Background On The 2011 Gaza Flotilla
Posted: June 24, 2011
A coalition of international anti-Israel organizations called “Freedom Flotilla II” is planning to send approximately a dozen ships to Gaza in late June. The ships are expected to meet in the Cyprus area on or around June 25 and begin sailing towards Gaza.
Over the past few months, Israel has made tremendous efforts to prevent another flotilla through diplomatic and other means, as well as to prepare its naval forces to intercept the ships should they violate Israeli territorial waters. Israel has reached out to heads of state and urged them to stop their citizens from joining this effort. The Israeli navy has undergone drills and undertaken preventative measures in the event that the anticipated ships do approach Israeli territorial waters and Gaza’s shores. The international community has expressed opposition to the flotilla.
DETAILS OF THE 2011 FLOTILLA:
- A second flotilla to Gaza, called “Freedom Flotilla II – Stay Human,” plans to sail to Gaza in late June 2011. The upcoming flotilla is once again being organized by the Cyprus-based Free Gaza Movement (FGM), a wide variety of European Palestinian solidarity organizations and Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH), a Turkish charity with close ties to Hamas.
- The flotilla will reportedly consist of 10-15 ships and several hundred activists. On June 17, however, IHH announced that the Mavi Marmara ship (the ship in the 2010 flotilla involved in the incident with Israeli naval forces) would not sail as part of the flotilla because of “technical problems.” Two days earlier, it was reported that a French contingent of the flotilla, “French Ship to Gaza,” withdrew its involvement. It is not yet clear how this will impact the rest of the flotilla.
- Included among the flotilla participants is an American contingent called “U.S. To Gaza.” The group plans to send one boat with a total of 50 individuals, several of whom are Jewish anti-Zionists, including CODEPINK founder Medea Benjamin, Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein and Yonatan Shapira, an Israeli “conscientious objector.” Alice Walker, a prominent author, is also planning to participate in the U.S. boat, which has been named “The Audacity of Hope.”
- In addition to U.S. to Gaza, a West Coast-based group called The Free Palestine Movement plans to send a handful of activists, including the co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), Paul Larudee. FPM hopes to participate on a boat belonging to the International Committee to Break the Siege of Gaza. To date, that organization has not been able to purchase a boat for the flotilla.
WHO IS BEHIND THE FLOTILLA:
The Free Gaza Movement (FGM), a coalition of individuals seeking to challenge what it calls the "Israeli siege of Gaza,” initially conceived of a plan to send ships to Gaza in 2007. In the past few years, it has formed alliances with a variety of international organizations, including IHH, to form a larger coalition called the “Freedom Flotilla.” This coalition was responsible for sending a flotilla of ships to Gaza in May 2010, which resulted in violent clashes with the Israeli navy before the ships reached Gaza, and plans to send a second flotilla in June 2011.
THE BLOCKADE OF GAZA:
- Israel imposed the blockade on Gaza following the Hamas takeover in June 2007, and as a result of the ongoing barrage of rockets targeting Israeli civilians and the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. The blockade is primarily a defensive measure by Israel aimed at preventing Hamas from rearming and threatening Israeli civilians. In particular, the maritime blockade stops arms and other materiel from reaching Hamas by sea. The blockade further aims to encourage the people and leadership of Gaza to accept the international community’s demands of Hamas: to end the rocket attacks; renounce terrorism recognize Israel’s right to exist, and accept previously negotiated peace agreements. It should be noted that Israel is not the only country which has blockaded Gaza – Egypt maintained a closed border to Gaza until early June 2011.
- Israel enables the flow of goods into Gaza each day, and particularly ensures the transfer of food, medicines, fuel and electricity. Indeed, as of June 2010, Israel has eased numerous limits on goods allowed into Gaza. Israel is working with the United Nations to enable the transfer of construction supplies for housing and schools into Gaza. These and other materials were prohibited because they are considered “dual-use” and could be used by Hamas for violent purposes. As MathildeDe Riedmatten, deputy director of the Red Cross in the Gaza Strip, stated in April 2011, "There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza." Israel has made clear to the groups involved in the flotilla that it will facilitate the transfer of any humanitarian goods they wish to deliver overland.
