IDF to use dogs when boarding future Flotillas

A report posted overnight in the Jerusalem Post says that “The IDF’s Oketz canine unit will be used to assist soldiers in boarding Gaza-bound ships during future interceptions, a military source said on Thursday. The decision followed intensive deliberations by military chiefs on how to improve boarding techniques following the bloody confrontation on board the Mavi Marmara ship on May 31″… This is posted here.

The Israeli naval interceptions are part of Israel’s formal maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip, announced on 3 January 2009, during the IDF Operation Cast Lead [27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009].

The Israeli declaration of a naval blockade appears to be aimed at stopping the various flotillas that were trying to “break the siege” — as much as at the official reasons given [interdicting possible arms shipments into Gaza or weakening the position of Hamas in the Gaza strip].

YNet reported that “The dogs will be the first to board the decks, to prevent harm to soldiers from hostile elements on board. ‘As soon as you put an attack dog in an area where soldiers are supposed to get to, it keeps the place sterile and prevents anyone from approaching’, a military source said. ‘Dogs can be placed by crane or other means. They’ll be the first, and after them, the soldiers’. Dogs from the Oketz unit are trained to immobilize an enemy by biting – the more the enemy struggles, the harder the bite. ‘Attack dogs have proved their capabilities on many occasions’, the source said. ‘They are strong and merciless, but in fact this is a non-lethal weapon that can certainly do the work (on the deck)’. The same source said dogs were involved in preparations for boarding the Turkish flotilla, but it was believed there would be no violent opposition from the people aboard the Marmara, so they were not sent onto the decks. ‘After that flotilla, we understood that this is indeed a good method and we’re improving our abilities’, he said. ‘A dog has no problem operating on a boat and can do great work’.” This is posted here.

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: Free Gaza strategy document

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.

Continue reading “Investigation: Free Gaza strategy document”

Saturday evening: MV Rachel Corrie docks in Ashdod

June 5, 2010…17:54

They waited until sundown.  But not until Shabbat was over.

Just before 6:00 p.m., the  MV Rachel Corrie finally was brought to Ashdod, after a full day of action and suspense.

Continue reading “Saturday evening: MV Rachel Corrie docks in Ashdod”

Saturday morning: IDF intercepts MV Rachel Corrie

LATEST UPDATE: IDF spokesperson tweeted just after 12:30 pm that “The crew of the Rachel Corrie has permitted IDF soldiers to board” … “IDF soldiers boarded the Rachel Corrie with permission by sea, no helicopters used” … “The Rachel Corrie will be brought to the Ashdod Port where goods will be inspected + transferred to Gaza via land xings” … “IDF boarded the Rachel Corrie with permission of the crew, did so by sea, no helicopters no reports of violence” …

The IDF has just tweeted: “difference btw today and monday: monday IDF was facing radicals with ties 2 terrorism who had prepared attack”

The Free Gaza organization tweeted earlier, asking rhetorically, “Were guns involved in this alleged granting of permission to board?”

The answer must, of course, be: Yes. Of course. Ca va sans le dire..

Continue reading “Saturday morning: IDF intercepts MV Rachel Corrie”

Waiting for news about MV Rachel Corrie

We are waiting for news on Friday afternoon about the fate of the MV Rachel Corrie, a ship wholly owned by the Free Gaza movement which has made 8 expeditions by sea to Gaza (with mixed results, but some initial success).

There have been all kinds of contradictory reports today

UPDATE’: The Irish Times is reporting tonight, here, that Irish “Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin has again called for the MV Rachel Corrie to be allowed to proceed to Gaza after it emerged that an agreement allowing it to dock at the port of Ashdod in Israel, was turned down by those onboard the boat … In a statement issued this evening Mr. Martin said an understanding had been reached with the Israeli government earlier today whereby the Irish-owned aid ship would have been allowed to approach the Israeli exclusion zone before accepting diversion to Ashdod. Once there the cargo would have been unloaded and inspected under the supervision of UN and officials from the Irish Aid Division of the Department for Foreign Affairs and then transported to Gaza. Under the deal, two representatives from the Rachel Corrie would have been permitted to accompany the cargo to the Israeli border crossing into Gaza at Erez. However, the proposal was turned down by those on board the ship who are still en route to Gaza despite the Israeli government stating that it is not willing to allow any breach of its naval blockade. ‘As the Rachel Corrie continues to approach Gaza, the Government’s primary concern is the safety of Irish citizens and others on board. We are also conscious of the urgent need to address the humanitarian concerns of the people of Gaza, the desirability of reducing international tensions following the violent storming of humanitarian supply vessels by Israeli commandos earlier this week, and the obligation of States to respect the right to peaceful protest’, said Mr. Martin. Mr. Martin urged the Israeli authorities to demonstrate restraint if it intercepts the MV Rachel Corrie, saying that those onboard the ship have made clear their peaceful intentions and stated that they will offer no resistance to Israeli forces. ‘Based on these assurances, there can be no justification for the use of force against any person on board the Rachel Corrie’, he said. Mr. Martin also urged the Israeli Government to ensure the transfer to Gaza of the entire cargo of the ship, including cement which is urgently needed for the reconstruction of Gaza. ‘The Government continues to call on Israel to lift its blockade of Gaza. Pending that, Israel should immediately facilitate the import into Gaza of all goods, other than weapons’, he added.

Continue reading “Waiting for news about MV Rachel Corrie”

Shock sets in

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.

