Shock is setting in, a day after the Israeli interception of the Freedom Flotilla at sea in the eastern Mediterranean on Monday morning.
The IDF still has not released names or numbers of those who were killed, injured, or detained yesterday.
Israeli reports now say that the IDF has confirmed that there were “more than” ten deaths on board the ships — but the actual number has not yet been made public.
Overnight, all police in the country have been called up, and all leaves cancelled, for deployment today, as the High Follow-Up Committee of Arab Citizens in Israel have declared a general strike.
There are unconfirmed reports that at least 5 Arab citizens of Israel are among the dead. The influential and respected (by his peers, though feared and detested by others in Israeli officialdom) Sheikh Raed Salah was on board the Freedom Flotilla, and was wounded in the Israeli naval assault, and hospitalized. He has not been seen or heard of since, and the true extent of his injuries is unknown at the time of this writing. Haaretz is reporting this morning that Sheikh Salah was “interrogated” by Israeli police in Ashdod yesterday. Israeli Arab MK Haneen Zoabi was also on board the Mavi Marmara, and she has not been seen or heard of since yesterday morning’s operation). At least one right-wing MK (by definition, this indicates not Arab) has called Zoabi treasonous for her statements, and called for her arrest when she returned to land.
The IDF has just announced that that the “humanitarian aid” (what the IDF includes in that is yet not clear) that was found on board the six ships intercepted at sea yesterday will be transferred to Gaza this morning via Kerem Shalom — this has never happened faster. In fact, this is lightning speed, indicating the pressure that Israeli officials feel themselves under as a result of their extra-territorial military operation against the Freedom Flotilla just over 24 hours ago.
Last night, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent around a legal backgrounder (see our previous post here) arguing that the Israeli naval operation was ordered enforce the government’s (or, the military’s) declared (but apparently specially-expanded-for-the-occasion) naval blockade of Gaza.
Why? Because Hamas is in charge in Gaza.
The Israeli representative at the UN during an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council called at Turkey’s request to deal with the Israeli attack on the Freedom Flotilla, Daniel Carmon, said in the Council session: “What kind of humanitarian activists demand to bypass the United Nations, the Red Cross and other internationally recognized agencies? …What kind of peace activists use knives, clubs and other weapons to attack soldiers who board a ship in accordance with international law?” A UN summary of the meeting reported that Carmon “asked what kind of activists embraced Hamas and terrorist organizations that openly shunned a two-State solution and called for Israel’s destruction. ‘The answer is clear. They are not peace activists; they are not messengers of goodwill. They cynically use the guise of humanitarian aid to send a message of hate and to implement violence … “Let me be very clear, this was not a peaceful protest. The Insani Yardim Vakfi [IHH] people on-board one of the ships were not humanitarian activists’.”
So, there it is, the justification for the Israeli military assault yesterday on the Freedom Flotilla.
Earlier, the Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (who had rushed to New York to present his country’s complaint to the Security Council, said in the meeting: “Today, we observed, through live coverage, an act of barbarism, where provision of humanitarian aid has been punished through aggression on the high seas … Today, many humanitarian aid workers went back in body bags …Israel has blood on its hands”.
According to a UN summary of the meeting, Davotoglu said that “International law dictated that, even in wartime, civilians were not to be attacked or harmed. The doctrine of self-defence did not in any way justify the actions taken by the Israeli forces. High-seas freedom was one of the most basic rights under international maritime law, including international customary law. No vessel could be stopped or boarded without the consent of the captain or the flag State. The law permitting such action in exceptional cases was clearly stated. Any suspected violation of the law on the part of the vessel and its crew did not absolve the intervening State of its duties and responsibilities under applicable international law. ‘To treat humanitarian aid delivery as a hostile act and to treat aid workers as combatants is a reflection of a dangerous state of mind, with detrimental effects to regional and global peace’, he said … He pointed to official statements made claiming that the civilians on the ships were members of a radical Islamist group, saying he was saddened to see a State stoop so low as to lie and struggle to create pretexts that would legitimize their illegal actions. The flotilla was made up of civilians of many faiths and countries, representing the conscience of the international community. ‘We must be able to show that use of force is not an option, unless clearly stated in law’, he said, adding that Israel must be prepared to face the consequences and be held accountable for its crimes. He called on the Israelis to express their dismay over this wrongdoing, and take steps to reinstate their status as a credible partner and responsible member of the international community … ‘This is a black day in the history of humanity’.”
