Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Free Gaza 21

Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.

I did not for a moment feel confined, and the walls seemed a great waste of stone and mortar. 

- Henry David Thoreau 1849, "Civil Disobedience"


UPDATE: Friday, July 4, 2009 12:30 AM

I came across a statement issued on June 26, 2009 from the so-called "quartet" which consists of the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia. I thought this excerpt was particularly relevant in light of the mission of the Free Gaza movement and given the Israeli reaction.
The Quartet called for the unimpeded provision and distribution throughout Gaza of humanitarian assistance, including food, fuel, and medical treatment.
One of the participants in the meeting which produced this statement was US Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell. So the Obama administration is on record of supporting the goals of the Free Gaza organization. But what I'd like to know is, what exactly are they doing about it? Rather than waste time and taxpayer money on fancy meetings that produce fancy statements how about actually doing what you say and getting some relief supplies into Gaza. The US certainly has the resources to deliver the "humanitarian assistance, including food, fuel, and medical treatment". So what's stopping President Obama from doing exactly what the Free Gaza movement is doing and delivering the needed supplies?

And here is what the the Free Gaza movement has declared to be its mission.
We want to break the siege of Gaza. We want to raise international awareness about the prison-like closure of the Gaza Strip and pressure the international community to review its sanctions policy and end its support for continued Israeli occupation. We want to uphold Palestine's right to welcome internationals as visitors, human rights observers, humanitarian aid workers, journalists, or otherwise.

We have not and will not ask for Israel’s permission. It is our intent to overcome this brutal siege through civil resistance and non-violent direct action, and establish a permanent sea lane between Cyprus and Gaza.
The key difference is that the Free Gaza movement does not accept that Israel has any authority to control the borders of Gaza. This is one of those truths that in the words of the founders of the United States of America is "self-evident". Don't the people of Gaza have the "unalienable rights" of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness". Who is Israel to deprive them of these rights? Perhaps President Obama should refresh his memory of American history.
But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states.
Now just substitute Gaza for the colonies, and Israel for the King of Great Britain and the similarities of the situation are inescapable. The very least that President Obama should do under the circumstances is to issue a public statement condemning Israel for its capture of these brave souls and demanding their unconditional release.


UPDATE: Friday, July 3, 2009 6:30 PM

Two part interview with Huwaida Arraf, one of the founders of Free Gaza, by Hesham Tillawi of Current Issues TV. Huwaida was aboard the Spirit of Humanity and recounts the moment the ship was boarded by the Israeli Navy. She also discusses the current situation of the crew and passengers that are still being held prisoner by Israel. They are considering challenging Israel's action in the courts. One of the issues is that Israel is insisting on formally deporting them which would mean that none of them could re-enter Israel or Palestine for at least 10 years.


UPDATE: Friday, July 3, 2009 2:30 PM

Cynthia McKinney calls in to WBAIX, now as Israel Prisoner 88794 during her 2nd day in Prison.


UPDATE: Friday, July 3, 2009 11:30 AM

The Irish Foreign Minister released this official statement on July 2.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Micheál Martin, T.D., has called for the swift release of two Irish nationals, Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Maguire and Derek Graham, who are currently being detained in Israel awaiting deportation, following the seizure on 30 June of a boat, The Spirit of Humanity, sailing with a consignment of humanitarian goods from Cyprus to Gaza.

“My Department has been closely following the situation arising from the seizure on Tuesday by the Israeli Navy of The Spirit of Humanity and has been in ongoing contact at a senior level with Israeli authorities, both through the Israeli Embassy here and our own Ambassador and Embassy in Tel Aviv.”

“My immediate priority is ensuring the safety and welfare of Ms. Maguire and Mr. Graham and securing their release as soon as possible. I have been assured by the Israeli authorities that they are both well and are being properly treated. An officer from the Irish Embassy in Tel Aviv visited yesterday with Ms. Maguire and Mr. Graham to provide assistance and will endeavour to make a further consular visit today”

“I would again renew my call for the release of Ms. Maguire and Mr. Graham as well as the other nineteen passengers detained on The Spirit of Humanity. I would also call upon the Israeli Government to ensure that the humanitarian supplies for the people of Gaza being transported on The Spirit of Humanity are made available as soon as possible to the Palestinian authorities for distribution”, added the Minister.

