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Brave Israeli Commandos Slaughter Aid Activists at Sea
by Stephen Lendman
Flotilla Support for Gaza
On May 28 (three days before Israel's high seas massacre), Haaretz writers Jack Khoury and Yuval Azoulay headlined, "Hamas: Flotilla shows whole world opposes Gaza siege," saying: Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said "if Israel behave(s) like pirates and attack(s) the international Freedom Flotilla carrying 10,000 tons of (humanitarian) aid for Gaza, then the Palestinians will have won. The flotilla's message is clear and it will reach the entire world." Indeed so, and more are now coming from over 10 countries, including America. FreeGaza.org updates them. Angered by Israel's May 31 massacre, local initiatives plan their own missions. Their aim: highlight Gaza's siege and shame Israel by bringing aid until it ends. Established in August 2008, the Free Gaza human rights movement visited Gaza nine times by sea "to break Israel's illegal stranglehold on 1.5 million Palestinian civilians," suffocating under siege. It hasn't been clear sailing. In 2008, Free Gaza succeeded five times, but were "violently intercepted on the(ir) past four voyages," including the lethal May 31 massacre, killing nine or more activists and injuring many more. One of several earlier articles explained, accessed through the following link: http://goo.gl/F9DIs
Free Gaza and its coalition partners are the only organizations that "sent boats directly to Gaza in defiance of Israel's criminal" blockade. They "sail as an expression of citizen nonviolent, direct action, confronting" Israeli lawlessness, together with: -- the European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza; -- IHH - the Turkish Foundation for Human Rights; -- Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief; -- the International Committee to End the Siege on Gaza; -- Ship to Gaza Sweden; and -- Ship to Gaza Greece. Ahead, missions from growing numbers of countries plan to deliver vitally needed aid, and send a message that Israeli lawlessness won't stand. Here they are, a humanitarian hall of fame.
Its initiative headlines a fundraising appeal: "End the Blockade! A Ship with Medical Aid for Gaza," saying:
"We refuse to stand by inactively and watch as....1.5 million (people suffer) strangulation and starvation," especially in Cast Lead's aftermath. Past flotillas aren't enough. "We want to join the appeal of the 'Free Gaza' campaign and send a ship with medical necessities to Gaza from a European port. This can only be achieved with a great deal of public support...."
They need help to provide it, saying:
"There can only be peace, when human rights and international law (are) respected by all sides. For this, the Gaza blockade must be lifted. That would be an essential step toward more security and freedom for everyone in the region."
On August 31, the Belfast Telegraph headlined, "Plans underway to send second Irish ship to Gaza," saying:
Eight Irish activists were on Freedom Flotilla I. Up to 50 more, comprised of seven pro-Palestinian groups, plan another, and have "launched a fundraising campaign to purchase an Irish ship." Irish campaigner Dr. Fintan Lane said "funds (are needed) to buy the boat, fuel, and to hire a legal team in case of more kidnappings."
The web site FreeGazaIreland.com highlights "Cementing Our Relationship with the People of Gaza," calling on:
"families, schools, hospitals, unions and community centres to buy bags of cement (to help). They will be loaded onto a cargo ship as part of an international flotilla...."
"Let's come together and support the people of Palestine to rebuild their lives and end the siege on Gaza and Israel's devastating occupation."
Scottish activists were aboard Freedom Flotilla I. They're still trying to learn what happened to the stolen cargo. They want it delivered. They want their boats returned. They're pursuing a legal complaint about Israel's attack. They want their personal belongings back, especially videotape evidence for a proper inquiry. They're not intimidated. They're planning another flotilla.
FreeGaza-Scotland.org updates information on their site. They're "hoping to (reach) as many different Scottish groups and people as (possible) to get a boat from here." They're working with Tayside Justice For Palestine that sent medical supplies with the Rachel Corrie in June. They request funding help and contact with "any other groups" that want to help.
