A member of the Gaza aid flotilla killed by Israeli commandoes - source - Turkish TV's 'World Bulletin' website
The Israeli military’s attack on ships carrying aid to Gaza makes Somali pirates look like saints by comparison.
Somali pirates come from one of the poorest countries on earth, take hostages for money and it’s unknown for them to kill them. Israeli forces, from one of the richest countries in the world, killed at least ten people to prevent them bringing food and medicines to people short of both.
Israeli military claims that they were attacked first with iron bars, knives, axes and gun-fire are contradicted by Turkish television videos which seem to show only fists and pieces of wood being used to resist boarding, though neither this video nor Israeli military ones are all that clear (1), (2).
A journalist on board one of the ships also reported that Israeli forces opened fire on the ship he was on before they even boarded it, casting further doubt on IDF claims, which are probably more propaganda, like their past claims that UN ambulances which they fired on were carrying Qassam rockets; which turned out to be stretchers (3) – (5).
The military assault on unarmed civilians and vessels sailing under the Greek and Turkish flags in international waters is a serious breach of both international law and Greek and Turkish sovereignty and will probably lead to a deterioration in Turkish-Israeli trade deals and intelligence co-operation.
As Craig Murray, an expert on maritime law from his time in the British foreign office, points out, in terms of international law Israeli forces have invaded Turkish territory and may have killed civilians who are Turkish nationals, which is both an act of war and a war crime.
The Israeli government and military stories have varied from claiming that Israeli forces were fired on with guns before they returned fire, to claims that people on board the ship stole the side-arms of Israelis who had boarded and began firing on them.
One Israeli cabinet minister then told the BBC’s News 24 that the Israeli commandos who boarded the ships were only armed with paintball guns. An Israeli military source told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz marines had both paintball guns and lethal pistols, while an Israeli commando told them “They jumped me, hit me with clubs and bottles and stole my rifle...I pulled out my pistol and had no choice but to shoot.” (6).
Which version of events is accurate is hard to say. What is obvious is that the various Israeli claims are not consistent with each other – and that the Turkish TV video shows Israeli soldiers with rifles, helmets and body armour fighting with people armed with some kind of bars, sticks or clubs (7).
What’s also certain is that Israeli forces are holding around 600 of the surviving passengers from the ships prisoner and preventing the media from talking to any of them before they’re deported –all are in jail without trial, potentially indefinitely, under military law, suggesting Israeli forces have something to hide here and may be trying to throw out enough random claims to conceal the truth, while preventing the media getting to talk to most (non-Israeli military) eye-witnesses (8) – (11).
The flotilla and the siege of Gaza
Like the Israeli military’s repeated attacks on UN aid trucks and clearly marked UN buildings during the Gaza war in late 2008 to early 2009, this latest atrocity highlights how wrong the blockade, which denies all the people of Gaza enough food, fuel and medical supplies, is. Fuel is blockaded on the grounds that it can be used to make rockets, yet there is no blockade on fuel or ammunition from the US and Europe to Israeli tanks, helicopters, aircraft or artillery, which kill around 10 times as many civilians each year as are killed by all attacks by Palestinian groups on Israeli civilians combined . Israel’s “Gaza War” or “Operation Cast Lead” alone killed around 1,400 Palestinians, the majority civilians, in three weeks. The killings included indiscriminate bombing and artillery fire, deliberate targeting of UN vehicles, buildings and staff ; and many incidents of Israeli troops on the ground shooting unarmed men, women and children carrying white flags (12), (13).
(In fact military aid money from the US has continued to flow in by the billion under Obama and US arms sales to Israel continue.)
.It’s not only the Israeli government which was responsible for establishing the blockade of Gaza but also “the Quartet” – the EU, the UN, Russia and the US. So the British government are involved in this blockade too, though they, the EU and the UN have since called for the blockade to be lifted ; mostly as a result of the media coverage generated by volunteers organising aid convoys like the flotilla to Gaza.
The supposedly “moderate” dictatorship of President Mubarak in Egypt has been Israel’s partner in the blockade, closing Gaza’s borders with Egypt.
The Israeli government argue that they allow some food and medicines into Gaza. This is true, but the UN say the amounts allowed in are around a quarter of what the population requires (14). Anyone who’s read Primo Levi’s account of his time in Auschwitz concentration camp will know that during the Holocaust the Jewish prisoners were allowed some food too, just not nearly enough (15).
