Jul 5, 2011

Mustafa Barghouti: ‘Israel is trying to blackmail the world, and outsource the siege of Gaza’


Here are the headlines from Mondoweiss for 07/05/2011:

Mustafa Barghouti: 'Israel is trying to blackmail the world, and outsource the siege of Gaza'
Jul 04, 2011 11:14 pm | annie

Mustafa Barghouti, a Palestinian Member of Parliament who went on the second international boat to Gaza in October 2008, was visiting Athens for a meeting of the Socialist International and took time off to visit the U.S. boat, The Audacity of Hope, and talk with the passengers. His comments were reported to us by Medea Benjamin of Code Pink. 

What you are doing in this flotilla is precisely what Martin Luther King struggled for, what Gandhi struggled for—it is a struggle for justice, freedom and equality. Nonviolent resistance is powerful. I want to let you know that we had a wonderful victory recently in Bi'lin, where after 6 years of non-violent resistance, we managed to push back the wall. You are doing the same thing here in the waters of Greece--you are pushing back the siege, you are pushing back an apartheid regime.

I was with the Greek Prime Minister Papandreou today at the meeting of the Socialist International and had a chance to talk to him about the flotilla. Unfortunately, the Greek government announced it will not allow boats to sail to Gaza. Israel is trying to blackmail the world. They are trying to outsource the siege of Gaza.

I was loudly applauded at the meeting of the Socialist International when I said that this flotilla was a nonviolent act for the freedom of the Palestinians and it was time for the world to stand with the Palestinians. I said if you really support the Arab spring, you should support the flotilla.

One day we will all celebrate the victory of the Palestinians and this chapter of the flotilla will be written with the ink of dignity. I will tell people in Palestine about what you are doing, but rest assured that they are all watching you.

I have been banned from going to Gaza since 2007. This was my punishment for pushing a Palestinian unity process. So I had to go into Gaza through Egypt, which I did recently. Instead of a 1 ½ hour trip, it took 1 ½ days. But I got in and had a chance to visit some of the 25,000 houses and schools demolished by the Israelis, buildings that are still in need of repair. It is terrible what the Israelis did—and continue to do—to the Palestinians in Gaza.

I hope the ships will finally reach Gaza. But whether or not they do, you, as Americans—by pressuring the Israeli government—have helped to get construction materials into Gaza, helped the people get healthcare. And you have helped change the image of the people of the United States. The fact that this is an American ship means a lot to us. And the presence of many Jewish people in this group has a big impression, and makes me very happy and optimistic about the future.

Popular non-violent resistance is the only way. It is so powerful, and that's precisely why the Israelis are so afraid of this movement. Israel's heavy-handed efforts to stop the flotilla are not a reflection of strength but of weakness and fear. Look at what's happening in campuses around the United States with the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement--BDS. No wonder the Israeli government is fearful!

Whether or not your boats sail, you have already made a huge difference. And please know that the Palestinian people await you with open arms no matter how you enter—by sea, by land, by air, or simply by your hearts.



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Medea Benjamin: We will sail to Gaza
Jul 04, 2011 10:50 pm | Ira Glunts

Medea Benjamin vowed that activists will sail to Gaza in an editorial posted at 4 PM (PST) July 4 on the Oakland Tribunewebsite.

You know, despite everything, I still believe that some activists may confront the Israeli navy as planned.  There may be some legal remedies and diplomatic gambits that are available.  In addition,  a long confrontation with the activists would not help the Greek government politically, since most Greeks are sympathetic to the Palestinians.

According to the US flotilla activists, there still are two flotilla boats at sea whose location is undisclosed.  Furthermore, there is the possibility of acquiring a new boat, leaving surreptitiously, then announcing the voyage at sea.  Even if that boat only had a handful of activists, the symbolism of just getting near the Gaza shore would be awesome.  And so would be the resulting press.

Maybe this is insanely optimistic.  But here in the US we are a nation of naive and gullible optimists.  After all, we believed in the "Audacity of Hope."