USAtoGaza.org updates information on their site. A November 1 press release headlined, "As US Activists Prepare Boat to Gaza, Israel Threatens to Use Snipers, Dogs," saying:
US peace activists are raising $370,000 for a boat to sail in spring 2011 from a Mediterranean port. Called "The Audacity of Hope," it will join an international effort from "over a dozen European, Asian and North American countries," including Canada. Israel, however, threatens deadly force.
The mission's spokesperson, Jane Hirschmann said:
"the Americans would not be deterred by the Israeli threats. Of course, we take (them) seriously. Nobody doubts the Israeli government's willingness and readiness to use force against unarmed civilians. But this is a nonviolent mission on our part, challenging Israel's illegal siege. Gaza remains essentially an open-air prison under a US-backed Israeli blockade."
On board will be clergy, elderly participants, and "Holocaust" survivors - Jews against Israeli injustice.
A November 23 update expressed "shock and outrage" over the May massacre, saying "there had to be a US BOAT TO GAZA." In October, they were invited to become part of Flotilla II to be launched at end of March 2011.
It will be a larger effort, involving more people worldwide, a combined one traveling by sea as well as others "on land vigilant as the boats sail." Besides delivering humanitarian aid, they want Washington held accountable for supporting Israeli crimes.
They also need funds and request supporters contribute.
A collaborative initiative, two Canadian efforts include FreeGazaCanada.org/FreeGazaQuebec.org and CanadaBoatGaza.org/Bateau/Gaza.qc.ca.
They plan to sail in spring 2011 from an East Mediterranean port (likely Greece or Turkey) with up to 40 participants. The team said (at end of October) they were one-third toward their $300,000 goal. "We are counting on your continued support - only together can we achieve our ultimate goal of justice and freedom for all Palestinians in Gaza and elsewhere."
The Alternatives NGO is their financial sponsor, an organization active in supporting Middle East human rights and justice. What they collect will go solely for the mission.
In early November, participant Kevin Neish (aboard Flotilla I) began a cross-country tour seeking support for the "Canadian Boat to Gaza," sailing with Flotilla II. Their members span the nation from Halifax and Montreal to Vancouver. Included are activists, doctors, authors, educators, engineers, unionists, husbands and wives, Christians, Jews and Muslims, committed for social justice.
"The Canadian Boat to Gaza is a project launched by Canadian civil society activists (wanting) Canadian (participation) in the international effort to end the Israeli blockade of Gaza."
They'll challenge Israel's illegal siege, enlist broad support, and increase awareness of Gazan suffering.
Dozens of organizations endorse them, including:
-- the Arab Cultural Forum
-- the Palestinian NGOs' Network (PNGO);
-- Amnesty International Windsor
-- the Alliance of Concerned Jewish Canadians;
-- the Boycott Israeli Apartheid Campaign (BIAC);
-- Canadians, Arabs and Jews for a Just Peace (CAJJP);
-- CodePink, Canada; and
-- Not in Our Name, among others.
Belgium to Gaza (BelgiumGaza.org) headlines "Set sail to a liberated Gaza, navigate for justice," saying it's a "platform of Belgian organizations and individuals" working to challenge Israel's illegal siege. It uses Flotilla I's motto, saying:
"We people of the world will do what our governments refuse to do!"
It's also in fundraising mode to raise $300,000, asking supporters to be as generous as possible.
"Ship Two Gaza Norway (STGN) is a politically and religiously independent organization for individuals and organizations that work to ensure that international law" applies to Gaza.
It sent other boats in August 2008 from Cyprus with 44 passengers from 17 countries. It succeeded despite Israeli efforts to sabotage it. No one was harmed. One participant on arrival, El-Farra Musheir, a diaspora Palestinian, said:
"For the first time in my life, I came to Gaza without being humiliated, without having to ask Israel for permission. We did it. We (finally) made it. Now others must join us and do (it), too."
Other missions followed, five in all preceding Cast Lead. In December 2008, the Israeli navy rammed the boat Dignity in international waters, causing heavy damage, besides firing machine guns into the water to intimidate passengers on board.
