The Audacity of the Gaza Flotilla

A new Gaza aid flotilla is set to take off from Greece on Sunday, including 600 persons representing 22 countries, on ten ships. Pulitzer-prize winning author Alice Walker is among them. (Swedish author Henning Mankell participated in the 2010 flotilla).

Yonatan Shapira explains why he is taking part in the new flotilla:

The US State Department shamefully fully supports the blockade and the collective punishment, and is threatening US citizens who participate in the attempt to break the siege of Gaza’s children (40% of residents are children). The Israeli Right wing portrays the blockade as a measure against the Hamas Party, which won the 2006 elections for the Palestine Authority. But blockading 1.5 million civilian noncombatants to get out a few thousand party activists and militiamen is illegal, especially for the Occupying Power (which Israel is, since it controls Gaza’s air and water and prevents Palestinians from entering a wide swathe of their own land).

Six congressmen wrote Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, asking her to protect American citizens on the high seas, after an Israeli commando attack on an unarmed aid vessel last year left 9 dead, including one American citizen. The letter came after the State Department issued its menacing statement against Americans who participated.

Since the blockade is both illegal and evil, and since the world Establishment, including the US government, is enabling it, it is only natural that upstanding Americans and members of other nations want to challenge it. It should be remembered that the Civil Rights movement in the United States was mostly illegal and its activists were frequently jailed, beaten, bitten by police dogs, and sometimes shot down by law enforcement.

Israel’s blockade of Gaza prevents the export anything produced in the Strip by the Palestinians that live there (including the 40% of residents who are refugees from Israel’s 1948 ethnic cleansing campaign). It also steeply limits imports. Over half of Palestinians in Gaza are food insecure, and some die every year because Israel won’t let them get out in time for specialized medical care. Unemployment is estimated at 40 percent.

Numerous reports by Oxfam and others have detailed the unnecessary misery that the Israelis are inflicting on the Palestinians of Gaza. Wikileaks has released State Department cables detailing the Israeli plan to keep Palestinians there living on the edge of catastrophe, without quite allowing the situation to tip into a humanitarian disaster that would stir the world against the policy. But keeping people on the edge of a humanitarian disaster is a humanitarian disaster. The Oxfam report in pdf format is here.

On the ongoing medical issues see this report by Aljazeera English:

There is some money in some people’s hands in Gaza, because of remittances from Palestinian workers abroad and perhaps some surreptitious donations from Gulf oil sheikhdoms. Without NGO, EU and Arab charitable aid for those who are not entrepreneurs, the situation really would be dire. Most people have been thrown into deep poverty and unemployment by Israeli policies of collective punishment, which contravene the 4th Geneva Convention of 1949 and are a war crime that the State Department should be helping stop and punish, not supporting. State Department Foreign Service Officers asked to help contravene the Geneva Conventions should refuse and should blow the whistle on and sue whoever gives them that order.

29 Responses

  1. Does Israel do this to the people of Gaza because they hate them, because they enjoy inflicting pain, or because they need to feel superior?

    • It is the concept people have been taught, or a perspective held of favored son, and unflavored son – one having entitlement and birthright, and the other having none. Unfortunately, in the religious community this view is overly applied. When people feel entitled or chosen, is when abuses begin to occur. It doesn’t matter if this view is held in a religious group, within individual family members, or secular organizations or groups the results are the same.

      A second issue enters in with cycle of abuse; this can be seen in the behaviors of the Stern Gang that abused both the people of Palestine as well as moderate Jews. People can come through their experience from abuse several different ways – two ways are they become more compassionate, understanding of abuse or they can become abusers themselves – The Stern Gang seems to have chosen the latter.

      Thirdly, well intentioned folks like Bernadotte were too unfamiliar with the ancient beliefs and cultures of the people who inhabited the region.

      The above is the basis for why the severe abuses are seen today. Then another issue, of people aligned for money is problematic in causing additional harm.

