June 6, 2010

Israeli Attack on Aid Flotilla in Gaza Strip

Clarification/Correction Regarding Audio Transmission Between Israeli Soldiers and Gaza-Bound Flotilla on May 31, 2010

Israeli Military Boards Gaza Aid Ship; Meets No Resistance

The New York Times
June 5, 2010

Israel prevented a new attempt to break its blockade of Gaza on Saturday when its naval commandos boarded an Irish-owned vessel carrying humanitarian supplies and prominent activists and steered it to this Israeli port.

There were no attempts at resistance or reports of violence, the Israeli military said.

The interception, 23 miles off the coast, took place less than a week after an Israeli commando raid on a Gaza-bound Turkish ship turned violent, leaving nine Turkish activists dead and creating an international crisis that severely damaged Israeli-Turkish relations.

On Friday, the Israeli and Irish governments reached an agreement to unload the vessel’s cargo in Ashdod, in southern Israel, and transport it to Gaza, but the group sponsoring both this ship and the Turkish flotilla, the Free Gaza Movement, rejected the deal.

The 11 activists and 8 crew members on board the 1,200-ton cargo ship had made clear at the outset that they would not resist and that they had no weapons. The passengers included Mairead Maguire, an Irish Nobel Peace laureate; Denis Halliday, a former United Nations assistant secretary general from Ireland; and Mohd Nizar bin Zakaria, a member of the Malaysia’s Parliament.

It was not possible to reach the boat because communications were jammed, but an Israeli journalist embedded with the navy filed an account of the takeover that confirmed the military’s report of the events.

The journalist, Ron Ben-Yishai of Ynet News, said the takeover, shortly before 12:30 p.m., took five minutes and involved two missile boats carrying about 20 combat soldiers.

A spokeswoman for the Free Gaza Movement, Greta Berlin, said by telephone from Cyprus that boarding the boat was “just another violent act,” and that “Israel needs to understand that we are not going to stop until they stop the blockade.” She said four boats were already lined up for trips to Gaza.

Her group aims to end the three-year blockade of Gaza, which Israel says is intended to prevent the infiltration of weapons and militants into the Hamas-run territory.

The Israeli military said that the ship, the Rachel Corrie, had been asked three times to dock in Ashdod, change course or face a naval takeover and that the requests had been ignored. The operation did not involve an airdrop as in the raid on Monday.

A military spokeswoman here, Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, said the passengers would be questioned by the police, processed through customs and deported. Those who refused deportation could face jail, she said.

A senior naval commander said that the cargo would be inspected here and that anything that would not serve Hamas for weapons or defense would be sent over land to Gaza.

The commander, who spoke by telephone to journalists under military rules of anonymity, was asked why Israel did not agree to inspect the cargo at sea and then permit the boat to reach Gaza.
“It is not possible to inspect thousands of bags inside a vessel,” he said. “You have to unload it in port and examine it there.”
He said the entire cargo would be delivered to Gaza, including cement, which is usually banned. Israel says cement can be used to build bunkers, tunnels and rockets. However, some shipments have recently been allowed for specific civilian building projects.

Israel has been widely condemned for its blockade, which some experts in international law say is illegal. After Monday’s raid, when Israeli commandos met fierce resistance and opened fire on the anti-blockade activists, Israel said it was open to new ways to ensure that civilian goods could enter Gaza while meeting Israeli security needs. It is unclear what the new ways would include.

At the United Nations, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was cobbling together a proposal for an international panel to investigate the deadly raid.

The panel would include representatives from Turkey and Israel, or at least one member each to represent their interests, and two or three others selected from a list assembled by Mr. Ban, diplomats said.

Mr. Ban plans to pitch the plan to Israel and Turkey over the weekend, the diplomats said, and the United States has said it will sign off on it once Israel accepts it.

There was no immediate reaction from the missions of Israel or Turkey.

Turkey, with Arab support, has been adamant that the Security Council statement on the raid approved by all 15 members on Tuesday meant that an investigation by Israel alone would be insufficient. The Council’s statement said the investigation should be impartial, transparent and credible, but did not explicitly say international.

While Israel has resisted the idea of an international investigation, insisting it is perfectly capable of carrying out an investigation on its own, Israeli cabinet members have indicated it might accept some foreign participation.

The United States has suggested that some international representation on the panel would make the results more credible, as it did on the panel recently convened by South Korea to investigate the sinking of its warship.

The Rachel Corrie, named after an American activist killed in 2003 as she tried to prevent an Israeli bulldozer from razing a Palestinian home, had been due to join the other boats in the flotilla last week but was delayed by technical problems.

Hamas, which rejects Israel’s existence, won Palestinian parliamentary elections in early 2006. Israel then began to reduce trade and relations with Gaza. When Hamas militants seized an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, in a raid that June, Israel further reduced what was permitted in and out of the coastal territory.

A year later, after Hamas fighters drove the more moderate Fatah movement from Gaza, Israel imposed a full closing on Gaza, permitting in only basic humanitarian goods.

Although international aid agencies say there is no starvation or acute medical crisis there, malnutrition is creeping up, water treatment and sewage are problematic and the economy has been almost entirely shut down by the blockade, which is also enforced by Egypt. The United States and other world powers say that the situation is untenable and that a new approach must be found.

In Gaza: What is Not Allowed

By Richard Tillinghast, The Irish Times
June 6, 2010

No tinned meat is allowed, no tomato paste,
no clothing, no shoes, no notebooks.
These will be stored in our warehouses at Kerem Shalom
until further notice.
Bananas, apples, and persimmons are allowed into Gaza,
peaches and dates, and now macaroni
(after the American Senator’s visit).
These are vital for daily sustenance.

But no apricots, no plums, no grapes, no avocados, no jam.
These are luxuries and are not allowed.
Paper for textbooks is not allowed.
The terrorists could use it to print seditious material.
And why do you need textbooks
now that your schools are rubble?
No steel is allowed, no building supplies, no plastic pipe.
These the terrorists could use to launch rockets
against us.

Pumpkins and carrots you may have, but no delicacies,
no cherries, no pomegranates, no watermelon, no onions,
no chocolate.

We have a list of three dozen items that are allowed,
but we are not obliged to disclose its contents.
This is the decision arrived at
by Colonel Levi, Colonel Rosenzweig, and Colonel Segal.

Our motto:
‘No prosperity, no development, no humanitarian crisis.’
You may fish in the Mediterranean,
but only as far as three km from shore.
Beyond that and we open fire.
It is a great pity the waters are polluted
twenty million gallons of raw sewage dumped into the sea every day
is the figure given.

Our rockets struck the sewage treatments plants,
and at this point spare parts to repair them are not allowed.
As long as Hamas threatens us,
no cement is allowed, no glass, no medical equipment.
We are watching you from our pilotless drones
as you cook your sparse meals over open fires
and bed down
in the ruins of houses destroyed by tank shells.

And if your children can’t sleep,
missing the ones who were killed in our incursion,
or cry out in the night, or wet their beds
in your makeshift refugee tents,
or scream, feeling pain in their amputated limbs –
that’s the price you pay for harbouring terrorists.

God gave us this land.
A land without a people for a people without a land.
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