Benjamin's pledge:

Although the Israelis know our boats will not carry arms and that we are committed to nonviolence, they have nonetheless vowed to stop us with a dizzying array of force -- water cannons, commandos, border police, snipers and attack dogs.

At least two ships have been sabotaged so far, probably by Israeli agents, and Greek officials are not letting us out -- presumably due to significant American and Israeli pressure.

All this bullying, however, only strengthens our resolve. We may be fewer boats, we may have fewer passengers, we may be threatened with violence, but we will sail.


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For July 4, passengers on U.S. Boat to Gaza call for new U.S. declaration of independence – from Israel
Jul 04, 2011 02:56 pm | Henry Norr

Athens, Greece - 235 years after the American colonies declared independence from Britain, the passengers on the U.S. Boat to Gaza call for a new American Declaration of Independence, this time from Israel.

The passengers issued their call from the decks of the U.S.-flagged boat, The Audacity of Hope, which is currently confined to a Greek military pier near Athens, while its captain sits in jail.

Like the Founders in Philadelphia, the passengers in Athens recognize that "When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them to another, a decent respect for the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation."

Just as the Founders cited "a long train of abuses and usurpations" committed by the British, The Audacity of Hope passengers detailed the Israeli abuses motivating their call for U.S. independence:

* For generations Israel has engaged in a systematic campaign to dispossess Palestinians of their lands and drive them from their ancestral homes.

* Since 1967 Israel has occupied East Jerusalem the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights in open defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions and the Geneva Conventions. Residents of these occupied territories have been subjected to numerous forms of mistreatment, including military attacks, arbitrary arrests, home demolitions, and the confiscation of vast areas for the construction of illegal Jewish-only settlements and roads.

* Since the mid-1990s Israel has imposed an ever-tightening regime of economic strangulation on the Gaza Strip. Since 2006 in particular the 1.5 million people of Gaza have been kept in isolation and under siege, with severely limited access to medical care, clean water, and construction materials needed to rebuild after Israeli military attacks. They have been prevented from fishing in their coastal waters, growing crops on much of their farmland, or exporting almost anything.

* Israel has used its powerful influence inside the U.S. to secure Washington's backing for these illegal and counterproductive policies. In addition to more than $3 billion per year of U.S. taxpayer dollars in military aid, Israel has gained uncritical American diplomatic support, including repeated use of the American veto in the Security Council to stymy any U.N. effort to enforce international law and to hold Israel accountable for its crimes.

* In recent years Israel has reacted with brutal violence against international as well as Palestinian and Israeli activists who have dared to step in where the U.S. and the U.N. have feared to tread. On May 31, 2010, Israel's vicious assault on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla in international waters caused the deaths of nine unarmed human-rights volunteers, including the 19-year-old American citizen Furkan Dogan.

* This year Israel, in collusion with the U.S., has deployed a variety of economic, diplomatic, and other pressure tactics to undermine the sovereignty of Greece, Turkey, and other nations and force them to obstruct the Gaza Freedom Flotilla II in defiance of their own maritime regulations and procedures. In addition, Israel has carried out a campaign of unbridled distortion and defamation against the organizers and participants in this year's flotilla. When that failed, Israel's agents resorted to life-threatening sabotage operations against at least two of the flotilla's ships.

"In light of this long - but still very partial - list of abuses and usurpations committed by Israel, it's past time for the U.S. to end its 'special relationship' with Israel and declare its independence from that country," said a letter that the passengers will deliver to the U.S. Embassy in Greece on July 4. "Just as the original American Declaration of Independence inspired popular struggles for independence and democracy all over the world, we humbly call on other countries that have been subjected to Israeli pressure and manipulation, particularly Greece and Turkey, to join us in our campaign to rid our country of this scourge."

Henry Norr, a passenger on the US Boat to Gaza called The Audacity of Hope, is a former technology writer.


