War of words rages as Gaza flotilla prepares to sail
Activists will try to break the sea blockade of the Gaza Strip in journey dismissed by Israel as a “publicity stunt”.
Correction: A previous version of this blog stated that the 2011 Freedom Flotilla II never set sail. In fact three of 12 boats set sail and were intercepted by Israeli soldiers with participants arrested, detained and deported. Eight never left Greece.
There’s an abundance of drama and tension, worries about sabotage and a cloak and dagger element, as Freedom Flotilla III plays out on the global political stage. And all the vessels have not even left the shore. However, the proverbial war of words is well under way.
“The blockade is another war crime. It is a continuous war crime, a violation of international law. It is collective punishment for more than 1.8 million Palestinians,” said Arab-Israeli Knesset member Bassel Ghattas.
He’ll be on board one of five ships with activists, medical supplies and solar panels heading to Gaza. Their journey is intended to highlight the impact of an eight-year Israeli-imposed, land, air and sea blockade in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
We send a message of love and peace for the Gazans. We won't be intimidated by threat. We will continue at any cost.
The UN Human Rights Council stated in a recently released report that “while fully aware of the need for Israel to address its security concerns,” there must be a “full and immediate lifting of the blockade”.
The Gaza Strip has already been called the world’s largest open-air prison by numerous human rights groups. By all accounts, the blockade has brought a kind of solitary confinement to Gazans by further restricting their movement outside the territory and curtailing the amount of items that can be brought in.
The Israeli government is concerned that weapons or any materials that can be used to attack its citizens will be smuggled in. The result is that the impoverished Gazans often can’t get their hands on basic necessities.
The Israeli government has rebuffed international calls to lift the blockade saying Hamas is a terrorist group and it must take extreme measures to protect its citizens. The Israeli government has called the Freedom Flotilla III a “provocation” and a “publicity stunt” and on that, perhaps the activists and the government can agree.
Israel’s deputy foreign minister has said participating in the flotilla “is a demonstration of activity in the service of the enemy”. The government has vowed to take all measures necessary to halt the flotilla.
Mazen Kahel, chair of the European Campaign to End the Siege of Gaza, said: “We send a message of love and peace for the Gazans. We won’t be intimidated by threat. We will continue at any cost.”
History of violence
There is a history of violence with the Freedom Flotilla and just how far this one makes it is in question. In 2010, during the first Freedom Flotilla, nine activists aboard the MV Mavi Marmara were killed during clashes after Israeli commandos raided the ship. Another activist died last year after having been in a coma since the incident.
In 2011, amid international opposition, three of 12 boats in the Freedom Flotilla II set sail and were intercepted by Israeli soldiers, with participants arrested, detained and deported. Eight never left Greece.
Kahel said: “We already consider this mission successful. Reaching Gaza is not the point.”
Yet, many activists we spoke to are hoping the boats of the Freedom Flotilla III will be able to pull their anchors and sail straight into Gaza. Given the level of secrecy among organisers and a commitment by the Israelis to intercept the flotilla, it’s impossible to make predictions on whether the flotilla will be able to begin its journey.
As for the prospect of the boats dropping anchor and the activists delivering supplies to Gazans waiting on the shore, the Academy Award-winning movie “Inception” comes to mind. Leonardo DiCaprio plays a thief called upon to plant an idea into a business tycoon’s head through his dreams, in a process called “inception”.
At this juncture, that might be the only way for the Freedom Flotilla III participants to convince the Israeli government to allow them into Gaza.