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FLOTILLA FAQ: 10 Q & A's on the Flotilla's Mission and What it Accomplished
JFP's Policy Director Robert Naiman has returned to the United States, after the Greek government thwarted The Audacity of Hope's attempt to reach Gaza. Now is the time to build on the momentum that the flotilla began to end the collective punishment of the 1.6 million residents of Gaza. But first, we'd like to set a few things straight by responding to some of the Frequently Asked Questions we’ve received regarding the Freedom Flotilla II and the U.S. Boat to Gaza:
1) Why didn't the U.S. Boat to Gaza reach Gaza?
2) What did the flotilla accomplish? What role did Just Foreign Policy play?
3) What is the blockade on Gaza anyways? Why do you say it's illegal?
4) But I thought that there was no humanitarian crisis in Gaza? So what’s so bad about a blockade?
5) But isn’t the blockade necessary to prevent weapons from being smuggled in to Hamas?
6) Why not just give the goods to Israeli authorities and have them transported to Gaza?
7) Why not send humanitarian aid through Egypt?
8) Wasn't the flotilla trying to provoke Israel?
9) What about Israel's claim that the flotilla was supporting Hamas, and that the organizers have ties to terrorist organizations?
10) What about Israel's claim that the flotilla organizers were preparing to attack Israeli soldiers?
Have a question that we don't address here? Email us!
On July 1, 2011, the U.S. Boat to Gaza, The Audacity of Hope, attempted to sail from Athens, Greece to join a multi-ship flotilla in breaking Israel's blockade of Gaza. Passengers on board reported that after only 20 minutes, "heavily armed Greek forces with their firearms drawn forced a Gaza-bound ship to turn around and return to Greece". The Greek government continues to ban Gaza-bound ships from leaving their ports. For updates on the remaining boats in the flotilla, check back on the U.S. Boat to Gaza's website here.
There were 37 passengers, 4 crewmembers, and 10 journalists on board The Audacity of Hope, including renowned author and civil rights activist Alice Walker, Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein, retired Army Colonel and U.S. diplomat Ann Wright, former CIA officer Ray McGovern, former Israeli air force Captain Yonatan Shapira, and dozens of other peace activists.....in addition to our own Robert Naiman! (Check out their bios here.) A quarter of the participants were Jewish and all demonstrated a deep committed to nonviolence. The only cargo on the U.S. Boat to Gaza consisted of letters of goodwill for the people of Gaza. Alice Walker called the flotilla "the freedom ride of this era".
This Freedom Flotilla II included boats from Canada, Australia, and many countries in Europe, all of which attempted to sail to Gaza in a renewed international effort to break Israel’s illegal blockade on the besieged coastal enclave. Last year, Israeli commandos took military action against the first Freedom Flotilla in international waters, leaving nine civilians dead, ten Israeli commandos wounded, and some ninety passengers wounded. The civilian deaths included 19-year old Furkan Dogan, a U.S. citizen. Israeli authorities took control of the ships and brought them to Israel, where they arrested, jailed, and deported the passengers and confiscated their cameras, videos, and other personal equipment. While the first Freedom Flotilla did not succeed in reaching Gaza, it did succeed in bringing world attention to the blockade of Gaza, dramatically increasing political pressure on Israel, the United States, and Egypt that led to a partial easing of the blockade.
While The Audacity of Hope hasn't reached Gaza, this nonviolent action did reach major media outlets in the United States and around the world, which put the collective punishment of the 1.6 million people in Gaza in the headlines for weeks.
The flotilla even won a change in Israeli policy worth celebrating—even if it was small relative to the need. The morning after the participants on The Audacity of Hope arrived in Greece, Israel authorized the long-awaited entry of construction materials into Gaza for 1,200 new homes and 18 schools.
Six members of Congress urged Secretary Clinton to "ensure the safety of all American citizens on board The Audacity of Hope". Since any challenge to Israel's blockade of Gaza is "radioactive" in Congress, this congressional letter is a significant victory in the long road ahead toward ending U.S. support for the collective punishment of 1.6 million human beings.
