Archives for May 2010

Israel apologists and the Israeli national will

Depending on ones view of Israel, the deaths that occurred on the decks of the Mavi Marmara early today are either reprehensible, tragic, regrettable, or — a cause for celebration.

Someone just wrote to me: “Too bad you weren’t on that ship with the rest of the terror supporters. Anyone touching an IDF soldier deserves what they got.”

I know people in J Street who would find such sentiments deeply offensive; who would assure me that when they say they are pro-Israel it does not in any sense mean that they condone the actions of this Israeli government or the kind of red-blooded xenophobic Zionism that believes the IDF can do no wrong.

Yet the question I would pose to anyone who says they are pro-Israel is this: is the Israel you support the one that exists in 2010, or does it have a firmer foothold somewhere inside your imagination?

Which is the real Israel? The Israel cherished and trumpeted at an AIPAC convention? The Israel struggling to be defined at a J Street gathering? Or the Israel triumphantly being celebrated from the hilltops above Ashdod today?

This is how The Guardian describes the scene there and however representative these particular flag-clad Israelis might actually be, their claim to be pro-Israel has a distinction that many of their American counterparts lack: they are Israelis, they live in Israel and they are not on the political fringe.

If one was to describe a constellation that linked the IDF soldiers to either their flag-waving brethren or their more conflicted American cousins, the closest ties would surely coincide with geographical proximity.

[Above the Israeli port of Ashdod as the ships of the Freedom Flotilla were towed in] Jonah’s Hill itself was heaving. Shirtless Israeli men draped in their national flag waved placards declaring “Well done IDF” in both Hebrew and English, chanting, singing and applauding their support for the military operation.

Thick cables snaked across the ground from thrumming generators, delivering power to dozens of international TV crews, broadcasting across the globe against the backdrop of the shimmering Mediterranean.

Amid the crowd, a sophisticated public relations operation was underway. Spinners and spokesmen from the Israeli military and government departments politely answered questions and offered their own narrative of the day’s events. A barrage of emails and text message alerts firing into inboxes provided a background of electronic muzak.

Shahar Arieli, deputy spokesman for the ministry of foreign affairs, wearing a smart tie despite the heat, said two of the flotilla’s boats had been brought into port.

All activists would be offered the chance of immediate deportation at Israel’s expense “with their passports”, he said. “We want them to leave as soon as possible,” he added.

Those who declined would – “as long as they weren’t involved in attacks on our troops” – be processed through Israel’s justice system.

His patient courtesy was not matched by all those gathered on the hill. Chaim Cohen, a 52-year-old economic consultant from Givatayim, was dripping with both sweat and bile. “We have come to support our soldiers. It is obvious it [the Mavi Marmara] is a terrorist ship. We saw it on TV – they took out knives and put them in the stomachs of the IDF.”

There was nothing to challenge the Israeli version of events. Repeated attempts to reach the cell and satellite phones of activists on board the flotilla were rebuffed; it was unclear whether their phones had been confiscated, jammed or if they were simply out of range.

By late afternoon on Monday, activists with lesser injuries were being brought to hospitals in coastal towns and cities from the smaller passenger ships. At the Barzilai medical centre in Ashkelon, just north of the Gaza Strip, a Greek man in a neck brace told reporters: “They hit me.” Who? “Pirates,” he answered.

A dazed man with a striking black eye was unloaded from an ambulance. There had been “some brutality” on board, he said, but the activists were non-violent. “We are all Palestinian now,” he said as the doors of the ER closed behind him.

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Facing armed attack in international waters

When a civilian passenger ship comes under military attack in international waters, should we be surprised — or even critical — when some of the passengers mount a defense?

According to CNN, which has made itself into a mouthpiece for the Israeli Defense Forces, the flotilla massacre was a “skirmish”, which the dictionary defines as a “minor battle in war, as one between small forces.”

CNN/the IDF would have the world believe that Israel’s elite commandos unexpectedly met an armed force on the decks of the Mavi Marmara. Some of the Israeli soldiers were so afraid they jumped into the sea to save themselves from Arabic-speaking assailants, Israeli officials claimed.

Yet Today’s Zaman reports:

Turkish officials have denied claims leveled by Israeli authorities that weapons were onboard one of the six aid ships attacked by Israel on Monday.