“I do not need to recall my strong views on the completely unacceptable nature of the blockade now being imposed on the people of Gaza. All border crossings into Gaza should be opened immediately to humanitarian and normal commercial traffic so that the dire humanitarian situation can be adequately addressed and the reconstruction of Gaza begin. This is the only effective remedy which we should seek to offer to the long-suffering people of Gaza.”
I'm still waiting for a similar statement from Secretary of State Clinton...


UPDATE: Friday, July 3, 2009 10:30 AM

The latest news from Free Gaza via their Twitter account
Bahrain plane landed, all charity workers on board and safe. Rest of our human rights workers still held in Israeli prison, boat confiscated
about 7 hours ago from web 

Bahrainis released, Flown home by king's private jet- Al Jazeera journalists later on today, given back camera, no tapes
about 9 hours ago from web
Here is the same news as reported by Bahrain News Agency
Following the directives of His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and the directives of the Prime Minister Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, and within the framework of the care given by the Kingdom of Bahrain to its nationals abroad who are exposed to conditions that might limit their personal liberty and the consideration of the conditions of a number of Bahraini citizens who were detained by Israeli authorities while on a breaking the siege boat, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs contacted several organisations and international bodies along with friendly countries to secure the release of people detained in Israel.

The efforts resulted in the approval of the Israeli authorities to hand over detainees to the representatives of the Kingdom of Bahrain. As a result, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in cooperation with the Ministry of Interior sent a mission to Ben Gurion Airport to receive the Bahrainis detained. The citizens were received by the mission from the Israeli authorities and are safe and in good health.
Considerng that Bahrain doesn't even recognize Israel and therefore doesn't have diplomatic relations with Israel, this is quite remarkable. Now compare that with the official US reaction which has been dead silence. This despite the fact that there are at least 3 US citizens among the group that was onboard the Spirit of Humanity and one of those, Cynthia McKinney, is a former US congressperson. In comparison the foreign ministers of both Greece and Ireland have made official statements calling for the release of the captive Free Gaza 21.

It is truly shameful that neither President Obama nor Secretary of State Clinton have made any official statements calling for the release of US citizens in Israeli custody. Once again the US government demonstrates through its actions (or lack thereof) that it is a puppet of the State of Israel. When is the US going to begin to stand up to the tiny nation of Israel? Would the US tolerate this kind of action by any other nation? We invaded Grenada with the simple excuse that there were a handful of US citizens that were medical students there at the time, and yet Israel can kidnap US citizens on the high seas and not even a peep comes out of the White House or State Department. How sad and pathetic.


UPDATE: Thursday, July 2, 2009 9:30 PM

I just found this report from Democracy Now. It includes interview with Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire speaking from an Israeli jail. And an interview with Free Gaza founder Huwaida Arraf.

Here is a small excerpt from the transcript of the show.
MAIREAD MAGUIRE: Yes. We have just been locked into our cells now for a couple of hours. We are currently going through their process. We are being charged with entering illegally into Israeli—near Israeli shores. We are going, it looks like, to be deported from Israel. We did not choose to come to Israel. Our little boat was boarded by the navy combat soldiers, and they came in in full riot gear onto our boat when we were just twenty-five miles off the shore of Gaza. We were under gunpoint, forcibly taken to Ashdod, held in the detention center overnight. And then I was removed from Ashdod detention center, handcuffed in a military vehicle, and brought here to the prison, where we’re currently being held. All of us, all nineteen—there were twenty-one, but Huwaida and Lubna are out—but the rest of us are being held here in detention in this prison.

The latest news on the Free Gaza 21 

Cynthia McKinney speaks from an Israeli prison.

