Israeli naval blockade of Gaza asserted in UN documents

Israeli Foreign Ministry officials told Haaretz that Minister Avigdor Lieberman has contacted the Greek and Moldovan Foreign Ministers, and asked them to stop a Moldovan-flagged cargo ship which intended to sail, imminently, from Greece to Gaza.

Reports indicated, Saturday evening, that the ship had just sailed.

The voyage for this ship from Greece to Gaza is estimated to take about 80 hours.

However, Israel’s YNet website has reported that “the Greek government said it had reached an agreement with the crew according to which the ship would not try to reach the Hamas-ruled territory”. The YNet story added that the Israeli Navy will track the vessel throughout its voyage, and that an IDF officer said Saturday night: “Any deviation from the original course, which will lead the ship to Gaza, will be blocked by the Navy … In case those on board fail to follow our instructions to stop and allow the Navy vessels to escort them, we will not hesitate to employ other methods to stop them.” This is reported here.

The ship was chartered to deliver some 2000 tons of food and medical aid on behalf of the Gadhafi International Charity and Development Association, headed by Libyan leader Muammar Ghaddafi’s son, Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi.

Food and medicine are items which should not, at least theoretically, be on the Israeli lists of what it bans from entering Gaza. But there is a problem with some “dual-use” items which could, theoretically at least, also be used in making weapons.

Israel has just published a list based, it said, on a list agreed by some 40 nations, supplemented with extra items prohibited in specific Israeli “internal legislation” — including an unspecified number of military orders drawn up by the Israeli military’s Central Command.

According to the report in Haaretz, written by Barak Ravid, Israeli Foreign Ministry officials said the ship “would dock at Egyptian port el-Arish rather than the Gaza strip”. This is published here.

The Jerusalem Post is reporting that Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak “met Saturday with Egyptian Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman and discussed the Libyan flotilla that was set to arrive in the Gaza Strip. The two discussed the possibilities of the aid ship being accepted at the Egyptian port of El Arish”. This is posted here.

These are strong and concerted steps by two men who were at each other’s throats a week ago over fallout from the fiasco of the Israeli naval assault on the Freedom Flotilla at sea on 31 May which left nine men dead on board a large Turkish-chartered passenger ship, the Mavi Marmara. [Lieberman accused Barak of leaking news of a meeting that Lieberman had not been informed about between the Turkish Foreign Minister and Israeli Minister Benyamin [Fouad] Ben Eliezar].

Alternatively, an Associated Press report on Israel’s YNet website indicates, somewhat surprisingly, that according to the Libyan charity’s “head volunteer”, Adburaufel Jaziri, the group is prepared to let Israel check the cargo: “Israel ‘can check our cargo and certificates, of course they are free to do this’,” Jaziri said. ‘If we cannot deliver the aid, we will let (Israel) deliver it … Our job is to help anyone who needs it. We don’t care if they are Catholics or Muslims or whatever. Now we are helping the people of Gaza who are suffering”.

YNet added that “The Israeli military would not comment on the Libyan ship. Israel’s policy has been to offer ships of this type the option of docking at an Israeli port, after which Israel will screen the goods aboard and transfer them into Gaza by land”. [According to this AP report, there will only be 27 people on board [15 volunteers, almost all Libyan, and a 12-member crew from several countries] not hundreds, or thousands…] This YNet report is published here.

This was something that neither the Free Gaza movement, nor the coalition of groups on board the Freedom Flotilla, were prepared to allow.

Continue reading Israeli naval blockade of Gaza asserted in UN documents

Investigation: Who was aboard the Mavi Marmara?

Two Turkish-speaking Israelis who were asked to interpret after the Israeli naval assault at sea on the Freedom Flotilla on 31 May, and the subsequent processing of some 700 passengers and crew in Ashdod port and beyond, wrote about their experience and their views of who was on board in a piece published on Zeek.Forward.com.

Medi Nahmiyaz and Nathalie Alyon wrote:

    “When the Mavi Marmara was still somewhere in the Mediterranean with its passengers under arrest, we received a request from the Association of Turkish Jews in Israel calling for voluntary translators. In less then an hour, we were on an Ashdod-bound bus. As Turkish Jews living in Israel, we had already felt great distress upon hearing the news. We wanted to see for ourselves who was on those boats.

    “Israeli media labeled all those on the boat as Islamist radicals. Turkish and Arab media portrayed them as a group of peace activists massacred by Israeli villains, akin to Nazis. According to what we saw, there were both activists and radicals on board, but the majority of the passengers fell into neither category. They were simply religious people motivated by their consciences to help the Gazan children whose pictures they had been seeing on television for years. Their humanist desire does not make them political activists nor does their faith make them Islamists.

    “We discovered from listening to the Turkish passengers that many of them were recruited through local humanitarian and civil society organizations and not the IHH, the Turkish group that organized the flotilla…

    Continue reading Investigation: Who was aboard the Mavi Marmara?

