Jane Hirschmann 917-679-8343, 212-222-6721
Felice Gelman 917-912-2597
Medea Benjamin (in Turkey with ground crew) 90 531 888 8927
BOATS EN ROUTE TO GAZA SURROUNDED BY ISRAELI WARSHIPS
New York – November 4, 2011
At 7:43 am ground support crew lost contact with two ships, the Saoirse of Ireland and the Tahrir of Canada, carrying 27 civilian passengers, medical supplies and letters of support for the people of Gaza.
At 7:30 am the Tahrir was interrogated, via radio, by the Israeli Navy. The ships were approximately 48 nautical miles off the coastline, well into international waters. Asked by the Israeli Navy for their destination, Canadian activist Ehab Lotayef replied, “The conscience of humanity.” When they repeated the question, asking for final destination, Lotayef said, “The betterment of mankind.”
Israel has maintained a naval blockade of Gaza since June 2006. Numerous international organizations, including committees of the United Nations, have concluded the blockade is in violation of international law.
This map was made by Benjamin Doherty at the Electronic Intifada. Get the embed code at the link and post the map on your website or blog.
You can also track the Tahrir here.
In the world of principle and international law, the ongoing Israeli blockade of Gaza - which until now blocks Gazans from traveling to the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and blocks Gazans from exporting, farming, fishing, and otherwise earning their living - is a clear violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which bars the use of "collective punishment" against a civilian population living under occupation.
The International Committee of the Red Cross - a key guardian of the Fourth Geneva Convention - has stated this clearly. As Voice of America reported:
"The International Committee of the Red Cross says Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip breaks international law. The humanitarian agency said Monday that the blockade violates the Geneva Convention, which bans 'collective punishment' of a civilian population. "
Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 - on the Red Cross website - says: "No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited...Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited."
"Protected persons" are defined in Article 4: "Persons protected by the Convention are those who, at a given moment and in any manner whatsoever, find themselves, in case of a conflict or occupation, in the hands of a Party to the conflict or Occupying Power of which they are not nationals."
Monday, July 11, was a historic day for the movement to abolish the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. The right-wing dominated Israeli Knesset gave the campaign to boycott the Israeli occupation a Good Housekeeping seal of approval - a hechsher, if you will - by passing legislation to punish it.
Of course, the effect of this legislation will be to rejuvenate the Israeli peace movement ["Israeli Left launches public campaign against new law banning boycotts," Haaretz reports] and promote the boycott. It is a sign of the political bankruptcy of the Israeli Right that it is now condemned to take actions which promote the agenda of its opponents.
This month, the right-wing Israeli government shone a spotlight on its illegal blockade of Gaza when it made giving free publicity to the Gaza Freedom Flotilla the top Israeli government priority. Every day, it seemed, there was a new Israeli government statement calling attention to the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, more outrageous than the last: 67-year-old Alice Walker was going to pour sacks of sulfur on Israeli soldiers and light them on fire; journalists who reported on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla were going to be banned from Israel for ten years.
Last week, renowned author Christopher Hitchens published a column highly critical of those who attempted to sail to Gaza on the Freedom Flotilla earlier this month. In the article, he sharply questions the flotilla participants’ “political ambitions,” which he suggests are linked to those of Hamas, Hezbollah and even Osama bin Laden. Presumably, Hitchens would also claim that the International Committee of the Red Cross has ‘political ambitions’ aligned with Al Qaeda’s, because both groups support an end to the blockade of Gaza.
The column concludes with a challenge: “There is something about this that fails to pass a smell test. I wonder whether any reporter on the scene will now take me up on this.”
Challenge accepted. Although the flotilla was prevented from going to Gaza, this isn’t the end of activism to end the blockade, so Hitchens’ assertions about the true intentions of this activism are certainly still relevant. Let’s start with the first major claim he makes about the flotilla: “It seems safe and fair to say that the flotilla and its leadership work in reasonably close harmony with Hamas.”
If you share in the project of reforming U.S. foreign policy so that it reflects the values and interests of the majority of Americans, then you care about the New York Times. Because of its role in influencing the coverage of other corporate media, the Times is a key gatekeeper shaping not only what the broad majority of the American public know about what our government is doing in the world, but also in determining to what perspectives about these policies the broad American public is exposed.