      Israel has a problem growing within its own nation that will be manifesting itself in the future, and America may be forced into recessing its views out of necessity.

  2. My congressman, Brad Sherman, tried to get a law passed to have Gaza aid flotilla participants arrested as abettors of terrorists. When I have to choose between him and a Republican, I don’t vote.

  3. ‘if the United Nations Security Council tells a government to cut it out, and the government continues to kill, the UNSC has the authority to remove that government from power. All this is inherent in the various treaties and instruments signed as treaty obligations by UN members.’

    But the system is flawed because five nations have the power to veto any resolution. That means some war crimes are punished, some ignored and some actively protected. The various conventions are being used to provide justification for attacking and overthrowing smaller nations while other nations can ignore the possibility of Security Council action.

    • Right on friend! Very good analysis! I hope you don’t mind, I’m making your comment my Facebook status!

    • And when/if they are criticized they haul out the old chestnut ” the UN didn’t act – the UN is useless……” rather than taking responsibility for their own selfish actions.

  4. As a passenger on the U.S. boat, I want to thank Juan for this post. I believe the conclusion is particularly apropos. State Department officers should not allow themselves to be complicit in violating international law. They should, rather, exercise their responsibilities to ensure the safety of U.S. citizens (and indeed, the entire flotilla) who have no plans to, at any time, violate the laws of any nation they enter, or international law for that matter. And contrary to the absurd statement (really an audacious lie) of Hillary Clinton on Friday, the flotilla will not enter Israeli waters at any time.

    • I do not have anywhere near the courage to do what these people are doing.

      Since the attacks on these peaceful efforts are illegal, what’s to stop another country from providing a naval escort?

      I would like to see that.

  5. Apparently The Audacity of Hope has been declared unseaworthy after sailing across the Atlantic and will have to stay in Athens. Nice irony.

  6. This has been a sad situation for decades – from the very beginning. The Palestinians have been badly treated since the start. The jealousies of old continue, began by two competing women and one man. Both are sons – ½ brothers and one is treated so badly. Shame.

  7. As an American and as a Jew, I am ashamed and angrered by the United States government’s unrelenting policy of allowing Israel’s continued assualt on Palestinian non-combatants in Gaza.

    Why is it that right wing parties – whether here, in Israel or elsewhere – always manage to be on the side of oppression and harm? I am especially puzzled by the fact that Democrats, who should know better, always kowtow to AIPAC and its fellow travellers by not insisting that US support of Israel will be contingent on Jerusalem actively find a solution to the problem Isreal has largely created over the past 20 years.

    Maybe it is time to begin applying targetted sanctions against Isreal until it starts acting like a rational member of the world community.

  8. Regardless of one’s position on the issues, it has to be admitted that Obama admin shows systematic neglect towards legal common sense. Here are some recent examples.

    Guantanamo was kept open not based on some clear political principles, but because of some incomprehensible legal technicalities.

    Obama’s position on Libya comes covered by a thick cloud of obscure legal arguments why they don’t need the Congress authorization.

    With Gaza blockade, they again use obscure legal tools instead of making the political position clear.

    Just recently, NYC court considered a really bizarre Israeli case against Aljazeera. The case was dismissed, but why in the world US legal system spends time on things like this? There are other, more reasonable ways to achieve the same goals! link to

  9. as if keeping the Gazans hungry and poor will ever help solve the problems. all this occupation will do is create more martyrs, like the Warsaw Ghetto.

    i guess until enough people die, nothing will change.

  10. From the perspective of US national security, Washington’s support for extreme right-wing Israeli politicians who want to use violence against peace activists, even in international waters, is dangerously self-defeating. The US needs the international rule of law but, regarding Israel, is promoting piracy – there is no other word for military attacks on vessels in international waters.

    US official reaction to Israel’s murder of Syrian protesters along the Golan border was another troubling example of Washington irresponsibly making exceptions for Israel, allowing it to get away with criminal behavior. Shooting unarmed demonstrators across international borders, like attacking ships in international waters, is criminal behavior that sets precedents that are sure one day to harm US interests.