Officials from the Customs Undersecretariat said every passenger was searched before getting on the ship with the help of X-ray machines and metal detectors. Senior officials from the undersecretariat said Israel’s allegations were tantamount to “complete nonsense.”

Israel and its lackeys in the US media might try to characterize what happened in the Mediterranean today as an “incident,” or “skirmish,” or an “ambush.”

But if the IDF met “unexpected resistance,” what exactly did they expect? A reception committee with tea and breakfast? Didn’t they see the resistance the Viva Palestina convoy put up last year when challenged by Egyptian security forces?

The live video feed coming from the Mavi Marmara during its voyage from Turkey would have provided invaluable intelligence for the IDF and I have little doubt that they watched it carefully. A number of observations the Israelis must have made may have significantly influenced their calculations and miscalculations.

One of the striking demographic features of the group of passengers was the average age — having watched many hours of the feed, I’d put the average age at about 35-40 with a significant number of “retirees” — this was not a bunch of young hotheads.

Also, the group was overwhelmingly Middle Eastern and Turkish and male. The risk that Israeli violence would result in the death of another Rachel Corrie was relatively low.

Put together these two factors — the expectation that the age of the passengers might make them somewhat less volatile and the fact that they largely came from countries that Israel has less concern about offending — and you get the perfect cocktail for Israeli hubris.

As for the fact that elite Israeli soldiers can in one instant be portrayed as invincible and yet the next as hapless victims — that is a paradox that can be resolved only in the minds of Israelis.

In the eyes of much of the world, this was a massacre, the dead will be seen as martyrs, and the moral bankruptcy of the Jewish state revealed in sharper clarity than ever before.

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After reports of serious injury, Raed Salah’s state remains unknown

Haaretz says that in Israel:

Reports in the Arabic-language press on Monday that Raed Salah, head of the northern branch of the Israeli-Arab Islamic Movement, had been seriously wounded sparked widespread anger among the country’s Arab minority – some 20 per cent of the population.

IDF officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Haaretz that Salah was alive – but offered no other details on his condition.

Salah’s deputy, Kamel Khatib, said in a radio interview that there was still no clear indication of Salah’s state. Khatib said that if emerged Salah had been killed, Israel would be directly responsible.

Local authorities in Arab-populated areas in Israel on Monday declared a general strike for the following day.

Israeli-Arab leaders condemned Israel’s handling of the interception.

Knesset member Mohammed Barakeh offered sardonic praise for the government, congratulating Defense Minister Ehud Barak on his “decisive victory of the army of pirates over the flotilla of civil liberty”.

Barakeh added: “Any government that puts itself outside international and humanitarian law will consign itself to the garbage can of history.

MK Taleb al-Sana said the operation had “exposed the ugly face of Zionism, the violence and aggression of the government of Israel”. Sana described the interception as an act of state terror against a humanitarian mission and called for Israel’s leaders to be tried for war crimes.

“This event proves you don’t have to be a German to be a Nazi,” he said.

By lunchtime, police were preparing for disturbances in Arab-majority districts in the north of the country, as well as around the Al-Aqsa Mosque atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the harbor at Ashdod and hospitals across the country where casualties are being treated.

“At this moment we have to act with restraint and complete control, so as not to inflame the situation needlessly,’ said police commander David Cohen.

The internal security minister, Yitzhak Aharonovitch, also held emergency planning meetings with police, saying that while he hope to maintain calm, law enforcement agencies were prepared for any eventually.

The Arab Higher Monitoring Committee, which represents Israel Arab minority, called on Israeli forces to stay out of Arab areas so as not to provoke violence.

“The government of Israel and the police carry responsibility for the safety of Arab citizens that will demand the right to protest against the police of the government and defense ministry that was carrying a message of peace to Gaza.”

Before the Freedom Flotilla set sail, Sheikh Salah spoke to Al Jazeera:

The official Arab role in this campaign is missing but that of the Arab people is not. We have campaigners coming from Kuwait, Jordan and Mauritania, Yemen and Algeria and that is a message we sent to the leaders. How beautiful it would be if you would reconcile with the stance of your people in their support of the cause of the Palestinians.

