Irish FM warns Israel against violent interception of Gaza flotilla

Haaretz reports:

As the second “Gaza Freedom Flotilla” gets ready to sail this week, Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore urged Israel to avoid any repeat of last year’s actions against the convoy, Irish media reported Sunday.

“Israel must exercise all possible restraint and avoid any use of military force if attempting to uphold their naval blockade,” Gilmore, who also holds the post of trade minister, said after meeting with Israeli Ambassador to Dublin Boaz Moda.

“In particular, I would expect that any interception of ships is conducted in a peaceful manner and does not endanger the safety of our citizens or other participants,” he added, reiterating the country’s position that the Gaza blockade was “unjust and counterproductive” and that the violence that marked last year’s flotilla venture was “completely unacceptable and unjustified.”

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Remembering the dead and the Rachel Corrie‘s mission

Humanitarian aid workers, a firefighter, a politician, a taekwondo champion, a photojournalist, a student who hoped to become a doctornine Turkish men, mostly fathers who leave behind children and wives.

Even while their deaths are at the center of an international crisis that is rocking the state of Israel, these individual lives lost have scarcely gained attention — firstly because the Israeli government resisted revealing any information about who died and in what circumstances, and then, while maintaining a stranglehold on the facts, Israel’s propaganda machine has worked furiously to portray the victims as villains.

The world has largely viewed Israel’s efforts to conceal its brutality with a mixture of skepticism, contempt and outrage. Yet in one regard the hasbara has worked: it has effectively sold the idea that the organizers and participants in the Freedom Flotilla were intent on picking a fight. This was an act of provocation and where opinions differ is on whether the provocation was justified or not.

As MJ Rosenberg wrote:

The first thing you need to know about the Gaza flotilla disaster is that the intention of the activists on board the ships was to break the Israeli blockade. Delivering the embargoed goods was incidental.

In other words, the activists were like the civil rights demonstrators who sat down at segregated lunch counters throughout the South and refused to leave until they were served. Their goal was not really to get breakfast. It was to end segregation.

Yes and no.

The Freedom Flotilla is part of a movement that aims to end the siege of Gaza, but delivering humanitarian aid is not incidental.

Israeli officials and the Israeli public who see themselves as victims of a campaign designed to make Israel look bad, fail to recognize that what cements Muslim solidarity and what has turned Gaza into a global issue, is not a global conspiracy against Israel or against Jews; it is a heartfelt response to human suffering.

The Freedom Flotilla carried thousands of tons of aid, not to poke Israel in the eye, but to help those in need. The many thousands of people who engaged in fundraising, made donations, gathered together supplies and readied the ships — a grass roots effort spread mostly across Europe and the Middle East — believed, naively or not, that the fruits of their efforts would be of real and practical assistance to the population in Gaza.

But, the cynics will ask, how could a few hundred people in a small flotilla of boats hope to successfully defy Israel’s military might? Firstly, simply on the basis that other vessels had completed the same mission. But more importantly, because courageous acts are invariably undertaken in defiance of the odds. The heroic imagination is enticed by what seems impossible.

The Freedom Flotilla as David, is not challenging the Goliath of Israel in order to give the mighty Jewish state some bad headlines. This is about defeating an agent of oppression. It is not about destroying Israel, but about challenging and overcoming the injustices which Israel sustains.

As the MV Rachel Corrie now approaches Gaza, Israel’s Foreign Ministry Director-General Yossi Gal says: “We have no desire for a confrontation. We have no desire to board the ship. If the ship decides to sail the port of Ashdod, then we will ensure its safe arrival and will not board it.”

A conciliatory gesture should receive a similar response, should it not?

Don’t be fooled. Israel and the United States are now working hand in glove to try and “moderate” the oppression of the population in Gaza. While the world calls for the siege to be ended, the Obama administration is calling for it to be “new approach.” Benjamin Netanyahu is reported to be “softening” his position.

This is about moving pressure from the heel to the toe, but it still means the Palestinians remain under an Israeli foot. It’s about taking Gaza out of the spotlight in the hope that global outrage can be replaced by global indifference.

For the Rachel Corrie to sail into the Israeli port of Ashdod under its own steam would be to capitulate to the power that claims it withdrew from Gaza even while it persists in maintaining absolute control over its population, its borders, its airspace and its economy.

The Rachel Corrie must reach Gaza, but if it is thwarted, more ships will come. Israel cannot win.

(Note of thanks to Lawrence of Cyberia for compiling information on those who died in the Flotilla Massacre and creating a page where new information is being added.)

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MV Rachel Corrie due to reach Gaza within hours. “The world is watching” — Mustafa Barghouthi

The MV Rachel Corrie, a cargo ship in the Freedom Flotilla whose passage from Ireland was delayed by mechanical difficulties, is now hours away from its destination.

“I commend this courageous action of brave international civilians who are carrying essential medical, education and construction materials denied by Israeli suffocating and illegal siege on Gaza. It is vital that they have maximum support by the international community!” a Palestinian political leader, Dr Mustafa Barghouthi, told Nobel Peace laureate Mairead Maguire today. She and other activists on board the cargo ship carrying humanitarian aid from the Republic of Ireland to Gaza, said they hope to reach their destination by Saturday morning.

