Gaza protest boat forced into Israeli port

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Israel Navy intercepts sole remnant of flotilla heading for Gaza

Haaretz reports:

The Israel Navy intercepted the French yacht Dignite-Al Karame on Tuesday after it had refused to stop heading toward the Gaza shore, as per IDF instructions.

Elite troops from Shayetet 13, a naval commando unit, boarded the vessel minutes after IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz issued the order to intercept it and took it over quickly with no resistance on the part of the passengers.

When the Karame was some 50 miles away from Gaza, the Israel Navy began trailing the yacht and contacted the passengers on board, demanding they state their final destination and disclose if they are carrying any weapons.

A member of the Greek delegation to Gaza answered the questions and promised that they are not carrying any kind of weapons. He said their destination is the Gaza port.

An Israel Defense Forces official confirmed that the Israel Navy contacted the yacht, and warned it that it is nearing a blockaded area. Defense establishment sources stressed that they would not allow any kind of vessels to dock in the Gaza Strip, so any ship trying to break the blockade would be intercepted.

Following the quick interception of the vessel, the IDF sailed it to the Ashdod port where the passengers will be taken into police custody and handled by Israeli immigration authorities.

The IDF spokesperson stressed that the order to intercept the ship was issued only after the passengers repeatedly refused to answer the demands of the navy and stop sailing toward Gaza. According to the IDF spokesperson, none of the passengers were hurt and IDF soldiers offered the passengers food and beverages following the interception.

Greta Berlin of the Free Gaza Movement said the Dignite-Al Karame had previously declared Alexandria, Egypt, as its destination so it could slip out of Greece, and then changed its route to Gaza, saying it was a legal move.

Defense establishment sources said Sunday they expected no violent resistance from the 10 activists and three crew members aboard the Dignite-Al Karame, so its interception should be swift and smooth.

Meanwhile, The Independent reports:

The Israeli parliament has temporarily suspended an Israeli-Arab politician who participated in the Gaza-bound flotilla last year that was intercepted by Israel in a bungled assault that left nine pro-Palestinian activists dead.

Civil rights groups condemned the controversial sanction against Haneen Zoabi, an MP with the Balad Party. Her suspension came as a lone French yacht tried to run Israel’s blockade of Gaza as the sole representative of a much larger convoy that had hoped to sail weeks ago but has been grounded by the authorities in Greece.

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Gaza-bound ship carrying pro-Palestinian activists sets sail from Greece

Amira Hass reports from somewhere in the East Mediterranean.

On Saturday evening a Gaza-bound boat left Greek territorial waters. Its 10 participants regard themselves as representatives of the entire abortive flotilla to Gaza, and are determined to exhaust all possibilities in order to reach their destination, or at least carry out the symbolic act of protesting the blockade. They are well aware of the Lilliputian dimensions of their venture, compared with the massive impact organizers had initially planned to have with the 10-odd vessel flotilla.

Dignite-Al Karama, one of two yachts purchased by the French delegation in the second Freedom Flotilla, left a port in Corsica on June 25. Thus, it was spared the fate of eight other boats which were supposed to sail out of Greek ports, but were impounded by Greek authorities.

Last Wednesday Karama left the port of Sitia in Crete, where it had been anchored for a week, awaiting the other boats in vain. Once it was clear that Greece, under strong Israeli pressure, would not allow those boats to sail, its remaining passengers ¬ three French nationals and one Tunisian ¬ were joined by three representatives of other delegations, a Greek, Swede and a Canadian, and by three more French activists who arrived from France. Also on board are three crew members and three journalists from Al Jazeera and Haaretz.

The decision to carry on the mission of sailing to Gaza was not automatically welcomed by other delegations or by the steering committee of the flotilla. Some preferred to officially end the current campaign. Karama’s participants spent long hours negotiating and convincing the others.

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Journalists barred from flight to Israel

Al Jazeera reports:

Two Dutch journalists were not allowed to board a flight from Amsterdam to Tel Aviv late yesterday.

Security Correspondent Bud Wichers and Photographer Ettora Hesseling, who are both working for an International news agency, recently covered the preparation of the Dutch Flotilla activists from Greece.

They intended to sail with flotilla, but backed out after a disagreement between the Dutch organizers and Dutch journalists.
They were told by a staff member of El Al Airlines, an Israeli company, that that they would pose a serious flight risk, and for that reason could not board the plane.