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Where is Israel’s self-respect?

Watch this video and pay attention to the victims — one an old man with a long gray beard. Are we supposed to believe that these men “ambushed” Israel’s elite navy commandos?

The narrative here is a familiar one: the plight of a people whose self-image as victims is so deeply internalized that they have lost the capacity to recognize their ability to do harm.

When evil is something that can only be seen as other, human conscience becomes silent and atrophies.

When violence has become the only language one knows how to speak, one has stepped outside the human family.

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Ehud Barak blames the victims of Israeli violence

Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak had the audacity to blame the casualties who died or were injured by Israeli commandos during an armed assault on the Freedom Flotilla in the early hours of Monday morning as it attempted to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza. Even though the Israeli Defense Forces have spent a week engaged in meticulous preparations for the assault, Israeli leaders are now portraying its elite military force as hapless victims of an “ambush”!

Benjamin Netanyahu is now considering the cancellation of his imminent trip to the United States. After receiving recent sycophantic overtures from the Obama administration in its effort to mend rifts with Tel Aviv, Israel’s prime minister may now decide that it is in both his and President Obama’s interests to avoid mutual embarrassment by not showing up in Washington. This particular decision will be affected by the extent to which the Israel-friendly US media attempts to minimize the flotilla massacre story.

But after the Israeli government treated the flotilla’s mission as a PR challenge — in which regard Israel’s actions have been a stupendous failure — the worst fallout for the Jewish state may occur inside Israel itself if, as is rumored, the Israeli Arab leader, Raed Salah, head of the Islamic Movement’s northern branch, is among the casualties.

In Haaretz, Amos Harel writes:

If Salah is indeed among the casualties, the result could be a wave of riots led by Islamic Movement activists. Targeted provocations by Islamists and left-wing activists will now take on strategic significance. Under certain circumstances, and if both sides fail to take steps to calm the situation, this could even end in a third intifada, or Palestinian uprising.

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PressTV: Gaza aid flotilla attacked by Israeli Navy

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Israeli troops storm Gaza flotilla killing 16 civilians

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Protesters try to storm Israeli consulate in Turkey

Haaretz reports:

Turkish police blocked dozens of stone-throwing protesters who tried to storm the Israeli Consulate in Istanbul over reports of an Israeli attack on at least one aid ship in international waters on Monday, news channels reported.

CNN-Turk and NTV showed dozens of angry protesters scuffling with Turkish police guarding the consulate in downtown Istanbul.

“Damn Israel,” the protesters shouted.

Two TV networks reported earlier that Israeli warships attacked the six ships carrying pro-Palestinian activists and aid for blockaded Gaza, killing at least 10 and wounding an unknown number of people on board.

“We were not expecting such an operation in international waters,” Omer Faruk Korkmaz, an official of the pro-Islamic aid group, IHH, that led the aid shipment said in Turkey. “Israel has been caught redhanded and the international community will not forgive it.”

Korkmaz said the ship was being escorted to Haifa.

Turkey’s foreign ministry called the reported attack “unacceptable” and summoned the Israeli ambassador to to discuss the incident – bringing already tense relations between Turkey and Israel to new levels.

“I was expecting an intervention,” said Murat Mercan, a lawmaker from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party. “I was not expecting bloodshed, the use of arms and bullets.”

“Israel is engaged in activity that will extremely hurt its image,” he said.

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Up to 16 killed in Freedom Flotilla massacre

The live feed above shows Turkish TV coverage.

Al Jazeera reports:

Israeli forces have attacked a flotilla of aid-carrying ships aiming to break the country’s siege on Gaza.

Up to 16 people were killed and more than 30 people injured when troops stormed the Freedom Flotilla early on Monday, the Israeli Army Radio said.

The flotilla was attacked in international waters, 65km off the Gaza coast.

Footage from the flotilla’s lead vessel, the Mavi Marmara, showed armed Israeli soldiers boarding the ship and helicopters flying overhead.

Al Jazeera’s Jamal Elshayyal, on board the Mavi Marmara, said Israeli troops had used live ammunition during the operation.

The Israeli Army Radio said soldiers opened fire “after confronting those on board carrying sharp objects”.

