Free Gaza Movement: Anti-Israel Boat Campaign Challenges Israel's "Siege of Gaza"
Freedom Flotilla II
Posted: June 3, 2010
The Freedom Flotilla II resulted in a massive failure for the international "break the siege on Gaza" effort. The flotilla was intended to replicate the May 2010 flotilla, which failed to reach Gaza but spawned a significant propaganda victory for the anti-Israel movement when Israeli soldiers killed nine activists during a violent confrontation on board one of the ships. The ships comprising this year's flotilla, however, were not permitted to leave the Greek port where they had gathered and the flotilla participants were forced to give up after several days of failed attempts to receive authorization from Greece.
The flotilla had initially been scheduled to sail to Gaza in the fall of 2010, just a few months after the first flotilla, but was delayed several times and eventually was pushed off to early summer 2011. By late June, the ten boats had gathered in Greece and the activists were preparing to set sail. On July 1, however, the Greek government issued an order prohibiting the departure of ships to the "maritime area" of Gaza. The statement warned that "appropriate measures" would be taken to ensure the enforcement of the order. [In addition to the legal obstacles, the Freedom Flotilla II was also hamstrung by the sabotage of two of its boats and a series of threatened lawsuits by an Israeli NGO called Shurat HaDin.]
Despite lacking permission, several of the boats tried to depart from Greece, including the Canadian boat named "Tahrir" and the U.S. boat, "The Audacity of Hope." The boats were quickly intercepted by Greek authorities and brought back to port and the captain of the U.S. boat was arrested and detained for several days for defying the order.
The Freedom Flotilla II had hoped to launch an even larger flotilla than the original flotilla in May 2010. Huwaida Arraf, a leader of the Free Gaza Movement (FGM), had warned during a July 2010 interview with a Malaysian newspaper that the upcoming flotilla would be "an escalation" from its predecessors.
Indeed, reports in early 2011 indicated that the flotilla would consist of 12-15 ships and more than a thousand activists, a significant increase from the first flotilla. A series of planning meetings held in several major international cities in early 2011 further demonstrated that organizers were highly motivated to repeat a large campaign aimed at embarrassing Israel on an international stage. At a meeting in Athens in April, organizers issued a press release calling on all their governments to "take preemptive action to assure that Israel will not use force" to prevent the flotilla from reaching Gaza. They also announced plans to meet with members of the European Parliament, the United Nations and other international bodies to "present Freedom Flotilla 2 and its goals."
During the last year, however, organizers faced a variety of obstacles that forced the flotilla to be delayed and scaled down, including the June 17 announcement by Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH), a pro-Hamas Turkish charity that was one of the principal organizers of the 2010 flotilla, that its ship would not be able to participate because of "technical problems." The ship, the Mavi Marmara, had been the site of the violent clash during the 2010 flotilla and was supposed to "lead" the 2011 flotilla.
Notably, the 2011 flotilla had significant support from anti-Israel activists in the U.S. As mentioned above, a U.S. boat was planning to participate in the flotilla with 50 activists, including several Jewish anti-Zionists and Alice Walker, a prominent author who has recently become involved in anti-Israel efforts.
In addition, two dozen fundraisers were held in the U.S. for the American initiative, called "U.S. To Gaza," and organizers maintained a Web site and various social networking sites dedicated to promoting the effort and informing supporters about ways they could help the campaign. By sending an American ship, domestic activists intended to demonstrate that there are American citizens who disapprove of U.S. support for Israel. Jane Hirschman, one of the organizers of U.S. To Gaza, stated, "There's never been a U.S. boat and we think it's time we stand up to our government and hold them accountable for what has happened; (Gaza is) an open air prison."
The Free Palestine Movement (FPM), a California-based group with similar motives to FGM, also sent a small delegation to Athens to participate in the flotilla, including Paul Larudee, a longtime anti-Israel activist and a founder of the Free Palestine Movement.
Anti-Israel activists in the U.S. also planned to hold protests in solidarity with the flotilla in anticipation of an Israeli Navy interception of the boats. Many of the protests were canceled when the flotilla failed to sail to Gaza but some cities in the U.S., including Chicago and San Francisco, held protests anyway. There, protesters gathered at the Israeli Consulates holding signs describing Gaza as "collective punishment" and calling for "independence from Israel." At the rally in Chicago, activists marched from the Israeli Consulate to the Greek consulate chanting "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free" and "When people are occupied, resistance is justified."
A separate but similar initiative, called "Welcome to Palestine" also took place in early July. A variety of Palestinian solidarity organizations in Europe and the Palestinian territories organized a campaign to send several hundred activists to "break the aerial siege" and land in Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv on July 8. There, the activists planned to engage in nonviolent demonstrations and declare their intention to visit Palestine. Ultimately, only several dozen activists landed in Israel after a variety of European airlines barred access to the participants to fly to Israel. The activists who were able to fly to Israel, including two American activists who had planned to participate in the U.S. boat of the flotilla, were denied entry to Israel when they arrived.
While these two initiatives were seen as similar, and indeed both are motivated by anti-Israel agendas, it appears that Freedom Flotilla II and Welcome to Palestine are not organizationally connected and were not timed to coordinate with one another. In fact, the Welcome to Palestine campaign was, in a way, a critique of the singular focus on Gaza by flotilla organizers. In a letter encouraging activists to participate in the so-called "air campaign," Welcome to Palestine organizers cautioned that "we must not forget that Israeli colonial authorities are implementing their racist apartheid policies throughout historic Palestine."