In addition she has released this statement through the Green Party.
"We were in international waters on a boat delivering humanitarian aid to people in Gaza when the Israeli Navy ships surrounded us and illegally threatened us, dismantled our navigation equipment, boarded and confiscated the ship.

"All of us on board were then taken off the ship and into custody, and brought into Israel and imprisoned. Immigration officials in Israel said they did not want to keep us, but we remain imprisoned. State Department and White House officials have not effected our release or taken a strong public stance to condemn the illegal actions of the Israeli Navy of enforcing a blockade of humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians of Gaza, a blockade that has been condemned by President Obama."
Fox news reports that McKinney and others that were aboard the Spirit of Humanity are refusing to sign a statement that Israel has required as a condition of their release.
Former U.S. lawmaker and Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney and several other human rights activists remained in an Israeli prison Thursday after refusing to sign a deportation form that they claim is self-incriminating.

In a press release from the Green Party, McKinney said the form states that the Spirit of Humanity, a Greek-flagged relief boat carrying 21 activists, medical supplies, cement, olive trees and children's toys en route to Gaza, was violating the Israeli blockade and trespassing the country's territorial waters.
The Free Gaza activists have gained support from the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, Richard Falk.
A U.N. human rights investigator on Thursday called Israel's seizure of a ship carrying relief aid for the Gaza Strip "unlawful" and said its blockade of the territory constituted a "continuing crime against humanity".

Richard Falk, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, said the move was part of Israel's "cruel blockade of the entire Palestinian population of Gaza" in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibiting any form of collective punishment against "an occupied people".

Falk, an American expert on international law, said Israel's two-year blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza restricted vital supplies such as food, medicine and fuel to "bare subsistence levels".

"Such a pattern of continuing blockade under these conditions amounts to such a serious violation of the Geneva Conventions as to constitute a continuing crime against humanity," Falk said in a statement released in Geneva.

Prior to leaving Cyprus, the ship was inspected by Cypriot authorities in response to Israeli demands to determine whether it carried any weapons, according to the U.N. investigator. "None were found and Israeli authorities were so informed."

"Nonetheless, the 21 peace activists on the boat were arrested, held in captivity and have been charged with 'illegal entry' to Israel even though they had no intention of going to Israel," Falk added.
Was the Spirit of Humanity seized illegally by Israel?

Here is my assessment of the legality of the Israeli action under international law. First I would like to point out that Israel has a pattern of recognizing UN resolutions when it suits their purpose and ignoring them when it doesn't. Likewise for other international law. There are numerous examples of this and I'm not going to go into it here. I'll just site one example which is the well known "secret" that Israel has nuclear weapons. Israel has never signed the nuclear non-proliferation agreement, and yet that does not keep them from condemning Iran which has signed the agreement and is attempting to develop a nuclear program. This is of course the ultimate in hypocrisy, but unfortunately it is par for the course for Israel.

With regards to the international law of the sea, Israel has not signed this accord either. Typically nations claim 12 nautical miles as territorial waters. There is an extended region that goes out to 24 nm, but the law is less clear about that. Generally boats are granted safe passage even within these territorial waters.

The Spirit of Humanity was about 20 nautical miles offshore when intercepted and boarded by the Israeli Navy. By most definitions this is international water, especially in the relatively  narrow waters of the Meditarranean. In addition it was directly off the shores of Gaza. Gaza is not recognized by the UN as being part of Israel, but Israel is occupying Gaza. So this leaves the jurisdiction of Gazan waters in a bit of a controversy. To make things even more complicated, Israel claims that it no longer occupies Gaza since it withdrew its troops and settlements. But Israel continues to excercise control over Gaza's borders and and air and sea access. So by any normal definition, Israel continues to occupy Gaza. This is important because an occupier has certain obligations under international law, which Israel flagrantly violates.

