wheelhouse and sealing the engine room, per safety issues. But we are not immune on this ship from ramming” …
“If this mission is stopped and we are taken to jail, then it is extremely unlikely (and we should plan on it not happening) that VIPs and media will agree to a potential long-term jail strategy. We can put it out in the media that our plan is to stay in jail until we are allowed to go to Gaza, but unless we are serious about it, then it is very harmful to credibility to not follow through. We CAN file for immediate release based on the lack of charges (which is how we were held last time) and petition the court for visas to Israel for all of the passengers. This would allow us to use the court for more PR work and would potentially put Israel in the position of having to charge the passengers, which would also require taking a legal position on Gaza.
“If passengers are detained on the 500-person passenger ship, then the likelihood is that any deportation hearings will be done at the port in a makeshift hearing room, although we also need to look at what the legal situation would be if the passengers were not turned over to civilian jurisdiction. That is, if we are kept at a naval base, and in military custody, what legal avenues are available. This should be sorted out prior to mission in the formulation of a legal strategy.
“For passengers on the Free Gaza ship, then the question is are they ready for jail stay and to what end? Is Free Gaza in a position to strategically support those staying in jail, particularly if we are going to try to launch another mission/take advantage of the PR opportunities that will abound by virtue of this action. What is minimum number of volunteers needed for jail-solidarity team for media/legal work? Who is going to be available post-mission for touring/public speaking?” …”
Iranian activists have just announced that at least one planned Iranian expedition by sea to Gaza will not take place, due to Israeli “threats”. It was also explained that Iran did not wish to “politicize” this type of humanitarian aid.
The planned “Lebanese Flotilla” [supported, reportedly by the Free Palestine movement, which split away from the Free Gaza movement more than a year ago] has not departed and may also be cancelled…
Earlier [on 15 June], however, the Free Gaza movement stated in an email that “our voyages to defy Israel’s blockade are legal and necessary, as civil society is compelled to step up to defend human rights when governments refuse to do so, and we are already organizing another voyage called Freedom Flotilla Two”.
Note: The organization which posted this Free Gaza planning document on its website is The Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, which describes itself as an NGO.
Its website says, on its About page, that it “opened in 2001. It is part of the Israel Intelligence Heritage & Commemoration Center (IICC) , an NGO dedicated to the memory of the fallen of the Israeli Intelligence Community and it is located near Gelilot, north of Tel Aviv. It is headed by (Col. Ret.) Dr. Reuven Erlich”. This is posted here.
Various spokespersons for the Free Gaza movement have been contacted about this document, but none have yet chosen to comment…
Meanwhile, there is a very interesting + relevant BBC Hardtalk interview with Flotilla participant Kenneth O’Keefe, uploaded in three parts to Youtube. Part One is here —
Part Two is here —
Part three is here —