As a corollary, if you care about reforming U.S. policy towards the Palestinians' quest for self-determination, then you care about Ethan Bronner, because Bronner is the Times' Jerusalem bureau chief.
It was thus with keen interest that, as a passenger waiting in Athens earlier this week to board the U.S. boat to Gaza, The Audacity of Hope, I read Ethan Bronner's "news analysis" Sunday of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, "Setting Sail on Gaza's Sea of Spin."
With continued threats coming from Israel, a complaint traced to an Israeli organization aimed at docking the U.S. boat indefinitely, and the reported sabotage of another flotilla ship, the State Department ought to say or do something to avert the possibility of undeserved violence toward U.S. citizens sailing to Gaza.
But, of course, to date, the State Department has done just the opposite.
Last week, the State Department issued a travel warning to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza that sounded more fit for the Democratic Republic of the Congo than a close U.S. ally and purported bastion of freedom and democracy. The warning states,
Six members of Congress ask Secretary Clinton to ‘ensure the safety of all American citizens on board the Audacity of Hope’
For Immediate Release
June 27, 2011
Athens/en route to Gaza: Robert Naiman, naiman [at] justforeignpolicy.org
Washington, DC: Kate Gould, press [at] justforeignpolicy.org
WASHINGTON, DC: On Friday, June 24, six members of Congress wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, asking her to "do everything in your power" to help "ensure the safety of all American citizens on board The Audacity of Hope." The letter, which was initiated by Representative Dennis Kucinich, notes The Audacity of Hope's willingness to open its cargo to "international inspection" and their commitment to "nonviolence and the tenets of international law."
The letter was signed by Representatives Dennis Kucinich [OH-10], William Lacy Clay [MO-1], Sam Farr [CA-17], Bob Filner [CA-51], Eleanor Holmes Norton [DC], and Barbara Lee [CA-9].
The letter is viewable online below or here.
Robert Naiman, Policy Director of Just Foreign Policy, issued the following response from Athens, Greece, where he is preparing to sail to Gaza as a passenger on The Audacity of Hope:
"This letter is historic, marking the first time members of Congress have publicly expressed concern for the safety of the U.S. passengers aboard The Audacity of Hope. This statement runs in stark contrast to Secretary of State Clinton's false accusation that we are trying to ‘provoke action by entering into Israeli waters', when in fact we have every intention of sailing to Gaza peacefully and avoiding Israeli waters entirely. We hope Secretary Clinton heeds this request from Congress and speaks out against threats from the Israeli authorities to attack us in our effort to break the illegal blockade on the Gaza Strip."
Just Foreign Policy issued a press release earlier this morning regarding the impending journey of its Policy Director, Robert Naiman, aboard the U.S. Boat to Gaza and his availability for media work prior to and during this journey. Read the full press release here:
There was a slogan on the streets of Seattle: "This is what democracy looks like." You can't love democracy and denigrate protest, because protest is part of democracy. It's a package deal.
Likewise, you can't claim solidarity with Egyptian protesters when they take down a dictator, but act horrified that the resulting government in Egypt, more accountable to Egyptian public opinion, is more engaged in supporting Palestinian rights. It's a package deal.
On Saturday, at long last, the Egyptian government "permanently opened" the Egypt-Gaza passenger crossing at Rafah. A big part of the credit for this long-awaited development belongs to Tahrir. It was the Tahrir uprising that brought about an Egyptian government more accountable to public opinion, and it was inevitable that an Egyptian government more accountable to public opinion would open Rafah, because public opinion in Egypt bitterly opposed Egyptian participation in the blockade on Gaza.
In addition, opening Rafah was a provision of the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation accord brokered by the Egyptian government - an achievement facilitated by the fact that the post-Tahrir Egyptian government was more flexible in the negotiations with Hamas that led to the accord.
Mubarak had a deal with the U.S. government: I obey all your commands on the Israel-Palestine issue, and in exchange, you shut your mouth about human rights and democracy. Tahrir destroyed this bargain, because it forced the U.S. to open its mouth about human rights and democracy in Egypt, regardless of Egypt's stance on Israel-Palestine. When it became clear to Egypt's rulers that subservience to the U.S. on Israel-Palestine would no longer purchase carte blanche on human rights and democracy, there was no reason to slavishly toe the U.S. line on Israel-Palestine anymore.