Category Archives: #Flotilla2

Why every flotilla succeeds and the siege of Gaza will end

Is it possible to break the siege of Gaza if no one notices?

As an exercise in directing global attention to the plight of a population subject to collective punishment, the first flotilla in August 2008 was a bit of a flop — even though it reached Gaza.

In the Jerusalem Post, Herb Keinon cynically wrote at the time:

Ever since the Free Gaza Movement made known its intent a few weeks ago to set sail for the Gaza Strip to “break” the Israeli blockade, it was clear that the two boatfuls of professional left-wing demonstrators and tag-along journalists were after one thing: a huge media event.

Nothing, therefore, would have given them a greater media buzz than if a couple of Israel Navy boats stopped them on the high seas, arrested the protesters (hopefully, from the point of view of the organizers of the protest, with some gratuitous brutality), and dragged the Greek-registered vessels into the Ashdod port.

Imagine the footage, imagine the images, and imagine the public relations bonanza for those few “brave souls” on the sea-weary vessels. Israel would, undoubtedly, have faced a public relations drubbing. So by deciding to let the boats through, the government deprived the protesters of the huge media event they so obviously wanted.

Indeed, instead of footage of heavyhanded Israelis stopping boats carrying an 81-year-old American nun and the sister-in-law of former British prime minister Tony Blair leading the nightly news broadcasts in the West on Saturday night, the story of the boats’ arrival in Gaza barely made a blip on the CNN, Fox, or Sky news broadcasts. With the world’s eyes still glued to the Olympics in Beijing, and the media focusing on US presidential candidate Barack Obama’s choice of Joe Biden as his vice presidential nominee, the Gaza blockade-running story didn’t register in the electronic media.

And in the written press, the protesters didn’t fare that much better. The New York Times ran a small piece on page 16 on Sunday; The Washington Post on page 12; and The St. Louis Post-Dispatch relegated it to a three-paragraph brief. As media events go, this one was not particularly successful.

But — as Keinon also noted — the story was not over. Indeed.

What the flotilla organizers understood was that whatever the outcome, each challenge to the siege could in fact never fail. Ships could succeed by reaching Gaza, or succeed without reaching Gaza by exposing Israel to the eyes of the world as a cowardly bone-headed bully.

The only solution to Israel’s problem was and remains the one that it refuses to entertain: backing itself out of a dead-end policy that by any metric one wants to use, has been a demonstrable failure — a policy which hasn’t weakened Hamas; hasn’t turned Gaza’s population against its rulers; hasn’t made Israel safer; and above all has brought Israel’s global image to an all-time low while callously inflicting yet more suffering on the Palestinian people.

The Israeli columnist, Asaf Gefen, suggested this week:

If the Marmara that took part in the previous sail sought to present Israel’s brutality to the world (and managed to do so, thanks to our kind assistance,) it appears that the current flotilla was meant to present Israel’s stupidity.

At this time already, when it’s still unclear whether and when the ships shall arrive, it appears that this objective had also been fully achieved.

But now that the flotilla appears stuck in Greece, can’t Netanyahu claim victory? Some Israeli reporters seem to think so:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sometimes seems almost too arrogant and self assured for his own good. However, unlike in most instances, this weekend he actually has justification for his haughtiness.


Look at The Audacity of Hope as it chugged out of a Greek harbor yesterday and ask yourself: what kind of prime minister and what kind of nation could feel threatened by this kind of challenge?

The need to subjugate others; the obsession with existential threats; the insatiable hunger for loving affirmations; and the fear of equality between Jews and non-Jews — all of this exposes Israel’s intrinsic weakness, a weakness that cannot be overcome by belligerence, isolation or warfare.

In truth, nothing threatens Israel more than its own fear of the world.

It’s time not just for Israel to end the siege of Gaza but for Zionists to break out of their own self-made prison.


‘Netanyahu has become Greece’s lobbyist to the European Union’

Haaretz reports:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sometimes seems almost too arrogant and self assured for his own good. However, unlike in most instances, this weekend he actually has justification for his haughtiness.

Netanyahu’s personal investment in his relationship over the past year-and-a-half with Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou in which he increased diplomatic ties with the floundering European nation seems to have put the final nail in the Gaza flotilla’s coffin.

In his speech Thursday night for the Israeli Air Force Flight School graduation ceremony, Netanyahu discussed diplomatic efforts being made to prevent the Gaza flotilla from setting sail. The only leader that Netanyahu mentioned by name in his address was Greece’s George Papandreou.