The World Health Organisation had already found by April of last year that the blockade of Gaza, which began in January 2006, was causing rapidly increasing rates of malnutrition among children in Gaza and resultant increases in anaemia due to protein deficiency and stunted growth (16).
Gaza today is a giant concentration camp with the whole population imprisoned and punished by the Israeli military and government. Israeli forces don’t systematically exterminate the people of Gaza with poison gas, so it’s not as bad as Auschwitz was. They do however routinely indiscriminately bomb and shell Gaza, killing civilians and destroying thousands of houses and hundreds of factories – including flour mills and cement factories in the last Gaza “war” (which was more of a one-sided massacre by Israeli forces) – and they have even often randomly shot Palestinian civilians, including many children, in the head with sniper rifles, on the orders of superiors. They also ensure the entire population are short of food and medicine (17), (18).
The Gaza flotilla embarrassed the Israeli government by highlighting the blockade – and was punished for it.
Israeli deputy Prime Minister Danny Ayalon called it “an armada of hate” which was guilty of “provocation” and attempting to “delegitimise Israel”, while the deputy Speaker of the Israeli Knesset (parliament) claimed that most of those on board the ships were “terrorists” (19).
The only thing preventing even worse hunger in Gaza is smuggling through tunnels to Egypt, which the Israeli and Egyptian governments are trying to find and close entirely on the grounds that they allow smuggling of weapons to Hamas. They may, but most of what’s smuggled through them is food or consumer goods, not weapons (20)
The blockade also prevents such “terrorist” items as cement, shoes, clothes and crayons entering Gaza most of the time (21).
The Gaza flotilla wanted to ensure these kind of items reached Gaza. The Israeli government claims it wanted to ensure no arms were reaching Hamas, but it’s clear the blockade goes far beyond preventing arms into Gaza and aims to overthrow the elected government entirely by a long running siege combining restricted supplies with periodic bombing and ground raids.
The bravery of the people on board it has opened at least a temporary lifting of the blockade, with Egypt having opened it’s border with Gaza for food and medical supplies and to allow those needing medical treatment to leave.
So Gaza is somewhere between the original “concentration camps” in which millions of black South Africans and Dutch boer colonists were held and left to starve by the British in the 19th century; and the Warsaw ghetto uprising during the second world war when many Poles, including Jews, tried to fight off the occupying German forces; except, that it’s in slow motion – the ghetto is not destroyed in weeks but over decades.
The aims of the Siege –
Over-throwing the elected Palestinian government,
Dividing and Conquering Palestinians,
Distracting attention from killings in and annexation of the West Bank
The Israeli government and military’s aim in enforcing the blockade is simple – to starve and bomb the entire population of Gaza, including many children, in order to try to force the elected Palestinian government out of power (22) – (23). This also helps keep Hamas and Fatah divided, weakening Palestinian opposition to Israel – and it distracts attention from Israel’s continuing annexation of West Bank land and Israeli forces and settlers’ constant killings of Palestinians there – more than half civilians, as in Gaza. (“left wing” Labor Party governments, “centrist” Kadima, “right wing” Likud governments and coalition governments all operate the same policy in Israel)
Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister mucked up during ‘Operation Cast Lead’ when he openly admitted that ““What I think we need to do is to reach a situation in which we do not allow Hamas to govern.” (24)
Hamas won the January 2006 Palestinian legislative elections and offered negotiations with Israel, at first with the precondition of Israel withdrawing back to it’s pre-1967 war borders; then later without preconditions. The Israeli government refused, placed pointless preconditions on negotiations; and had sanctions imposed on the West Bank and Gaza.
The Israeli government has never recognised the right of a sovereign, independent Palestinian state to exist alongside it – and annexes more Palestinian land every month.
Israelis including Professor Yossi Alpher and former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben Ami point out these preconditions were not placed on past, successful, peace negotiations with Jordan or Egypt – and call for the preconditions on negotiations to be dropped (25), (26).
The former heads of Mossad and Shin Bet (Israeli intelligence and military intelligence) Efraim Halevy and Shlomo Gazit, have also called for negotiations with Hamas. Gazit called the Israeli government’s preconditions “ridiculous, or an excuse not to negotiate” (27), (28).
A poll in March 2008 showed 72% of Israelis wanted negotiations with Hamas (29).