Policy Director of Just Foreign Policy Robert Naiman was a passenger on the U.S. Boat to Gaza, and Just Foreign Policy organized an integrated campaign that draw attention to the flotilla and the illegal blockade of Gaza, including media work, congressional advocacy, and organized action here in the United States, including a petition to Secretary of State Clinton, urging her to speak out for the safety of U.S. citizens participating in the flotilla, and an effective take-over of the State Department's Facebook page. Oh, and that graphic you've seen all over Facebook and Twitter that says "I support the U.S. Boat to Gaza"? That was designed and successfully distributed by Just Foreign Policy too.
Just Foreign Policy will continue to work with our partners from the U.S. Boat to Gaza to end the blockade. To get updates on actions you can take to end the blockade of Gaza and press for diplomacy, law and cooperation, sign up for Just Foreign Policy's action alerts here.
The blockade on Gaza is a form of collective punishment against a civilian population--a grave breach of international law.
As the International Committee of the Red Cross has stated, “the whole of Gaza’s civilian population is punished for acts for which they bear no responsibility. The closure therefore constitutes a collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law.” Collective punishment of the Palestinians in Gaza is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, of which Israel is a signatory.
It's become a favorite riposte of blockade apologists to claim that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza, quoting a Red Cross official who made this remark earlier this year. The problem is that there is no authoritative definition of the term "humanitarian crisis"--it is not, for instance, a legal term. One may adopt a very strong definition of "humanitarian crisis", such as mass starvation and death, or a more moderate one, such as widespread malnutrition and poverty. As a consequence, the term "humanitarian crisis" is ripe for use in equivocations. But just because a population isn't literally starving doesn't mean that it doesn't suffer--and Gazans suffer much in every aspect of their lives under Israel's blockade.
According to the Israeli human rights group Gisha, Israel’s blockade "has impoverished the 1.6 million people of Gaza, deprived them of needed materials and supplies to rebuild their lives after the Israeli attack of late 2008 - early 2009, impeded those who are ill or infirm from seeking outside medical aid, and prevented students from seeking education outside of Gaza. 45% of the working age population is unemployed, 70% of the population depends on humanitarian aid."
In short: NO. To protect their citizens, Israeli authorities should be, as President Obama called for in 2010, “focusing narrowly on arms shipments rather than focusing in a blanket way on stopping everything and then, in a piecemeal way, allowing things into Gaza.” If President Obama's policy had been enacted, the Israeli government would not have threatened unarmed peace activists seeking to visit Gaza. Rather than focus on arms shipments, Israeli authorities deny Palestinians in Gaza the right to farm, fish, and export, and access to medical care and work, and study in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Since these restrictions are not necessary to guard against arms shipments, the blockade is excessive, arbitrary, and a form of collective punishment.
As the letter from six members of Congress calling on Secretary of State Clinton to ensure safety for the U.S. passengers on the U.S. Boat to Gaza pointed out, Israel has the responsibility to “protect its citizens from security threats,” and that “the measures it uses to do so, as in the case with any other nation, must conform to international humanitarian and human rights law”.
Not only does the blockade not protect Israeli citizens, this grave violation of international law directly endangers Israeli security. Hamas has actually benefited enormously from the blockade, as a recent UN report has pointed out.
In the words of Israeli government officials themselves, the goal of the blockade is to “put Palestinians on a diet” and inflict “economic warfare”--which is what human rights organizations call “collective punishment” (see Q. 4)
It is worth noting that before the first Freedom Flotilla, Israel used the exact same excuses about security to justify banning toilet paper, macaroni, and numerous civilian goods from entering Gaza. These restrictions were clearly not necessary for Israel's security; the only reason they were imposed is because Israel could get away with it at the time. The Gaza-bound Freedom Flotillas are a nonviolent way of adding to the international pressure on Israel to completely lift the blockade.
First and foremost, the primary objective of the international flotillas is to end the blockade--not merely bring humanitarian aid to Gaza. While many of the ships carried humanitarian aid, the U.S. Boat to Gaza was only carrying letters of goodwill for the people of Gaza. The Israeli blockade is "an assault on normal, dignified life", as the International Crisis Group has reported. The humanitarian aid that does enter Gaza is subject to the whims of the Israeli government, and, to a lesser extent, the Egyptian government. The blockade denies Palestinians in Gaza access to a life of dignity in which they can earn their own living instead of being reduced to relying upon aid. Challenging this crisis of dignity is what the flotilla is all about.