Just a day before, the prime minister spoke with his Greek counterpart, imploring him to issue an order preventing ships from disembarking from Greece toward the Gaza Strip. Unlike in the past, Papandreou responded positively, and a top Israeli official involved in the talks between the Greek prime minister and Netanyahu said that Israel knew as early as Thursday afternoon that Greece was planning to block ships from leaving its ports toward the strip.


The battle over the Gaza Flotilla

Joseph Dana reports:

On Thursday, the passengers of the Audacity of Hope, the US boat in the “Freedom Flotilla 2” to Gaza—a convoy of ten boats, two cargo ships and some 300 civilians—emerged from their hotel on the edge of an Athens turned upside down. The air was heavy from the stench of garbage and tear gas, after two days of a general strike and fighting between police and demonstrators protesting the latest austerity measures. But the dramatic urban landscape barely caught the passengers’ attention as they boarded a chartered bus to a distant Athenian port, kept secret until then due to security concerns.

Standing in front of more than seventy journalists from around the world, the thirty-five passengers called on the Greek government to allow their boat to sail. The idea was that if the government were to continue its efforts—coming after intense Israeli lobbying—to prevent the boat from sailing, it would be forced to do so in front of the world media, and thus might back down. But just one hour before the press conference was set to begin, the captain of the US boat announced that he was abandoning the mission, saying that he risked losing his maritime license and could face jail time if he didn’t. But this was only the latest setback for the flotilla.


Israelis seem to have moved the blockade from Gaza to Greece

'We were forced to go back to a Greek port surrounded with bars and barbwire.' -- The Audacity of Hope

The New York Times reports:

With the propeller shafts of two ships mysteriously damaged, Greek authorities holding other vessels in port on government orders and an American boat turned back by the Greek Coast Guard just 20 minutes off the coast Friday, the international flotilla to Gaza has stalled.

Organizers say they see the long arm of Israel behind their improbable woes, and while Israeli officials have dismissed such accusations as so much conspiracy mongering, they have declined to deny them outright.

One year after Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish activists aboard the Mavi Marmara during an earlier flotilla, organizers had hoped to once again challenge the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip on the open seas, off the Gaza coast. It appears decreasingly likely, however, that the eight boats now preparing to sail will ever be able or allowed to leave port.

Echoing a majority view among participants here, Johnny Leo Johansen, a ponytailed Norwegian photographer and activist, put it this way: “It’s like they’ve moved the blockade from Gaza to Greece.”

The coast guard stopped the American boat, “The Audacity of Hope,” about one mile out to sea, quashing the initial excitement of the passengers, who were surprised to have been allowed to leave the harbor at all.

“We could see the handwriting on the wall, that they were going to try to shut down all the ports across the Mediterranean,” said Ann Wright, the lead organizer of the American boat.

After a complaint about improper documentation filed by an Israeli advocacy group, the boat had been held in port outside Athens on police orders. Inspectors visited it a week ago Friday, but the results of their inspection had yet to be provided. Without them, the ship could not legally set sail.

On Friday, the Greek Ministry of Citizen Protection decreed that all vessels in Greek ports were prohibited from sailing toward “the maritime area of Gaza.” No explanation was given, and ministry officials could not be reached for further comment.

The Americans decided to leave just the same. After chasing them down, a smiling, youthful coast guard captain leaned out his window and requested the ship’s inspection papers. Passengers leaned over the upper-deck railing of the American boat, chanting, “Let us sail to Gaza!” Others held a cardboard sign asking, “Is it Poseidon or Netanyahu?” (That is, a passenger explained, “Who is the king of the Aegean?”)

“The probability that the Greek government has already made a decision to not let us out of the port is probably quite high, I would think,” Ms. Wright said earlier this week. “It’s not surprising, in a way, that the Greek government has succumbed to the pressure.” She further suggested that Greece, in the throes of a protracted sovereign debt crisis, might be acceding to an Israeli “diplomatic offensive.”

The Israeli government, she noted, had held cabinet meetings on the subject of the flotilla, and several rounds of military exercises have been conducted in preparation for a confrontation. “I’m shocked that they would be spending so much time, money, energy,” Ms. Wright added, but in some ways, she has been pleased by the Israeli attention. “We couldn’t have dreamed for a better thing. Usually, governments don’t cooperate with us this way!”

On Thursday, Irish organizers announced they had pulled their Turkish-docked ship from the flotilla after the crew discovered damage to the propeller shaft, the result of what they assume to have been sabotage by underwater divers. Organizers said that the damage was discovered on a trial run, but that otherwise the vessel would have sunk at sea, endangering the passenger and crew.

Activists discovered nearly identical damage to a Greek-Swedish-Norwegian passenger boat earlier this week. That boat is now grounded for repairs, which are not expected to be completed before next week, organizers say.