Instead of negotiating the Egyptian, Israeli and US governmentsco-operated to arm and train the armed wing of Hamas’ rival Fatah. Fatah is the largest party in the PLO and was formerly headed by Yasser Arafat and now headed by Mahmoud Abbas. In 2007 Fatah, desperate to escape sanctions imposed by Israel and the Quartet on both the West Bank and Gaza at the time; and encouraged to fight Hamas by the Israeli and US governments , attempted to overthrow Hamas by force. They succeeded in the West Bank, but failed in Gaza. Both sides, Hamas and Fatah, then began murdering anyone suspected of supporting the other party, armed or unarmed, civilian or combatant, in the territory they held. (This episode is generally misleadingly described in the Western media as Hamas “seizing power by force in Gaza”, probably because that’s how our governments’ press officers have briefed them to say it in order to avoid embarrassment to their allies in the Israeli government).
The sanctions on the West Bank were then lifted (though occupation and settlement there continues), but those on Gaza remain.
Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah is certainly the democratically elected Palestinian, but Ismael Haniyeh of Hamas is equally the democratically elected Palestinian Prime Minister – and Abbas has gone far beyond the powers granted to the President under the Palestinian constitution.. For instance he’s appointed his own Prime Minister and cabinet. Under the Palestinian constitution he has no power to do so ; only parliament does – and Hamas won a a majority in parliament.
Don’t be fooled by Israeli propaganda about “peace” in the West Bank, where Fatah is now in control, either. The occupation continues there, with more Palestinian homes bull-dozed and more Palestinians killed by settlers and Israeli soldiers every week. Children and teenagers throwing stones at Israeli watch towers are still shot dead with live ammunition in “self-defence” by Israeli troops in the West Bank the same way the civilians on board the Gaza flotilla were shot. So are Palestinian demonstrators in the West Bank, protesting against the bombing of Gaza or the annexation of their farmland, or for an end to the civil war between Fatah and Hamas. Some are entirely peaceful, others are throwing stones at Israeli watch towers, armoured vehicles or troops in body armour with helmets. The stones are always described as “rocks” in Israeli military versions of events, though it’s unlikely that 9 year olds or 14 year old Palestinian boys could throw stones large enough to qualify as “rocks” before they’re shot. Even Palestinians who are just going about their work on their farms or walking home are often shot. (Israeli Arabs demonstrating against the Gaza war got similar treatment from Israeli police, much like Israeli Arab protesters (and bystanders) during the Intifada in 2000 – many have already been arrested for protesting against the attack on the Gaza flotilla) (30) – (37).
A new Israeli military directive in the West Bank will also allow Palestinians to be summarily deported, clearing the way for more settlers (38). While Israel’s government claims it has no room for Palestinian refugees driven out by Israeli forces in the 1947 and 1967 wars, or their descendants, it welcomes settlers from anywhere in the world who have one Jewish grandparent or a Jewish partner under a 1970 amendment to Israel’s “Law of Return” (39). While they’re still talking about ‘Judenrein’ areas the reality now is apartheid between Jews and Arabs much like South African Apartheid between blacks and whites in the past.
Israeli governments, while condemning Hamas’ religious extremism, refer to the West Bank as ‘Judaea and Samaria’ – biblical names; and many Israelis – including high ranking former Military judges - believe this land was granted to the Jews by God (40) – (41).
Israeli governments say they will not allow a government hostile to them to exist in Gaza or the West Bank. Where do they get the right to have a veto on who is democratically elected to government in another country? Their only claim to that right is by force of arms, which is no more legitimate than the Chinese “right” to occupy Tibet is now, or the German “right” to occupy Poland was in the Second World War.
Israeli governments and politicians object that Hamas’ armed wing are terrorists, killing civilians on the orders of Hamas leaders. Yet Israeli military forces are also war criminals, killing ten times the number of civilians every year on the orders of the Israeli government. Palestinians were given no veto when Ariel Sharon, the architect of the Sabra and Shatila massacres, was elected Prime Minister of Israel and allowed to order new war crimes against Palestinian civilians. They did not get to starve all Israelis until they replaced this war criminal. Nor did they get support from other governments for getting rid of the Olmert government after the Gaza war crimes last year; nor are they likely to get it to replace the war criminal Benjamin Netanyahu, who ordered attacks with live ammunition on unarmed civilians on ships travelling to Gaza.
The Only Solution
There is only one solution to the Israeli-Palestinian “problem” and that is for the democratically elected war criminals to be forced to sit down with the democratically elected terrorists and negotiate a peace deal that creates either a viable Palestinian state; or else a single state with equal rights for Jewish and non-Jewish people, for Arabs and non-Arabs, for all to live as equals ; rather than the current system – an Israeli mixture of apartheid and occupation which can only produce more extremism and violence by both sides.
