A week has now passed since the fateful day on which nine Turkish activists were killed as the Gaza Freedom Flotilla was violently and illegally attacked by Israeli forces in international waters. Our friend and colleague Emily Henochowicz was hit with an illegally fired tear gas canister the same day, necessitating the removal of her left eye and severely fracturing numerous bones in her face.
Information about the flotilla is widely scattered. Israel has waged a vicious war on information, first by disabling satellite communication as the boats were attacked; then by prohibiting injured activists from showing their wounds to media as they were escorted off the boats; then by detaining the other 600+ activists in the middle of the desert, denying them access to lawyers for over 24 hours; then by stripping them of all cameras, notebooks and all other possessions; then by continuing to detain 17 journalists... the list could go on forever.
Here are some basic facts which I wish were more widely publicized:
-- Autopsies of the dead show that over 30 bullets hit the nine bodies. 5 were hit in the back of the head; many bullets were fired from less than 50 cm.
-- Between four and six activists are still missing. Families fear they were thrown overboard or kidnapped.
-- The Israeli military has admitted to sabotaging boats and doctoring audio tapes
-- My friends are all ok, alhemduilieh, though physically and psychologically battered. Their boat, the Challenger 1, was violently raided and passengers, who were nonviolently trying to defend the boat, beaten bloody and handcuffed with bags over their heads. Huwaida Arraf speaks about it here on NPR.
-- Accusations that passengers used violence, specifically on the Mavi Marmara, are generally not being placed in the appropriate context. While the six boats were in international water, headed to Gaza on a humanitarian aid mission, the Israeli military decided an appropriate (and the best) response was for masked soldiers to rappel onto the deck of the Mavi Marmara from helicopters, in the dark, during morning prayers which many passengers were attending (and the rest were sleeping), and to shoot live ammunition wildly. Reports describe soldiers shooting a person holding a white flag and people who were sitting handcuffed; training laser sights on those trying to administer first aid, etc. Friends of mine, belonging to groups which specifically decided against using violence of any kind, were brutally battered. They emerged covered in bruises with harrowing tales; Angie with a broken nose. However, those who decided to resist using weapons such as kitchen knives and metal poles were entirely within their rights, being attacked in international water. Israel is the world's fourth largest military, and boarded the boats with semi- automatic assault rifles. Any attempt by the Israeli military to portray themselves as victims is shamelessly inaccurate.
I will save an update on Emily for the next email. For now, please visit her art blog: thirstypixels.blogspot.com. Here is a link to one of my favorite pieces, inspired by her first trip to Sheikh Jarrah.
Below are answers to some questions I received. Below that are links to further reading. I would like the next update to be a second question and answer, in light of the recent attention on Palestine and activism.
***Please, respond with questions you have related to current events or anything else.***
Questions I have received:
Why'd they attempt to run blockade?
The Gaza Freedom Flotilla is still attempting to break the blockade of Gaza in order to bring attention to the dire humanitarian crisis, and ultimately bring the blockade to an end. The Gaza strip is severely impoverished and economically devastated because of the siege. Amnesty International, Oxfam, Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela are among those calling for its immediate end. The statistics are shocking: 45% of Gazans are unemployed, 60% lack food security and up to 80% live in conditions of poverty, according to information from Oxfam and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights. Although Israel claims Gaza is no longer occupied, it maintains a level of control which is absolutely devastating for Gazans. The amount of humanitarian aid allowed through checkpoints is a mere trickle of what is required for a decent quality of life. Operation Cast Lead destroyed thousands of homes, schools, hospitals and mosques, nearly none of which have been rebuilt since Israel does not permit building materials through the border. Furthermore, Israeli control of the Strip extends deep into the territory on all sides, with grave economic impacts. The “buffer zone”, permitted up to 50 meters from the border according to 1990 Oslo Accords, has now been extended from anywhere between 300 meters and 2 kilometers. Anyone entering this area for any reason is subject to “shoot to kill” policy. The result is a loss of over 30% of Gaza’s farmland, and some of its most arable. Farmers still risk their lives to farm here, because of the extremely dire economic and nutritional situation. Just last week, I published a report about six farmers who were severely injured with fire from artillery shells as they attempted to harvest their crops. The farmers were fired upon without warning, and at least two of the men were the sole income-earner for families of more than twenty. The fishing zone, twenty nautical miles under Olso, is now 1-3 nautical miles. The zone is gravely overfished, thousands of fishers attempt to earn an income in the narrow stretch of water every day, and fishermen are routinely fired upon. Between the end of Operation Cast Lead (January 2009) and the end of 2009, 166 attacks carried out by Israeli forces killed 37 and injured 69.
