Archive for September 16th, 2011

Undefeated, Freedom Flotillas Expand

By Eva Bartlett

GAZA CITY, May 31, 2011 (IPS) – A gleaming new memorial towers in the center of Gaza City’s battered port. Flanked by flags of various nations whose citizens have sailed to the Gaza Strip to highlight the all-out siege on Gaza, the memorial’s inscription bears the names of the Turkish solidarity activists who died one year ago when Israeli commandos firing machine guns air-dropped onto the Freedom Flotilla, killing nine and injuring over 50 of the civilians on board.

On the one-year anniversary of the illegal Israeli attack on and abduction of over 600 civilians on the Freedom Flotilla from international waters, Gaza’s harbor bustles with people and energy: they have come to mourn the dead and to herald the coming boats of Freedom Flotilla Two. Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya addresses the audience, thanking the Turkish activists and government for their continued solidarity with Palestine.

Since Free Gaza boats arrived in 2008 –the first blockade-breaking boats and first boats to dock at Gaza since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the Strip – the boat movement has grown exponentially. Free Gaza successfully docked in Gaza five times, with another four voyages violently thwarted by the Israeli navy.

The December 2008 sailing ended when an Israeli warship rammed a Free Gaza vessel carrying medical supplies, non-violent activists, surgeons and journalists. The February 2009 attempt ended with Israeli soldiers forcibly boarding the ship, beating and abducting the passengers from international waters. A June 2009 sailing was likewise forcibly halted by the Israeli navy, the passengers aboard abducted and deported.

The various vessels have carried non-violent activists, international television and newspaper journalists, European parliamentarians, Jews in solidarity with Palestine, including Holocaust survivors and Israeli activists and journalists, and even Palestinians unable to get out of Gaza for studies in universities abroad and those unable to enter Gaza to re-unite with family.

Israel’s pretext in blocking boats’ passage to and from Gaza is for security reasons, claiming weapons are being smuggled into Gaza. In each instance when a Free Gaza or Flotilla vessel has been forcibly absconded to Israel, only humanitarian supplies were found aboard. Rather than defeating the boat movement, Israel’s aggressions have had the opposite effect.

Vessels from Libya, Malaysia, and a boat carrying Jewish activists have all sailed for, and been blocked by Israeli gunboats from, the Gaza Strip. Two weeks ago, Israeli soldiers fired upon a Malaysian aid ship carrying piping for a sanitation project in Gaza, forcing it to dock in Egyptian waters.

In May 2010, Free Gaza, supported by Turkish humanitarian organization IHH, again sent vessels and activists sailing to the besieged Strip, this time accompanied by the massive Turkish ship the Mavi Marmara. As the six vessels with over 600 passengers in the Freedom Flotilla approached Gaza, Israeli commandos unleashed a barrage of machine-gun fire on the boats still sailing in international waters. Equipped with satellite streaming, the Israeli assault was videoed and broadcast to disbelieving viewers in Gaza and worldwide.

Keven Niesh, 53, a Canadian activist on board the Mavi Marmara, described the killings. “There were several guys who had two neat bullet holes side by side on the side of their head – clearly they were executed,” Neish told Counter Punch in an interview after the Flotilla massacre last year.

Undaunted by last year’s massacre, international activists have organized the Freedom Flotilla 2, due to sail in one month’s time with at least 10 boats and over 1,000 activists. Canadian and U.S. boats will join those of Europe, Turkey, and other nations.

Immediately following the massacre one year ago, Egyptian authorities partially opened the Rafah crossing. In an effort to deflect criticism, Israeli authorities subsequently announced they would ease the siege on Gaza. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)’s Mathilde De Riedmatten, in a May 2011 interview, noted that “the entry of goods into Gaza is also still highly restricted, not only in terms of quantity but also in terms of the particular items allowed.”

More recently, Egyptian authorities announced the continued opening of the Rafah crossing. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), however, notes that this change will not impact on imports, exports or Gaza’s economy. “These procedures will not ease the suffering of the Palestinian civilian population or change the economic situation caused by the strict closure imposed on the Gaza Strip,” a PCHR statement reads.

It calls for “lifting the Israeli closure imposed on the Gaza Strip, opening the crossings for commercial transactions and allowing the freedom of movement of persons, including the movement between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, through the outlets that are controlled by the Israeli occupation forces.”