INVESTIGATION: Yezid Sayegh on the Hamas economy in Gaza

Later today, the Israeli Foreign Ministry is expected to publish a new list — of items forbidden to enter Gaza. This is the revamp of Israel’s sanctions policy that was announced in the wake of the 31 May Israeli attack on the Freedom Flotilla attempting to “break the siege on Gaza” by sea, which resulted in the deaths of 8 Turkish men and one American student.

But why is this list being announced by the Israeli Foreign Ministry?

Probably to emphasize, first of all, that Israel and Gaza are two different entities. Despite considerable evidence to the contrary, Israel has insisted since its unilateral withdrawal, in September 2005, of 8,000 Israeli settlers and the troops protecting them, that it is no longer occupying Gaza.

Since September 2007, following an Israeli Government decision to declare Gaza an “enemy entity” or “hostile territory”, the Israeli siege on Gaza has been administered by the Israeli Ministry of Defense — and in particular, its COGAT [Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories] department — without any other government supervision or oversight, than a warning by the Israeli Supreme Court, in response to a lawsuit brought by a group of Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups [with GISHA in the lead] not to allow a “humanitarian crisis” to develop.

Some international organizations believe that a this threshold has already been passed, several years ago.

And, there are continuous reports that this Israeli policy toward Gaza is not completely unappreciated by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, who also want to subdue if not topple Hamas and restore their control in the Gaza Strip. This commonality of interests supports the Israeli “siege”.

But, to the extent that a humanitarian crisis has not — yet — become a humanitarian disaster, resulting in a huge number of deaths among the 1.5 million people trapped by the siege in the Gaza Strip, is due, some argue, to the organization and coping strategies developed by Hamas.

It is worth noting that since the Israeli naval assault on the Freedom Flotilla, COGAT as reportedly been too busy to accept many scheduled deliveries of goods into Gaza, according to some reports in Ramallah — COGAT has been preoccupied with searching and inspecting the cargo of the Freedom Flotilla. Israel promised to deliver what was not forbidden to Gaza — and the entry of this material is only taking place now. This concerns a reported 70 truckloads worth of items, including electric wheelchairs.

COGAT in the past week has managed a steady increase in the number of truckloads it is allowing to pass through to Gaza per day — it is now hovering around, or even surpassing 150 truckloads per day [this should be compared, however, to the pre-2007 levels of between 400 and 600 truckloads a day, for 1.4 million people].

Yezid Sayegh, Professor of Middle East Studies in the Department of Wars Studies at King’s College London who is currently on leave to Brandeis University [his bio also says he is a former adviser and negotiator in the Palestinian delegation to the peace talks with Israel – but doesn’t say which ones] wrote an analysis of “Hamas Rule in Gaza -Three Years On”, published in March 2010, that says:

“Gaza has developed a unique economy based on a combination of three main inputs: smuggling (through the tunnels dug under the border with Egypt at Rafah); monthly subventions worth $65 million from the Fayyad government to pay its employees and operate Gaza’s power plant; and the services and salaries provided by international NGOs and, especially, UNRWA.

“These inputs relieve the Hanieh government of a considerable burden, much as a considerably greater scale of foreign aid relieves the Fayyad government. At $540 million, the Hanieh government’s declared budget for 2010 is a fraction of the $2.78 billion budget of its West Bank counterpart; but with only 32,000 employees to the latter’s 145,000, its costs are far lower. Even so, the Hanieh government is believed to collect no more than $5 million a month in local revenue, or even less, if its own informal figures are to be believed. It has avoided taxing the tunnel trade in civilian goods entering from Egypt, with the result that commodity prices have dropped since the start of 2010. The bulk of government income derives instead from foreign sources: contributions from the Muslim Brotherhood International (Hamas’s mother organization), collections from zakat committees, and a portion of the assistance believed to reach the Hamas leadership in Damascus from Iran”…

Continue reading INVESTIGATION: Yezid Sayegh on the Hamas economy in Gaza

Quote of the day

Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu:
“Today, after we lifted the civilian blockade of Gaza there is no reason or justification for further flotillas”…
From a report in Haaretz here.

According to this article, Netanyahu also said that “These people just want to break the security blockade”.

And Haaretz reported, Netanyahu said that “the list of items forbidden to enter Gaza will be published in the coming days”.

IDF Chief: We have a natural right to examine Gaza cargo

The Associated Press reported Tuesday evening that Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi told “ultra-Orthodox soldiers in Kiryat Shmona” that “We have a natural right to examine and prevent the inflow of weapons into Gaza … For those who are truly concerned about the [humanitarian] situation in Gaza and wants to bring medical supplies, they are welcome to dock in Ashdod. We will examine [the cargo] and let it in if needed.”