    If we say piracy by Israel is OK, then piracy will become standard behavior for all others who see an advantage in it. If we say that Israel can kill demonstrators who are in another country, then some adversary of the US will sooner or later follow that precedent.

    When Washington bows down to violence-prone right-wing elements in Israel, it makes the world a less civilized place, thus harming American security.

    International law starts with the willingness of the most powerful to follow rules even when those rules happen to be inconvenient.

    • “If we say piracy by Israel is OK, then piracy will become standard behavior for all others who see an advantage in it.”

      Whatever you want to call Israel’s action in boarding a flotilla vessel, it is definitely not piracy. Piracy, by definition, is a non-state activity. States do not commit piracy, private parties do. This is a long-established principle under international law.

  11. I happen to know the daughter of James Schermerhorn, the now-82-year-old American who was on the Mavi Marmara last year and will be on the Gaza flotilla this year. She’s naturally worried about her father, but reports that he is not. (I last talked to her about this 2 weeks ago, when he was on his way to Athens.)

    She said that organizers were making an even more diligent effort this year to be sure that nothing was on board that could be considered a “weapon.” Those who remember what sorts of things were described as “weapons” last year will appreciate that this task will not be an easy one. At the same time, the organizers have reportedly learned that the Israelis intend this year to drop attack dogs onto the flotilla ships, and so the participants are stocking up on high-frequency dog whistles that, they hope, will debilitate the Israeli attack dogs.

    For what this is worth… I have no idea how much of it is accurate.

  12. There were diplomats in WWII who disobeyed orders and issued visas, or otherwise helped, refugees fleeing from the Nazis and their collaborators. Decades later we gave them recognition in the State Department. As a retiree, I tried to get the American Foreign Service Association to issue a statement of regret for the deaths in Baghdad when Blackwater thugs fired randomly while allegedly “protecting” diplomats in their convoys. I was told to “write a letter to the editor.” A handful of diplomats resigned to protest the invasion of Iraq, but I’m not aware of anyone since protesting in any way, regardless of what Rice or Clinton say or what illegal acts we support. Our giant “embassies” in Iraq and Afghanistan are full of careerists who are advancing their personal careers regardless of what happens to the hapless people in these countries. It would be hard to recommend a Foreign Service career to a young person today.

    • I, too, was a career Foreign Service Officer, and I would heartily recommend a Foreign Service career to any young person today. Just because you may consider an act the U.S. supports “illegal” doesn’t mean others in the Foreign Service do, or even that the act is illegal. It simply means that you think it is. It is your opinion only. And for you to state that our “Embassies in Iraq and Afghanistan are full of careerists who are advancing their personal careers regardless of what happens to the hapless people in these countries.” demonstrates an arrogant attitude on your part. Who are you to impose your view on others and apply your standard to judge them?

  13. […] Since the blockade is both illegal and evil, and since the world Establishment, including the US government, is enabling it, it is only natural that upstanding Americans and members of other nations want to challenge it. Israel military ordered to stop flotilla Greta Berlin who is with the US boat to Gaza says she “is frustrated. Greek government trying to stop us from leaving (read that to really mean the US and Israel), but they could not stop at least three boats from already going. Call the state department and demand that they let us sail. 202 647 4000. Ask for Hillary Clinton office.” Frivolous Lawsuit Filed against Alternatives International for its Support of Freedom Flotilla […]

  14. Dear Professor Cole

    I wonder if any Turkish warships are going to engage in Peaceful Passage along the coast towards Egypt.

  15. What I don’t understand is how the US can still unconditionally support Israel’s unjustified actions in the name of “its right of self-defense”.

    link to

    I bet the statements won’t much differ after the audacity of hope.

