- Saturday, 26 March 2011
London - Despite the Israeli government’s escalating threats of violence and attempts at diplomatic strong-arming, the organizers of a new international “Freedom Flotilla” – more than 15 ships that will set sail in late May to force an end to the blockade of the Gaza Strip – says it is proceeding as planned. To assure that its passengers are unharmed, the European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza (ECESG), one of the flotilla organizers, is calling on all governments representing participating citizens to take concrete steps to protect their safety
"There is nothing Israel – or our own governments -- can do to frighten us into abandoning the 1.6 million ‘prisoners’ of Gaza,” said Rami Abdo, spokesperson for the ECESG. “Throughout the past – in the United States during its fight for equal rights for blacks, and in South Africa during the campaign against apartheid – it is only civil actions like this that eventually forced an end to government-imposed oppression. We stand on the right side of history. If they continue their campaign of tyranny, however, we will only become more determined.”
Abdo added that the flotilla is particularly urgently needed at this time due to Israel’s escalating military attacks on Gaza, leading some to fear that another invasion – similar to the deadly war on the Strip that left more than 1,400 Palestinians dead in early 2009 – is planned.
Israel has controlled the Palestinian people for 63 years, since more than 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes or fled out of fear following the creation of Israel in 1948. That control intensified in 1967, when Israel occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip. Although Israel withdrew its settlers from Gaza in 2005, it has continued to control the inhabitants’ lives; since 2007, it has prevented most human traffic in and out of the densely populated Strip, while restricting imports and banning virtually all exports. The impact: More than 75 percent of Palestinians in Gaza live under the poverty line.
The Freedom flotilla, of which Free Gaza and ECESG are founding members, is a human rights coalition that was organized after the 8th voyage by the Free Gaza movment. Free Gaza has sailed since August 2008 to break Israel's illegal stranglehold, successfuly arriving in Gaza five times: however, the past four voyages were violently intercepted, and on May 31, 2010, the Israeli military killed nine of the passengers during the first Freedom Flotilla.
A 10th flotilla – promising to be the largest, with 15 ships carrying passengers from 12 European states as well as Latin America, Africa, Asia, Canada and the United States – is now being organized for a late May departure for Gaza. The passengers will include hundreds of peace advocates from around the world, including parliamentarians and human rights activists, and representatives of more than 40 media institutions.
Israel has responded by threatening to once again use deadly force to stop the new flotilla, including snipers and attack dogs. According to the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, Israeli Defense Forces chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi is on record as threatening that “if the IDF is faced with a similar situation in the future, there may be no alternative to deploying snipers to minimize troop casualties.” Likewise, the Jerusalem Post has reported that the IDF will deploy attack dogs from its Oketz canine units.
Meanwhile, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, is summoning foreign diplomats to Jerusalem to urge them to work with Israel to stop the flotilla from taking place. According to the Irish Times, he justified his call for cooperation by claiming the flotilla would violate international law, and that “if anyone of goodwill would like to send anything to Gaza, he has ample ways to do it through our ports or Egyptian ports.”
Abdo, however, described the Israeli government’s claims as “total fabrication.”
“There is nothing in international law that supports Israel’s four-year-long blockade of Gaza, or its attacks on humanitarian shipments in international waters,” he said. “In fact, as stated last year by the normally neutral International Committee of the Red Cross, Israel’s collective punishment of the residents of Gaza is itself a clear violation of international humanitarian law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention.”
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