Mission leader, Huwaida Arraf, co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), an activist pro-Palestinian group, later explained her determination to help, saying:
"We cannot sit still and wait for Israel to stop killing people. When the world's countries and international institutions have the responsibility to stop such crimes, (but choose) to be impotent, (then) we, world citizens" must act. "Our common humanity simply requires it of us."
They and others keep doing it despite Israel responding harshly - interdicting, harassing, arresting, imprisoning, killing nine or Mavi Marmara activists, and threatening violence against future missions.
Ship Two Gaza Norway will join Flotilla II. Those wishing to participate should contact them at Email address removed.
ShiptoGaza.se stands in solidarity with Gazans. Once funds are raised, it will "send a ship with necessities from Scandinavia via ports in Europe and the Mediterranean to Gaza."
On November 7, spokespersons Dror Feiler and Mehmet Kaplan, both aboard Flotilla I, "will travel to Israel to submit a police report on behalf of all eleven Swedish passengers." A lawsuit was also filed against the IDF, state of Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, alleging "armed robbery and/or larceny, kidnapping, deprivation of freedom and assault."
Asian Muslims to Gaza
On October 4, Haaretz ran an AP story headlined, "Hundreds of activists from Muslim countries planning new Gaza-bound flotilla," saying:
Around 500 activists from "dozens of Muslim countries," including Pakistan, Iran, Syria and Turkey "aim to break the blockage by December 27."
On December 2, they'll leave from India by land, cross Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and Syria, "then try to reach Gaza by sea." The Turkish Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Aid (IHH), bogusly called an extremist Islamic terrorist group, will sponsor the Turkish leg of the trip. IHH provides humanitarian aid "to spread justice and good. (It) fight(s) violation(s) of anyone's basic liberties and human rights (and) perpetuat(es) good anytime and anywhere."
A Final Comment
FreeGaza.org has global volunteers. Besides the above countries, they're in Argentina, Australia, Chile, Denmark, England, France, India, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Poland, Spain, the United Arab Emirates, and elsewhere.
More flotillas are coming until Gaza is free, the siege ended, rebuilding can begin, and what passes for normal life can resume.
Banned from Gaza since November 2006, Haaretz writer Gideon Levy asks "all Israelis to be outraged - or at least understand what is being perpetrated in their name, so they may never have the right to claim: we did not know." That applies everywhere, flotilla activists in the vanguard, galvanizing mass awareness and outrage for justice.
A hopeful sign: On November 26, the International Middle East Media Center reported that (on 11/25) the 30-vehicle "Road to Hope" convoy reached Gaza with aid and 101 activists, including eight Flotilla I survivors.
Egypt tried to obstruct them, then relented. Supplies included medical aid, educational materials and equipment, blankets, toys, and vehicles. Momentum keeps building for sustained help until Gaza's siege is lifted, a hopeful sign indeed.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at Email address removed. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.
Brave Israeli Commandos Slaughter Aid Activists at Sea
Even America's major media can't duck a crime this grave - attacking and slaughtering up to 20 Gaza Freedom Flotilla activists and injuring dozens more.
New York Times writer Isabel Kershner headlined "At Least 10 Killed as Israel Intercepts Aid Flotilla, saying:
"The Israeli Navy raided a flotilla carrying thousands of tons of supplies for Gaza in international waters on Monday morning....The incident drew widespread international condemnation, with Israeli envoys summoned to explain their country's actions in several European countries....The killings also coincided with preparations for a planned visit to Washington on Tuesday (June 1) by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu."
Late word is it's postponed.
The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and Los Angeles Times carried similar reports, trying, but hardly able to downplay a major crime.
The UK-based Stop the War Coalition called it "Yet another act of Israeli barbarism" in announcing an "emergency demonstration" at 2:00PM near the prime minister's Downing Street residence, saying spread the word and come.
