The Memorial Day weekend is a time for many to sit with their families, barbecue and remember those soldiers who sacrificed their lives in wars. However, news headlines delivered shocking news of Israeli commandos attacking a ship in international waters carrying aid to Gaza, killing at the very least nine peace activists while other reports put the figure higher at 16 and injuring dozens more.
The ship, known as the Mavi Marmara was part of a fleet of six ships that embarked from Greece with the goal of heading to Gaza to break the suffocating siege that Israel has placed on the Palestinian territory. Israel expressed that it would deal harshly with the flotilla and viewed it as an “attack on its sovereignty”. Those were the exact words of Israel’s right wing foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman.
The ship never got a chance to get close to Gaza, as Israeli commandos on dinghies and helicopters intercepted the ship. Israel claims it was acting in self-defense, saying the commandos were attacked with wooden batons, metal rods and knives. Yet, Israel imposed a media blackout immediately after the attack and only now are we learning about events from first hand sources.
“This was not an act of self-defence,” said Mr Paech, a politician, as he arrived back in Berlin wrapped in a blue blanket.
“Personally I saw two and a half wooden batons that were used… There was really nothing else. We never saw any knives.
“This was an attack in international waters on a peaceful mission… This was a clear act of piracy,” he added.
Fellow German activist Inge Hoeger said they had been on the ships “for peaceful purposes”.
“We wanted to transport aid to Gaza,” she said. “No-one had a weapon.”
She added: “We were aware that this would not be a simple cruise across the sea to deliver the goods to Gaza. But we did not count on this kind of brutality.”
Activist Bayram Kalyon, arriving back in Istanbul, had also been a passenger on the Mavi Marmara.
“The captain… told us ‘They are firing randomly, they are breaking the windows and entering inside. So you should get out of here as soon as possible’. That was our last conversation with him.”
Condemnation of the attack came from all over the world with leaders from Europe, Africa and the Middle East united in one way or another in deploring the raid and mourning the victims. Turkey was the strongest in its condemnation, labeling the Israeli attack as a “massacre” and an act of”barbarism” and “piracy,” the strong condemnation made sense considering many of those on board the ships were Turkish.
Breakdown of those on board the ship,
Australia 3; Azerbaijan 2; Italy 6; Indonesia 12; Ireland 9; Algeria 28; United States 11; Bulgaria 2; Bosnia 1; Bahrain 4; Belgium 5; Germany 11; South Africa 1; Holland 2; United Kingdom 31; Greece 38; Jordan 30; Kuwait 15; Lebanon 3; Mauritania 3; Malaysia 11; Egypt 3; Macedonia 3; Morocco 7; Norway 3; New Zealand 1; Syria 3; Serbia 1; Oman 1; Pakistan 3; Czech Republic 4; France 9; Kosovo 1; Canada 1; Sweden 11; Turkey 380; Yemen 4.
However, the media has unfortunately in some ways portrayed this as a Turkish-only venture which it certainly was not, it had nationals from all over the world, noble peace laureates, a holocaust survivor, a former US ambassador, prize winning authors, philosophers, politicians and activists from all walks of life. This diversity of backgrounds came together for the sole purpose of bringing relief to besieged Gazans, but instead they were met with violence.
This fact also belies the cynical attempt by Israeli PR propagandists to paint this flotilla of peace as an armada of terror. Mark Regev, a face familiar to many during the information blackout that Israel enforced during the 2009 Gaza war was at it again, this time claiming that this flotilla was led by “Islamic Extremists.”
Pamela Geller has already shot off a dozen or more blog posts and articles about the Israeli attack, in her world these were “war ships” that were sent in a “military operation from re-Islamicized Turkey,” where according to her the number #1 best selling book is Mein Kampf (she can’t miss a Hitler reference can she?). Robert Spencer on his site is not to be undone by his partner Pamela, and has also shot off a handful of posts that reproduce articles making the argument that the Israeli attack wasn’t about targeting humanitarian work but about Radical Islam vs. Liberal West, that those on board have possible ties to Al-Qaeda, etc. You get the picture, let the dehumanization begin!
In the end the attack on the ship seems to have served no purpose but to perpetuate violence, and I can only imagine that it will galvanize more people to want to partake in non-violently breaking the blockade of Gaza. As we speak, the Rachel Corrie, an Irish ship, is on its way in an attempt to break through the Israeli blockade. Here’s hoping that the Israeli military won’t react wildly once again and do something crazy like killing innocent civilians on a peace mission.
Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen urged Israel to let the vessel to finish its mission. The ship was carrying 15 activists including a northern Irish Nobel Peace laureate.
“The government has formally requested the Israeli government to allow the Irish-owned ship … to be allowed to complete its journey unimpeded and discharge its humanitarian cargo in Gaza,” Cowen told parliament in Dublin.
An Israel Defense Forces officer pledged that the newest ship would also be halted, setting the stage for a fresh confrontation after Monday’s deadly clash.
“We as a unit are studying, and we will carry out professional investigations to reach conclusions,” the lieutenant said, referring to Monday’s confrontation in which his unit shot nine activists aboard a Turkish ferry.
“And we will also be ready for the Rachel Corrie,” he added
But activists said they were determined to follow through with their plan. “We are an initiative to break Israel’s blockade of 1.5 million people in Gaza. Our mission has not changed and this is not going to be the last flotilla,” Free Gaza Movement activist Greta Berlin, based in Cyprus, told Reuters.
Israeli officials were continuing to deport the activists who were aboard the six-ship flotilla. One hundred and twenty of the nearly 700 passengers were transferred Tuesday evening to the border crossing with Jordan, from where they will be returned to their home countries.
Passengers on the MV Rachel Corrie include Northern Irish Nobel peace laureate Mairead Corrigan-Maguire and Denis Halliday, an Irish former senior UN diplomat, and several other Irish citizens.
Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin told parliament he had spoken with Halliday on Tuesday afternoon.
“We will be watching this situation very closely — as indeed will the world — and it is imperative that Israel avoid any action which leads to further bloodshed,” Martin said.
Israel’s Army Radio reported that the ship would reach Gazan waters by Wednesday, but activist Berlin said it might not attempt to reach Gaza until early next week.
“We will probably not send her till (next) Monday or Tuesday,” she said of the 1,200 ton cargo ship. The Israeli navy stormed aboard a Turkish ferry leading a six-ship convoy on Monday, killing nine people in what authorities said was self-defense but sparking a world outcry, a crisis in diplomatic relations with Turkey and condemnation from the United Nations Security Council.
The Rachel Corrie was carrying medical equipment, wheelchairs, school supplies and cement, a material Israel has banned in Hamas-ruled Gaza, organizers said.
Mark Daly, a member of Ireland’s upper house of parliament who had been due to join the convoy but was refused permission to leave Cyprus, told Reuters in Dublin that the ship had fallen behind the rest of the convoy because it was slower.
Passengers aboard it had heard about the attacks but decided not to turn back, he said.
“After having a discussion among themselves about what to do, they decided to keep going,” Daly said.
Nearly 700 international activists were processed in and around Israel’s port of Ashdod on Monday evening, where the six ships of the blockade-running convoy had been escorted.
Among the activists were many Turks but they also included Israelis and Palestinians as well as Americans and many Europeans.
The Interior Ministry said 682 activists were ordered deported, and that 45 left on Tuesday, while others were jailed as they challenged the orders, or in hospital being treated for injuries.