Wire services are reporting that Israeli commandos killed as many as 16 peace activists and wounded over 50 others as they boarded and commandeered the six ships of the Gaza aid flotilla. Among the ships boarded, on which Israeli troops killed aid activists, was a Turkish vessel, the Marmara, on which there were casualties.
Early on Monday, some 300 Turkish protesters attempted to storm the Israeli consulate but were turned back by security forces. Through Monday, larger and larger crowds gathered to protest the attack on the flotilla. Some news sources were speaking of tens of thousands at rallies in Istanbul, with smaller numbers demonstrating before the Israeli embassy in the capital, Ankara, and in front of the US consulate in Adana.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry angrily condemned Israeli “inhumane practices” and warned that the attack on the Marmara may well have “irreparable consequences” on Turkish-Israeli relations. Turkey had long been one of Israel’s few friends in the Middle East, but since 2002 the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party has been critical of Israeli policies in the Occupied Territories of the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian West Bank.
It is being alleged by members of Free Gaza that the aid ships were boarded in international waters and that Israel contravened the UN international convention on freedom of navigation on the high seas. Although the Israeli press refers to the waters off Gaza as “Israeli territorial waters,” in fact Israel has no legal claim to the Gaza coast. It is the Occupying power in Gaza since 1967, but is in severe contravention of the 1949 Geneva Convention on the treatment of occupied populations.
There are two possible reasons for the violence. One is that the Israeli troops boarding the vessels met some sort of resistance and over-reacted. Aid volunteers are unlikely, however, to have posed much real challenge to trained special forces operatives.
The other possible reason is that the far rightwing government of Binyamin Netanyahu and his foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman gave a green light to the commandos to respond with excessive force. That is, the deaths and woundings may have been a brutally frank warning to any future Gaza aid activists that they are taking their lives in their hands if they plan any more flotillas to help the Palestinians. The Israeli far right may have felt that there was otherwise a danger that in a few months there would be an even bigger flotilla and that eventually the blockade of Gaza would be broken.
Although we outsiders would welcome this development because we are concerned about the health and well-being of Palestinian children under blockade, the Israeli Right views all Gazans as terrorists and sees besieging them as the only way to safeguard Israelis from attack. The Israeli Right is being paranoid and inhumane in this belief. There is no reason to think that denying Palestinians enough food or medical supplies or concrete will actually deter the small number directly involved in violence.
It is worth noting on Memorial Day that the Israeli attack deeply complicates the task of the US military in the region. It is a propaganda boon for Sunni extremists and Shiite activists such as Muqtada al-Sadr in Iraq, and for the Taliban in Afghanistan. It undermines the authority of the Egyptian and Jordanian governments, which have US-brokered peace treaties with Israel, treaties that are deeply unpopular with ordinary people in both countries. That some demonstrations are being held in front of US consulates and not just Israeli ones tells us who will get the blame for Netanyahu’s machismo.
The vessels were bringing over 600 protesters of Israel’s blockade of Gaza and its collective punishment of its people in contravention of international law, along with 10,000 tons of aid.
As I noted early last week, the World Health Organization vigorously contests Israeli officials’ protestations that their siege of Gaza lets through enough food and materiel. In fact, there is widespread unemployment, poverty, lack of medicine and medical equipment, and hunger in Gaza, and 10 percent of residents (a majority of them children) are physically stunted from malnutrition.
The deposed prime minister of the Palestine Authority, elected in 2006 but overthrown in the West Bank by a joint US/ Israeli/ PLO coup in 2007, is Ismail Haniyeh. He is now a leader of the Hamas Party that controls Gaza. He gave a speech carried by Aljazeera in which he ridiculed the idea of good faith peace negotiations with Israel under the shadow of what he called such ongoing atrocities and condemned Palestine Authority Mahmoud Abbas for agreeing to participate in proximity talks with Israel. He also called on the UN Security Council to meet on the crisis.
An organization of Palestinian-Israelis within Israel called for a general strike, according to Aljazeera Arabic.
I received the following account of the beginnings of the confrontation by email:
‘ (Cyprus, May 31, 2010) At 11:00 pm [on Sunday] Cyprus time and in international waters off the coast of Israel, the boats were contacted by the Israeli navy. “Who are you and where are you going?” Our reply was that we were part of a flotilla and we were going to Gaza to deliver humanitarian supplies.
On the radar, the boats could see three Israeli war ships shadowing us, and 15 minutes later, a silent aircraft hovered over the flotilla. One of our Hebrew speakers had found Israel’s strategy and posted it to us. It stated, “You will be boarded by highly trained, very efficient and very SILENT commandos. They will use silent inflatable boats to get to our boats and both try to board our boats directly from the inflatables and by dropping divers into the water to climb onto the boats,” so people were preparing for them to come up and over the sides of the ships.
Our SPOT locator has sent out several HELP messages at www.witnessgaza.com.
Lubna Marsawa, Free Gaza’s organizer on the Turkish passenger boat said in outrage, “Very few times in history has a flotilla delivering humanitarian goods been welcomed by military war ships.”
This is a call to the world from the people on the boats. “We are a civilian people doing what our governments have refused to do, challenge Israel’s right to collectively punish 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza by blockading their right to their own sea. This flotilla is bringing construction and educational supplies the people of Gaza and are being met by Israeli warships.”
Contact: Huwaida Arraf on board the Challenger 0088 216 5207 2093 Ewa Jasciewica on board the Challenger 0088 163 184 7926 Greta Berlin 00 357 99 18 72 75 Mary Hughes 00 357 96 38 38 09 ‘