Free Gaza Movement, the organisers of the flotilla, however, said the troops opened fire as soon as they stormed the ships.

They also said the ships were now being towed to the Israeli town of Haifa, instead of Ashdod to avoid waiting journalists.

Earlier, the Israeli navy had contacted the captain of the Mavi Marmara, asking him to identify himself and say where the ship was headed.

Shortly after, two Israeli naval vessels had flanked the flotilla on either side, but at a distance.

Organisers of the flotilla carrying 10,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid then diverted their ships and slowed down to avoid a confrontation during the night.

They also issued all passengers life jackets and asked them to remain below deck.

Al Jazeera’s Ayman Mohyeldin, reporting from Jerusalem, said the Israeli action was surprising.

“All the images being shown from the activists on board those ships show clearly that they were civilians and peaceful in nature, with medical supplies on board. So it will surprise many in the international community to learn what could have possibly led to this type of confrontation,” he said.

Condemnation has been quick to pour in after the Israeli action.

Thousands of Turkish protesters tried to storm the Israeli consulate in Istanbul soon after the news of the operation broke. The protesters shouted “Damn Israel” as police blocked them.

Turkey is also reported to have summoned the Israeli ambassador to lodge a protest.

Meanwhile, Ismail Haniya, the Hamas leader in Gaza, has dubbed the Israeli action as “barbaric”.

Hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists, including a Nobel laureate and several European legislators, are with the flotilla, aiming to reach Gaza in defiance of an Israeli embargo.

But Israel has said it will not allow the flotilla to reach the Gaza Strip and vowed to stop the six ships from reaching the coastal Palestinian territory.

The flotilla had set sail from a port in Cyprus on Sunday and aimed to reach Gaza by Monday morning.

Israel said the boats were embarking on “an act of provocation” against the Israeli military, rather than providing aid, and that it had issued warrants to prohibit their entrance to Gaza.

It asserted that the flotilla would be breaking international law by landing in Gaza, a claim the organisers rejected.

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Report of ten killed: “This was not a confrontation. It was a massacre.”

FreeGazaorg Tweets 7.20AM local time and following:

Our Israeli attorney in Haifa has said that ten people have been murdered

And that the boats are being hauled into Haifa and not Ashdod so that journalists are not there

Israeli radio says that the boats are going to be hauled into Haifa. This was not a confrontation. This was a massacre

Israeli radio says wounded have been taken to hospital, but it is forbidden to tell anyone which hospital

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Israel attacks Freedom Flotilla, two civilians killed, 30 injured

Haaretz reports:

Israel Navy troops opened fire on pro-Palestinian activists aboard a six-ship aid flotilla sailing for the Gaza Strip, killing two of them and wounding several others, after the activists ignored Israeli orders to turn back, Turkey’s NTV reported early Monday.

The Israeli naval vessels reportedly made contact earlier with the six-ship flotilla, which is carrying 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid and supplies to Gaza.

The Israeli navy was operating under the assumption that the activists manning the boats would not heed their calls to turn around, and Israeli troops were prepared to board the ships and steer them away from the Gaza shores and toward the Israeli port city of Ashdod.
Huwaida Arraf, one of the flotilla organizers, said the six-ship flotilla began the journey from international waters off the coast of Cyprus Sunday afternoon after two days of delays. According to organizers, the flotilla was expected to reach Gaza, about 250 miles (400 kilometers) away, on Monday afternoon, and two more ships would follow in a second wave.

The flotilla was fully prepared for the different scenarios that might arise, and organizers were hopeful that Israeli authorities would do what’s right and not stop the convoy, one of the organizers said.

“We fully intend to go to Gaza regardless of any intimidation or threats of violence against us,” Arraf said. “They are going to have to forcefully stop us.”

After nightfall, three Israeli navy missile boats left their base in Haifa, steaming out to sea to confront the activists’ ships.

Two hours later, Israel Radio broadcast a recording of one of the missile boats warning the flotilla not to approach Gaza.

“If you ignore this order and enter the blockaded area, the Israeli navy will be forced to take all the necessary measures in order to enforce this blockade,” the radio message continued.

The flotilla, which includes three cargo ships and three passenger ships, is trying to draw attention to Israel’s three-year blockade of the Gaza Strip. The boats are carrying items that Israel bars from reaching Gaza, like cement and other building materials.

