Near-mythical Jewish Flotilla (one small ship) finally sets sail to Gaza — but says it won't resist if Israel tries to stop it

One small ship with ten passengers including crew [apparently all Jewish, and some are Israeli] quietly set sail, announcing its move only after departure this afternoon, apparently from a port in Cyprus.

This is the so-called “Jewish boat”, or “Jewish flotilla”, which was previously rumored to be much bigger…

The Jerusalem Post says the ship sailed from northern Cyprus, where the Turkish community has been protected, since 1974, by Turkish troops [which have become a settler community as well as an occupation force], heading in the direction of Gaza. Turkey is virtually the only country to recognize the Turkish Government of Northern Cyprus.

CORRECTION: The authorities in the internationally-recognized Republic of Cyprus [in the southern part of the island] were NOT apparently unaware of the departure. Marine Police apparently followed the boat out of the harbor, and boarded it at sea.

They previously vowed to prevent any ship from sailing from the island’s ports with the stated destination of Gaza, which they say is not an official destination. But, a photo published by the expedition’s organizers shows Cypriot police on board the boat, and a caption states that the Irene was allowed to leave on the condition that it “never come back”:

Photo from the Jewish Boat to Gaza website here:

Cypriot Police on the Jewish Boat to Gaza website

Still trying to check, but it seems that the photo above shows North Cypriot police, while photo below, posted overnight on the Jewish Boat to Gaza’s new Facebook site, apparently shows an un-uniformed Greek Cypriot Coast Guard subsequently intercepting the boat

Gaza’s maritime space is under an announced Israeli naval blockade, and Israel has vowed to prevent any breach of this blockade.

The ship, the Irene, is reportedly flying the British flag.

There are still British bases on Cyprus, and a long-standing UN peacekeeping operation which observes the line of demarcation between the Turkish and Greek sides of the divided island.

UPDATE: Marion Kozak, mother of Ed Milibrand, the newly-elected leader of the Labour Party in Britain [who ran against and defeated his older brother David Milibrand, Britain’s Foreign Secretary for three years, and still a MP — so she’s his mother, too], happens to be a member of Jews for Justice for Palestinians, one of the groups backing this expedition. The Jerusalem Post has a story, here, which highlights the support of prominent British Jews for the group, as well as the group’s use of a quote from Rabbi Hillel [see below] as their political solgan…

One of the organizers, Richard Kuper of the British group, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, part of the coalition mounting this expedition, said that the ship “won’t resist if the Israelis try to stop it”.

On a new press release posted on the main page of the Jewish Boat to Gaza’s website, here, Kuper is quoted as saying: “This is a nonviolent action. We aim to reach Gaza, but our activists will not engage in any physical confrontation and will therefore not present the Israelis with any reason or excuse to use physical force or assault them”.

On 31 May, an Israeli naval assault at sea on six boats in a Freedom Flotilla left nine men dead on board the 600-passenger Mavi Marmara, including a 19-year-old American living in Turkey. The Mavi Marmara was one of three boats contributed by the Turkish humanitarian relief organization, IHH, which Israel says made deliberate preparations for a confrontation with its forces.

Since that Flotilla fiasco, Israel’s military has changed the regime of restrictions it imposes on goods getting into Gaza, as Major-General Eitan Dangot, head of the military’s COGAT [Coordinator of (Israeli) Government Activities in the (Palestinian) Territories] department, explained in an interview which we posted about here. Dangot said that before, only items on a [secret] list were permitted into Gaza. Now, everything is supposedly allowed in — except those items on new military lists. (Nothing is currently getting out of Gaza, though the Israeli military keeps saying this is under consideration.)

Continue reading Near-mythical Jewish Flotilla (one small ship) finally sets sail to Gaza — but says it won't resist if Israel tries to stop it

The IDF posts "unedited" version of "doctored" audio

Yesterday, the IDF posted a 29-second Youtube version of an audio exchange– not long before an assault at sea, and part of the set piece of theatrics that had to take place for this drama to play out according to script — between Israeli Navy radio officers and what the IDF initially said was the Mavi Marmara, the large Turkish passenger ship (chartered by IHH, a Turkish humanitarian relief NGO with a distinct Islamist character that has opened it to accusations of having “terrorist” ties) that had least 600 trusting souls on board.

