Flotilla ready to set sail for Gaza

Joseph Dana reports:

According to recent tweets from the US boat “The Audacity of Hope,” which is part of the flotilla waiting to depart from Greece towards Gaza any day now, “the boat successfully completed its sea trials – there is no reason for any further delays on this matter, we are ready to sail.”

Speaking to a packed room of over 70 international journalists in a sweltering Athens conference room, organizers of Freedom Flotilla II said that the flotilla will set sail from various Mediterranean ports in the “coming days.” Organizers informed the international press corps that the purpose of the flotilla is both humanitarian and political in nature. Despite, clear safety warnings to both journalists and passengers by the Israeli government, flotilla representatives said that they will sail to Gaza in solidarity with the people of Palestinian. New York Times journalist Jim Roberts recently tweeted that he WILL cover the flotilla.

Max Blumenthal adds:

On June 24, Joseph Dana, a journalist who will traveling aboard the US boat to Gaza, discovered that an anonymous private legal complaint had been filed against the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. The complaint alleged that US boat, “The Audacity of Hope,” was not sea worthy and therefore was unfit to sail. In response, the harbor master in Athens, Greece, where the boat was docked, told the crew that he could not allow them to leave until the complaint was resolved.

Two days later, the Israel Law Center, Shurat Hadin, accepted responsibility for the complaint, which was essentially a baseless but startlingly successful exercise in legal harassment. Who is Shurat Hadin, and what is their agenda? According to the group’s website, Shurat Hadin is a Tel Aviv-based law center that specializes in lawsuits against “terrorists.” Its founder, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, describes herself in her bio as a “human rights activist.”

Darshan-Leitner began her harassment of the US boat to Gaza began weeks ago when it filed a civil action against “perceived supporters of Hamas” on behalf of Alan Bauer, an American doctor who was injured along with his son in a 2002 Jerusalem bombing attack. The action also threatened maritime insurance companies with legal consequences if they insured any of the boats involved in the flotilla.

I have discovered that a major donor to Shurat Hadin is the homophobic far-right Pastor John Hagee. In March 2010, I reported that Hagee appeared beside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a major rally in Jerusalem to denounce the two state solution and announce the financial contributions he and his supporters were making to Israeli organizations. Among the organizations Hagee said he had bankrolled was Shurat Hadin.

Haaretz reports:

Monday marked the second day of discussions by senior ministers on the planned Gaza flotilla. On Sunday, Netanyahu told the inner cabinet that Israel would not allow any ships to breach its maritime blockade of Gaza.

Security officials and Foreign Ministry representatives informed the cabinet on Sunday that Israel has no information indicating that terrorists or anyone affiliated with a terror group is planning to take part in the flotilla, said a government source. Nonetheless, there may be clashes between Israeli forces and some Arab activists aboard the ships.

“The critical mass of participants will include human rights activists from European Union countries, Canada and the United States,” said a senior security official.

Some 10 ships are planning to set sail on Tuesday in an attempt to breach Israel’s blockade of the Strip. The government and army are hoping the ships will stop on their own, possibly early Thursday, and that the Israel Navy will not have to board them, a move that would not be well received in the world.

Some 500 people are expected to be aboard the flotilla, which will include six or seven ships currently docked in Greece.

Assuming the ships do sail from Greece, they will meet up with two or three that have already set sail from Spain and France, and continue toward the Gaza coast.

The announcement two weeks ago from the Turkish group IHH that the Mavi Marmara ship will not take part in the flotilla has changed the security establishment’s views regarding the anticipated resistance. IHH members violently resisted the naval takeover of the Mavi Marmara in the flotilla of May 2010, and nine of them were killed in the clashes. In addition, since the Mavi Marmara won’t be part of this flotilla, only smaller ships will be involved, increasing the likelihood that Israel will not have to board them to force them to turn back.

Cabinet ministers were told on Sunday that after IHH announced that the Mavi Marmara would not be in the flotilla, there was less reason for concern about possible violent confrontations.

Government and defense sources said the fact that most, if not all, the flotilla participants will be European peace activists presumably not interested in violence will present a “more difficult public diplomacy challenge,” and Israel wants to avoid clashes with the activists.
In contrast to the decision last year to deploy naval commandos onboard the ships when they ignored Israeli warnings not to continue to Gaza – this year Israel will try other methods to stop the ships and direct them toward Egypt’s El Arish port.

Reuters reports:

Israel said on Monday it was rethinking its threat to bar foreign journalists from entering the country for 10 years if they board a new aid flotilla that plans to challenge the Israeli naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.

“(Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) heard about it on the news and asked to re-examine this issue because it’s problematic,” Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon said, referring to Sunday’s warning from Israel’s Government Press Office (GPO).

“I know the prime minister was as surprised as I was to hear this,” he said, without disclosing who had made the decision to deliver the threat.

“There’s no way to stop the media in this day and age if they (are on board) anyway. It’s better not to clash with them.”

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