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Greek consulate, governor confirm 'powerful' pressure on Greece led to flotilla ban
Jul 04, 2011 02:55 pm | Alex Kane

For the past few days, speculation has run rampant that the Greek government, presiding over a country in dire economic straits, was heavily pressured into issuing an order that banned the "Freedom Flotilla" ships from sailing out towards Gaza. And while the extent and details of that pressure remain unknown, two official sources from the Greek government have now confirmed that heavy pressure was put on Greece.

Greece, for its part, has claimed that the ban on flotilla ships leaving their ports was issued because of "the need to protect national interests" and the "immediate dangers to human life posed by the attempt to break the blockade."

The first confirmation came via a Jewish Voice for Peace tweet, which announced that someone from New York's Greek consulate told a caller that the U.S. government "ordered" Greece not to let the U.S. Boat to Gaza sail out of a Greek port. According to the caller, the U.S. State Department had nothing to say when asked about the Greek consulate's comment.

The second confirmation came today, when a reporter from theGuardian interviewed the provincial governor of the Ionian islands, which includes Corfu, a Greek island from where a flotilla ship is waiting to set sail for Gaza. Jack Shenker reports:

The flotilla activists have always claimed they had local political support for their mission, and from what [Spiros] Spirou, [the provincial governor], told me it appears that they're right. In open defiance of his political bosses in Athens, Spirou told the Guardian and al-Jazeera that he "admires and supports the activists' struggle" and would make no attempt to stop their boat from making a break for international waters if it chose to do so.

But the local coastguard don't come under Spirou's control, and the decision from the central Greek government to stop any flotilla vessels from leaving port appears increasingly irreversible. "Greece loves peace, but at this moment it can't confront more powerful economic forces," said the governor. He confirmed that official attempts to tie the flotilla up in bureaucracy and paperwork were merely a pretext for preventing it from sailing at all.

"The ban has come from the ministries in Athens and I have no responsibility for it at all – I've tried to get in contact with them and get an explanation but I have not been able to get through," he insisted. "Right now Greece is in crisis and decisions have been taken at an international level."

Right now, Greece would be extremely vulnerable to any type of economic pressure, and would welcome all the help it gets–even from Israel, a country that Greece has had historically chilly relations with.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly "implor[ed]" Greek's leader to "issue an order preventing ships from disembarking from Greece toward the Gaza Strip," asHaaretz's Barak Ravid reported on July 1. Netanyahu has curried enormous favor with Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou for "imploring" the European Union (EU) to bail out Greece, and, most likely, any Greek passivity surrounding the second "Freedom Flotilla" was thrown to the wind due to Israel's help with the EU bailout. And since the Israeli raid on the Turkish Mavi Marmara last year, economic, political and military links between Israel and Greece–the traditional rival of Turkey–have strengthened.

Huwaida Arraf, the chair of the Free Gaza Movement, further confirmed the enormous pressure on Greece in an interview yesterday with Al Jazeera's Inside Story. She said:

Some inside sources have been telling us. We have a lot of parliamentarians, European parliamentarians, that are part of our initiative, and they have been engaging in discussions with their Greek counterparts. We have been told that an enormous amount of pressure has come to bear on Greece, not only from the Israelis, but by Israel's undying supporter the United States, and also by other European Union states that have also been shamefully silent and have done nothing to force Israel to lift its shameful blockade on Gaza or to end Israel's illegal policies.

While there was some talk before today of other boats sailing out of Greece, the Greek government has repressed any hope of that.  The Greek Coast Guard has now taken over the Canadian boat to Gaza after they attempted to sail for international waters. "Coast guard used water cannons then borded the #tahrir with m16′s and took the wheel room from the driver at gun point," tweeted Jesse Rosenfeld, a journalist aboard the Tahrir, the name of the Canadian boat. 

The American boat has not fared any better.  Their captain remains jailed in reportedly "shocking" conditions, while U.S. activists who have been protesting have been detained on two occasions.

It appears, as American-Israeli journalist Joseph Dana tweeted, that "It is over. The #flotilla2 has been stopped by the Greek government."

Alex Kane, a freelance journalist currently based in Amman, Jordan, blogs on Israel/Palestine at, where this post originally appeared. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.