Three boats with passengers principally hailing from Canada, Spain and the Netherlands were awaiting clearance to sail on Friday, and a cargo vessel was hoping to be permitted to load its cargo. All of the ships have ostensibly met the requirements of Greek authorities, according to Adam Shapiro, a flotilla organizer and spokesman.

But on Thursday, harbor officials barred a French boat from refueling, he said, an indication that Greek officials might find other justifications for retaining the other ships in port.

As of Friday morning, after more than a week in ports across Greece, no single ship appeared to have explicit clearance from the Greek authorities to set sail; like the American boat, a Greek-Swedish-Norwegian cargo ship was under police order to remain in port.

Organizers said the delays were not completely unanticipated, though they had hoped to meet less resistance. Should the vessels be permitted to sail, or if they depart unauthorized, organizers hope to rendezvous next week at a fixed location in the Mediterranean. But it remains unclear when more ships might set sail, or what an eventual flotilla might resemble.

“We’re going to do something,” Mr. Shapiro vowed. Still, he added, “It seems we’re already doing something, given the kind of response we’ve gotten.”

Asked about activists’ allegations that Israel was behind the apparent sabotage, Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said: “These activists are not renowned for being an objective source of information.”

“These people have a tendency to blame Israel, to see Israel’s hand behind every calamity,” he went on. “And of course that cannot be true.” But when asked to deny their claims more categorically, he declined.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Netanyahu said in a speech that “sometimes, we not only need to deflect our enemies’ physical attacks, but also deflect the attack on our right to protect ourselves.” Speaking at the Israeli Air Force flight school graduation ceremony, Mr. Netanyahu thanked world leaders who in recent days had spoken out and acted “against the provocation flotilla,” and specifically commended the Greek prime minister George Papandreou, who he said has been closely cooperating with Israel in coordinating the moves related to the flotilla.

On Democracy Now! the Consul General of Israel in New York, refuses to deny Israeli role in the sabotage of flotilla boats:


The power that we have to make change when our governments are silent

Huwaida Arraf, Gaza Freedom Flotilla organizer, interviewed by PalestineStudiesTV:

I’ve talked a lot with the Israeli media and told them that for their viewers/listeners/readers, this should not be perceived as anti-Israel or anti-Jewish. There are Israelis on our action; there are Jews from different countries. Part of our action — a quarter of the American boat are Jewish Americans that are participating, because this is about equality of people — respecting everybody’s human rights irrespective of race, religion or ethnicity, and so we reject Israel’s efforts to make it about “us” or “them” as if we want to attack Israelis in any way. No, they can very much stand with us and it’s for their future as well as it is for Palestinians’ future…

While we are sailing towards Gaza, this action is not just about Gaza. Yes we want to open it, we want to end this prison-like closure of Gaza, but what’s happening in Jerusalem — the ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem, Palestinians being kicked out of their homes so that Jewish families can move in — that’s not any less severe. The continued confiscation of property in the West Bank; the demolition of large areas of land; the building of the apartheid wall — this is illegal, this is also repressive. And the situation of Palestinians inside Israel, inside the 1948 territories where — I also am an Israeli citizen, a Palestinian-Israeli — I am not treated as an equal because I am not Jewish. This is all part of what I call a colonial apartheid regime, and this needs to be dismantled if we are going to ever see peace in the region.

So while we are sailing towards Gaza, this more than just about Gaza. And I’ll go so far as to say this more than just about Palestine — it is about what people can do. Because this is very much a grass-roots, global civil society action. It is the power that we have to make change when our governments are silent. It’s about what we do every single day to create the kind of world that we want to live in. And so I hope that everyone that listens or sees what we are doing can recognize that and can decide in their own way how they can contribute.


Alice Walker on ‘the freedom ride of this generation’

Jesse Rosenfeld interviewed American author, Alice Walker, as she waits to depart as a passenger on The Audacity of Hope heading for Gaza.

Reflecting on her years of activism, it is clear that Walker sees a connection between civil rights in America, liberation from apartheid in South Africa and the Palestinian cause.

“Without the international community coming to the aid of the South African people they may very well still be under apartheid, and [without the support of progressive white people] we might still be under segregation in the United States.”

The comparison doesn’t end there: “settlers are the Klan,” she says definitively, referring to the notorious white supremacist terror organization. “They don’t have their white sheets because I guess they don’t need them.”

I mention to her that the leaders of the Palestine’s Arab Spring are discussing a campaign of attempted freedom rides on settler busses in the West Bank.

“I’m very pleased to hear that,” she says breaking into a big smile.