The world is watching,” said Dr Barghouthi, calling upon the international community to ensure the safe passage of the Rachel Corrie; he urged the EU representatives to take immediate and concrete steps in pressuring Israel to refrain from blocking the ship.

An appeal has gone out calling on Irish Americans to support the effort to end the siege of Gaza. Lorna Siggins, reporting from the Rachel Corrie for the Irish Times, writes:

Former UN assistant secretary general Denis Halliday has called on the [Irish] government to highlight the situation of the Gaza-bound Irish aid ship Rachel Corrie with US president Barack Obama’s administration and the EU.

Speaking by satellite phone on board the Rachel Corrie yesterday several hundred miles from Gaza, Mr Halliday said it was imperative that the Obama administration and the EU supported Ireland’s call on the Israeli authorities to ensure safe passage for the ship, which is carrying aid supplies.

“We feel that, like the UN, the EU has failed the Palestinians and we feel that the EU could exert more pressure in terms of trade links, which the Israelis are very dependent on,” he said.

Mr Halliday, a Connemara resident, confirmed that Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin had been in phone contact with the ship over the past two days .

“We are very grateful to the Minister, who has been completely supportive, but we need more,” Mr Halliday said.

“We also feel there is a role for the Irish diaspora here, in the US and elsewhere to lobby politicians over this continued illegal blockade of Gaza, which is causing such hardship to the Palestinian people.”

As Robert Naiman notes:

The issue of the Gaza blockade has tremendous resonance in Ireland, partly because of Ireland’s high degree of engagement in international humanitarian causes — John Ging, head of the UN Relief and Works Agency in Gaza, who had called on the international community to break the siege by sending ships loaded with aid, is also Irish — but also, of course, because the Irish people have some experience with the consequences for civilians of a colonial blockade.

Between 1845 and 1850, more than a million Irish people starved to death under British rule while, as Sinead O’Connor famously noted, food was shipped out of Ireland under armed guard. A million more fled Ireland to escape starvation, many to America, including Falmouth Kearney, President Obama’s great-great-great grandfather.

Many Irish people — and Irish-Americans — take the responsibilities of this legacy very seriously.

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MV Rachel Corrie heading for Gaza — with the full support of the Irish government

This is a major development. The MV Rachel Corrie cargo ship, whose passage to join the Freedom Flotilla may have been delayed because of sabotage by Israelis, is now heading for Gaza — and it has the full support of the Irish government. This is no longer just a question of how easily Israel can trample on the rights of a humanitarian organization.

The Irish prime minister, Brian Cowen, has warned Israel that it will face “the most serious consequences” in the event that any harm comes to Irish citizens on board the humanitarian relief vessel.

The Irish Times reports:

The cargo vessel is ploughing ahead with its attempt to deliver aid to Gaza despite yesterday’s deadly attack by the Israeli navy on a Gaza-bound flotilla.

Mr Cowen called today called for the immediate establishment of “a full, independent international inquiry into yesterday’s events, preferably under UN auspices”.

He called on Israel to release “unconditionally” Irish citizens who he said had been taken to Gaza by the Israeli authorities and asked to sign papers allowing for their deportation.

Speaking in the Dáil [Ireland's parliament] during Leaders’ Questions, the Taoiseach [prime minister] said the presence of Irish diplomatic personnel in Israel provided “better prospects” that the citizens would be released “sooner rather than later”

“But I will make this point. If any harm comes to any of our citizens, it will have the most serious consequences.”

Mr Cowen said Ireland’s longstanding position was that the Israeli blockade of Gaza was “immoral and counterproductive” and should be ended.

“Israel must listen and respond to the clear concerns of the international community on this issue. To do otherwise will only serve to reinforce the position of the extremists on both sides and jeopardise the hope of achieving some urgently needed political progress in the region, which the current proximity talks represent,” he said.

The Israeli army has warned that it will be stopped if it attempts to enter Israeli waters.

The Rachel Corrie, which has five Irish nationals and five Malaysians aboard, is due to arrive in Gazan waters over the coming days, a spokeswoman for the Irish Palestine Solidarity Campaign said. It became separated from the main aid flotilla after being delayed for 48 hours in Malta due to logistical reasons, and is currently off the coast of Libya.

Mr Martin, who called Israeli Ambassador Dr Zion Evrony to a meeting yesterday, said the boat should be allowed through peacefully.

Mr Martin said Israel was also obliged to respect its international obligations under the Vienna Convention and ensure Irish citizens have access to full consular support. He also expressed his condolences to the Turkish government and the families of the people killed when Israeli commandos raided the Turkish registered Mavi Marmara aid ship in international waters as it travelled from Cyprus, killing nine people.

Five Irish campaigners – including leading activists Dr Fintan Lane and Fiachra Ó Luain – are being held in the Be’er Sheva detention camp, from where they face deportation. Dr Lane and Mr Ó Luain were on board Free Gaza boat Challenger 1 which was boarded by Israeli forces.

Meanwhile, Haaretz reports that Colonel Itzik Turgeman, a senior Israel Defense Forces officer, speaking before the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, hinted that the IDF had sabotaged the engines of all the ships in the Freedom Flotilla other than the Mavi Marmara, saying that “they took care of them.”

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