Dr. Hanan Chehata| Wednesday, 06 April 2011 16:45 | MEMO
The first anniversary of Israel’s horrific assault on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla is fast approaching. As most people will remember, nine peace activists were killed by Israeli commandos when the soldiers boarded the Mavi Marmara in international waters. The ship was carrying hundreds of international humanitarians and peace activists en route to break Israel’s siege of Gaza. The flotilla, of which the Marmara was a part, was nowhere near Israel’s territorial waters and, therefore, had every right to be there. Nevertheless, Israeli troops were ordered to surround the ship with helicopters and navy vessels, board the ship and open fire indiscriminately on the people standing on deck. According to the Head of the Israel Defence Force’s Southern Command, the commandos would have had no option but to open fire on civilians due to the “air-drop” boarding tactic used. Apart from the nine activists who were gunned down in cold blood, more than fifty people were wounded. The survivors were then basically kidnapped, subjected to abuse, taken to Israel against their will and held illegally in Israeli prison cells. This act of unjustifiable brutality was heavily condemned in the United Nations Human Rights Council Report which is so graphic and explosive that it reads like a thriller; the facts are beyond belief.
It’s almost a year later and history looks set to repeat itself if the world does not sit up and take notice. Another flotilla is due to set sail for Gaza in May and it is vital for it to do so. Despite the eyes of the world focusing on Gaza last May, the siege has still not been lifted. After being virtually imprisoned by Israel for over 4 years, 1.5 million Palestinians are still trapped in Gaza (over half of them children) in what British Prime Minister David Cameron – a good friend of Israel referred to as a “prison camp.” It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for Palestinians to leave Gaza, and deaths are reported regularly when patients are not allowed to leave the Strip for treatment elsewhere. Similarly, few people are allowed into Gaza, with politicians, charity workers, journalists, Palestinians and non-Palestinians denied access by Israel, and the border with Egypt only now starting to be open a little more often, but still on an extremely limited basis, following the overthrow of Israel’s buddy Hosni Mubarak.
While Israeli authorities, the jailers of Gaza, argue that they have “eased” the siege since the massacre last May and that there is therefore no need for another “humanitarian mission”, this is completely misleading and, indeed, beside the point. While it is true that Israel, as a result of extremely bad publicity and international pressure, has now eased the siege slightly by letting in small amounts of chocolate, crisps, pasta, jam and other common household items that were forbidden in the past, there are still plenty of items which are banned from entry into Gaza; exports are even more limited. Items which are still banned include basic building materials such as cement, wooden beams, thermal insulation materials and so on which are vital in order to rebuild the thousands of homes, hospitals, schools and factories that were destroyed and damaged during Israel’s assault on Gaza during “Operation Cast Lead” in the winter of 2008-9.
In addition, the latest flotilla is about more than taking in humanitarian and medical aid; it is about breaking the siege itself, in all of its forms, including restrictions on the free movement of people. Nowhere else in the world are people herded into such a small strip of land and denied the right to leave or to have people visit them. Gaza is one of the most densely populated places on the planet and the only place in the world to endure such a barbaric medieval-style siege. It remains almost completely isolated from the outside world and the flotilla activists hope to bring some normalisation to the situation by visiting the territory.
Freedom Flotilla 2 is thus the latest and largest attempt to break the siege on Gaza. It will set sail in May to commemorate the first anniversary of the Mavi Marmara’s fatal voyage; Britain 2 Gaza is the UK partner in this mission. It is being brought together by 5 British campaign groups: Friends of Al-Aqsa, the British Muslim Initiative, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Stop the War Coalition and the Palestinian Forum of Britain (PFB). This humanitarian mission will be made up of similar initiatives from around 20 countries, including Canada, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey and the USA.
Israel is now doing everything it can to see that this mission fails even before it has left port. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has threatened to “act firmly” using “force” against the flotilla in May. He has also asked UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to help him stop the Freedom Flotilla from setting sail. To his credit, Mr. Ban responded by telling Netanyahu that the siege should be lifted.
Despite massive pressure, threats of violence and ultimatums against individual flotilla members and the organisations involved, Freedom Flotilla 2 is determined to set sail in May. There is a strong determination to help free the people of Gaza from the illegal shackles that Israel has placed on them and which the rest of the world has apathetically allowed to stay in place. Worldwide public opinion may be that the siege is illegal and most people may even be opposed to the immoral siege, but Israel pays no heed to world opinion and continues to breach international law and UN Resolutions on a daily basis. The general public has little choice but to attempt to break the siege as part of a voluntary humanitarian initiative.
This will be the largest seaborne mission to attempt to reach Gaza since the siege began in 2007. Israel’s claim that the flotilla is “Islamist” is ridiculous given that it is being supported by Muslim, Christian and Jewish peace groups. It has the backing of people and organisations from all walks of life, including politicians, academics (such as Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein) and NGOs.
The Britain 2 Gaza initiative can be followed via its Facebook page, which will be updated with all of the latest information as and when it is available.