More information on the flow of goods into Gaza
THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY REACTION:
The international community has made clear that it opposes the flotilla, its goals and tactics and has warned participants about the possible results.
- U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton declared on June 23:
We do not believe that the flotilla is a necessary or useful effort to try to assist the people of Gaza. Just this week, the Israeli Government approved a significant commitment to housing in Gaza. There will be construction materials entering Gaza and we think that it’s not helpful for there to be flotillas that try to provoke actions by entering into Israeli waters and creating a situation in which the Israelis have the right to defend themselves.”
- British Prime Minister David Cameron declared: “When over 100 rockets are fired into Israel from Gaza in one year, Israel is within its rights to search vessels bringing cargo into Gaza.”
- In a statement, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated: “Assistance and goods destined to Gaza should be channeled through legitimate crossings and established channels…The Secretary-General called on all Governments concerned to use their influence to discourage such flotillas, which carry the potential to escalate into violent conflict.”
- Susan Rice, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations told the Security Council in April:
We are also deeply concerned about reports that groups are organizing another flotilla that will attempt to sail to Gaza, ostensibly to deliver humanitarian assistance. The recent seizures of advanced weaponry underscore that Israel has clear security interests regarding cargo bound for Gaza. There are existing mechanisms to deliver goods to Gaza, and there is no justification for attempts to sail directly to Gaza. We therefore urge strongly all those who wish to deliver goods and assistance to Gaza to do so through existing mechanisms and avoid any provocative actions. This will ensure that the Palestinians’ humanitarian needs are addressed and Israel’s legitimate security needs are met. We also urge all member states to reinforce this message with their nationals and organizations and to use every legal means at their disposal to discourage additional flotillas to Gaza.
THE 2010 FLOTILLA INCIDENT:
- On May 31, 2010, after numerous warnings, the IDF naval forces intercepted six ships en route to Gaza, sponsored by the Free Gaza Movement (FGM), several European Palestinian solidarity organizations and Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH), an Istanbul-based Islamic charity with ties to Hamas, which intended to break the blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza. During the operation, flotilla members on one ship, the Mavi Mamara, violently attacked the IDF personnel with weapons, including knives, metal rods, and clubs, and reportedly with live gunfire. In the resulting confrontation, nine flotilla members were killed.
- The Government of Israel and the IDF made several attempts to avoid confrontation with the flotilla. The IDF repeatedly radioed the ships and appealed to the group's organizers to redirect the flotilla to an Israeli port, from where the goods and humanitarian aid onboard would be delivered to Gaza by established routes. The flotilla organizers, intent on sensationalist publicity and confrontation with Israel, refused these entreaties. Weeks prior to the launching of the flotilla, Israel repeatedly offered the Government of Turkey the opportunity to send humanitarian aid to Gaza via established overland routes. Turkey refused, and continued to support the flotilla effort.
- Participants on five of the ships in the flotilla did not react with violence to Israeli naval personnel. These individuals were not harmed and were sent back to their countries of origin after being detained in the Israeli port of Ashdod. Some individuals on the Mavi Mamara, a ship registered in Turkey, whose passengers included members of the Turkish militant Islamist organization, the IHH, confronted the Israeli naval personnel with violence. In light of this violence, the IDF naval forces were forced to act defensively. Following the incident, the Israeli government established an independent panel of inquiry, the Turkel Commission, to investigate and assess Israel’s action. The commission report, issued in January 2011, found that the Gaza blockade and the use of force during the IDF operation were legal under international law. In August 2010 U.N. Secretary General Ban ki-Moon established a committee to investigate the incident, with Turkish and Israeli representation on the panel.
More information on the 2010 incident