Regardless of one’s opinion about Hamas, it is clear that sanctions are not effective in overthrowing a governing body. Sanctions against Iraq in the 1990’s did little to check Saddam Hussein’s power, but killed over 500,000 children. Collective punishment is illegal under international law for good reason. It’s inhumane and ineffective in accomplishing anything but torturing a population. You or I may or may not agree with decisions our government makes, and may or may not have voted for the people in power, but it shouldn’t mean that we be denied medicine for our children, or concrete to rebuild the home which bombs destroyed.
Didn't Israel agree to let them pass if they came thru port of Ashdod and submitted to inspections for contraband arms? Why didnt they go that route?
By submitting the goods to Israel for inspection, the blockade is not being challenged. Hopefully I’ve satisfactorily explained why this is a necessary purpose. Furthermore, the goods on Flotilla boats were specifically necessities not permitted into Gaza by Israel. The list of items permitted is sadistically short. No argument about security can possibly be successfully levied against items like dried fruit and vinegar. The boats contained 10,000 tons of aid; composed of items which Israel denies Gaza such as hundreds of essential medicines, school supplies such as paper and pens, lentils, tomato paste, chocolate, electric wheelchairs (200 of the Flotilla’s 500 were specifically for victims of Cast Lead) and building materials to begin rebuilding Gaza nearly a year and a half after Cast Lead. The boats were inspected numerous times in their countries of origin, with documentation being made publicly available. If the Flotilla should stop at Ashdod to permit the Israeli government to remove such scandalous “contraband” as backpacks and macaroni, there really would be no point. As it stands, sufficient supply of aid to Gaza exists. Israel just doesn’t allow it in.
Isn't Egypt enforcing same blockade due to same problem with contraband arms from Iraq coming in via Gaza?
I am unfamiliar with this accusation. Egypt has historically enforced the blockade, although Rafah is the only crossing which is ever open and since the massacre, Egypt has agreed to freely open the border “until further notice”. Egypt receives the second highest amount of US aid annually, roughly $815 million (after Israel's $3 billion/year). Egypt's dependence on this aid generally prohibits it from acting independently of the US and Israel. Monday's massacre seems to have changed the country's willingness to be complicit in the siege however.
Aren't in fact food & power being allowed into Gaza?
I highly recommend this Oxfam press release on the humanitarian crisis, published 2 June in response to the massacre. Here's a quote: "Contrary to what the Israeli government states, the humanitarian aid allowed into Gaza is only a fraction of what is needed to answer the enormous needs of an exhausted population. For instance, Oxfam estimates that 631 trucks of humanitarian supplies were permitted entry into Gaza last week by the Israeli authorities. This constitutes only 22 percent of the weekly average (2,807 truckloads) that entered during the first five months of 2007, before Israel’s imposition of the blockade. Meanwhile, almost no exports have been allowed out of Gaza."
Are both Egypt & Israel wrong in trying to enforce sanctions & inspections to stem flow of arms to terrorist killing in their countries?
Yes. As I mentioned above, 1990's sanctions in Iraq killed over 500,000 children while leaving Saddam Hussein in power.
The fourth Geneva convention reads: Article 33. No protected person* may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.
Collective punishment is a war crime under international law.
Furthermore, although this is a much larger philosophical debate, Israel routinely commits acts of state-sponsored terrorism in the occupied territories. Here is an excerpt of a press release issued by the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, regarding "Operation Cast Lead": "The magnitude of the harm to the population was unprecedented: 1,385 Palestinians were killed, 762 of whom did not take part in the hostilities. Of these, 318 were minors under age 18. More than 5,300 Palestinians were wounded, of them over 350 seriously so. Israel also caused enormous damage to residential dwellings, industrial buildings, agriculture and infrastructure for electricity, sanitation, water, and health, which was on the verge of collapse prior to the operation. According to UN figures, Israel destroyed more than 3,500 residential dwellings and 20,000 people were left homeless.
During the operation, Palestinians fired rockets and mortar shells at Israel, with the declared purpose of striking Israeli civilians. These attacks killed three Israeli civilians and one member of the Israeli security forces, and wounded dozens. Nine soldiers were killed within the Gaza Strip, four by friendly fire. More than 100 soldiers were wounded, one critically and 20 moderately to seriously"
These statistics alone demonstrate the grievous imbalance of power that leaves Gazans daily threatened by unprovoked acts of extreme aggression.
* A "protected person", according to Article 4 of the 4th Convention, includes any person who finds themselves under the control of an occupying power.
For further information:
Humanitarian crisis in Gaza:
"Monday’s tragedy is a direct result of the Israeli blockade on Gaza" Oxfam International, 2 June
"Suffocating Gaza", Amnesty International, 1 June
Sarah Colborne gives a press conference
"There was a lot of blood in the stairwells...", ">Sydney Morning Herald
Lubna Masarwa, Palestinian Israeli placed under house arrest
Flotilla information and news:
Pictures of soldiers recieving medical treatment on Mavi Marmara
B'Tselem press release about Operation Cast Lead
As always, Occupation 101 is available at freedocumentaries.org