In Gaza, thousands protested, expressing anger, outrage and sympathy, carrying banners condemning willful crimes, and calling for Arab solidarity. Similar demonstrations turned out in Amman, Cairo, Damascus, Tehran, Ankara, Istanbul, Beirut and other regional cities.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak blamed the Flotilla organizers for inciting the attack, while his deputy, Danny Alalon said they were connected to international terrorist organizations and were trying to smuggle in arms. Weapons were found on board, he claimed.
At a hastily called news conference, sparsely attended, he referred to "the armada of hate and violence in support of the Hamas terror organization," accusing peaceful activists of a "premeditated and outrageous provocation," saying "The organizers are well known for their ties with global Jihad, Al Qaeda and Hamas. (Their) intent was violent, their method was violent, and the results were unfortunately violent."
Shameless lies from a criminal caught red-handed, Haaretz's Gideon Levy saying:
"The Israeli propaganda machine has reached new highs (distributing) false information. It embarrassed itself by entering a futile public relations battle....There is nothing to explain, certainly not to a world that will never buy (its) web of explanations, lies and tactics."
In Washington, of course, they're echoed along with toned down pious indignation publicly, but privately, assurances of solid US-Israeli relations are affirmed.
On May 31, White House spokesman William Burton said:
"The United States deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained, and is currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy," stopping short of condemning crimes too grave to ignore and demanding harsh measures in response to premeditated slaughter.
Much the same from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (a reliable Israeli ally) stating:
"It is vital that there is a full investigation to determine exactly how this bloodshed took place. I believe Israel must urgently provide a full explanation," stopping short of demanding it and full accountability.
Saying he "deplored in the strongest terms the killing of civilians," Italian Foreign Minister, Franco Frattini, like his EU counterparts, said it was "indispensable that there be an inquest to ascertain the facts, which are still not clear."
They're very clear. Israeli forces planned and executed a premeditated attack against peaceful humanitarian activists, trying to deliver essential to life aid to Gazans under siege - to break Israel's attempt to suffocate and starve them.
The Wall Street Journal online headlined "More than 10 Dead After Israel Intercepts Gaza Aid Convoy," saying (like most US media reports) that "An Israeli military spokesman said later in the day that some activists 'appeared' to be armed with guns, and fired at the Israeli soldiers, though it wasn't clear who fired first."
The activists, in fact, were unarmed civilians, delivering vitally needed humanitarian aid to 1.5 million Gazans, trapped under siege for three years this month. Without provocation, they were maliciously and willfully attacked in international waters by armed Israeli commandos with orders to open fire if the convoy failed to abort its mission.
The best Journal writer Joshua Mitnick could say was "whether the military action was warranted or not (it) threatens to further sully Israel's international reputation, after a series of recent diplomatic setbacks."
No mention of the Gaza war, daily West Bank and East Jerusalem incursions, the three-year siege, a 43-year occupation, daily killings, targeted assassinations, homes bulldozed, mass arrests, torture, and Palestinian communities throughout the Territories and in Israel threatened by daily terror.
No mention by European nations either, the EU merely calling for a full inquiry, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner (a staunch Israeli supporter) saying he was "deeply shocked by the 'tragic' consequences of Israel's military operation (against) a humanitarian initiative," but little else. The same hypocrisy echoed from most European capitals, much like already from Washington.
Turkey's Communist Party's press statement, in contrast, said:
"The pirate commandos trained by Israel Naval Forces mounted an operation this morning to capture the flotilla carrying aid to Gaza and slaughtered unarmed civilians in the course of this outrageous operation."
Calling the attack "barbarous," it "demanded" immediate deportation of Israel's diplomatic mission, cancellation of Turkish-Israeli military and other agreements, and Israel held fully accountable for its crime against humanity - its specialty against civilians and nonviolent activists.
Al Jazeera reported that "Thousands of Turkish protesters tried to storm the Israeli consulate in Istanbul soon after the news (shouting) 'Damn Israel' as police blocked them."