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Face-to-face with an Israeli warship
Jul 04, 2011 02:50 pm | Al-Samarrai

Charcoal smoke snaked above the horizon about one mile into the distance as we saw an Israeli warship steaming towards a cluster of six hasaka - or fishing- boats. We edged ever-closer to the hasaka boats, stopping only to radio in to our base office, updating them on the confrontation that was unfolding ahead.

With a radio in my palm, my mouth slipped into autopilot and as I described everything I saw, my body relaxed. All I could absorb was the sound of the ocean softly slapping our boat. It seems as though every day there is a new paradox in Gaza, and today I had to get my head around the simultaneous gunfire and water-lapping happening on either side of me.

Four times a week, the Civil Peace Service (CPS) Gaza leaves the port of Gaza to join local fishermen as they spend their mornings trawling the 3 nautical miles searching for fish. The Civil Peace Service exists to monitor and document human rights violations. That day – July 3- one fishing boat was shot at, with two young fishermen aboard. They were only two miles away from the shore.

"Look! Look how they shot at us! Do you see the hole?" Sabir Baker said pointing to the damage that had been caused moments earlier, while I had been busy contemplating the blueness of the ocean.

We sped towards the six hasaka boats that were still being shadowed- in both senses of the word- by the warship. I had been taking part in this project for a while; I was used to seeing Israeli warships strut along the horizon, sometimes encircling us, sometimes heading straight for us before speeding away again immediately. It was like boat-flirting, but without the romance.

And I was also used to trying to negotiate consciousness to sleep at 2am while I could hear the gunboats firing out at sea, knowing that in some situations there's nothing I can do.

But seeing an Israeli warship up close for the first time was...almost voyeuristic. I never expected to come face-to-face (well, it was more like face-to-gun, let's be honest) with the perpetrators of attacks on fishermen who are simply making a living.

How do you describe a warship? It looks like the horizon of a city, with poles, spires and other gun-shaped limbs poking out from all directions. Even from a distance you can tell that the warships are enormous. They can change direction faster than Usain Bolt and sprint quicker still.

I honestly thought that out human rights monitoring boat would be intercepted and confiscated that day. CPS Gaza breaks no laws, but still I fear that our arrest is inevitable. As we drew closer, and with every metre that we covered I began to prepare myself for what lay ahead. Then, without warning, the warship abandoned the six hasakas and sped off out to sea. I muttered something to myself that I oughtn't to repeat here.

The gunboat then circled around the fishing boats and spent the next hour encircling us and the fishing boats. We accompanied the fishing boats to just under three miles while they set their nets out to bring in their catch. All this time, the warship zig-zagged up and down the Gaza coast, closer to shore than us, at about two miles.

I dipped my feet over the edge of the boat, tempted by the cool water to jump in. Just as I began to relax, we heard what I can only describe as cannons being fired. I didn't know cannons were still used outside of the Pirates of the Caribbean film sets. Maybe I'm wrong about the cannons. But whatever was fired landed about a kilometre away from the warship and caused a ring of waves that splashed metres high. Thankfully the heavy artillery- whatever it was- wasn't directed at a fishing boat and was more a symbolic attempt to express prowess rather than a direct attack. This time at least.

Fishermen in Gaza come under almost daily fire from Israeli gunboats; these attacks often occur within the 3-mile fishing limit. Under the Oslo Accords, Gazan fishermen were granted 20 miles in which to fish, has since been reduced to 6 and now three miles.

We stayed monitoring the fishermen for about four hours. When the hasaka fishing boats began to navigate back to shore, every single one slowed down beside us to thank us for being out there. They waved, gave us thumbs up, even offered us part of their catch. I've never seen so many smiles.

Although it warmed the, er, cockles of my heart to witness that our presence helped the fishermen to earn their livings in peace, it was maddening to realise that when there is nobody to monitor human rights, warships are free to fire at fishermen, without being held to account for their actions. 

Al-Samarrai is a member of the Civil Peace Service Gaza crew. She writes in a personal capacity and tweets at @WelshInGaza


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