The siege on Gaza impacts drinking water (95 percent of Gazan water is below the World Health Organization standards), the sanitation system (untreated sewage is pumped into the sea daily for want of storage capabilities), and the agriculture and fishing sectors (farmers and fishermen are shot at on a daily basis by Israeli soldiers). Unemployment and malnutrition levels soar, power outages occur daily, impacting on hospital machinery, and Palestinians continue to live in what more and more outsiders are describing as an “open-air prison”. Renowned classical pianist Anton Kuerti, endorsing the Canadian boat to Gaza, says the siege has rendered Gaza “indistinguishable from a concentration camp.”

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon suggested nations prevent their citizens from sailing, saying governments should “use their influence to discourage such flotilla, which carry the potential to escalate into violent conflict.”

Free Gaza’s attorney Audrey Bomse stated “the flotilla violates no international laws or laws of the sea and so an outright ban on our sailing to Gaza is essentially a statement against the rights of the Palestinian people to control their own ports and lives.”

Turkey has demanded an apology and compensation from Israel to the martyred activists’ families, with Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on NTV television warning “Turkey will give the necessary response to any repeated act of provocation by Israel on the high seas.”

As was Free Gaza’s goal, the expanded Flotilla aims to end the illegal siege on Gaza. The Canadian Boat to Gaza (CBG) will “challenge Canadian foreign policy and the uncritical support of Israeli war crimes by the current government.”

CBG’s David Heap says the Freedom Flotilla participants are not intimidated. “Where our governments have failed the Palestinians oaf Gaza, civil society must act instead.”

Source: Inter-Press Service (IPS).

Israeli court extends detention of Hamas lawmaker

RAMALLAH, May 31 (Xinhua) — An Israeli court extended the detention of a Hamas lawmaker for another six months, the Hamas parliamentary bloc said Tuesday.

Nayef al-Rejoub, a West Bank-based Hamas official, was detained in December and has not been indicted or charged, the bloc said in a statement.

Al-Rejoub is one of dozens of Hamas lawmakers who were detained for the first time in 2006. Israel chased down Hamas West Bank- based officials after the Islamic movement kidnapped an Israeli soldier in the Gaza Strip.

Israel released most of the lawmakers, including Al-Rejoub, but arrested them again last year. By Tuesday, Israel still holds 10 Hamas legislators.

Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, demands Israel to release at least 1,000 Palestinian and Arab prisoners in exchange for the captive soldier Gilad Shalit.

Meanwhile, the Israeli army arrested 12 Palestinians in the cities of Qalqilya and Jenin in the West Bank, Palestinian security sources said.

In Jenin, the Israeli forces also shut down a charity close to the Islamic Jihad movement, witnesses said.

Israel says most of the arrested are wanted activists.

Source: Xinhua.

Palestinians to march on Israel’s borders

BEIRUT, Lebanon, June 1 (UPI) — Palestinians plan to stage protests along Israel’s borders to mark the 44th anniversary of the Six Days War and Israel’s occupation, a Fatah official said.

Munir Maqdah, a Fatah official in Lebanon, said plans are under way to stage a peaceful march between Naqoura to the town of Khiam on Sunday, The Daily Star reported Wednesday.

Facebook campaigns call on Palestinians to march to Israel’s borders with Lebanon, Syria and Gaza to commemorate the Naksa, the 1967 war, the Lebanese daily said.

In the aftermath of the Six Days War, Israel occupied the Golan Heights, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and the Sinai Peninsula.

“Our people are ready. The road to Palestine is covered with thorns,” Maqdah told the newspaper.

A Lebanese army source told the newspaper the army may prevent protesters from reaching Israel’s borders to prevent what occurred last month on Nakba Day when 11 protesters were killed. “The army has reservations about allowing protesters to reach the border … . We will not allow a repeat of what happened on Nakba Day, in terms of the killings of Palestinians,” the source said.

In last month’s protests of the 1948 creation of the state of Israel, a total of 14 Palestinians were killed.

Neeraj Singh, the spokesman for the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon, told the newspaper he had yet to receive official confirmation concerning marches in the area. He said it was the responsibility of the Lebanese army to protect the protesters.

Abdullah Abdullah, the Palestinian Authority’s ambassador in Lebanon, said the marches planned are to express rejection of Israel’s occupation and should not be violent.

Source: United Press International (UPI).