As I write this the Israeli Navy may be surrounding, boarding, detaining the crew and passengers of, and possibly disabling the six ships left in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. (Two ships have experienced suspicious mechanical problems.) Israel has said that the ships are a “provocation,” and that therefore it has a right to stop the mission. But this attempt to break the siege on Gaza, like many previous attempts, is non-violent, unarmed, and bringing humanitarian aid. The cargo of the ships include banned items like wheelchairs and dental equipment, food and school supplies – items banned by Israel in their attempt to break the will of the Palestinians living in Gaza.
The ships are traveling through international waters and plan to dock in Gaza. Israel claims that it unilaterally disengaged from Gaza in 2005, withdrawing all its settlements and military bases, and that therefore Gaza is no longer occupied by Israel. If this is the case then Israel has no jurisdiction in Gaza’s coastal waters. But even Gazan fishermen are not allowed past the two mile mark off the coast of Gaza. The Israeli Navy regularly fires on boats in that region, disables fishing boats, kills and wounds fishermen. How can they claim to be no longer occupying this section of land if Gazans are not allowed to control their own coast? Regardless of Gaza’s occupation status, Israel has no right to stop or detain international boats in international waters.
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Among the passengers on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla are journalists, the most dangerous people to Israel, since they could potentially let the world know what is really happening within Gaza. In the past several years Israel has clamped down on journalists critical of Israel, arresting some, confiscating equipment, applying gag orders. It has denied entry to foreign journalists who tried to report within Israel or in the West Bank (see, for example http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=253864, about Jared Malsin). Very few journalists can get into Gaza.
Other passengers include a survivor of the bombing of the USS Liberty in 1967, Joe Meadors. This travesty of military power occurred during the Six Day War when Israel bombed an American vessel, killing 34 American sailors and wounding more than 170. Signalman Meadors hasn’t been back to the region since 1967 but is at the time of this writing experiencing once again the impunity that Israel has in continuing its illegal acts against not only Palestinian civilians, but against foreign nationals.
Other Americans on board include Ambassador Edward L. Peck, former State Department Chief of Mission in Iraq and Mauritania, Deputy Director of the Cabinet Task Force on Terrorism at the Reagan White House, and State Department Liaison Officer to the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon. Colonel Ann Wright, former US Army colonel and Deputy Chief of Mission to Afghanistan, is trying again to gain access to Gaza. She was one of the organizers of the December 2009 – January 2010 Gaza Freedom March, in which more than 1,400 international activists attempted to enter Gaza through the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza.
Where are the American journalists covering this? Why is Israel allowed to hijack ships in international waters without coverage in any major American media outlet? Why is Israel allowed to maintain a siege on an impoverished population without American citizens hearing about it? Why, when there is such an effort to bring humanitarian aid to the victims of the siege does our State Department not assist the American citizens being illegally detained by Israeli military? Why isn’t the US military part of the flotilla, making good on Obama’s promise to “recognize[e] our common humanity,” and to “share this world in the 21st century … [which is] the responsibility we have to one another as human beings” (Cairo speech, June 2009). Why, when according to even General David Petraeus, Commander of the US Central Command, the “special relationship” between Israel and the U.S. is detrimental to our own strategic interest, the United States continues to treat Israeli violations of international law as reasonable defensive actions?
Regardless of Israel’s attempts at keeping the world silent and uninformed about its siege on Gaza, it is finding the job increasingly difficult. It is satisfying to see awareness breaking out on campuses, in churches, and other civil society organizations in the U.S. Israel’s propaganda efforts cannot counter this new awareness, despite its efforts. The participants in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla can take comfort in this growing awareness of the situation, even if the immediate mission will be thwarted.
Follow the Gaza Freedom Flotilla at www.witnesstogaza.com.