As Sari Bashi, Executive Director of Gisha, points out, it is infuriating that residents of Gaza are being deliberately reduced to recipients of humanitarian aid. "The problem in Gaza is not a shortage of food but rather a violation of the right to productive, dignified work. There is just one solution that will respect the rights of Gaza residents to freedom of movement and livelihood while protecting Israel's legitimate security interests: Israel must lift the ban on construction materials, exit of goods and travel between Gaza and the West Bank".
The Palestinian Network of NGOs (PNGO) rejected the Greek government's offer to deliver a limited amount of humanitarian aid to Gaza, stated that, "your offer to deliver the cargo of the Freedom Flotilla entrenches the notion that humanitarian aid will solve our problems and is a weak attempt to disguise your complicity in Israel's blockade."
Again, the aim of the flotilla is to end the blockade---not shove more scraps of aid into what the UN's humanitarian chief John Holmes called, an "open-air prison". As the Israeli human rights group Gisha warned, Gaza residents don't need more aid--they need to export and travel".
The opening of the Rafah Crossing is a welcome step towards improving the access that Gaza residents have to the outside world. However, despite the ‘opening’ of the Rafah crossing,’ the majority of Palestinians attempting to leave Gaza are finding themselves unable to do so. Most are being wait-listed or flat-out rejected without explanation, as well as subjected to humiliation by guards at the border.
Regardless of developments in Rafah, Palestinians in Gaza are still barred by Israel from accessing the West Bank. As Gisha points out, the opening of Rafah "does not detract from Israel's obligation to allow regular travel between Gaza and the West Bank. The Palestinian territory shares a single economy, a single education system, a single healthcare system and countless familial, cultural and social ties."
Even if the Egyptian government were to open its border completely, for geographical and infrastructural reasons, the Rafah crossing is not equipped for the kinds of large scale imports and exports needed to ensure the well-being of 1.6 million people. As Amnesty International pointed out, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza after the partial opening of the Rafah border has not changed significantly at all.
The flotilla always intended to sail to Gaza---not Israel, nor Israeli waters. Political pressure could keep the Israeli authorities from confronting the flotilla, just as political pressure was successful in convincing the Israeli government to partially ease the blockade last year in the wake of the first Freedom Flotilla. Many Israelis are against the blockade of Gaza—some, like the former Israeli military medic Bradley Burston and Israeli journalist Gideon Levy, have written op-eds urging the government to allow the flotilla to sail to Gaza unharmed.
It only goes to illustrate the excessive and arbitrary nature of Israel's blockade of Gaza that it refuses to allow peace activists delivering humanitarian aid and letters to sail to Gaza.
The passengers on the U.S. Boat to Gaza have all signed pledges of nonviolence, and stated repeatedly that they are unarmed, have no intention of attacking Israeli soldiers, and have welcomed international inspection of their boat, including by the news media.
For Israel's part, they have offered absolutely no proof regarding these allegations. Israeli officials, however, have given evidence that the flotilla passengers posed absolutely no threat to Israel.
According to one of Israel's main news publications Maariv, members of the Israeli security cabinet have said that they had been given absolutely no information about the flotilla posing any threat to Israel. This was confirmed again by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, which reported that Israel’s security cabinet had recently been briefed by the foreign ministry and security and defense officials, who had told them that according to Israeli intelligence, there were no known connections between the flotilla organizers and any terrorist organizations.
Israeli officials claimed that the flotilla passengers brought on board bags of sulfuric acid to use to kill Israeli soldiers--what will they think of next? In response, the U.S. Boat to Gaza opened up their boat to an international media inspection, where Israeli and international media crews could thoroughly inspect every bit of their cargo with their own eyes and their own cameras. To date, Israel has been unable to provide any evidence to support their allegations.
As Alice Walker wrote before the U.S. Boat to Gaza attempted to set sail, "Our boat, The Audacity of Hope, will be carrying letters to the people of Gaza. Letters expressing solidarity and love. That is all its cargo will consist of. If the Israeli military attacks us, it will be as if they attacked the mailman. This should go down hilariously in the annals of history".
Again, it should be noted that even Israel's security cabinet admitted that they had absolutely no information about the flotilla posing any threat to Israel.