The activists said they also were carrying hundreds of electric-powered wheelchairs, prefabricated homes and water purifiers.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said that after a security check, permitted humanitarian aid confiscated from the boats will be transferred to Gaza through authorized channels. However, Israel would not transfer items it has banned from Gaza under its blockade rules. Palmor said that for example, cement would be allowed only if it is tied to a specific project.

This is the ninth time that the Free Gaza movement has tried to ship in humanitarian aid to Gaza since August 2008.

Israel has let ships through five times, but has blocked them from entering Gaza waters since a three-week military offensive against Gaza’s Hamas rulers in January 2009. The flotilla bound for Gaza is the largest to date.

Some 700 pro-Palestinian activists are on the boats, including 1976 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire of Northern Ireland, European legislators and an elderly Holocaust survivor.

The mission has experienced repeated delays, both due to mechanical problems and a decision by Cyprus to bar any boat from sailing from its shore to Gaza. The ban forced a group of European lawmakers to depart from the breakaway Turkish Cypriot northern part of the island late Saturday.

Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade on Gaza after Hamas militants violently seized control of the seaside territory in June 2007.

Israel says the measures are needed to prevent Hamas, which has fired thousands of rockets at Israel, from building up its arsenal. But United Nations officials and international aid groups say the blockade has been counterproductive, failing to weaken the Islamic militant group while devastating the local economy.

Israel rejects claims of a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, saying it allows more than enough food and medicine into the territory. The Israelis also point to the bustling smuggling industry along Gaza’s southern border with Egypt, which has managed to bring consumer goods, gasoline and livestock into the seaside strip.

Israel has condemned the flotilla as a provocation and vowed to block it from reaching Gaza.

Israeli military officials said they hope to resolve the situation peacefully but are prepared for all scenarios. Naval commandos have been training for days in anticipation of the standoff. Military officials, speaking on condition of anonymity under official guidelines, said the forces would likely take over the boats under the cover of darkness.

Palmor said foreigners on the ships would be sent back to their countries. Activists who did not willingly agree to be deported would be detained. A special detention facility has been set up in Ashdod.

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Flotilla changes course to avoid confrontation with Israeli navy

Al Jazeera, reporting live from the Freedom Flotilla at 6.30PM Eastern (1.30AM local Monday) said that after having been approached by Israeli navy ships several hours earlier, the flotilla has changed course in order to avoid a confrontation during the hours of darkness. The flotilla’s movements are being monitored by warships and aircraft — observers from the flotilla were not able to tell whether the distant aircraft was a helicopter of a drone.

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Israeli navy approaching Freedom Flotilla

Activists on Freedom Flotilla ships have put on life jackets as Israeli navy approaches at around 4PM Eastern. The flotilla remains in international waters outside an exclusion zone which Israel has already extended from 20 to 68 miles. The flotilla is still 120 miles from Gaza.

The Israeli commentator, Nahum Barnea, notes: “Netanyahu must certainly be disturbed by the unpleasant photos of the clash between IDF forces and the protestors. Yet what should concern him to a much greater degree is the ongoing deterioration in our ties with Turkey. This is not a public relations problem: It’s a strategic problem.”

The largest contingent of activists on board the Freedom Flotilla comes from Turkey.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the convoy of ships, including Turkish ships, carrying aid to Gaza was just a move of non-governmental organizations and had nothing to do with Turkish government.

“It is also an international move of the civil society. It is completely a step taken with humanitarian purposes,” Erdogan told reporters in Brazil.

I think there will not be any problem if Israel shows a humanitarian stance to this humanitarian aid,” he said.

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A message to America from Hamas

When Israeli officials are pressed to justify the fact that Israel has prevented the reconstruction of thousands of homes it destroyed during the war on Gaza, they say that if construction materials were allowed into Gaza, these would be commandeered by Hamas and used to fortify its bunkers.

In an interview Khalid Meshaal, the Hamas political bureau chief in Damascus, gave with Charlie Rose this week, the Hamas leader directly addressed this issue.