Where the last Free Gaza expedition was probably intercepted by Israeli Navy in June 2009

In late June 2009, the last Free Gaza expedition, composed of only one ship, the Spirit, was intercepted by the Israeli Navy at the point shown on the graphic below, very kindly and obligingly prepared by Aletheia Kallos: 

Site where Free Gaza ship, the Spirit, was intercepted by Israeli Navy in late June 2009
Site where Free Gaza ship, the Spirit, was intercepted in late June 2009 - graphic map by Aletheia Kallos

 

[A note of caution from AK:  “the geodetic datums for the several pushpin positions are unknown & tho they were plotted with as much care & precision as possible they are still not necessarily in exact agreement with the wgs84 datum used by google earth so a slight datum shift among the depicted features is possible..] 

To put this into political context, here is the map of Gaza’s maritime space as delineated in the Oslo Accords, from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, here

http://www.mfa.gov.il/NR/rdonlyres/0D80237A-9B99-42D4-8BA0-FB8627593661/0/MFAG003p0.gif
 

[The little hand-written note, in Arabic, above the late Yasser Arafat’s name indicates that there is a separate “letter” related to this matter...] 

Late last June, the Free Gaza’s Spirit was interdicted by the Israeli Navy at the point indicated on the first graphic map above, boarded, directed to Ashdod port, and expedition members detained and deported.  Most of it humanitarian cargo was then forwarded to Gaza through Israeli-controlled land  crossings (the blood products were reportedly spoiled for lack of refrigeration)… 

This interdiction happened, it appears (from coordinates published by the Free Gaza movement) about one mile inside area L, which is Gaza’s designated maritime space for fishing and economic activities [see the second graphic map above].  This maritime space extends from the coastline straight out 20 miles directly out to sea.  This delimitation was agreed between Israel and the Palestine  Liberation Organization (PLO) in the Oslo Accords — and witnessed by the United States and Russia. 

Israel’s formally-declared naval blockade of Gaza was announced on 3-4 January 2009,  just as the Israeli ground operation in Gaza began during Operation Cast Lead (27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009) — and it was not extinguished after the two unilateral cease-fires (Israel’s and Hamas’) went into effect at the end of that massive military operation.  

Though the formal official notification of the blockade has not yet turned up, Israeli statements indicate that it corresponds exactly to Gaza’s maritime space (fishing and economic activity zone) as agreed in the Oslo Accords… 

I did find this week, here, and posted something about this earlier on my blog, here, what appears to be a new (2009) Israeli claim to a 3-mile slice of Gaza’s territorial water, which is very surprising.  It would mean, of course, that Israel’s denials it is still occupying Gaza are false and misleading.  It would also mean that there can hardly be any argument that Israel has full responsibility for the well-being of the 1.5 million souls trapped there.

Free Gaza Movement announces that Freedom Flotilla is moving toward Gaza

After saying for two days that the Freedom Flotilla would not travel at night, the Free Gaza movement announced Saturday night that it is on the move.

The Israeli Navy sailed from Haifa port on Friday night to intercept the Flotilla.

IMEMC has reported that the Israeli military mobilization is named “Operation Sky Winds”.

A post on The Only Democracy Blog here says that Gaza has been blockaded, actually, since 1957…

It also writes that: “An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokeswoman has no problem saying ‘We have to remember: These people are entering Israel illegally’ … In other words, when convenient Israel claims it ‘does not control’ Gaza, but when push comes to shove it regards Gaza’s waters as its own, in plain view of the world … In 2010, there is no major government in the world really willing to put any political dime next to its cheap ‘remove the siege’ talk. Why, even Obama formally asked Israel to remove the Gaza siege. Talk is indeed cheap … During this decade, increasingly, Israel has become allied with the world’s political and economic elites, and oblivious, even hostile, to global public opinion … Coincidentally, last year a new government coalition came into power in Israel, its most right-wing coalition ever. Previous governments knew they must give the world some lip-service about peace, to help ally governments divert attention from the Occupation so as not to get into trouble with their constituencies … Israeli pundits call the new diplomatic approach ‘Pissing into the Pool from the High Jump’: if we’ve got the power and all powers-that-matter keep doing our bidding, then we couldn’t care less about what anyone thinks, and we might as well do it out in the open. In Bibi’s books, the strategy is working well. Why, only a few weeks ago Israel was admitted to the OECD, reportedly thanks to some behind-the-scenes arm-twisting from the Obama administration.  Beyond that, the sad fact is that Israel’s government and its military leadership do genuinely think and act like dictators, and at this point seem unable to even start thinking differently. Rather than sit back, let the modest flotilla sail in, make a few speeches and sail back – they are willing to risk a major PR catastrophe, and employ violence so as to deny Gazans anything except what they prescribe for them“… This blog post can be read in full here

Israel deports all but two Free Gaza activists captured at sea

Almost a week after they were confronted by Israeli naval vessels and towed to the Israeli port of Ashdod, the Free Gaza Movement indicates that its activists captured at sea on board a boat flying a Greek flag and sailing from Cyprus to Gaza were “accused of entering Israel illegally”, but that all charges were dropped.

The activists refused to sign any documents in order to be able to leave Israel, they said on Twitter.

Former U.S. Presidential Candidate for the Green Party, and a former Democratic congresswoman who served six terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, Cynthia McKinney is arriving back to the US on Monday afternoon via New York City. She wrote that ” The Israeli authorities have tried to get us to confess that we committed a crime… I am now known as prisoner number 88794 (in Israel’s Ramle prison). How can I be in prison for collecting crayons [for] kids?”

She will apparently be accompanied by the other Americans detained at sea on board the Free Gaza boat, Spirit of Humanity.

21 activists set sail from Cyprus a week ago on a ship laden with humanitarian aid.

Do a search for Free Gaza on this site to see our other posts on this story.

Continue reading “Israel deports all but two Free Gaza activists captured at sea”