She then returns to the freedom ride conversation from the previous day. “I think the tactic on the Palestinian side is to draw attention to the Klanishness. It’s been so difficult for the world to understand who the settlers are and the problem with them taking more and more of the land,” she says, arguing that it’s a modus systemically rooted in the way Israel was founded.

“That’s the history of the settlement of Palestine; it started in 1948 and is continuing,” she adds connecting Israel’s creation of 750,000 Palestinian refugees in the founding of the state and current settler evictions of Palestinian families in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Although blunt and unequivocal in her analysis, Walker switches gears, once again displaying her optimism. In a recent article, she details commitments and sacrifices made by white Jewish Americans in the civil rights movement. She says she detailed these to send a message directly to Israelis.

“It’s a way to remind them that their Jewishness can stand for something else, it doesn’t have to stand for beating up people, taking their land and destroying their culture,” she says. “[Israeli’s Jewish identity] could actually be about something very fabulous.’’


Israel attempts to sink flotilla ship, organizers claim

The Irish Times reports:

An Irish ship, the MV Saoirse , will not take part in the planned freedom flotilla which is preparing to sail to Gaza because it has been sabotaged, according to one of the ship’s intended passengers.

Speaking last night from the Turkish port of Göcek, Fintan Lane, the national co-ordinator of Irish Ship to Gaza organisation, said that the ship would not be able to sail as it had been “dangerously sabotaged”, according to the organising campaign.

He said that the damage to the ship was discovered on Monday night when the captain noticed that there was something wrong. Divers found that a piece was missing from one of the propeller shafts.

“This was the type of sabotage that endangered human life,” Mr Lane said last night. “They put divers under the boat who cut a piece out of the propeller shaft. That means that the damage would have happened gradually and what would have happened eventually is that the propeller would have come up through the bottom of the boat, caused a flood in the engine room and would have caused the boat to sink.”

Ynet adds:

The damage was very similar to that caused to the Juliano in Greece, Lane said, adding that the damage was most certainly intentional and a product of human intervention.

“Israel is the only party likely to have carried out this reckless action and it is important that the Irish government and the executive in Northern Ireland insist that those who ordered this act of international terrorism be brought to justice. This was carried out in a Turkish town and shows no respect for Turkish sovereignty and international law,” said Lane.

He added that the damage would take weeks and around 15,000 euro to fix, effectively preventing the ship from taking part in the flotilla.

Lane, who was on board Challenger 1 in last year’s flotilla, said: “The Freedom Flotilla is a non-violent act of practical and humanitarian solidarity with the people of Gaza, yet Israel continues to use threats and violence to delay its sailing. They attacked us in international waters last year; now they are attacking us in Turkish and Greek ports. There is no line that Israel won’t cross.”


Message from The Audacity of Hope: ‘We’re sulfur-free and ready to sail’

Press release from USTOGAZA:

Passengers on the U.S. Boat to Gaza, The Audacity of Hope, invite Greek and international media to inspect The Audacity of Hope at 3 pm Athens time on Thursday, June 30, in the town of Perama (next to Piraeus), 42 Democratis.

The entire boat will be open for view, photography, and video. The captain, crew, and passengers on the boat will be available for interviews and inspection. The cargo of the ship – 3,000 letters from Americans to the people of Gaza – will also be available for view, photographs, and video. Everything that will be on the boat when it sets sail, including food and passengers’ personal medications for use during their voyage, will be available for inspection.

The Audacity of Hope was inspected by Greek officials on Monday, June 27 after a complaint was lodged by an Israeli group that the vessel was not seaworthy. We have not yet received notification of their findings nor a copy of their report, but we are certain that our boat is up to code. Meanwhile, Israeli officials have made outrageous allegations that passengers on the flotilla will be bringing “sacks of sulfur” to pour on Israeli soldiers. Even Members of Israel’s own security cabinet have dismissed these charges as “media spin” and “public relations hysteria.”* We invite the media onto our boat to conduct a thorough inspection. We are confident that such an inspection will show that our boat is “sulfur-free” and ready to sail.

“On behalf of the 36 passengers and 4 crew on The Audacity of Hope, I invite the media to ask us anything, inspect anything, taste our food, look inside our bags” said Gale Courey Toensing, a passenger on the American boat. “Our voyage is totally transparent and we have nothing to hide. All we want to do is sail to Gaza with our cargo of letters from Americans to the people of Gaza.”


Hysteria, ‘hasbara’ and the flotilla

Larry Derfner writes in the Jerusalem Post:

I just love Israel’s “hasbara” campaign against Freedom Flotilla 2. I mean, butter wouldn’t melt in these people’s mouths.

