By Ann Wright
Col. Ann Wright (Ret.) resigned from the State Department on March 19, 2003 in protest of the invasion of Iraq
In the latest Israeli diplomatic attempt to stop the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, Israel leaned on the Obama administration to put heavy pressure on the Government of Turkey to refuse to allow Turkish ships to join the international citizen activist initiative to end Israel’s illegal blockade of Gaza. Israeli diplomats have been intimidating, threatening and cajoling countries in Europe, Canada and the United States in the past six weeks to dissuade their citizens from participating in the flotilla and to forbid ships to depart from their countries. (http://www.truthout.org/why-we-must-sail-gaza/1305382992?q=israelis-mount-diplomatic-offensive-stop-gaza-flotilla/1302764400)
U.S. says challenging Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza is “irresponsible and provocative”
On June 2, 2011 State Department spokesperson Mark Toner stated in the State Department’s daily press briefing that the United States told the Government of Turkey that a flotilla of ships sailing to Gaza to challenge the Israeli blockade would be an “act of provocation.” Toner said “We have made clear through the past year that groups and individuals who seek to break Israel’s maritime blockade of Gaza are taking irresponsible and provocative actions that entail a risk to their safety.” (http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4077318,00.html)
Toner also said that “there are established and efficient mechanisms for getting humanitarian assistance through to Gaza, and that’s been our message consistently”.
As one of the organizers of the US Boat to Gaza called “Audacity of Hope,” one of the many ships from 22 organizing nations that will be filled with citizens from 70+ countries, I would have to say that Mr. Toner and the State Department don’t seem to have a clue about the goal of this flotilla.
The primary purpose of the flotilla is to bring massive international attention to the illegal and inhuman Israeli blockade of 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza so that citizens will force their governments (primarily Israel’s chief defender the United States) to convince Israel that ending the blockade would be in its best security interest.
If Israel will end the blockade of Gaza and allow Palestinians to have freedom to travel, to have freedom to commerce to import and export and to live in dignity with human rights instead of absolute oppression through total control by Israel of virtually every aspect of life in Gaza, then the flotilla would not have to sail.
What are the “irresponsible and provocative actions?”
To use Mr. Toner’s phrase, the “irresponsible and provocative actions” are NOT the flotilla, but the Israeli government’s illegal blockade of Gaza, Israel’s 22 day attack on Gaza that two years ago killed 1400 and wounded 5000 and left much of Gaza in rubble and Israel’s relentless construction of illegal settlements that have reduced by one half the land allocated to Palestine in the 1947 creation of the state of Israel through the partition of the Palestine Mandate that left 800,000 Palestinians dispossessed and homeless.
The “irresponsible and provocative actions” are the Israeli apartheid walls that separate Palestinians from their agricultural lands, schools and businesses and the inhumane and degrading Israeli checkpoints that Palestinians must pass through on their own Palestinian land.
If the US government is really concerned about Israeli security, I would hope that finally it would forcefully and relentlessly demand that the Israeli government end their inhumane treatment of the Palestinians.
Who is “Acting Out of Hate?”
On June 1, 2011, Israeli Defense Force (IDF) Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Benny Gantz said that flotilla organizers “are acting out of hate, with the intent to create provocation and agitate spirits, not out of any desire to assist Gaza’s population.” (http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4076558,00.html)
After having been in the flotilla’s international coalition meetings for over seven months, I can say categorically that none of the organizers of any of the ships in the flotilla are acting out of hate for the State of Israel. I have never heard any words of hate for anyone or for any group in our meetings. Instead, I have heard profound dismay that our governments have not acted to convince Israel that its best security practice would be to not treat Palestinians with contempt and disdain. The non-violent strategy of international activists in confronting Israel and governments that allow themselves to be impotent in addressing Israeli brutality toward Palestinians mirrors the incredible non-violent struggle of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank as they face daily humiliations and gratuitous disrespect from Israeli soldiers and politicians.
Likewise, none of the organizers of the US Boat to Gaza (www.ustogaza.org) are “acting out of hate,” as General Gantz claims. Instead, many of the organizers are Jews who willing to criticize the policies of the State of Israel that they believe are antithetical to the teachings of Judaism, if they are religious Jews or are illegal, if they are secular Jews. The US Boat to Gaza will have some American Jews as passengers, including 85 year old Hedy Epstein whose family was killed by Germans, not Palestinians, during World War II.
UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian Human Rights takes on UN Secretary General over the Gaza Flotilla
In a June 2, 2011 article titled “A UN Secretary General vs. Freedom Flotilla 2,” United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian Human Rights Richard Falk described Israeli treatment of Palestinians in Gaza “(Israeli treatment of Palestinians).. is an extraordinary narrative of Israeli cruelty and deafening international silence. The silence was broken only by the brave civil society initiatives in recent years that brought both the symbolic relief of empathy and human solidarity, as well as the token amounts of substantive assistance in the form of much needed food and medicine.” (http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/opinion/2011/06/20116182039243894.html)
In a direct challenge to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recent statement that the flotilla was “unhelpful,” (http://www.jpost.com/International/Article.aspx?id=222533), Falk argued that the UN and governments continue to allow Israel to perpetrate criminal actions with impunity: “We should not overlook that further in the background of this sordid effort to interfere with Freedom Flotilla 2 is the geopolitical muscle of the United States that blindly (and dumbly) backs Israel no matter how outrageous or criminal its behaviour. And undoubtedly, this geopolitical pressure helps explain this attempted interference with a courageous and needed humanitarian initiative that should have been affirmed by the UN rather than condemned. It needs to be kept in mind that despite the near universal verbal objections of world leaders, including even Ban Ki-moon, to the Israeli blockade, no meaningful action has been yet taken by either governments or the UN in the face of Israel’s undisguised refusal to respect the requirements of belligerent occupation of Gaza as set forth in the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, and the First Additional Protocol appended thereto in 1977.”
Falk takes on Ban Ki-moon’s characterization of the flotilla in a statement that may end his 6 year appointment with the UN, “Instead of protecting those who would act on behalf of unlawful Palestinian victimisation, the UN Secretary General disgraces the office by taking a one-sided stand in support of one of the most flagrant and long lasting instances of injustice that has been allowed to persist in the world. True, his spokesperson tries to soften the impact of such a message by vacuously stating that “the situation in the Gaza Strip must be changed, and Israel must conduct real measures to end the siege.”
Center for Constitutional Rights calls Israel’s blockade of Gaza and its attacks on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla Illegal
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) calls Israel’s blockade of Gaza “collective punishment” by Israel of the entire 1.5 million population of Gaza since 2007 triggered by the democratic election of Hamas in parliamentary elections. CCR cites U.N. reports and resolutions that have found that Israel maintains “effective control” over Gaza which is a characteristic of occupation. Israel controls the quantity and means of entry into Gaza of goods and materials and the movement of Palestinians into and out of Gaza.
CCR’s legal analysis of the Israeli naval attack on the 2010 Gaza Freedom Flotilla is that Israel “cannot simply intercept vessels outside of its territorial waters traveling to Gaza. As such, an attack or interception of humanitarian vessels travelling to Gaza in international waters must be deemed illegal. Even if Israel’s blockade were legal, the attack on the flotilla would remain illegal because: 1). It was a premeditated attack on a humanitarian vessel that posed no threat to Israel’s security-not an act of self-defense and 2). Israel’s response would have been disproportionate even as an act of self-defense.” (www.ccrjustice.org/gaza-flotilla)
“Is Israel Beyond International Law?” asks Turkey’s Foreign Minister
The government of Turkey is not intimidated by the United States or by the United Nations Secretary General. Richard Falk notes that the Turkish Government “refuses to bow to such abusive pressures even when backed by the UN at its highest level.” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has said numerous times when questioned on the Freedom Flotilla 2, that “no democratic government should claim the authority to exercise control over the initiatives of civil society, as represented by NGOs… “[N]obody should expect from Turkey… to forget that nine civilians were killed last year […] Therefore we are sending a clear message to all those concerned. The same tragedy should not be repeated again.” [D]o we think that one member state is beyond international law?”
Citizen Activists Say Israel is Not Beyond International Law
Citizen activists will continue to challenge Israel’s impunity of acting beyond international law and will sail to Gaza until Israel ends its naval blockade of Gaza.
We on the US Boat to Gaza have the audacity to hope that the United States will finally use its substantial economic leverage to convince Israel that it is in its own security interest, as well as the security interest of the United States itself, to end the blockade of Gaza and respect the human rights of Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and around the world.
About the Author: Ann Wright is a retired US Army Reserve Colonel and a former US diplomat who resigned in 2003 in opposition to the Iraq war. As a U.S. diplomat, she served in U.S. Embassies in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia, serving a Deputy Ambassador in the last four Embassies. She traveled to Gaza three times in 2009 after the Israeli attack on Gaza that killed 1440 Palestinians and wounded over 5,000 and left 50,000 homeless. She was a passenger on US flag ship “Challenger 1” in the May, 2010 Gaza flotilla and is an organizer and passenger on the U.S. Boat to Gaza, “The Audacity of Hope,” that will sail in the 2011 Gaza flotilla.