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Gaza flotilla faces defeat; propaganda wars continue

The Gaza aid ship Mavi Marmara, which came under attack last year

The French-flagged Dignite, which slipped past the Greek coast guard bound for Gaza earlier this week, was detained by the coast guard while refueling in Crete July 7. A Greek official told CNN that the ship would not be allowed to continue on to Gaza. Meanwhile, Leslie Cagan, coordinator of the US Boat to Gaza, announced that the team of activists from the United States called off its activities and is returning home. “The Greek government’s willingness to serve as the enforcer of Israeli’s naval blockade of Gaza made it impossible for this journey to happen,” Cagan wrote. The US-flagged Audacity of Hope remains in the hands of the Greek authorities, and it is not known when it will be released. (JTA, July 7)

Israel hailed Greek cooperation in shutting down the flotilla. "Greece is taking a responsible stance and dealing with a particular situation," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Grigoris Delavekouras. "And this situation says that there is an immediate danger to human life by participating in this attempt.... The region doesn't need this at the moment." (Jewish Policy Center, July 5)

In a message on the US to Gaza website, the group states that its flotilla participants, including St. Louis area activist and Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein, are leaving Greece. An update reads in part: "Our folks are beginning the journey home – some will arrive today, some tomorrow and others in the days ahead. Everyone is tired, but their energy is strong!"

On their own website,, opponents of the flotilla say organizers are violating international law by trying to breach a legal maritime blockade. It also says Gazans are "not facing a humanitarian emergency that justifies breaching the blockade," because there is an "ample supply of food and consumer goods" in Gaza.

The US State Department website also weighs in on the controversy: "The United States remains concerned by conditions in Gaza, but notes that the humanitarian situation has significantly improved over the last year, including a marked increase in the range and scope of goods and materials moving into Gaza, an increase in international project activity, and the gradual expansion of exports." (CreveCoeurPatch, July 7)

And a UN report on last year's deadly Israeli raid on the flotilla vessel Mavi Marmara, has now been leaked—providing further propaganda ammo to both sides. According to findings of the UN commission headed by former New Zealand prime minister Geoffrey Palmer, leaked in Turkey and Israel, the military operation was "premature" and the deaths "unacceptable." However, in what Israel is hailing as a vindication, the Jewish state is only asked to express regret and not to apologise. Turkey is also criticised for not doing enough to stop the flotilla, and for its links with IHH, an Islamist group which helped organize it. The report also apparently concludes that the blockade of Gaza is not illegal, and that Israel is justified in stopping vessels even outside its territorial waters. (The Telegraph, July 7)

New Zealand's Snoop on June 22 interviewed Adnan Abu Hasna, media representative for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), who provided a a different perspective, stating (emphasis added):

From a legal point of view, Gaza is occupied by Israel. Israel did not withdraw from Gaza. Maybe you cannot see troops in the streets but Israel is around Gaza, in the air and in the sea, the Israelis are everywhere. With the exception of fuel to run Gaza’s electricity and some building materials [that come through the tunnels] Gaza depends on Israel 100%.

Of course the blockade is illegal, and it is not helpful. We published a report just three or four days ago ["Labour Market Briefing, Second-Half 2010"] and we told them that the unemployment rate is nearly 45% - they have made the poorest people more poor—what will be the result? Give one example in history where imposing a blockade and siege has moderated anything, has created people looking for peace? We think it is counterproductive... Imposing such restrictions is weakening civil society and strengthening the Hamas government. What is Israel’s interest?

In 2009, a report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), "Locked In: The Humanitarian Impact of Two Years of Blockade on the Gaza Strip," found that the siege has triggered a "protracted human dignity crisis" with negative humanitarian consequences. "At the heart of this crisis is the degradation in the living conditions of the population, caused by the erosion of livelihoods and the gradual decline in the state of infrastructure, and the quality of vital services in the areas of health, water and sanitation, and education."

The reported also stated: "The denial of Palestinians' right to leave Gaza , or to move freely to the West Bank , particularly when their lives, physical integrity, or basic freedoms are under threat, is another key component of the current human dignity crisis. The blockade has 'locked in' 1.5 million people in what is one of the most densely populated areas on earth." (Palestine Telegraph, Aug. 18; UN News Centre, Aug. 17, 2009)

Also in 2009, the UN's Special Rapporteur for the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Richard Falk, urged Israel’s European and North American allies to use the threat of economic sanctions to pressure the country into ending the Gaza blockade. "People of conscience everywhere, as well as governments worldwide and the United Nations, should take note of the dire situation in Gaza," said Falk. "The ordeal of the 1.5 million residents of Gaza affected by the Israeli blockade, over half of whom are children, has been allowed to continue without any formal objection by governments and at the UN."

"The unlawful blockade imposed by Israel continues, and is in its third year," said Falk, noting that insufficient food and medicine is reaching Gazans, producing a further deterioration of the mental and physical health of the entire civilian population since Israel launched Operation Cast Lead against the territory in December 2008. Falk added that "so far, there is no evidence of meaningful international pressure being brought to bear to end the blockade or to ensure that Israeli and Hamas officials are held accountable for alleged war crimes perpetrated during the Gaza attacks... [T]his represents both a tragic failure of responsibility by the powerful governments of the world and of the UN."

Falk's statement came as Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in his an annual report on human rights released to the General Assembly, also called on Israel to end the blockade of Gaza, as well as to cease evictions and demolitions of Palestinian homes, and ensure that the rights of children are respected. "In particular, the Government of Israel should allow unimpeded access to Gaza for humanitarian aid and the non-humanitarian goods needed for the reconstruction of properties and infrastructure," the Secretary-General wrote. (UN News Centre, Dec. 23, 2009)

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