“There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza,” says Ehud Barak. Gazans are “importing televisions and plasma screens, and exporting agricultural products to the entire Arab world,” says IDF chief Benny Gantz.

Yes, Gaza is economically on the mend – but not because of Israel’s good intentions; rather, despite its bad intentions.

If it were up to the government, Gazans would still be unable to receive terrorist infrastructure equipment such as toys, musical instruments, heaters, newspapers, fishing rods, tractor parts, irrigation pipes and, of course, coriander, on relief trucks coming across the border.

Why did that policy change? What forced Israel to start letting everything through except construction equipment, which it fears Hamas might use to make bunkers? It was Freedom Flotilla 1, remember? It was the killing of nine Turks aboard the Mavi Marmara by Israeli commandos on May 31, 2010, after which Israel was compelled by international outrage to begin allowing all those previously banned weapons of mass destruction – cumin, ginger, dried fruit, industrial margarine, clothing fabric, sewing machines and more – into the Strip.

Likewise, if it were up to the government, Hosni Mubarak would still be ordering Egyptian troops to search out and destroy the tunnels built by Gazans to smuggle in goods. But to the government’s dismay, Mubarak was overthrown and Egypt’s new leadership is less eager to collaborate with our Gaza policy.

The result? “Sacks of cement and piles of gravel… are smuggled through hundreds of tunnels in double shifts, day and night, totaling some 3,000 tons a day… Streets are being paved and buildings constructed,” wrote The New York Times’ Ethan Bronner last weekend.

“Things are better than a year ago,” a leading activist in the Strip told him. “The siege on goods is now 60 to 70 percent over.”

So you see? No need for a flotilla, Gaza’s doing just fine, say Israeli hasbaratists, smiling through gritted teeth.

Incidentally, when Gantz said that Gaza exports agricultural produce, he neglected to mention that that’s all Israel allows Gaza to export – and not much produce, either, or for very long.

“Export from Gaza is prohibited,” wrote Gisha, a Tel Aviv-based NGO, in a pre-flotilla report last week. “Between November 2010 and April 2011, Israel exceptionally allowed export of a minimal amount of strawberries, flowers, peppers and tomatoes from Gaza to European markets. The average rate of export during that time was two truckloads per day… Since May 12, 2011, no trucks carrying goods for export have left the Strip.”

I think Freedom Flotilla 2, even without making much progress toward Gaza, is playing hell with Israel’s image – or, rather, inducing Israel to show off its worst self (much as Freedom Flotilla 1 did.) Once again, Israel has gone hysterical, it’s lost touch with reality.


Senator wants joint U.S.-Israeli special operations forces to attack flotilla reports:

A U.S. senator wants U.S. special operations forces to help Israel halt a Gaza-bound international aid flotilla that includes a vessel carrying a number of American veterans, one of whom is a Sailor who served aboard the USS Liberty, the ship that Israel infamously attacked in 1967.

In a report drafted following a visit to Israel in early June, Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., says the United States should “make available all necessary special operations and naval support to the Israeli Navy to effectively disable flotilla vessels before they can pose a threat to Israeli coastal security or put Israeli lives at risk.”

The U.S.-flagged ship, called “The Audacity of Hope” — the name of President Obama’s 2006 book — is currently docked in Greece and is supposed to set sail by the end of this week along with ships from Ireland, Spain, Italy, Greece and other countries. More than 30 Americans are booked for passage on the Audacity of Hope.

While Kirk is pushing for a direct U.S. military role in halting the flotilla, six Democratic congressmen want assurances from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that she will work with Israel to ensure those aboard the American ship are not harmed.

The lawmakers, including ranking House Veterans Affairs Committee member Rob Filner, D-Calif., say they “wholeheartedly support” Israel’s duty to protect its citizens, but the “measures it uses to do so, as in the case with any other nation, must conform to international humanitarian and human rights law.”

An Open Letter to Illinois Senator Mark Kirk from three constituents responding to his call for U.S. Special Forces to attack a flotilla of ships that will sail to Gaza:

Senator Mark Kirk
524 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington DC, 20510

June 29th, 2011

Dear Senator Kirk,

We are Illinois residents writing to you from Athens, Greece. Just before leaving the United States, we wrote to inform your office about our intent to sail on “The Audacity of Hope,” as part of the U.S. Boat to Gaza project. In our letters, we explained why we were traveling to Gaza. We told you of our previous experiences living among Palestinians who lack access to basic necessities, such as clean water, because of the blockade. Referring to Gaza as the world’s largest open-air prison, we mentioned how hard it has been for people to rebuild after previous lethal assaults, especially the Operation Cast Lead attack which ended, after 23 days, on January 18, 2009. According to B’tselem, the foremost Israeli Human Rights Organization, Operation Cast Lead caused the deaths of 1,389 Palestinians in Gaza. Of those, 344 were children. Of the 13 Israelis who were killed, four were soldiers killed by friendly fire.

