June 29, 2011
The boats involved in the Freedom Flotilla II have started to set sail for Gaza. Last year this peaceful protest against Israel’s behaviour in Palestine resulted in the deaths of 9 civillians after Israel illegally boarded the ships in international waters. This year Israel is trying more insidious means to stop the flotilla before it physically stops them.
This time, as Freedom Flotilla II sets sail over the next week, with 10 ships carrying many of the same activists who travelled last year, including Swedish writer Henning Mankell, American human rights campaigner Hedy Epstein, and writer and academic Alice Walker, the Israeli government’s response will be closely watched.
This week Ron Prosor, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, wrote a letter saying: “Israel calls on the international community to do everything in their ability in order to prevent the flotilla and warn citizens … of the risks of participating in this type of provocation.” The purpose of the flotilla, he said, is “to provoke and aid a radical political agenda”. He later added: “We are very determined to defend ourselves and to assert our right to a naval blockade on Gaza.”
“The threats of violence won’t deter us,” says Huwaida Arraf, one of the flotilla organisers. “Nobody is going in to this lightly, but we feel it has to be done. Israel has to realise its violence against us is not going to stop our growing civilian effort to challenge its illegal policies. The size of this flotilla, the number of people involved in organising it, even after Israel killed nine of our colleagues last year, is testament to that.”
Israel started with the letter to the UN, since then it has threatened any journalist who joins the flotilla with deportation and a 10 year ban from israel which was only revoked after an international outcry and now an Israeli group has now resorted to attempting to delay the sailings through a group in Greece by complaining to the greek authorities that boats are not seaworthy which then requires the authorities to hold the boats and investigate. There has also been an allegation of sabotage against the boats in Greece, a claim that is not being denied by the Israeli authorities
Israel and its allies have been working hard to head off the planned flotilla, which is hoping to enter the waters off Gazain the next week. Col.. (ret) Ann Wright, who’s organizing a US vessel named the Audacity of Hope for the flotilla, says her ship has been detained in Athens on spurious charges that it’s not seaworthy. She says that charge was made by an Israeli legal group.
Now the Juliano is held up. Mikael Löfgren, a spokesman for Ship to Gaza Sweden, says the damage was discovered at 6:30 in the eveningAthens time today, and that divers probably cut the propeller in the past 24 hours.
“The reports I’m receiving is that it’s certain that it was sabotage,” says Mr. Löfgren, reached by phone inSweden. “The propeller and [propeller shaft] has been cut and we have divers that have filmed the damages. Experts have said there’s no doubt” that the damage was deliberate.
He says that repairing the damage will take a few days. As to who is responsible, he declined to speculate. “We simply don’t know who did it, but it’s obviously a hostile act,” says Löfgren.
So how can a couple of hundred people who are unarmed and carrying supplies through international waters be such a threat? Perhaps because shining a light to expose the truth of the brutality of Israel towards the people of the land they have occupied and to those who try to support them may finally trigger an outcry that will force Israel to loosen its stranglehold on the people of Palestine.
We can only hope.
Below is an approximate list of the Freedom Flotilla II – Stay Human participants
Spain- Gernicka, 30 passengers
France – Louise Michel, 24 passengers, 6 journalists
France- Dignity, 10 passengers, 1 journalist
Australia/Belgium/Canada/Denmark/Germany – Tahrir, 48 passengers, 9 journalists
Italy/Netherlands/Germany/Switzerland/Malaysia – Stefano Chiarim, 65 passengers, 5 journalists
Ireland- Saoirse, 20 passengers, 2 journalists
European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza- Freedom for All, 15 passengers
Greece/Sweden/Norway – Juliano, 25 passengers, 4 journalists
Greece/Sweden/Norway – Methimus #2 cargo boat, 15 passengers
United States- The Audacity of Hope, 40 passengers, 10 journalists
For more information on the flotilla and its progress you can read about it at freegaza.org or at Witnessgaza.com, Tahrir.ca and FreedomFlotilla.eu and join them on twitter and Facebook or donate to help.