A new international aid flotilla is preparing to sail from Greece to Gaza to provide aid to Gazans and protest the Israeli blockade which has been in force to collectively punish the people of Gaza since Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections.
It includes a US flagged ship carrying American citizens and named ‘The Audacity of Hope’ after Obama’s book. However one of the activists – former CIA man and peace activist Ray McGovern - says he’s been told by people with contacts in the US National Security Council that White House officials “would be happy if something happened to us.” and “perfectly willing to have the cold corpses of activists shown on American TV.” (i.e if McGovern and other flotilla members were shot dead by Israeli forces as nine members of the 2010 Gaza aid flotilla were, including 19 year old US citizen Turkan Dogran ) (1) – (2).
When Craig Murray (the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan and human rights activist) asked some of his own sources with contacts in the US State Department they confirmed this. Murray writes
‘I was told that Obama will welcome an Israeli attack on the US ship, as giving him a chance to confirm his pro-Israeli credentials and improve his standing with AIPAC ahead of the Presidential election race. Fatalities would be “not a problem”.’
(Of course it’s possible that some White House officials are merely saying this in the hope it will deter McGovern and other Americans from going at all so the administration can avoid the political risks of ending up in a quandary over whether to criticise killings of Americans at the risk of AIPAC then attacking them, or not criticise them and look like they don’t care whether American peace activists are killed)
CNN reports that Secretary of State Clinton has said she doesn’t think the flotilla “is useful or productive or helpful to the people of Gaza.” and that “We have certainly encouraged that American citizens not participate in the flotilla…to avoid any kind of confrontation.” while ‘State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland criticized what she called "irresponsible and provocative actions that risk the safety of their passengers."’ (3).
As Murray (who spent years dealing with the international law of the sea in the British Foreign Office) pointed out at the time the Israeli boarding and attack on civilian vessels crewed by unarmed civilians in international waters was a breach of international law and an act of war.
Surviving passengers on the ships said Israeli forces fired on them before and during boarding contradicting Israeli military claims that their forces only fired after being fired on (4).
The UN investigation into the Israeli boarding of the 2010 flotilla vessels confirmed this, finding that Israeli forces fired live ammunition at the ships’ passengers from helicopters which they boarded from. It also found that while some of the crew of the Mavi Marmara attacked the Israeli troops as they boarded and stabbed one, they did not fire on Israeli forces with pistols stolen from them, as claimed by the Israeli military, but emptied some of ammunition and threw others in the sea. Israeli forces responded with a mixture of live fire from the boarders and helicopters and paint ball fire. Some “non-lethal” weapons such as “bean bag” guns and plastic bullets were in fact responsible for some of the deaths, having been fired at point blank range at the faces or heads of flotilla members by Israeli forces (5).
Amnesty International found the Israeli military investigation of it’s own operation was ‘a whitewash’ (6).
While a minority of the Mavi Marmara’s crew fought Israeli forces with lengths of wood, metal railings from the ships and in one case possibly a knife there is no evidence to back up Israeli claims they were fired on or that there were guns on board the ships, or that Israeli forces supposedly came under fire first. (7).
If the Israeli government’s intention is to influence world opinion in favour of it’s blockade of Gaza it’s attack on the Gaza aid flotilla in 2010 backfired badly, resulting in Obama saying that the Gaza blockade was against Israel’s interests. If they do the same this time and some of the dead are Americans it may backfire even more badly.
After the Israeli attacks, the head of Mossad, Meir Dagan, told an Israeli Knesset committee that “Israel is gradually turning from an asset to the United States to a burden” (8). Dagan is no wild liberal. He was appointed by the notorious serial war criminal Ariel Sharon, who found no faults with him. Netanyahu has since sacked Dagan for saying his and Defence Minister Ehud Barak’s policies of refusing any compromise with the Palestinians and threatening war on Iran are “reckless” (9).
Other former heads of Mossad and Shin Bet (Israeli military intelligence) and a former Israeli foreign minister have been even more critical of Israeli governments under Labour and Likud, saying they should be negotiating with Hamas without preconditions)
There is a real risk Netanyahu and Barak will order armed attacks on the new Gaza flotilla anyway though.
Murray has suggested that the attitudes in the Obama administration revealed by his and McGovern’s contacts shows that the Obama administration ‘wants more dead Rachel Corries’.
American human rights activist Rachel Corrie was run over and killed by the driver of an Israeli bulldozer in March 2003 in Gaza when she lay down in front of the home of a Palestinian pharmacist to try to prevent it’s destruction by Israeli military forces. Multiple eyewitnesses from the International Solidarity Movement of which she was a part said the driver could clearly see her and Israeli soldiers in a nearby tank had shouted to her by name and swore at her repeatedly. All this is confirmed by Human Rights Watch’s investigations. Yet the Israeli government then reported after and “investigation” that Corrie had not been run over by a bulldozer (in direct contradiction of the autopsy) (10).
The IfAmericansKnew website has a very well sourced and researched article on myths and facts about Corrie and her death here.