Knowing that you and your staff care deeply about the consequences of unemployment, poor education and dangerously limited health care delivery, we pointed out related statistics affecting people in Gaza where 45% of the population is unemployed and hospital administrators are sounding the alarm because they are running out of crucial medicines. Half of Gaza’s 1.6 million people are under age 18.

As you’ve recently noted, a flotilla of ships plans to arrive in Gaza. Our ship will carry 3,000 letters addressed to Gazan children and families. Other boats are carrying humanitarian assistance.

Greek authorities have been checking into various complaints which have stalled the flotilla’s progress. In our case, a complaint was lodged by the Israel Law Center, located in Tel Aviv, suggesting that our boat is not seaworthy. Two of the boats have been sabotaged while docked in the harbor, causing further delays. reports that you said the United States should “make available all necessary special operations and naval support to the Israeli Navy to effectively disable flotilla vessels before they can pose a threat to Israeli coastal security or put Israeli lives at risk.”

You have an unusual opportunity to demonstrate thoughtful reconsideration of your earlier decision. Op-ed pieces have appeared in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, encouraging the Israeli government to let the flotilla pass.

“There is nearly nothing which more effectively delegitimizes Israel — and makes Israel look more like an uncaring blockhead state — than does the siege of Gaza,” wrote Bradley Burston, Senior Editor of Haaretz and a former Israeli Defense Force medic. “The siege benefits Hamas in a thousand ways and Israel in none. But there is one thing that does the work of delegitimization even better: attacking civilians in order to protect the siege. Enter the 21st century. Before it’s too late. You’re not young commandos anymore… Do your nation a favor — act your age. The flotilla is not a terrorist fleet. It is not an arms shipment. The flotilla is, however, a statement about Israel, a judgment of its policies, and, in the end, the verdict will come directly from you.”

Senator Kirk, we are your constituents. It’s not too late for you to acknowledge that your earlier call for military action against us jeopardizes our safety and to reverse your claim which insinuates that we are dangerous people. We write with utmost respect for our collective responsibility to secure a better world, breaking the irrational cycle of military aggression and upholding basic human rights of all people.


Kathy Kelly, Chicago IL
Max Suchan, Chicago IL
Robert Naiman, Champaign-Urbana


Texas governor: Prosecute U.S. flotilla participants

The Jerusalem Post reports:

Americans planning to breach Israel’s blockade of Gaza by participating in the upcoming flotilla should be prosecuted through “all available legal remedies,” Texas Governor Rick Perry said in a letter he sent to US Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday.

Perry stressed in the letter that the “acts of funding, supporting, organizing and engaging in [flotilla] efforts appears to constitute: participation in a naval expedition against a people with whom the United States is at peace; the furnishing of a vessel with the intent that it be employed to commit hostilities against a people with whom the United States is at peace; and the provision of material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization.”

He added that these acts present “a danger to the security of America’s closest ally in the Middle East, bolsters the Hamas terrorist organization and further endangers human life.”

Perry called on the US Justice Department to “take immediate steps to investigate, enjoin and bring to justice all parties found to be in violation of US law by their participation in these efforts.”


Israel ministers slam flotilla threat as ‘spin’

AFP reports:

Several Israeli ministers have accused the army of “spin” over its claims that activists on board a Gaza-bound flotilla plan to harm Israeli soldiers, Maariv newspaper reported on Wednesday.

The paper quoted several unnamed members of Israel’s security cabinet as saying the claims were “media spin” and “public relations hysteria.”

On Monday, Israeli military spokeswoman Lieutenant Colonel Avital Leibovitz said there were “radical elements” among the activists participating in the sea convoy, including some carrying “dangerous incendiary chemicals.”

But security cabinet ministers told Maariv they were given no such information when they were briefed on the flotilla this week, and even accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office of being behind the disinformation.

“Netanyahu decided to change the version about the nature of the flotilla for two reasons that are connected to the international community,” one of the ministers, who were not named, told the newspaper.

“The first is for reasons of covering himself — if, suddenly, in the course of the military operation something goes awry and there are casualties, Israel will be able to say that it warned of that in advance.

“The second reason is to apply pressure on the international community so that governments will prevent the ships from leaving for the flotilla from the outset.”

Meanwhile, Haaretz reports:

Defense Minister Ehud Barak has been trying to turn down the flame on the violent predictions for the Gaza aid flotilla, some of which were fueled this week by the defense establishment itself.