The AP story, published in Haaretz, added that Ashkenazi said: “It is important that we stand up for this right … We cannot allow Gaza to become an Iranian port.”

Referring to plans by Lebanese activists to sail additional aid ships to Gaza despite Israel’s naval blockade, Ashkenazi said: “If they seek peace, that’s how we’ll respond. If not, we will do what we have to do.”

This can be read in full here.

Earlier, the IDF spokespersons website reported that “On Monday (June 21), Defense Minister Ehud Barak spoke at the Socialist International Council at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, and explained that, ‘For Israel, the Gaza Strip today is an Iranian military base three kilometers from the closest Israeli city, and 60 kilometers from Tel Aviv. Hamas governs the Gaza Strip forcefully, and cruelly suppresses its political opponents … The ships that were organized throughout the last few weeks to ‘break the blockade’, are actually pure provocation, since there is no humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip’, he said, adding that “any organization wishing to send aid to Gazan civilians is welcome to do so through the Ashdod port: ‘Every day Israel provides, in addition to electricity and water, approximately 150 trucks loaded with equipment, and not only humanitarian aid products. Therefore, any international group or organization interested in sending additional aid, is welcome to do so through the Ashdod port, which in accordance with an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, is also used for the needs of the Gaza Strip … [But] Israel cannot and will not permit free passage for ships delivering munitions to the Gaza coast. As long as a terrorist organization rules in the Gaza Strip, neither Israel nor Egypt will allow the entrance of those cargos. Israel has the right and the obligation to protect itself and it does so within the framework of International Law and the International Humanitarian Law’, he said”. This item is posted on the IDF Spokespersons website here.

Tony Blair says yes to Israeli obsession with control + supervision

If anyone failed to understand the ever-so-careful language in the Quartet statement issued on Monday [following the Israeli cabinet pronouncements on Sunday] Tony Blair spelled it out perfectly clearly in an interview published in part on Tuesday [the rest is promised for later in the week] with the Jerusalem Post’s David Horovitz and Herb Keinon.

First, a re-cap of a particularly relevant portion of the Quartet statement issued yesterday: The Quartet said it “recognizes that Israel has legitimate security concerns that must continue to be safeguarded, and believes efforts to maintain security while enabling movement and access for Palestinian people and goods are critical. The Quartet commits to work with Israel and the international community to prevent the illicit trafficking of arms and ammunition into Gaza. It urges all those wishing to deliver goods to do so through established channels so that their cargo can be inspected and transferred via land crossings into Gaza. The Quartet emphasizes that there is no need for unnecessary confrontations and calls on all parties to act responsibly in meeting the needs of the people of Gaza”.

Now, here is what the Jerusalem Post reported after speaking to Tony Blair:

“Anyone thinking of organizing an aid flotilla for Gaza should instead utilize the legitimate existing land crossings, where Israel is now lifting restrictions on civilian goods, Quartet envoy Tony Blair said on Monday. ‘If we implement this policy so that the things that people are trying to bring in by flotilla you can bring in through the legitimate existing crossings, do it that way’, Blair urged in an interview with The Jerusalem Post. ‘That is the more sensible way to do that’ … Blair, who played a central role in working with the government to reverse the three-year policy of restricting civilian goods entering Gaza, emphatically endorsed the Israeli security concerns that underpin the ongoing naval blockade. ‘Where I divide from some others in the international community is that I think that Israel has got a genuine security concern that it is entitled to meet’, said the former British prime minister. ‘For me, the fact that Israel says, ‘Look, we’re not going to allow things into the [Gaza] seaport, but you can bring them to Ashdod, and we can check them, and then they can come on to Gaza,’ I think that is a reasonable position. What you can’t justify is saying that basic foodstuffs and household items can’t go into Gaza … My argument was and always has been that there is a very clear distinction, the only distinction in the end you can sensibly justify, between the security needs of Israel and [the] daily life [needs of Gazans]’ … Blair said he would now be exploring the possibility of bringing PA forces to help oversee land crossings into Gaza, and restoring the EU’s role at the Rafah crossing. “Improving the conditions of people in Gaza by whatever means is helpful to the overall cause,” he said … (The full interview with Tony Blair will appear in the Post later this week.)” This is reported in the JPost here.

By the way, what does he mean by “the overall cause” ???

And, could somebody please explain how, and on what grounds — given that it continues to insist, in defiance of all evidence the contrary, to that Gaza is no longer Israeli-occupied — Israel can justify its insistence on maintaining absolute ultimate control over everything that goes in and out of the Gaza Strip [except, of course, via the tunnels — a policy, also by the way, that some Palestinians predict, will be coming soon in the West Bank, too]?

Or, is this just a far worse form of occupation — in which many others [starting with the Quartet] are also collaborating?

And one other question: would Tony Blair speak in the same tongue to a Palestinian publication?