(Israeli destruction of Palestinian homes has accelerated since, especially in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, but also on the borders of Gaza) (11) – (13). A ship named after Corrie followed after the 2010 flotilla to try and sail to Gaza. It was boarded by Israeli forces but no-one was hurt (14))
She was one of many foreign human rights activists, UN staff and aid workers from countries whose governments are allies of Israel who have been killed by Israeli forces, others including British International Solidarity Movement member Tom Hurndall, who was shot in the head by an Israeli sniper while trying to protect children who were at risk of being hit by the snipers (15).
The Greek government has claimed that the US flagged and crewed ‘Audacity of Hope’ is not seaworthy to sail in order to try to prevent it sailing (16). It seems likely this is the result of either US government pressure via it’s influence with the IMF, with which Greek’s government is negotiating a bail-out, or else the result of Greek government fears that if it doesn’t go out of it’s way to try to please the US government the IMF will be even harsher in debt negotiations.
The Guardian reports that the Israeli government has also told journalists planning to travel with the flotilla that their equipment would be confiscated and they will be banned from Israel for 10 years if they do so ; and circulated a faked video which was supposedly about a gay rights activist being banned from joining the flotilla due to Hamas’ homophobia (17).
This propaganda campaign echoes supposed Israeli recordings of Gaza flotilla members in 2010 making anti-Semitic references to Auschwitz and September 11th before the boardings, which the UN investigation found to be fakes (see page 24 of the report) (18).
They have also made statements about a secret group of violent activists who have infiltrated the flotilla, providing no evidence to back up their claims (19).
For more on the Israeli blockade of Gaza, which allows some supplies in, but not nearly enough and prevents Palestinians exporting agricultural or other produce – and on the facts about Israel, Hamas and Fatah - see this post and this page and this one and this one and this one and this one.
(1) = BBC News 31 May 2010 ‘Deaths as Israeli forces storm Gaza aid ship’,http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10195838
(2) = ABC News 03 Jun 2010 ‘American, 19, Among Gaza Flotilla Dead’, http://abcnews.go.com/WN/Media/american-killed-gaza-aid-flotilla/story?id=10814848
(3) = CNN 26 Jun 2011 ‘Israel denies fiscal pressure on Greece to block flotilla boats’, http://edition.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/meast/06/26/israel.gaza.flotilla/index.html
(4) = guardian.co.uk 01 Jun 2010 ‘Israelis opened fire before boarding Gaza flotilla, say released activists’,http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jun/01/gaza-flotilla-eyewitness-accounts-gunfire
(5) = UN Human Rights Council 27 Sep 2010 ‘Report of the international fact-finding mission to investigate violations of international law, including international humanitarian and human rights law, resulting from the Israeli attacks on the flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian assistance’, pages 25 – 31 , http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/country,,,COUNTRYREP,ISR,,4cd3a8e32,0.html ; Also see this link and numbered sources at the bottom of it
(6) = Amnesty International 31 May 2010 ‘Israeli killings of Gaza ship activists must be investigated’,http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/israeli-killings-gaza-ship-activists-must-be-investigated-2010-05-31
(7) = See (5) above
(8) = Haaretz 01 Jun 2010 ‘Mossad chief: Israel gradually becoming burden on U.S.’, http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/mossad-chief-israel-gradually-becoming-burden-on-u-s-1.293540
(9) = guardian.co.uk 03 Jan 2011 'Israel government 'reckless and irresponsible' says ex-Mossad chief', http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jun/03/israel-government-reckless-mossad-chief
(10) = Human Rights Watch 2005 ‘Promoting Impunity - The Israeli Military’s Failure to Investigate Wrongdoing’ Part VI, http://www.hrw.org/reports/2005/iopt0605/8.htm#_Toc106249199
(11) = Guardian 15 Jun 2009 ‘Report highlights increasing Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes’,http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jun/15/israeli-demolitions-palestinian-homes
(12) = Independent 23 Jun 2011 ‘Razing of Palestinian homes picking up speed’,http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/razing-of-palestinian-homes-picking-up-speed-2301367.html
(13) = Guardian 07 Mar 2009 ‘Israel annexing East Jerusalem, says EU’,http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/mar/07/israel-palestine-eu-report-jerusalem
(14) = Guardian.co.uk 05 Jun 2010 ‘Israeli forces board the Rachel Corrie’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jun/05/israel-rachel-corrie-gaza-ship
(15) = See (10) above
(16) = CNN 26 Jun 2011 ‘Israel denies fiscal pressure on Greece to block flotilla boats’, http://edition.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/meast/06/26/israel.gaza.flotilla/index.html
(17) = guardian.co.uk 28 jun 2011 ‘Israel steps up campaign to stop flotilla sailing to Gaza in defiance of blockade’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jun/28/israel-gaza-flotilla-campaign
(18) = UN Human Rights Council 27 Sep 2010 ‘Report of the international fact-finding mission to investigate violations of international law, including international humanitarian and human rights law, resulting from the Israeli attacks on the flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian assistance’, page 24 , http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/country,,,COUNTRYREP,ISR,,4cd3a8e32,0.html
(19) = See (13) above