“We wanted to tell both sides of the Flotilla story and scheduled interviews with Israelis who oppose the action of the activists,” said Wichers.

“Later on we wanted to go to Gaza to see how Israel is bringing aid to the people there. Israel denied us the opportunity to tell their side of the story. Instead we are labeled terrorists now, even though Netanyahu’s office specifically said they would not target journalists who covered the Freedom Flotilla 2.”

Wichers has worked numerous times in the Israel and the Palestinian areas and covered the Middle East for over 10 years.

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Juliano ship heads for Gaza

Ynet reports:

The Gaza-bound Juliano ship left Greece Wednesday afternoon, after suffering huge delays due in part to a ban set by Athens on the departure of flotilla ships from its ports.

On board the ship are 20 activists. Last week flotilla organizers claimed that Israel had sabotaged the ship in an attempt to prevent it from sailing.

“We are at sea,” former Israeli Dror Feiler, one of the organizers, told Ynet. “All roads lead to Gaza. It will be a small but high-quality flotilla.”

Greta Berlin, a spokeswoman for the Free Gaza movement, told Ynet that the Juliano will rendezvous, in international waters, with a French boat already at sea before heading towards the Strip. She gave no details on the location of the meeting.

Feiler also refused to provide details on the progress planned for the boats. “At this point I can only say that after a lengthy battle we finally succeeded in departing. The Greeks gave us a lot of trouble, but we met all of their conditions and they couldn’t hold us any longer,” he said. “It was like David versus Goliath.”

The former Israeli also lamented the fact that a Greek company had reneged on a deal to provide cement for the people of Gaza.

“They gave us our money back, said they had been pressured and that they could not hold up their end of the deal,” he said, adding that the flotilla organizers plan to sue the company.

The Juliano had previously attempted to set sail on Tuesday, but the Greek coast guard surrounded the ship and quashed the attempt. Now, Feiler believes, the only thing standing between them and Gaza is the IDF.

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‘Sexy Israel’ getting treatment for flotilla nightmares – updated

Dimi Reider writes:

I’m somewhat of a fool for excruciatingly bad Hasbara videos, but this one surely takes the cake:

From this video, we learn “Israel” is massively paranoid, even somewhat hysterical, believing edited second-hand evidence from biased sources (IDF spokesman’s video from the flotilla), suspicious of people trying to help her and storming out of treatment – so far so true. Apart from making rather poorly judged use of the experience of real women with real trauma, the July 1st video is also ridiculously sexist; beginning with the cheap camera-pan up the actress’s legs and ending with the fact it was first posted on Youtube a day earlier, under the title “Sex with the Psychologist”.

Is this for real? Your guess is as good as mine. This is so embarrassingly counterproductive one feels it simply has to be satire. But then again, so is our foreign policy.

Update: The actress is Tel Aviv based Aimee Niestat. Niestat confirmed to +972 it was her in the video, but declined to say who was behind it. However, +972 was able to confirm through a source with knowledge of the actress’ engagement that the gig was indeed a Hasbara video commissioned by the government. It’s unclear whether this was specifically the Information Ministry – we’ll confirm as soon as we get their response.

Update: Max Blumenthal adds:

A source who works inside Haaretz told me that Neistat is a Haaretz employee who translates Hebrew content into English (occasionally staffers at the translation desk produce original journalist content and editorials). Of course, everyone at Haaretz is entitled to their opinion, but Neistat’s involvement in a government-sponsored propaganda campaign seems like an ethical breach. As appallingly bad as the video was, the fact that an apparent staffer for one of Israel’s major newspapers played a starring role is far worse.

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Audacity of Hope‘s attempt to break the Greek blockade

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Egypt to Gaza: The road begins here

An editorial in Egypt’s Al-Masry Al-Youm says:

Egypt owes its unique history prior Mubarak to its pro-activeness in the region. A revolutionary Egypt must now reclaim its former prominence.

Perhaps the re-opening of Rafah border crossing and the success of the Palestinian reconciliation in Cairo are living proof that the Arab World’s national dignity following Egypt’s freedom from the grasp of the former regime, which succeeded in ripping the people of their sense of solidarity and responsibility for regional causes.

These positive changes come on the heels of years of the Egyptian state sponsoring the Gaza blockade under the Mubarak regime.

Today, the international community is tested – yet again – on its stance toward the Palestinian cause. The Freedom Flotilla II, a convoy of ships aiming to bring supplies and express support to the besieged people of Gaza, is now stuck in Greek waters following Israel’s pressure on Greece to prevent flotilla vessels from departing the port.