  16. I’ve read the comments reacting to Juan’s post and understand the passion – although the commenter who made the Stern Gang reference took a cheap shot that was wildly off base, IMHO (though we can disagree respectfully about that.) My problem with the flotilla is that it’s a publicity stunt, pure and simple. People are likely to get hurt unnecessarily. As the NYTimes noted in its piece earlier today, the end of the Egyptian blockade – as well as a loosening of Israeli restrictions on materials making their way to Gaza – have changed the situation and the flotilla protesters are playing off an outdated music sheet.

    Effect change politically. These types of purposely provocative actions accomplish little other than bloodshed – though perhaps that’s what its sponsors want?

    • An attempt to convoy aid to a needy population could only be described as ‘provocative’ in the context of the US government’s disgraceful support of Israel’s Gaza policy. If the US government wants to avoid an incident involving bloodshed, they should direct their influence towards the Israeli government and call for the appropriate restraint, not threaten people trying to make a stand for justice. But of course those with little or no power make the easiest targets.

      If this relief effort ‘provokes’ some discussion around the issue of US foreign policy it will have done some good. Let’s hope the aid gets through and even more good is done. Shame on the US government: shame on Hilary Clinton. But something tells me the UK government (I am a UK citizen) would react no differently.

      My son is studying International Relations at university here in the UK: I will recommend this site to him.

      • If only the stand that they’re making was more closely related to achieving justice or justice could come through lifting constraints placed upon Hamas without extracting any concessions from them, perhaps more folks would agree with you Mr Flint when you say that the US and UK should be ashamed.
        Perhaps you might bear in mind that the US and UK have long shouldered most of the burden in supplying the people of Gaza with free food.

    • “[I]t’s a publicity stunt, pure and simple.”

      Kinda like those black kids who sat at the Woolworth’s counter.


      I see what you’re saying, but, you need to step back and look at what you’re considering.

      The “provocation” is essentially, “they made us shoot them.” There’s only so much lying and BS the IDF and Israel can put forth. It’s not so much that they want “bloodshed,” it’s rather, they want the world to see what Israel is doing to the Gazans. It’d be preferable that the goods and supplies get through, but, if the Israeli’s want to shoot up a bunch of peace activists, then yah, hopefully the world will see the Israeli’s actions like the Police in the South who sought firehouses and dogs on black people demonstrating, back in the 60’s.

      Your comment suggested – “an outdated music sheet” – that GAZA is already free? or somewhat free? or somewhat not totally occupied, right? Then why can’t a bunch of peace activists with rice and healthcare supplies dock their boat in a port in Gaza?

      You reference “make change politically,” but when the US itself is afraid of it’s own Congress (any position the mildest bit critical of Israel can lead to huge electoral difficulties) when trying to rein in Israel, then, we really have to rely on the Activists to draw attention to the continued Israeli mistreatment of the Palestinians.

      I can’t tell you the number of times I hear people say, “they got out of Gaza and look what happens,” and it’s like, they’re still in fricking Gaza.

  17. john caddidy –There was no cheap shot intended on my part. My comment was intent was on various human responses, as well as responses after undergoing abuse – there are more than two responses humans can develop after experiencing abuse. Stern gang members had experienced the abuses of the Warsaw ghetto.

  18. A “publicity stunt”, Mr Caddidy, who may have been a student of mine, is a pejority phrase which may as well be said of the U S Constitution’s conferring of a right of ‘the people to peaceably assemble and partition their ogvernment for grievences’; and it can well be said of demonstration in Tehrir Square in Cairo of the demonstrations which brought a tyranical government with the potential of being replaced by a democracy, and one unlike Israel’s so-called democracy which respects human rights. Your compass is 180 degrees off, Mr candiddy. You need to focus on th abuse and degradation of the Palesgtinian people by the (illegitimate) state of Israel.

  19. Again and again, the vile influence of AIPAC manifests itself.

    In the face of the obvious collective punishment of the Gazans, the US Gov’t, instead of attempting to correct that injustice, threatens its citizens who are trying to alleviate it. All in an effort to curry favour with this tiny minority of American Jews who somehow have gotten control of US foreign policy.

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