It also said Israeli radio confirmed at least 19 were killed and dozens injured, quoting IDF spokeswoman, Avital Leibovich, saying, "This happened in waters outside Israeli territory, but we have the right to defend ourselves," - the usual response from scoundrels caught red-handed.
Video footage on board the Turkish passenger ship Mavi Marmara showed Israeli commandos opened fire during the assault, activists saying it began immediately after storming on board.
Al Zazeera's Jamal Elshayyal, on the ship, said "a white surrender flag was raised (and) there was no live fire coming from the passengers."
The Free Gaza Movement reported that "Under darkness of night, Israeli commandos dropped from a helicopter onto the Turkish passenger ship, Mavi Marmara, and began to shoot the moment their feet hit the deck." No action on board provoked it. It was premeditated, willful slaughter.
The Gisha Legal Center for Freedom of Movement expressed sorrow in denouncing the attack, citing it as further "proof that despite claims to the contrary, Israel never 'disengaged' from the Gaza Strip but rather continues to control its borders - land, air and sea....hermetically (cutting off) 1.5 million human beings (from) access to the outside world" and vitally needed humanitarian aid.
Netanyahu's spokesman, Mark Regev, claimed "They initiated the violence," and the IDF insisted it responded when its forces "were attacked with knives, clubs, and even live fire." Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi said soldiers were forced by violent acts to respond with live fire.
Viewing the video footage, Al Jazeera's Ayman Mohyeldin reported that:
"All the images being shown from the activists on board those ships show clearly that they were civilians and peaceful in nature, with medical (and other humanitarian) supplies on board."
Other footage showed black-clad commandos descending from helicopters, then immediately opening fire on deck against peaceful activists.
Israeli forces seized the ship and a smaller one, took them to Israel's port of Ashdod, and censored all information on the assault.
The Flotilla, with 700 activists, left Cyprus at 3:00PM (1200 GMT) Sunday, on the last leg of their journey, heading for Gaza, hoping to arrive by daylight. Six hours after departure, three Israeli missile boats left Haifa to interdict it, according to reporters on board before being ordered to turn off their cell phones.
The convoy hoped to break the siege and deliver over 10,000 tons of vitally needed aid, including food, medicines, educational, construction, and other materials. Israel warned it would intercept and abort the mission, giving no details except to say ships would be seized, then taken to Ashdod.
A May 31 Gaza Freedom March.org press release called for a "global response to killings on the Freedom Flotilla," saying:
"We, Gaza based Palestinian Civil Society Organizations and international activists, call on the international community and civil society to pressure their governments and Israel to cease the abductions and killings....against the Gaza Freedom Flotilla....and begin a global response to hold Israel accountable for the murder of foreign civilians at sea and illegal piracy of civilian vessels carrying humanitarian aid for Gaza."
"We, from Gaza, call on you to demonstrate and support the courageous men and women on the Flotilla and join the many now murdered on a humanitarian aid mission. We insist on severance of diplomatic ties with Israel, trials for war crimes and the international protection of the civilians of Gaza. We call on you to join the growing international boycott, divestment and sanction campaign of a country proving again" to be an international outlaw. "Join a growing critical mass around the world with a commitment to the day when Palestinian are entitled to the same rights as (all) other people, when the siege is lifted, the occupation over and the 6 million Palestinian refugees are finally granted justice."
Stand in solidarity for their freedom in peace, and demand nothing less, including full accountability for Israeli officials responsible for high crimes of war and against humanity.
On board the Flottilla are over 700 activists from 40 countries, including 35 politicians and a Nobel Peace laureate, Mairead McGuire, who protesting with Bil'in village activists against Israel's Separation Wall, in April 2007, was shot and injured with a rubber bullet, then tear-gassed, overcome, and had to be taken by stretcher to an ambulance.
Again, she and 700 others risked their lives to deliver vitally needed aid. In solidarity, people of conscience everywhere must support them and demand full accountability for the latest Israeli crimes too grave to ignore.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.