Following discovery that propeller shafts of two ships have been damaged, there are speculations that the Mossad may have sabotaged the boats.

Arab governments remain silent in the face of vehement international criticism of Israeli policy vis-à-vis the Palestinian people. Once more, we revert back to people – to our people – for only they can initiate an act of resistance.

As part of Egypt’s conscience and its rising revolutionary fabric, we at Al-Masry Al-Youm call for a public campaign to invite the Freedom Flotilla II to sail to the Gaza Strip from one of Egypt’s ports.

While we believe the Freedom Flotilla II is better off sailing from Egypt for logistical reasons, we also think the decision gives a strong political message. This is the political message of enacting popular solidarity with the Palestinian cause and challenging the incumbent naval blockade. This is also our chance to rewrite a shameful political history of Egypt sponsoring the blockade, especially during Israel’s war on the strip during the 2009 Cast Lead operation, when over 1000 Palestinians – mostly civilians – lost their lives.

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Greece confines Gaza flotilla and frees U.S. captain

Reuters reports:

The captain of a U.S. ship arrested for trying to sail to Gaza as part of a flotilla aiming to deliver aid to Palestinians despite a Greek ban was freed on Tuesday, but three other activists were still in custody.

Just over a year after nine people were killed when Israeli marines stormed a pro-Palestinian flotilla, authorities last week banned ships destined for Gaza from leaving Greek ports to stop the latest flotilla “for their safety.”

American John Klusmire, 60, captain of the “Audacity for Hope” ferrying mostly U.S. activists, was charged with breaching the Greek ban and putting lives at risk after being intercepted last week at sea by armed Greek coastguards.

“He is released, there is no charge against him. He is free to go,” Adam Shapiro, one of the organisers of the Free Gaza Movement told Reuters by telephone from the port of Piraeus. “Our destination remains the freedom of the Palestinian people.”

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A July Fourth shame on America’s founders

Ray McGovern writes:

Yes, that was I standing before the U.S. Embassy in Athens on the eve of the July Fourth weekend holding the American flag in the distress mode — upside down.

Indignities experienced by me and my co-guests on “The Audacity of Hope,” the American boat to Gaza, over the past ten days in Athens leave no doubt in my mind that Barack Obama’s administration has forfeited the right to claim any lineage to the brave Americans who declared independence from the king of England 235 years ago.

In the Declaration of Independence, they pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor to a new enterprise of freedom, democracy and the human spirit. The outcome was far from assured; likely as not, the hangman’s noose awaited them. They knew that all too well.

But they had a genuine audacity to hope that the majority of their countrymen and women, persuaded by Thomas Paine’s Common Sense and the elegant words of Thomas Jefferson, would conclude that the goal of liberty and freedom was worth the risk, that it was worth whatever the cost.

These days we have been seduced into thinking that such principles have become “quaint” or “obsolete” – words used by President George W. Bush’s White House counsel Alberto Gonzales to make light of important international agreements like the Geneva Conventions.

As every American should know, and remember, the principles enshrined in the Declaration of Independence were based on the firm belief that ALL men are created equal, that they have UNALIENABLE rights — among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Not just “all Americans,” mind you, but all people. The Declaration of Independence was meant to be a statement expressing the “self-evident” rights of all mankind. Those principles had a universality that was a beacon to the world.

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Outsourcing the Gaza blockade

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Sabotaging Flotilla II: waging war against civil society

International law and international relations scholar, Richard Falk, writes:

The reports that two of the foreign flagged ships planning to be part of the ten vessel Freedom Flotilla II experienced similar forms of disabling sabotage creates strong circumstantial evidence of Israeli responsibility. It stretches the imagination to suppose that a sophisticated cutting of the propeller shafts of both ships is a coincidence with no involvement by Israel’s Mossad, long infamous for its overseas criminal acts in support of contested Israeli national interests. Recalling the lethal encounter in international waters with Freedom Flotilla I that took place on 31 May 2010, and the frantic diplomatic campaign by Tel Aviv to prevent this second challenge to the Gaza blockade by peace activists and humanitarian aid workers, such conduct by a state against this latest civil society initiative, if further validated by incriminating evidence, should be formally condemned as a form of ‘state terrorism’ or even as an act of war by a state against global civil society.

