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Background on the Gaza Flotilla

Posted: June 15, 2010


  • On May 31, 2010, after numerous warnings, the Israel Defense Forces intercepted a flotilla of 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, the flotilla intended to break the blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza.

  • During the operation, flotilla members on one ship, the Mavi Marmara, violently attacked the IDF naval personnel with weapons, including knives, metal rods, clubs, and live gunfire. In the resulting confrontation, nine flotilla members were killed and seven were wounded. At least seven Israeli soldiers were wounded, two in critical condition. The loss of life is greatly regrettable and could have been prevented had the activists refrained from violence. The IDF forces had no choice but to defend themselves from the violent onslaught.

  • This was a premeditated provocation by the leaders of the flotilla. While proclaiming themselves to be motivated by humanitarian concerns, the Free Gaza Movement is comprised of longtime anti-Israel extremists who advocate using confrontational tactics against Israel. Organizers of the flotilla embarked on a course that put in danger the lives of those aboard. Activists on the flotilla ship Mavi Marmara were committed to a violent confrontation with the Israeli Navy. As one IHH official put it, "Everybody wanted and was ready to become a martyr."

  • The Government of Israel and the IDF made repeated 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 Government of Egypt offered to deliver the cargo via the port of El-Arish. 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. To date, Hamas has refused to allow the humanitarian aid from the flotilla ships to be delivered to Gaza.

  • People on the other five ships in the flotilla did not react with violence to Israeli naval personnel. Their ships sailed to the Israeli port city of Ashdod and all have been deported to their home countries. Those on the Mavi Marmara, 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.

  • Israel is committed to examining the facts relating to the flotilla incident in a transparent and responsible process, and is currently conducting two investigations.  The first is an independent panel of investigation, established by the Government of Israel, headed by a retired supreme court justice and comprised of leading Israeli academics and legal experts.  Two international law experts – one Irish, one Canadian – have been named as international observers to the panel.  The second panel was established by the IDF to examine the operation and arrive at "lessons learned."  These investigations demonstrate Israel's commitment to examining the facts relating to the flotilla incident in a transparent and responsible process.


  • The Free Gaza Movement, a coalition of groups and individuals seeking to challenge what it calls the "Israeli siege of Gaza," has sent boat missions to Gaza since August 2008. The group has described Gaza as an "open-air concentration camp controlled by land, sea and air." The International Solidarity Movement (ISM), which is a prime organizer in the Free Gaza Movement, has consistently put their own volunteers in harm's way, and has sought to deliberately provoke confrontations with the Israeli Military.

  • The Turkish group Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH), is a significant fundraiser for Hamas — the terrorist group that controls the Gaza Strip and is committed by charter to Israel's destruction. IHH maintains direct contacts with senior Hamas officials and has been implicated in providing logistical support for global terror plots—including the Dec. 31, 1999 plot against the Los Angeles International Airport.

  • Previous Free Gaza Movement operations have entered Gaza and have met with top Hamas officials. The movement does not condemn Hamas terrorism or refusal to recognize Israel's right to exist. Its sole focus is on Israeli actions. It should be noted that Free Gaza organizers refused a request from Noam Shalit to bring a letter and package with them for his son, Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who has been held hostage by Hamas since June 2006.


  • Israel imposed the blockade on Gaza following the Hamas takeover four years ago, and the ongoing barrage of rockets at Israeli civilian centers and the kidnapping of 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 blockading Gaza – Egypt has maintained a closed border to Gaza and generally does not permit the flow of goods.

  • Despite the blockade, Israel enables the flow of essential goods into Gaza each day. Given the ongoing threat from Hamas, Israel does restrict dual-use goods, such as some building supplies, which could be used for military purposes. At the same time, Israel ensures that humanitarian needs are met and keeps food, medicines, fuel and electricity flowing into Gaza.

  • According to international law experts, in a situation of armed conflict, states may impose a blockade and carry out blockade activities in international waters, including detaining vessels trying to break the blockade.

  • To date, Hamas has refused to allow the humanitarian aid from the flotilla ships to be delivered to Gaza.



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The Gaza Flotilla Affair: Facts & Resources

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