Nine ships sailing from various destinations, including Ireland, Turkey and Greece, are headed towards the Gaza Strip with the goal of breaking the Israeli maritime blockade on the Gaza Strip. The so-called Freedom Flotilla is carrying around 750 activists, including diplomats and journalists, as well as about 10,000 tons of supplies. If they don't turn back, IDF navy commandos plan to block the ships. Israel has vowed to prevent the ships from docking in Gaza, offering instead to send the aid through its own crossings after carrying-out security checks.
I will attempt to break down the reactions and posts I've seen coming from the Hebrew blogosphere into what seem to be three main arguments:
1. There is no humanitarian problem in the Gaza Strip
2. The flotilla is a provocative trick to capture media around the world
3. The flotilla includes questionable participants (“terrorists”?)
I will also describe some of Israel's formal and informal reactions to this event. As the matter is complex from many angles, if you have more insight to offer, please don't hesitate to add it to the comments section at the bottom of this post.
“There is no humanitarian problem in Gaza”
In a recent interview Col. Moshe Levy (IDF) said “the humanitarian situation in Gaza is stable – there is no lack in food or any other items, except those that fuel the terrorist movement and strengthens Hamas.” Since the beginning of the year, Israel transferred 260,000 tons of humanitarian aid – Every day some 100 trucks enter Gaza with vital materials. Israel let some 6,000 Palestinians into Israel to receive medical treatments in Israel and Jordan. There is no taxation on food or medicine. Additionally, Israel is enabling the UNRWA bring in cement for construction projects that they oversee.
Here is some information on humanitarian aid to Gaza over the past year and a half, posted by the MFA. And from the IDF blog, an overview of the regulations on what is allowed in and out of the Gaza strip.
Alternatively, here's a snarky piece by Larry Derfner focusing on the Israeli Foreign Ministry statements about the nonexistent humanitarian crisis in Gaza and questions the idyllic image that they have been trying to paint.
The Gaza Gateway blog questions the Israeli claim about the “magnificent” situation in Gaza:
if there is such prosperity, then how exactly is the closure policy promoting Israel’s goal to weaken the Hamas government? For example, if the economic situation in Gaza is so magnificent, as stated in the cynical message distributed by the Government Press Office yesterday – why does another public statement by the State of Israel proudly declare that 738,000 tons of humanitarian aid were transferred to the Gaza Strip last year? How, the reader might also ask, are these statements of prosperity compatible with the contradictory information frequently released by international organizations ?
Is it not true that 80% of Gaza’s population is supported by international aid organizations? Is it not true that the unemployment rate in Gaza is around 35%? And, how is the decisive statement that “Israel has taken measures to support trade and commerce” consistent with the sweeping ban imposed by Israel for the past three years on the entry of raw materials to industrial plants and factories in the Gaza Strip? Indeed, the ban is perpetuating a situation in which over 90% of industrial establishments are closed or are operating at less than 10% of capacity. Does the fact that Israel prevents the entry of margarine in large containers designed for the production of foodstuffs in Gaza, while it allows the entry of margarine in small packages (made in Israel) promote the economy in Gaza?
In a recent blog post, Ido Landau wonders if there are still Israelis who truly believe that the siege will help release Gilad Shalit:
I'd like to know if there exists an Israeli citizen that doesn't know a three year old piece of information – that the price to release Gilad Shalit is the price that was initially set; a price that will not change even after the fourth, fifth or sixth year? That the solution against qassam missiles and the terrorist attack attempts is, simply, opening the borders?
The Israeli siege on Gaza, caused a 60% deterioration in nutritional insecurity for senior homes. Almost half of the agricultural land in the Gaza strip cannot be used as a result from the destruction of operation “cast lead” or from being within the security belt. The fishing industry is paralyzed due to the ban on entering deep sea (the Gazans smuggle fish via tunnels). This means the collapse of the agricultural sector in the Gaza strip.
If you're interested to read about the humanitarian situation, I recommend you read the following report (published by OCHA). Otherwise, all that we know comes from IDF via ynet.
A video interview posted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs outlines the reasons why a naval blockade exists, and claims its legitimacy under international law:
The reason why there is a naval blockade is the Hamas regime – weapons are smuggled into Gaza by various means. One of these routes is the sea. Under international law, a maritime blockade is recognized as a legitimate tool be used at a time of international conflict. Israel is in a state of arms conflict with Hamas. Israel has hoped that the disengagement plan would form as a springboard to the creation of a dialog. Unfortunately we know that hasn't been the case. In response to attacks on its civilians, Israel imposed economic sanctions on the regime
under international humanitarian laws a state that is imposing economic sanctions does not need to provide non vital goods; goods that will give Hamas military or economic advantage are not transferred. For example, concrete is no allowed to be transferred. Israel supplies on a daily basis vital humanitarian goods – baby formula, meat, dairy products. Million tons of goods have been transferred to the Gaza strip.
Israeli supreme court constantly reviews the transport of humanitarian goods into Gaza and makes sure that Israel is meeting its obligations under international law.