The Israeli Government has so far done little to deny its culpability. Its highest officials speak of the allegations in self-righteous language that is typically diversionary, asserting an irrelevant right of self-defense, which supposedly comes mysteriously into play whenever civil society acts nonviolently to break the siege of Gaza that has persisted for more than four years. From the perspective of the obligations to uphold international law it is the Flotilla participants who are acting legally and morally, certainly well within their rights, and it is Israel and their friends that are resorting to a variety of legally and morally dubious tactics to insulate this cruel and unlawful blockade from what is essentially a symbolic challenge. The behavior of the Greek Government, surely a reflection of its precarious financial and political situation, also violates the law of the sea: foreign flagged vessels can be detained in port only if they are acting in violation of national law or are proven to be unseaworthy and dangerous to international navigation. Otherwise, interference by detention or by seizing while en route within Greek territorial waters is an unlawful interference with the right of innocent passage. Greece would be very vulnerable to defeat and damages if the Freedom Flotilla victims of these encroachment on rights were to have recourse to the Hamburg International Tribunal for Law of the Sea.

The most relevant precedent for such government-sponsored sabotage is the Rainbow Warrior incident of 1985. There French agents detonated explosives on a Greenpeace (an environmental NGO) fishing trawler docked in the Auckland, New Zealand harbor prior to proactively challenging the French plans to conduct underwater nuclear tests off the shore of the nearby Pacific atoll, Moruroa. Fernando Pereira , Greenpeace photographer for the mission, was killed by the explosions, although the devices were detonated at night when no one from Greenpeace was expected to be on board the vessel. At first, the French government completely denied involvement, later as incriminating evidence mounted, Paris officially claimed that its agents who were identified as being near the scene were only spying on Greenpeace activities and had nothing to do with the explosives, and later still, as the evidence of French culpability became undeniable, officials in France finally admitted government responsibility for this violent undertaking to eliminate activist opposition to their nuclear test, even acknowledging that the operation had been given the bizarre, although self-incriminating, code-name of Operation Satanique.

After some further months of controversy the French Prime Minister, Laurent Fabius cleared the air by issuing a contrite statement: “The truth is cruel. Agents of the French secret service sank the boat. They were acting on orders.” (the decision to destroy the Rainbow Warrior were later confirmed to have come from France’s supreme leader at the time, the president of the Republic, Francois Mitterand) The French agents who had by then been arrested by the New Zealand police, charged with arson, willful damage, and murder, but due to pressure from the French government that included a threatened European economic embargo on New Zealand exports, the charges were reduced. The French defendants were allowed to enter a guilty plea to lesser charges of manslaughter that was accepted by the Auckland court, resulting in a ten-year prison sentence, and later supplemented by an inter-governmental deal that virtually eliminated the punishment. The French paid New Zealand $6.5 million and issued an apology, while the convicted agents were transferred to a French military base on Hao atoll, and were later wrongly released only two years after being genteelly confined in comfortable quarters provided by the base.

It is useful to compare the Flotilla II unfolding experience with the Rainbow Warrior incident. At the time, the French nuclear tests in the Pacific were considered legal, although intensely contested, while the blockade of Israel is widely viewed as a prolonged instance of collective punishment in violation of international humanitarian law, specifically Article 33 of the 4th Geneva Convention. Although Israel could argue that it had a right to monitor ships suspected of carrying arms to occupied Gaza, the Freedom Flotilla II ships made themselves available for inspection, and there was no sufficient security justification for the blockade as the investigation by the UN Human Rights Council of the 2010 flotilla incident made clear. The overriding role of the blockade is to inflict punitive damage on the people of Gaza. Even before the blockade was imposed in 2007 all shipments at the Gaza crossing points were painstakingly monitored by Israel for smuggled weapons.

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Canadian flotilla ship intercepted by Greek coast guards

Al Jazeera reports:

A Canadian ship taking part in a planned aid flotilla to Gaza has been forced to return to harbour in Crete after an attempt to reach international waters was thwarted by coast guards, according to onboard activists.

Most of the vessels which hoped to sail to Gaza in an effort to break Israel’s blockade of the Palestinian territory have been stuck in Greek ports after being refused permission to embark on the journey by Greek authorities.

The Tahrir sailed 15 minutes out of harbour before it was intercepted by coastguards, activists told Al Jazeera on Monday.

The boat, carrying activists from Canada, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland and Turkey, was forced to turn back to Aghios Nikolaos port in Crete.