Barak told Channel 2 news on Wednesday night that while he has directed the Israel Defense Forces to stop the flotilla by force, if necessary, he believed that while pockets of resistance were possible the flotilla participants this year would be less violent than last year’s.

But political and military leaders are in fact more worried about the 2010 flotilla than the imminent one.

More precisely, they fear the implications of state comptroller’s report on the raid, the draft of which was recently submitted to the relevant senior officials.

Despite tendentious leaks to the contrary, the main target of State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss is not Barak, although he does come in for criticism (including for his refusal to cooperate with the National Security Council ).

So will former IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, for his absence from the war room during the naval raid.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is directly in Lindenstrauss’ sights, for his insufficient level of involvement in the planning and decision-making stages.


Getting on board with peace in Israel

Hagit Borer writes:

Later this month an American ship, the Audacity of Hope, will leave Greece on a journey to the Gaza Strip to attempt to break Israel’s blockade. It will join an expected nine other ships flying numerous flags and carrying hundreds of passengers from around the world. I will be one of those passengers.

I am an Israeli Jewish American. I was born in Israel, and I grew up in a very different Jerusalem from the one today. The Jerusalem of my childhood was a smallish city of white-stone neighborhoods nestled in the elbows of hills. Near the center, next to the central post office, the road swerved sharply to the left because straight ahead stood a big wall, and on the other side of it was “them.”

And then, on June 9, 1967, the wall came down. Elsewhere, Israeli troops were still fighting what came to be known as the Six-Day War, but on June 9, as a small crowd stood and watched, demolition crews brought down the barrier wall, and after it, all other buildings that had stood between my Jerusalem and the walls of the Old City, their Jerusalem. A few weeks later a wide road would lead from my Jerusalem to theirs, bearing the victors’ name: Paratroopers Way.

A soldier helped me sneak into the Old City. Snipers were still at large and the city was closed to Israeli civilians. By the Western Wall, a myth to me until then, the Israeli army was already evicting Palestinian residents in the dead of night and demolishing all houses within 1,000 feet. Eventually, the area would turn into the huge open paved space it is today, a place where only last month, on Jerusalem Day, masses of Israeli youths chanted “Muhammad is dead” and “May your villages burn.”


Israel likes fake ‘gay activists’ — doesn’t welcome real gay immigrants

How do you spot an Israeli who’s pretending to support Palestinians? He expresses no sympathy with Palestinians — that’s a clue.

The New York Times reports:

A YouTube video featuring a man who presented himself as an American gay rights activist disillusioned with the latest Gaza flotilla campaign has been exposed as a hoax.

The man in the video, who introduced himself to viewers as Marc and claimed that the organizers of the latest flotilla of ships bound for Gaza had rejected his offer to mobilize a network of gay activists in support of their cause, was identified as Omer Gershon, a Tel Aviv actor involved in marketing, by the Electronic Intifada, a pro-Palestinian Web site.

As my colleague Ethan Bronner explains, pro-Palestinian activists, including the prominent American author Alice Walker, are planning to sail a flotilla of small ships from European ports toward Gaza to protest Israel’s naval blockade of the Palestinian territory.

Just hours after the supposedly homemade video was uploaded to YouTube on Thursday, Benjamin Doherty of the Electronic Intifada pointed out that it had suspiciously high production values — most obviously, lights and what is known as B-roll — and was attributed to an activist calling himself Marc Pax, who seemed to have no other online presence.

While it remains unclear who produced the video, and Mr. Gershon has not responded to a request for comment, bloggers were quick to point out that people in three different Israeli government offices promoted it on Twitter soon after it was posted online.

As the blogger Max Blumenthal reported on Friday, one of the first people to draw attention to the video was Guy Seemann, who is an intern in the office of Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister.

The same day, the Israeli government’s press office advised its Twitter followers to watch the video and follow Mr. Seemann’s feed.

Seeman has subsequently deleted his entire Twitter feed and refuses to reveal the identity of the “friend” who he claims informed him about the video.

Haaretz sent the prime minister’s office a series of questions inquiring whether the office was involved in the production of the video in any way. The premier’s office in response did not deny that that the government was involved in the video’s production, and admitted that government bodies had distributed the link.

“Various bodies dealing with international media campaigns continuously monitor and distribute internet content when they recognize content that can serve Israel’s campaigns,” the prime minister’s office said in a statement.

Omer Gershon was not available for comment on his Facebook account or on the phone.

Meanwhile, although the flotilla does actually include gay participants, Israeli gay hasbara sometimes clashes with reality.

The Interior Ministry is refusing citizenship and new immigrant status to a homosexual married to a Jewish new immigrant, despite the law’s stipulation that the child, grandchild and partner of a Jew are entitled to Jewish immigrant rights.