Meshaal’s message to the Obama administration and to the American people was this:

It’s time to end this embargo on Gaza, because it’s immoral, unethical and it failed in achieving its political objectives. And it is the right of the Palestinian people in Gaza to live like all other people without any embargo, because Gaza today is the biggest prison in the world and in history.

You know that Israel in the last war destroyed tens of thousands of houses, hospitals and universities, and it is the responsibility of the international community and especially of the United States of America to reconstruct what [has] been destroyed by Israel in Gaza. And we do not have it as a condition that this construction operation to be done through Hamas. No. As I told [Russia’s] President Medvedev, the international community can develop an international mechanism that is independent to introduce the construction materials into Gaza and to supervise the rebuilding, reconstruction of the houses and schools destroyed by Israel. Because our mission is to service our people. We want the Palestinian people in Gaza to live simply in houses in winter and in summer. And this is the responsibility of the international community. Unfortunately, some Palestinian leaderships lie to the Americans and to the Europeans when saying that Hamas has it as a condition to supervise the reconstruction. We do not have this as a condition. We tell the whole world, come to Gaza. Reconstruct the destroyed houses.

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Masked Israeli gunmen ready to hijack Freedom Flotilla

Ynet reports:

The Navy and the Israel Air Force’s observation jets are following the various vessels en route to Gaza and are prepared to first deploy the Navy’s missile ships which are docked in Haifa, and then, the rest of the forces.

Navy to sail boats to Ashdod The Navy hopes it will not have to use its extensive force and that the flotilla will retreat once its ships’ captains are warned. If this does not happen, Shayetet 13 officers are ready to take over the ships by force. Naval officers will board the ships and sail them according to the Navy commander’s orders.

A similar force of Dvorah patrol boats and Shayetet 13 vessels will be awaiting the ships at the Ashdod Port where they will assist in the final interception and in unloading the passengers and the cargo at the port. An Israel Police force will also be waiting on the shore, in order to prevent provocations and riots by the flotilla’s passengers.

The Navy’s decision to deploy such a large force for a relatively simple mission follows a decision by the prime minister, defense minister, and forum of seven top cabinet ministers not to allow the ships to arrive in Gaza under any circumstances, even if Israel is forced to pay a hefty price in the PR arena and in the international community’s eyes.

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Gaza flotilla drives Israel into a sea of stupidity

Gideon Levy once again proves that not all Israel’s have lost their minds.

The Israeli propaganda machine has reached new highs its hopeless frenzy. It has distributed menus from Gaza restaurants, along with false information. It embarrassed itself by entering a futile public relations battle, which it might have been better off never starting. They want to maintain the ineffective, illegal and unethical siege on Gaza and not let the “peace flotilla” dock off the Gaza coast? There is nothing to explain, certainly not to a world that will never buy the web of explanations, lies and tactics.

Only in Israel do people still accept these tainted goods. Reminiscent of a pre-battle ritual from ancient times, the chorus cheered without asking questions. White uniformed soldiers got ready in our name. Spokesmen delivered their deceptive explanations in our name. The grotesque scene is at our expense. And virtually none of us have disturbed the performance.

The chorus has been singing songs of falsehood and lies. We are all in the chorus saying there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. We are all part of the chorus claiming the occupation of Gaza has ended, and that the flotilla is a violent attack on Israeli sovereignty – the cement is for building bunkers and the convoy is being funded by the Turkish Muslim Brotherhood. The Israeli siege of Gaza will topple Hamas and free Gilad Shalit. Foreign Ministry spokesman Yossi Levy, one of the most ridiculous of the propagandists, outdid himself when he unblinkingly proclaimed that the aid convoy headed toward Gaza was a violation of international law. Right. Exactly.

It’s not the siege that is illegal, but rather the flotilla. It wasn’t enough to distribute menus from Gaza restaurants through the Prime Minister’s Office, (including the highly recommended beef Stroganoff and cream of spinach soup ) and flaunt the quantities of fuel that the Israeli army spokesman says Israel is shipping in. The propaganda operation has tried to sell us and the world the idea that the occupation of Gaza is over, but in any case, Israel has legal authority to bar humanitarian aid. All one pack of lies.