The flotilla is carrying goods including cement. The building materials are meant to be used for the construction of some 20 homes which were destroyed in the war Israel-Gaza war of January 2009. The “free gaza” movement argues that even though many countries agreed to help rebuild and can provide 4 billion dollars, this hasn't happened since Israel is set on blocking the entrance of building materials into the Gaza strip.
the flotilla is a provocative PR stunt
The notion that the “freedom flotilla” is a publicity stunt is widely adopted within Israeli media (and probably even within the activists themselves). An interesting perspective is Turkey's role in the evolution of this story. Turkey, whose relations with Israel have soured since the Gaza invasion in 2008-2009, has played a key role in the flotilla campaign, organized by IHH, a Turkish humanitarian organization, among others.
In his post, Ze'ev Kam claims that Palestinian aid that doesn't include a public humiliation of Israel doesn't interest anyone, and is especially angered at the Turkish government for supporting this move:
אתם יודעים מה, אמרו בישראל. יאללה. ניגש מתאם הפעולות בשטחים לשגריר הטורקי בישראל והציע לו שישראל תעביר בעצמה את כל הציוד ההומניטרי לרצועה. רק בלי משט. בדרך הרגילה. במילים אחרות, בואו נשאיר בצד את מסע היח”צנות ואת מנועי הקיטור של האוניות ופשוט נדאג שהסיוע יגיע לעזה. ואפילו בדרך מהירה יותר. הטורקים אמרו לא.
You know what? Israel said – Yalla. The Israel chief coordinator for operations in the territories approached the Turkish ambassador to Israel and proposed that Israel will transfer all the humanitarian materials into the Gaza strip. Just not through water. In the usual route. In other words, leaving the PR-ified journey and the steam engines aside, and simply making sure that the goods reach Gaza. Even faster.
The Turkish said no.
The flotilla is connected to radical entities (links to potential terrorists?)
On their public facing blog, Israeli Defense Forces claim that top level Islamic extremists are linked to the Gaza flotilla:
According to a report by the Intelligence & Terrorism Information Center, senior Islamic extremists attended the launching ceremony in Istanbul of a boat participating in the flotilla. Among the participants were Mahmad Tzoalha and Sahar Albirawi, both top Hamas terrorists who today operate in Great Britain, and Hamam Said, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan.
Bolant Yilderim, the chairman of the IHH, a Turkish based pro-Palestinian organization that is spearheading the Gaza flotilla, delivered a radical speech at the ceremony to the applause of Turkish politicians and radical Islamic activists. “Israel behaves like Hitler did towards the Jews. Hitler built concentration camps in Germany, and today the Zionist entity is building concentration camps in Palestine,” said Chairman Yilderim.
Here's an excerpt from a post published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs titled “Maritime Huzpa in Memory of Rachel Corrie” about the ISM's (International Solidarity Movement) operation:
ISM is an organization that approves the Palestinian right for “legitimate armed resistance”. Their “successes” include the prevention of IDF from destroying factories that produce bombs, and tunnels used for smuggling weapons, in addition to helping, encouraging and protecting terrorists. In addition to their support of terrorists, ISM encourages uncautious confrontational resistance for its international crew of volunteers. In 2002, in the midst of a violent takeover on the church of the Nativity in Bethlehem by Palestinian terrorists, ISM members joined in as human shields. In the same year, Rachel Corrie found her death, and Mike's place – a popular Tel Aviv bar – was bombed by two suicide attackers who “sipped tea” with ISM members just 5 days prior to the attack.
ISM's behavior is typical to that of such extreme activists. While they claim that they support human rights, they often show little to no sensitivity to human life. ISM was more interested in protecting illegal structures than the lives of its international volunteers. The volunteers on the boats are all political instruments, in FGM's (Free Gaza Movement) control. How can we provide legitimacy to NGO's that do not respect their volunteer's lives?
I'm still trying to find out more information on Mahmad Tzoalha and Saha Albirawi. If you see something out there, please post here.
Israelis reactions and public outreach
1. Apparently a large group of Israelis led by Guy Bechor are set to embark on a counter-journey to intercept the Flotilla crew. Following is an extract from Moti Sagron's post describing of what their agenda should be:
Even with Hamas's actions, we were offering peace. Israel's problem is not with the Gaza residents, but with Hamas. Therefore, if you identify with the residents, and not Hamas, we will help you transport all wanted humanitarian material. Israel already does this routinely. The residents of Gaza receive hundreds of supply trucks every week, in addition to fuel and electricity. However, as long as Hamas is a racist organization, fascist and antisemite, resisting peace and calling for a Jihad towards building an Islamist dictatorship, and as long as Hamas controls the Gaza strip, there is no solution other than fighting them.
2. Gilad Shalit's family offered to support the international flotilla to Gaza if its participants would demand that Hamas permit various organizations to visit the kidnapped Israeli soldier and allow him to receive packages. Members of the campaign for Shalit's release said the organizers of the international aid mission to Gaza declined the offer.
3. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been apparently hounding people on Twitter, says Sherine Tadros:
The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been spreading the fact that the Flotilla is invited to unload its cargo in the Ashdod port:
Again, this is a complex story, with a whole slew of perspectives. I tried to represent some of the Israeli opinions which you would typically not see or hear. Please let me know if there are any important or unique voices that I've missed.
We'll certainly be watching the events as they unfold here at Global Voices Online.