One Year from Gaza Freedom Flotilla, Another on the Horizon

It is not too late for countries to put massive international pressure on Israel

On May 27, 2011, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in letters sent to countries in the Mediterranean stated that the Gaza situation was "unsustainable" and Israel should take "further meaningful and far-reaching steps" to end the blockade of Gaza.

Bowing to Israeli pressure, Ban Ki-moon also asked those countries to dissuade activists from attempting to sail to Gaza calling the flotilla "unhelpful." A UN spokesperson said, "The secretary-general called on all governments concerned to use their influence to discourage such flotillas, which carry the potential to escalate into violent conflict. He further called on all, including the government of Israel, to act responsibly and with caution to avoid any violent incident." Ban also said that all aid for Gaza, which is blockaded by IDF forces, should go through "legitimate crossings and established channels" -- which in practice means through Israel.

Gaza Flotilla, One Year Ago

A year ago, I was on one of the six ships in the 2010 Gaza Freedom Flotilla. All six ships were brutally attacked by Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) commandos. More than 30 Israeli ships surrounded the unarmed, civilian flotilla that was sailing to Gaza to challenge Israel's illegal Israeli naval blockade that is imprisoning 1.5 million Palestinians.

IDF commandos killed nine unarmed civilians on the Turkish ship, the Mavi Marmara. One of those killed included 19-year old American citizen Furkan Dogan. Five passengers, including Dogan, were executed with gunshots to the head. The heavily armed commandos shot Dogan five times. Another passenger is still in a coma, one year after he was shot, but is deteriorating and will probably die soon according to friends.

US Government Not Assisting Family of Murdered American; CCR files Lawsuit Demanding Documents

The United States government refused to conduct an investigation into the death of American citizen Dogan, instead stating that the U.S. would rely on Israel's investigation into its own actions. The United States even refused to cite Dogan's death in the recently released State Department's annual Human Rights report on Israel, the first time the violent death of an American citizen in the West Bank or Gaza has not been acknowledged in this report.

Last week, Professor Ahmet Dogan, the father of Furkan Dogan was in the United States to demand justice in the death of his son at the hands of the IDF. This was his second trip to the United States in an attempt to get the U.S. government to assist him. After again speaking with representatives in the State Department, Justice Department and with members of Congress, Professor Dogan joined with the Center for Constitutional Rights in filing a lawsuit against the United States government for failing after eleven months to provide documents concerning U.S. contacts with Israel concerning the Gaza flotilla requested through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). FOIA requires the U.S. government to respond in some manner to FOIA requests in 20 days.

The U.S. government, eleven months later, still refuses to respond. The lawsuit asks the courts to order the United States government to comply with federal law and respond to these requests.

In a press release concerning the lawsuit, Professor Dogan said, "I have travelled twice to Washington, D.C. seeking answers and support in my efforts to achieve justice and accountability for my son's killing. So far, my efforts have not been successful. I call upon the United States government to at least release information related to the flotilla attack and what it knows about my son's death. Why isn't the United States investigating the death of a U.S. citizen in this case?"

More International Citizen Pressure on Israel to End the Blockade of Gaza

This weekend I am in Istanbul, Turkey for the commemoration ceremonies for the nine who were killed and the 50 passengers who were wounded a year ago in the Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla. Passengers on all of the ships were subjected to brutal treatment by the IDF commandos who fired percussion grenades through the glass windows of all the ships, spraying glass everywhere and breaking eardrums. They shot paint bullets into the faces of some passengers, fired tasers at passengers and pushed others onto the deck into the broken glasses.

Demonstrations against the Israeli brutality erupted all over the world and Israel was condemned by virtually all nations of the world, except the United States, for its disproportionate use of force on an unarmed, civilian flotilla.

The United States continues to attempt to protect Israel from criticism no matter what criminal actions the Israel government takes, including trashing the Goldstone report that criticized primarily Israel, but also Hamas, during Israel's 22 day attack on Gaza that killed 1440 Palestinians, wounded 5,000 and left 50,000 homeless. Just last week, President Obama said that the United States will continue to protect Israel from criticism.

Israel Combating Dramatic Changes in the Region

The political landscape of the Middle East has changed dramatically in the year since the Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla. The Arab Spring of citizen protests against the dictatorships that had ruled them for decades have brought new governments in Egypt and Tunisia, governments that are more sympathetic to the plight of Palestinians. Citizens in Libya, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen continue to battle against dictatorships in the countries.

The outlook for Palestinians is changing substantially. The interim Egyptian government has increased the numbers of Palestinians who can leave and return to Gaza. Following condemnation of their attack on the Gaza flotilla, the Israel government increased a little the types of food and materials that can enter Gaza, but the volume of goods remains insufficient to support a population of 1.5 million persons. However, Israel has increased drone attacks in Gaza and IDF snipers kill unarmed civilians in the Israeli declared no-go zone in Gaza that prevents farmers and shepherds from using 3,000 feet of their land along the eastern border with Israel. IDF incursions into Gaza have increased.

The boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) of Israeli goods has increased dramatically. Some European companies have stopped working on projects in Israel, particularly the light rail project. Demonstrations and flash mob actions in merchandise stores have greatly increased the awareness of the public about the illegal use of Palestinian resources by Israeli companies.

Unity discussions between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, facilitated by the new Egyptian government, and the Palestinian initiative to receive recognition in the United Nations General Assembly session this autumn has left Israel and the United States scrambling.

2011 Gaza Freedom Flotilla faces Massive Israeli Diplomatic Offensive

In three weeks a second, and larger, Gaza flotilla of unarmed, civilian ships will sail to end the naval blockade of Gaza. International citizen activists intend to keep pressing for the end of the naval blockade until Israel complies. However, the Israeli diplomatic offensive in the Mediterranean, Europe, Canada and the United States to stop the flotilla has been strong, culminating with the UN Secretary-General's ay 27th call for governments in the region to "discourage" the flotilla from sailing.

US State Department Warns US Boat to Gaza and new U.S. Coast Guard Special Notice on the Gaza Maritime Area

On May 23, 2011, a delegation from the U.S. Boat to Gaza, the Audacity of Hope, advised State Department officials that a U.S. flagged ship would be in the June, 2011 Gaza flotilla. State Department officials responded with the Travel Warning from the Bureau of Consular Affairs. The travel warning states "U.S. citizens are advised against traveling to Gaza by any means, including via sea. Previous attempts to enter Gaza by sea have been stopped by Israeli naval vessels and resulted in the injury, death, arrest and deportation of U.S. citizens...The Israeli defense Forces (IDF) strictly controls the crossing points between Israel and the Gaza Strip, and has essentially sealed the border. The security environment within Gaza and along its borders, including its border with Egypt and tis seacoast, is dangerous and volatile."

The U.S. government offensive against the flotilla sailing continued with the comment that the U.S. Coast Guard was publishing a new notice about Gaza waters, but they did not yet have a copy.

The next day, on May 25, the U.S. Coast Guard published the "Notice to Mariners" which has interesting language confirming that the blockade is an Israeli blockade, not an international blockade. Members of the sailing community have mentioned that this is the first time they can remember that the Coast Guard has sent out a special email notifying the maritime community of a new maritime notice. Usually one must search the Coast Guard website to find the notices.

This is the new notice (pdf) on the Gaza Maritime Area:

U.S. Coast Guard Special Notice--Gaza Maritime Area

All U.S. vessels and mariners are advised that Israel is currently enforcing a blockade in the "Gaza Maritime Area." The area is closed to all maritime traffic and the blockade is being enforced by the Israeli Navy. The Gaza Maritime Area is enclosed by the following coordinates:

31deg35.71'N, 34deg29.46'E

31deg46.80'N, 34deg10.01'E

31deg19.39'N, 34deg13.11'E

31deg33.73'N, 33deg56.68'E

U.S. vessels and mariners intending to enter the area are likely to face enforcement action by the Israeli Navy. The Department of State has also advised against travel by U.S. citizens to Gaza by any means, including by sea. Previous attempts to enter Gaza by sea have resulted in violent incidents and the detention and deportation of those involved.

U.S. mariners are also reminded that procedures exist for the delivery of humanitarian cargo to Gaza via the Israeli port of Ashdod or the Egyptian port of El-Arish, where cargo can be screened."

Turkey Pushes Back from Israeli Diplomatic Offensive

However, there is pushback from the Israeli diplomatic offensive. In May, 2011 Israel asked Turkey to prevent activists to join the international flotilla to Gaza. But, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu responded, "We will warn our citizens about the possible outcomes, but the idea of non-governmental organizations being under control of the government in Turkey is an orientalist approach. The expectation of Turkey to something Western countries can't do is a reflection of the opinion that Turkey limits democratic freedom. We will take the necessary measures we had taken last year, but the main source of the issues is Israel's blockade."

Gaza Flotilla will sail until the borders open

Despite all the diplomatic pressure and warnings, the Gaza Freedom Flotilla is not turning back until Israel ends the naval blockade of Gaza.

It is not too late for countries to put massive international pressure on Israel to end the blockade and determine how to address Israel's security concerns about ships entering the Gaza port. European Union inspectors were placed in the Rafah border crossing in 2006. A similar structure could be suggested for the port of Gaza. International citizen activists will continue to act when their governments fail--and the Gaza Freedom Flotilla will continue to sail until Palestinians have freedom to travel, freedom to import and export through land, air, and sea crossings and freedom to live without oppression and injustice--as all human beings have a right to do.

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