Only one voice spoiled the illusory celebration a little: an Amnesty International report on the situation in Gaza [PDF]. Four out of five Gaza residents need humanitarian assistance. Hundreds are waiting to the point of embarrassment to be allowed out for medical treatment, and 28 already have died. This is despite all the Israeli army spokesman’s briefings on the absence of a siege and the presence of assistance, but who cares?

And the preparations for the operation are also reminiscent of a particularly amusing farce: the feverish debate among the septet of ministers; the deployment of the Masada unit, the prison service’s commando unit that specializes in penetrating prison cells; naval commando fighters with backup from the special police anti-terror unit and the army’s Oketz canine unit; a special detention facility set up at the Ashdod port; and the electronic shield that was supposed to block broadcast of the ship’s capture and the detention of those on board.

And all of this in the face of what? A few hundred international activists, mostly people of conscience whose reputation Israeli propaganda has sought to besmirch. They are really mostly people who care, which is their right and obligation, even if the siege doesn’t concern us at all. Yes, this flotilla is indeed a political provocation, and what is protest action if not political provocation?

And facing them on the seas has been the Israeli ship of fools, floating but not knowing where or why. Why detain people? That’s how it is. Why a siege? That’s how it is. It’s like the Noam Chomsky affair all over again, but big time this time. Of course the peace flotilla will not bring peace, and it won’t even manage to reach the Gaza shore. The action plan has included dragging the ships to Ashdod port, but it has again dragged us to the shores of stupidity and wrongdoing. Again we will be portrayed not only as the ones that have blocked assistance, but also as fools who do everything to even further undermine our own standing. If that was one of the goals of the peace flotilla’s organizers, they won big yesterday.

Five years ago, the noted Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, who is a Jerusalem Prize laureate, after concluding his visit to Israel, said the Israeli occupation was approaching its grotesque phase. Over the weekend Vargas Llosa, who considers himself a friend of Israel, was present to see that that phase has since reached new heights of absurdity.

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Freedom Flotilla on its way to Gaza

Tweet sent at about 9AM Eastern from the Freedom Flotilla which had been held up off Cyprus until today.

They left a half hour ago. They are on their way. Will arrive outside the waters of Gaza in 18 hours.

The Free Gaza Movement put out a press release yesterday on why the flotilla had been delayed.

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EU calls for immediate end to Israel’s siege on Gaza


(Click the image above to watch livestream video from the Freedom Flotilla.)

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Friday called for an immediate end to Israel’s Gaza blockade, as an aid flotilla prepared to set sail for the enclave despite the embargo.

“The continued policy of closure is unacceptable and politically counterproductive,” she said in a statement.

“We would like to reiterate the EU’s call for an immediate, sustained and unconditional opening of crossings for the flow of humanitarian aid, commercial goods and persons to and from Gaza.”

In spite of this appeal, the government of Cyprus has taken the extraordinary step of preventing members of the European parliament from joining the Freedom Flotilla.

Cypriot authorities prevented pro-Palestinian activists, including 30 MPs from nine European countries, from leaving the island yesterday to join a flotilla in international waters, which is on its way to blockaded Gaza.

In addition to issuing an edict banning ships headed for Gaza to set sail from the island’s ports, or dock on the island on their way back, the authorities yesterday forbade any small vessels from leaving Cyprus in case they were on their way to the flotilla of eight ships carrying around 700 peace activists, and 10,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid.

The government denied it bowed to pressure from Israel to put the ban in place.

The European Union guarantees the right of freedom of movement of its citizens within the territory of its member states. Cyprus has been a member of the EU since 2004.

A Tweet @freegazaorg said at about 11AM Eastern:

Twenty have left from Famaghusta, Northern Cyprus, four German MPs, one Swedish MP, all the passengers from Challenger 1. Hedy [Epstein] not going.

Meanwhile, Haaretz reports:

The Hamas leader in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh said Saturday that if Israel behaved like pirates and attacked the international Freedom Flotilla carrying 10,000 tons of aid meant for Gaza, then the Palestinians will have won.

“The flotilla’s message is clear and it will reach the entire world,” Haniyeh said Saturday morning during a press conference held at the Gaza port where the ships were expected to dock.

“The meaning of the flotilla is that the entire world opposes the siege on the Gaza Strip, and if Israel behaves like pirates and sea-terrorists – we will win,” he added.

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