The IDF Youtube appeared to be clearly doctored — a crude, adolescent attempt at triumphalist propaganda.

The Mavi Marmara was by far the largest of the six boats in the Freedom Flotilla travelling in convoy towards Gaza to “break the siege” and deliver humanitarian aid there. It was way too large to be disabled at sea, apparently. (And then what would you do with the 600 people on board?)

Because some of those on the top deck were unaware of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs legal argument that the badly-announced and poorly-clarified Israeli naval blockade of Gaza’s maritime space could be enforced virtually anywhere, certainly on the high seas, they were somehow shocked and surprised when a large Israeli naval force — including three Saar missile boats — suddenly appeared on the horizon just before midnight.

They were still several hours away from Gaza, and the night was still young.

Continue reading The IDF posts "unedited" version of "doctored" audio

Egypt opens Rafah crossing into Gaza

The announcement was made from Egypt as the Arab League met to discuss yesterday’s Israeli attack at sea on the Freedom Flotilla: the crossing into Gaza via Rafah would now be opened.

Egypt, with significant American material and technical assistance, has been building a steel wall that extends many meters underground, to prevent smuggling from the non-stop tunnels that extend the length of the Egyptian-Gazan border.

The Rafah crossing actually functioned only briefly. Israel unilaterally “disengaged” from Gaza in September 2005. Condoleezza Rice negotiated overnight on her birthday, 15 November 2005, to get Israel’s agreement on the modalities of getting goods and people into and out of the Gaza Strip.

The deal involved (1) real-time but remote control Israeli surveillance via video hookup from Kerem Shalom of (2) European Union monitors (based in the Israeli beachy-front city of Ashkelon) supervising (3) Palestinian Authority personnel processing all persons entering and exiting the Gaza Strip via Rafah.

Then, in January 2006, Hamas won a surprise victory in Palestinian Legislative Council elections — and the rest is actually not history, but still on-going.

Fatah was furious, and refused to join in a coalition government. The subsequent Hamas-led government was boycotted by Israel and the Quartet and the entire donor community. Palestinian Authority personnel, including security forces, could not be paid their salaries for over a year. Then, a short-lived Saudi-negotiated reconciliation produced a “National Unity” government that took office in March 2007. It was disbanded by the Palestinian Authority’s elected President Mahmoud Abbas in mid-June 2007, after a violent and dramatic Hamas rout of Fatah/Palestinian Preventive Security forces in the Gaza strip. Since then, Hamas runs the “de facto” governing administration in Gaza, while President Abbas, based in Ramallah, presides in the West Bank.

Israel has progressively tightened its squeeze on Gaza. At the same time, there are big problems between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas that have only exacerbated the squeeze.

And, Egyptian-brokered reconciliation talks between Fatah and Hamas have languished (at the moment, they appear to be taking place only Fatah and West Bank members of Hamas).

The opening of the crossings in and out of Gaza — including Rafah — is the carrot and the stick of this piece of political theater.

In January 2008, after tightened Israeli sanctions restricted fuel to the point that Gaza’s only power plant was forced to shut down, leaving Gaza City and more than half a million persons completely without electricity, Gazans (with the active assistance of Hamas) pulled down an Egyptian-built above-ground wall. Popular sympathy for their plight caused the Egyptian government to open the Rafah crossing, and Gazans streamed into Egypt to go shopping for a few days, before returning to their families and homes in the Gaza Strip. Then, after considerable Israeli pressure, the Rafah crossing was closed. Since then, it is only open intermittently, on short notice, and according to no regular schedule.

Today, as part of a wave of reaction to the Israeli raid at sea of the Freedom Flotilla headed to Gaza, the Rafah crossing was declared open again.

How long will it stay open this time?

The Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry al-Youm today reported that the opening of Rafah crossing is only temporary: “The governor of northern Sinai, Murad Muwafi, says President Hosni Mubarak ordered the opening of the border crossing to Gaza in the town of Rafah for several days. Muwafi says the opening of the crossing — which Egypt sealed after Gaza was taken over by Hamas militants in 2007 — is an effort to ‘alleviate the suffering of our Palestinian brothers after the Israeli attack’ on the flotilla. This was posted

After a reported ten hours of deliberations on Monday to Tuesday, at Turkey’s request, the UN Security Council agreed on a statement which said, among other things, that “The Security Council deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries resulting from the use of force during the Israeli military operation in international waters against the convoy sailing to Gaza. The Council, in this context, condemns those acts which resulted in the loss of at least 10 civilians and many wounded, and expresses its condolences to their families. The Security Council requests the immediate release of the ships as well as the civilians held by Israel. The council urges Israel to permit full consular access, to allow the countries concerned to retrieve their deceased and wounded immediately, and to ensure the delivery of humanitarian assistance from the convoy to its destination … The Security Council stresses that the situation in Gaza is not sustainable. The Council re-emphasises the importance of the full implementation of Resolutions 1850 and 1860 [n.b., both of these UN Security Council resolutions say that the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authorurity is the legitimate power in Gaza]. In that context, it reiterates its grave concern at the humanitarian situation in Gaza and stresses the need for sustained and regular flow of goods and people to Gaza as well as unimpeded provision and distribution of humanitarian assistance throughout Gaza…” Turkey is currently a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council.

Turkey is also a long-standing member of NATO, and at a meeting in Brussels today the 28 nations in the organization called Tuesday for a “prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation”, and “Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen demanded the immediate release of the detained civilians and ships held by Israel”. The Jerusalem Post reported this news, but noted that Turkey “did not demand that the alliance take collective action against Israel, said a diplomat who attended the talks”. The JPost report is posted here.

And, one of Israel’s most respected authors, David Grossman, wrote today “How insecure, confused and panicky a country must be, to act as Israel acted! With a combination of excessive military force, and a fatal failure to anticipate the intensity of the reaction of those aboard the ship, it killed and wounded civilians, and did so – as if it were a band of pirates – outside its territorial waters. This assessment does not imply agreement with the motives, overt or hidden, and often malicious, of some participants in the Gaza flotilla. Not all its people are peace-loving humanitarians, and the declarations of some of them regarding the destruction of the state of Israel are criminal. But these facts are simply not relevant at the moment: such opinions do not deserve the death penalty. Israel’s actions are but the natural continuation of the shameful, ongoing closure of Gaza, which in turn is the perpetuation of the heavy-handed and condescending approach of the Israeli government, which is prepared to embitter the lives of a million and a half innocent people in the Gaza Strip, in order to obtain the release of one imprisoned soldier, precious and beloved though he may be; and this closure is the all-too-natural consequence of a clumsy and calcified policy, which again and again resorts by default to the use of massive and exaggerated force, at every decisive juncture, where wisdom and sensitivity and creative thinking are called for instead … The closure of Gaza has failed. It has failed for four years now. What this means is that it is not merely immoral, but also impractical, and indeed worsens the entire situation, as we are reminded at this very hour, and also harms the vital interests of Israel. The crimes of the leaders of Hamas, who have held the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit captive for four years without once allowing the Red Cross to visit him, and who fired thousands of rockets from the Gaza Strip at Israeli towns and villages, are acts that must be firmly dealt with, utilising the various legal means available to a sovereign state. The ongoing siege of a civilian population is not one of them. I would like to believe that the shock of Monday’s frantic actions will lead to a re-evaluation of the whole idea of the closure, at last freeing the Palestinians from their suffering, and cleansing Israel of its moral stain. But our experience in this tragic region teaches that the opposite will occur: the mechanisms of violent response, the cycles of vengeance and hatred, Monday began a new round, whose magnitude cannot yet be foreseen. Above all, this insane operation shows how far Israel has declined. There is no need to overstate this claim. Anyone with eyes to see understands and feels it”. This comment was posted here.

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.