What you can do
Don’t expect much from the British or American governments unless they get a lot of hassle from their electorate about this though. The Obama administration merely said it was “concerned” and “regretted the loss of life”, while one of the new British government’s priorities, announced the day before the attack on the Gaza flotilla, is to change the law eliminate any chance that Israeli politicians involved in ordering the war crimes against civilians in Gaza in 2008 to 2009 might be arrested and made to stand trial for it if they visit Britain (42) – (43). Then Britain can be a safe haven for war criminals from all over the world - whether from the Israeli government, Hamas' armed wing, Afghan Taliban - whatever.
What you can do:
- Email your MP and ask them to speak out against the blockade of Gaza and the attack on the aid flotilla. and to demand the immediate release of all the people from the flotilla who are being held without trial in Israel. You can this through www.writetothem.com by typing in your postcode.
- Boycott Israeli produce – if it’s made or grown in Israel, don’t buy it.
- Sign the Avaaz international petition for an independent investigation into the causes of the killings on the Gaza aid ships
- Write to newspapers condemning the attack on the convoy and the Israeli blockade of Gaza and call for the release of the 600 people held without trial by Israel. Newspapers vary in what length of letters they’ll publish, but most won’t publish letters longer than 200 words. They’re much more likely to publish letters on a particular topic if they get a lot of letters on that subject though.
List of Sources
(1) = Times 31 May 2010 ‘Deadly clashes at sea as Israel intercepts Gaza-bound aid ships’,http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/middle_east/article7140957.ece (mentions Turkish TV video showing “melee” with “sticks and fists”)
(2) = guardian.co.uk 31 May 2010 ‘Israel attacks Gaza flotilla - live coverage’,
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/blog/2010/may/31/israel-troops-gaza-ships (scroll down to video posted at 11.19 am on 31st May)
(3) = See (1) above
(4) = Haaretz 31 May 2010 ‘Israel tows Gaza aid ships to Ashdod after 10 activists killed in clashes with navy’, http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/israel-tows-gaza-aid-ships-to-ashdod-after-10-activists-killed-in-clashes-with-navy-1.293089
(5) = Haaretz 10 Dec 2004 ‘IDF admits Qassam was not transported in UN ambulance’,
(6) = Haaretz 31 May 2010 ‘Israel Navy commandos: Gaza flotilla activists tried to lynch us’,
(7) = BBC News 31 May 2010 ‘Deaths as Israeli forces storm Gaza aid ship’,
(8) = BBC News 01 Jun 2010 ‘UN urges inquiry into Israel convoy raid’,
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/mobile/world/middle_east/10201165.stm, “Of the 679 surviving activists, who were brought to the Israeli port of Ashdod, only 50 agreed to be voluntarily deported and more than 30 are being treated in hospital for their injuries, reports the BBC's Wyre Davies in Jerusalem...That means that almost 600 people, from several countries, are still being held in detention centres across Israel and are being questioned by the authorities. ...Israel has imposed an information blackout, making it difficult to gather first-hand accounts from the campaigners.”
(9) = Jerusalem Post 01 Jun 2010 ‘600 activists held in Beersheba jail’,
(10) = Haaretz 31 May 2010 ‘Israel clearing passengers from Gaza flotilla now docked in Ashdod port’,http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/israel-clearing-passengers-from-gaza-flotilla-now-docked-in-ashdod-port-1.293339
(11) = Times 31 May 2010 ‘Fears grow for Britons on board Gaza ship’,
(12) = Human Rights Watch 13 Aug 2009 ‘White Flag Deaths’
(13) = Amnesty International 02 July 2009 ‘Israel/Gaza: Operation "Cast Lead": 22 days of death and destruction’, http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/MDE15/015/2009/en
(14) = See (7) above
(15) = Primo Levi ‘If This is a Man’
(16) = UNocHA IRIN news 21 Apr 2009 ‘OPT: Signs of worsening malnutrition among children’,
(17) = guardian.co.uk 01 Feb 2010 ‘UN find challenges Israeli version of attack on civilian building in Gaza war’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/feb/01/gaza-war-report-accuses-israel (cites UN investigation which found Israeli forces targeted and destroyed hundreds of factories including Gaza’s largest flour mill during the 2008-2009 ‘Operation Cast Lead’ attacks)