Round-up

Monday 21 June 2010

Ram Cohen, principal of the Aleph High School in Tel Aviv, was summoned to appear before the Knesset Education Committee and the Minister of Education, Mr. Gideon Saar, today, as Cohen explained in an article published in YNet, “following my unequivocal words to my students, condemning the 43 year-old occupation and rule over the life of the Palestinian people …

Continue reading Round-up

Cyprus?

According to my first morning sms, the Lebanese Transport Minister has told the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation that the two boats planning to sail to Gaza — the Lebanese Flotilla — have been given permits to go to Cyprus.

He indicated that it will then be up to Cyprus to decide if these Lebanese ships can go to Gaza!

But, haven’t we just been through that?

Cyprus didn’t want to encourage the last three Free Gaza expeditions to sail, once the massive IDF Operation Cast Lead was launched against Gaza (27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009):
X.) Free Gaza’s Dignity was rammed by Israeli warships on 30 December 2008, and limped to a Lebanese port for months of repairs. A formal Israeli naval blockade was declared on 3 January 2009 (just as the ground operation phase began).
Y.) Saying “We had no choice”, Free Gaza’s Spirit of Humanity decided on its own to turn around, “to save lives”, on 15 January 2009.
Z.) Then, after the Gaza war, Free Gaza’s Spirit of Humanity tried again, in June 2009. This ti.me, the ship was boarded and forced to go to Ashdod port, where the activists on board were detained for about ten days then deported, while its cargo was offloaded, some (maybe most) of it was sent into Gaza under Israeli procedures via Israeli-controlled land crossings.

Cyprus tried the same thing Lebanon is doing now — banning ships from leaving its ports if the declared destination was Gaza (which, the Cypriot government said, standing on a fine technical point, was not a real harbor).

So, the latter Free Gaza expeditions gave another destination.

When the Freedom Flotilla was moving, the Cypriot government finally issued a formal decision banning the ships from leaving its harbors if their destination was Gaza, because of the formal declared Israeli naval blockade.

Six ships in the Freedom Flotilla [formed by an expanded coalition including Free Gaza; Free Palestine (a group which split from Free Gaza due to siome ideological or tactical dispute); the European Campaign to end the siege; Ship to Gaza (Sweden) and Ship to Gaza (Greece); plus a large, very large contribution from a Turkish relief organization IHH, which apparently did have a small ad hoc group of men engaged to act as security on board the large (600+) passenger ship Mavi Marmara, with very ad hoc instructions to prevent Israeli forces from boarding the ship at sea] was stopped on 31 May by shocking use of force, and at least nine deaths on board the Mavi Marmara.

The MV Rachel Corrie, part of Freedom Flotilla but travelling separately and more slowly, went on principle straight into the same procedures (but it was smaller, and those involved on both sides acted with much more scripted behavior…)

Now, it’s going to start all over again?

By the way, it seems that the Free Palestine splinter or offshoot group (and not Free Gaza) is involved in the organization of the Lebanese Flotilla, which has been at pains to stress that it is not linked to Hizballah. (And, like many of those who don’t know and don’t have to deal with the reality of Israel every day, they seem to have exaggerated estimations of Israeli fragility…)

It’s true that this will now bring media attention, in a way that Free Gaza expeditions never did (even at the height of Operation Cast Lead), and it focuses on the core issues. But, lives are at risk, a lot of money is simply being wasted, and don’t we have to ask — if this is just a kind of kabuki political theater — isn’t there a better way?

Human Rights Watch on blockade + on Shalit

Human Rights Watch has just sent out an email that started out by criticizing the weak mandate that it said undermines the credibility of the three-member panel appointed by the government to look into the Freedom Flotilla and also at the Israeli naval raid on the Flotilla at sea (in which at least 9 Turkish nationals were killed).

In the statement, Human Rights Watch said that this panel “is not a full commission of inquiry as set out in Israeli law and cannot subpoena witnesses or officials. Under its mandate, the panel must instead rely on requests for documents and ‘summaries of operational investigations’ conducted by the Israeli military itself to determine what military personnel did or were ordered to do during the May 31 interdiction of the flotilla”. And Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, stated that “Israel claims the panel is independent, but insists that it accept the military’s version of events”.

Continue reading Human Rights Watch on blockade + on Shalit

EU may form new maritime mission for Gaza

It now appears, two weeks after the Israeli naval raid on the Freedom Flotilla bound for Gaza, that the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza’s maritime space will only be strengthened, with European and American help to engage in a complicated inspection regime in the Mediterranean Sea — while Israeli military-administered sanctions against Gaza via its land crossings will be somewhat eased.

Catherine Ashton, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission, told a special session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg today, concerning the situation in Gaza, that “It will not be easy to find an agreed way to lift the blockade”…

Continue reading EU may form new maritime mission for Gaza