“We are just being pulled into docks as we speak right now … [the coast guards] are in complete control of the boat,” Jesse Rosenfeld, a reporter with Toronto’s Now Magazine, who was on board the Tahrir when it set sail, told Al Jazeera.

Rosenfeld explained how the vessel managed to leave port: “In a matter of minutes, the people on the boat turned on the engines while two of the activists kayaked, trying to block the coast guard in port. At that point, the Tahrir made an open break through the port, shooting for international waters.”

The coast guard ship pursued the Tahrir, using water cannons and eventually boarding the ship, Rosenfeld said.

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Gaza Flotilla: The media battle in Israel

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US captain of Gaza ship held in ‘shocking conditions’

AFP reports:

The captain of a US vessel intercepted after it tried to defy a ban and sail for Gaza from Greece is being held in “shocking conditions” Sunday and has not received consular assistance, a lawyer said.

Captain John Klusmer was arrested when the US boat Audacity of Hope — the flagship in a flotilla of pro-Palestinian activists — attempted to leave Greek waters on Friday after Athens banned all Gaza-bound ships from setting sail.

Klusmer was charged with felony and ordered to appear in court on Tuesday. The US Boat to Gaza organisation said he was being held in jail in “shocking conditions” and as far as it was aware, had not yet received consular assistance.

New York lawyer Richard Levy — a passenger on the boat who has visited Klusmer in jail in a port town near Athens — told enraged US activists that “he had no bed or toilet in his cell, and is receiving no food or water.”

US Boat to Gaza is asking Americans to call the US Embassy in Athens: 011-30-210-721-2951. “Insist they fulfill their duty and pressure Greece to release our captain & boat.”

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Israel and Greece forge closer ties

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Gaza flotilla aims to leave Greece next week

The Jerusalem Post reports:

The fate of the flotilla to the Gaza Strip was in jeopardy on Saturday after Greek authorities prevented an American vessel from leaving Athens and issued a blanket order forbidding ships from sailing to the Gaza Strip.

Despite the order and additional setbacks, Adam Shapiro, an American co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement, and one of the organizers of the flotilla, told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday night that the group still planned to sail to the Gaza Strip in the coming days.

He said that the Greek- Swedish ship Juliano, which was allegedly sabotaged last week, was expected to be repaired by Sunday morning and that an Irish ship, also allegedly sabotaged in Turkey, was set to begin repairs soon.

“We are still arranging to go and are working on different fronts to get permission to leave,” Shapiro said by phone from Athens.

He also denied reports that organizers were considering canceling the flotilla since they had already achieved their goal by raising awareness regarding the sea blockade on the Gaza Strip.

“Gaza is still blockaded and there is still a need to sail there,” he said.

Al Jazeera adds:

Members of the Dutch-Italian boat issued an open letter to the Greek Prime Minister Georgios Papandreou on Sunday, expressing outrage over his “government’s decision to close the ports of Greece to our humanitarian initiative, even by force if needed”.

The letter demanded that they be allowed to sail and said, “It is totally incomprehensible to us and fills us with just wrath that the Greek government closes the ports to our ships…

“You and your government acting as an ally of Israel in the Palestinian question means you also seem to have forgotten the struggle against the military dictatorship in your own country.”

Joe Meadors, a US Navy veteran [and survivor of Israel's attack on the USS Liberty], is one of the roughly 100 passengers on board a flotilla vessel that finds itself standed. Meadors, however, still expects to sail.

“We are waiting for the Greek government to release us,” he told Al Jazeera, “We are here for the long haul, and we’re ready to go just as soon as the Greeks say we can go. We’re pleased we can do something for the Palestinians and remain excited to go.”

Khalid Tuhraani, an American Palestinian activist whose ship is stuck in the port of Corfu, is also frustrated and feels that it perhaps would have been better if the flotilla had orginated from a port in an Arab country such as Tunisia or Egypt.

“However, many of the Arab countries have, like Greece now, become hostages of the political will of the United States and Israel,” he said.

Tuhraani said he remained committed to doing what was necessary to end the Israeli blockade against Gaza, but he expressed disappointment at the Greek government.

“We chose Greece because this country has a history of support for the Palestinian struggle for freedom,” he said.

“Unfortunately we did not expect the Greek government to just roll over and die. But the Middle East Quartet issued a statement against our flotilla, so I think the pressure on the Greek government just might have been too enormous for it to bear.”

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The flotilla narrative and Israel’s fear of the media

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