[Remember what Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said to Israeli State President Shimon Peres on stage at the Davos World Economic Forum on 29 January 2009, right after the IDF’s Operatri0n Cast Lead in Gaza? “You are killing people”… Still, not as bad as returning the Israeli phrase used when refusing to release Palestinian “terrorists” who are said to have “blood on their hands”… Tuesday, Erdogan himself addressed the Turkish Parliament, and reportedly also said today what his Foreign Minister said at the UNSC meeting in NY on Monday, that what happened during the naval raid was a “massacre”, and that Israel has “blood on its hands”… UPDATE: The Jerusalem Post later reported that Erdogan said to Parliament that “Turkey’s hostility is as strong as its friendship is valuable,” he said. “Israel in no way can legitimize this murder, it cannot wash its hand of this blood”.]
The big mover in the expanded coalition of organizations that made up the Freedom Flotilla was IHH, a Turkish humanitarian relief organization with distinctly Islamist tendencies.
One Israeli think tank has been sending out analysis since early April strongly implying (when it didn’t state it explicitly) that this Freedom Flotilla expedition to Gaza was being led by a bunch of “terrorists”, in particular IHH.
The unfortunate truth is that for many Israeli officials — and, as a result, for much of the Israeli media and the public which follows its line — Islamist almost necessarily equals “terrorist”.
As we reported here several weeks ago, Israel arrested (at the main Bethlehem checkpoint) and eventually deported back to Turkey the IHH organizer in the West Bank, Izzet Shahin, who may have registered as a student of Hebrew at Hebrew University in Jerusalem in part to facilitate his entry and stay in Israel.
The IHH leadership claimed to have the support of the Turkish government (which occasionally made statements that seemed to confirm this), but in the end, the Turkish government was shocked, shocked, at what happened yesterday — and may or may not have said (the reports are not very well sourced), in the heat of the moment yesterday, that the next Flotilla will be escorted by Turkish warships.
IHH maintained an entertaining and useful live + streaming website of events on board the Mavi Marmara, a passenger ship which was also the largest boat in the Freedom Flotilla, carrying an assortment of TV journalists and crews working in several languages, and not fewer than 600 passengers — including a year-old-baby.
During this live streaming, there were occasional bursts of enthusiasm from various Islamist members of the expedition, including a group from Jordan, and from other Muslim countries.
Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon — who is scheduled to hold yet another press in about an hour-and-a-half in Jerusalem (maybe this time to answer questions from international journalists, as yesterday he would only entertain those from Israeli journalists) — cited, two days ago, some of the chanting from these Islamist expedition members as proof of the absolute evil of the Freedom Flotilla’s intentions.
Oh, and by the way, UNSG BAN Ki-Moon yesterday said: “I condemn this violence … It is vital that there is a full investigation to determine exactly how this bloodshed took place … I believe Israel must urgently provide a full explanation.”
UN Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernandez-Tarancosaid, at the Security Council meeting that “today’s bloodshed would have been avoided if repeated calls on Israel to end the counterproductive and unacceptable blockade of Gaza had been heeded … the blockade is unacceptable and counterproductive and must end.”
In Geneva, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said that “nothing can justify the appalling outcome of this operation … I unequivocally condemn what appears to be disproportionate use of force, resulting in the killing and wounding of so many people attempting to bring much-needed aid to the people of Gaza, who have now been enduring a blockade for more than three years … [the] almost unanimous international view that [s that] the continued blockade of Gaza is both inhumane and illegal … [and it] lies at the heart of so many of the problems plaguing the Israel-Palestine situation, as does the impression that the Israeli Government treats international law with perpetual disdain.”
Princeton University Professor Emeritus Richard Falk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory, said that “Israel is guilty of shocking behavior by using deadly weapons against unarmed civilians on ships that were situated in the high seas where freedom of navigation exists, according to the law of the seas … [and it] essential that those Israelis responsible for this lawless and murderous behavior, including political leaders who issued the orders, be held criminally accountable for their wrongful acts”.
Falk added, according to the UN news release, that the blockade of Gaza is a “massive form of collective punishment … [and] Unless prompt and decisive action is taken to challenge the Israeli approach to Gaza all of us will be complicit in criminal policies that are challenging the survival of an entire beleaguered community”. All this and more can be read here.