(18) = See http://www.duncanmcfarlane.org/Israel-Palestine/notdemocratsversusterrorists/#_ftn1 for full list of sources on Israeli military snipers targeting Israeli children, and links to the online ones
(19) = BBC News 31 May 2010 ‘Deaths as Israeli forces storm Gaza aid ship’,
(20) = Guardian blog ‘No gourmets in Gaza’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2009/jun/16/gaza-blockade-israel-food ,
(links to many sources on the tunnels into Gaza and the effects of the blockade)
(21) = Independent 30 Mar 2010 ‘Israel allows first shipment in three years’,
(22) = New York Times 03 Jan 2009 ‘Is the Real Target Hamas Rule?’,http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/04/world/middleeast/04assess.html
(23) = Guardian 06 Jan 2009 ‘Israel looks to drive out Hamas’,http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jan/06/gaza-israel-hamas
(24) = See (23) above
(25) = Forward 20 Oct 2006 ‘Preconditions for a Problematic Partner’,http://www.forward.com/articles/5948/
(26) = Times 26 Feb 2009 ‘Peace will be achieved only by talking to Hamas’,http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/letters/article5804266.ece
(27) = Forward 09 Feb 2007 ‘Experts Question Wisdom of Boycotting Hamas’,http://www.forward.com/articles/10055/
(28) = Interview with Efraim Halevy in Mother Jones Magazine 10 Feb 2008 ‘Israel's Mossad, Out of the Shadows’, http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2008/02/israels-mossad-out-shadows
(29) = Newsweek 07 Mar 2008 ‘‘We’ll Have to Talk’’, http://www.newsweek.com/2008/03/06/we-ll-have-to-talk.html#
(30) = Times 29 Jul 2008 ‘Palestinian child shot dead by Israeli soldiers’,http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/middle_east/article4425395.ece
(31) = AP 14 Feb 2009 ‘Long-term truce for Gaza near agreement, says Hamas’,http://www.heraldscotland.com/long-term-truce-for-gaza-near-agreement-says-hamas-1.902709 ; “In the West Bank city of Hebron, staff at a local hospital said a teenage boy was killed by Israeli army fire during a clash between troops and stone-throwing Palestinian youths. Doctors at Alia hospital named the dead boy as Izzadine Jamal, 14. They did not know if he was among those attacking the Israelis. The army said dozens of Palestinians hurled stones at a military guard tower next to an Israeli settlement and a soldier shot the ringleader.”
(32) = guardian.co.uk 27 Apr 2009 ‘Non-violent protests against West Bank barrier turn increasingly dangerous’http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/apr/27/israel-security-barrier-protests
(33) = Independent 12 Mar 2010 ‘West Bank rises up in a new 'white' intifada’,
(34) = BBC News 22 Mar 2010 ‘B'tselem says live bullets may have killed Palestinians’,http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8580150.stm
(35) = AFP 30 Mar 2010 ‘Palestinian teen killed as Israelis fire on Gaza protests’,http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gnJHlk7vviX8bcc0-vb85dwEyASw
(36) = Haaretz 28 Dec 2008 ‘Israeli Arabs protesting Gaza campaign clash with police’,http://www.haaretz.com/news/israeli-arabs-protesting-gaza-campaign-clash-with-police-1.285539
(37) = Cook, Jonathan (2006) ‘Blood and Religion – The Unmasking of the Jewish and Democratic State’ , Pluto Press, London, 2006 , pages 34, 38-40, 43-44, 51-54, 66-70
(38) = Haaretz 31 May 2010 ‘Several Israeli Arab protesters arrested in mass rallies over Gaza flotilla deaths’, http://www.haaretz.com/several-israeli-arab-protesters-arrested-in-mass-rallies-over-gaza-flotilla-deaths-1.293199
(39) = Guardian.co.uk 11 Apr 2010 ‘Israeli groups fight orders allowing army to jail West Bank residents’http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/apr/11/israeli-groups-attack
(40) = Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) ‘Law of Return’,http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/MFAArchive/1950_1959/Law%20of%20Return%205710-1950
(41) See 38 above ‘The Israeli military said the purpose of the orders was "the extradition of those residing illegally in Judea and Samaria," an Israeli term for the West Bank.’
(42) = guardian.co.uk 26 Oct 2009 ‘West Bank land belongs to Jews, says Israeli army judge’http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/oct/26/west-bank-jews-army-judge
(43) = AP 31 May 2010 ‘Obama administration concerned about Gaza incident’,
(44) = Guardian 30 May 2010 ‘Ministers move to change universal jurisdiction law’,