Joshua Goldberg and Bayardo Alvarez, both American citizens, immigrated to Israel two weeks ago. Goldberg, who is Jewish, received an Israeli identity card and immigrant certificate on arrival, under the Law of Return. Alvarez, despite exerting much pressure on the ministry, was granted only temporary residence.

The Law of Return stipulates: “A Jew’s rights and an immigrant’s rights … are also imparted to the child, grandchild and partner of a Jew, except in the case of a Jew who willingly converted to another religion.”

Attorney Nicky Maor, director of the Legal Aid Center for Olim, says if the couple were a man and woman, there is no doubt they would both have received Israeli citizenship.

“The only reason the Interior Ministry doesn’t know how to handle it is that they’re gay,” Maor said. “The Law of Return says ‘partner,’ not husband and wife. There is no definition preventing recognition of same-sex partners.”

Goldberg and Alvarez, from Baltimore, Maryland, have been living together for 11 years. At the end of 2007, they were married in Canada, where same-sex marriages have been legalized, even for non-Canadians. They started immigration procedures about six months ago, with the help of the Israel Religious Action Committee.

In 2006, the High Court of Justice instructed the Interior Ministry to register same-sex marriages of couples who were married outside Israel in the Population Registry. In the wake of this ruling, the Interior Ministry registered Goldberg and Alvarez as married when they came to Israel. But despite the implications, the ministry refused to give Alvarez citizenship and an immigrant’s certificate.

“We demanded an immigrant’s status for Alvarez before Passover,” says Maor. “Since then they’ve promised they are discussing it on all levels, and say they must discuss it with the State Prosecution department and formulate a stand.”

The ministry knows that if it refuses, the issue will be brought to the High Court of Justice. “They want the prosecution’s backing. They say this is holding things up,” Maor says.

Goldberg, 40, a publicist and PR agent, and Alvarez, 33, a flower arranger for weddings and events, both work as waiters in an Eilat hotel and are looking for work and housing in the central region.

Alvarez was granted temporary residence after the couple had been summoned six times to the Interior Ministry branch in Eilat, where they say they were treated in a hostile, humiliating way by the clerk. Goldberg claims it was clear they were looking for excuses not to grant him residence.


Mossad saboteurs attack Gaza flotilla?

Last week suspected Mossad agents showed up at the US boat, The Audacity of Hope, currently waiting to depart from Athens and now another flotilla ship has had its propeller cut off. It’s not wild conjecture to suggest that the Israeli government is responsible for the sabotage.

Haaretz reports:

One of the ships due to participate in the Gaza flotilla was deliberately tampered with while it was docked in Greece’s Piraeus port, Gaza flotilla activists told Haaretz on Monday.

The ship, due to carry Greek, Norwegian, and Swedish passengers to Gaza, was found with its propeller shaft broken, the ship’s spokesman Israeli activist Dror Feiler told Haaretz.

A scuba diver who examines the ship on a daily basis discovered Monday that the ship’s propeller shaft, which connects the transmission inside the vessel directly to the propeller, was cut off.

According to Feiler, there is no doubt that the action was a deliberate attempt at sabotage, which he believed also violated Greece’s sovereignty.

Even though the problem can be fixed, it is still unclear how long it would take, especially with Greece’s recently declared general strike on Tuesday and Wednesday.

This action adds to a series of delays that have kept the Gaza flotilla from sailing, including Greece’s determination to carry out additional non-routine examinations on several of the ships.


Why the flotilla matters to people in Gaza

Ashley Bates reports from Gaza:

To most Gazans the flotilla mission is not really about bringing in a small amount of humanitarian aid. Rather, it is about drawing world attention to Israel’s continued entrapment of 1.6 million people who are just as human as people everywhere else in the world.

“All the international people who [were] coming [in] the flotilla [last year], the Turkish people, … they lost their life to reach Gaza, they really … reached not only to Gaza; they reached … all the heart[s of] the human and the free people in the world — their message really reached and they succeed[ed],” says a Gazan fisherman. “And even the second flotilla we hope to reach safely to Gaza, but if even they didn’t succeed and Israel stop them, really their message [will] succeed and they reach actually.”

Awaiting the Flotilla in Gaza from Ashley Bates on Vimeo.


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.”


Passengers on the US boat to Gaza speak out

As the Israeli government does everything it can to prevent the second flotilla to Gaza from setting sail and while the US State Department has effectively given Israel a green light to use any means — peaceful or violent — to prevent the flotilla from reaching its destination, passengers on board the American boat, The Audacity of Hope, describe why they are going.