In addition I would note that Israel restricts the motion of Gazan fisherman to 3 nautical miles. This implies to me that Israel has defined the border of Gaza's territorial waters to 3 nm. Otherwise Israel is claiming a buffer zone of some 21 nautical miles. It's hard to believe that Israel routinely intercepts ships that pass within this range, so clearly Israel singled out the Spirit of Humanity for capture.

It's also ironic that the six day war was launched by Israel because it claimed that Egypt had violated international laws by blockading some of its ports. And by the way a blockade is considered an act of war. At least Israel thought so in 1967.
On May 23rd, 1967, Egypt again cut off the Straits of Tiran (Israel's main shipping route to Asia and other major places of trade) to Israeli shipping, and also blockaded the port of Eilat. Egypt ordered United Nations peacekeeping forces to leave the Sinai, and in their place, Egyptian tanks and troops were concentrated on the border with Israel. In accordance with international law (United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, (Geneva: UN Publications 1958, pp. 132-134.), Israel considered the blockade of its port a casus belli, and launched an attack on Egypt, especially the Egyptian Air Force. Hostilities came to include Jordan (after Jordan reluctantly chose to dismiss Israeli appeals for neutrality and undertook shelling of Tel Aviv in adherence to its defense treaty with Egypt), Syria, and the Iraqi Air Force. This was the Six-Day War (June 5 - 10, 1967), during which Israel captured East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, and the Sinai Peninsula. In 1978 Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt under the Camp David Accords, and in 1981 Israel annexed East Jerusalem. The status of the West Bank and Gaza, populated mostly by Palestinians with some Israeli settlers, is also undecided and has been the focus of several unsuccessful peace conferences.
It is even more ironic that there was a famous incident in 1947 where the ship the Exodus was denied entry into Palestine by the British who were in control of the region at the time.
The Schuberts were among approximately 4,550 Jewish refugees from World War II aboard the ship Exodus 1947, which sailed for British-controlled Palestine from France on July 10, 1947. Britain had tightened the Jewish immigration quota for Palestine and was sending Jews who ran the blockade to internment camps in Cyprus. The camps were overflowing, and the Exodus, the largest refugee ship to date, was treated differently.

The British attacked the Exodus in the Mediterranean and sent the refugees back to France on prison ships. The refugees refused to disembark in Europe -- it was Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel) or nothing. After three weeks, the British sailed the prison ships to Hamburg, Germany, and said they would force the refugees off the boats with tear gas and bring in troops if they had to. The refugees went ashore peacefully on Sept. 8.

Around the world, public sympathy was with the Jewish refugees, and the British endured a storm of disapproval. Worldwide reaction to the plight of the Exodus refugees was instrumental in persuading the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine to recommend partitioning Palestine and establishing a Jewish state.

In Germany, the Exodus refugees were held in Displaced Persons camps in a British-occupied zone. A few at a time over the course of a year, the Exodus refugees left the camps and reached Palestine, some with legal immigration permits and some illicitly. Many of them were already in Israel on May 15, 1948, when the nation declared its independence.
So historically Israel has claimed that international law applies which they are now denying in the case of the Palestinians.

And as Cynthia McKinney has so rightfully pointed out, even Obama has declared that Israel should lift the blockade of Gaza.
Obama: "On the other hand, the fact is, is that if the people of Gaza have no hope, if they can’t even get clean water at this point, if the border closures are so tight that it is impossible for reconstruction and humanitarian efforts to take place, then that is not going to be a recipe for Israel’s long-term security or a constructive peace track to move forward."
The Free Gaza movement has rightfully challenged the Israeli blockade and in so doing raised awareness of the plight of the Palestinian People.

Official Protests

The Greek foreign ministry protested the seizing of a Greek vessel, even though there were no Greek citizens aboard.
Greece quickly protested the seizing of the Greek-flagged vessel, saying "we remonstrated with the Israeli side and asked for the ship, the crew and the passengers to be released immediately," foreign ministry spokesman Grigoris Delavekouras said in a statement.
The Irish Foreign Minister called for the release of its captured citizens by Israel.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs Michael Martin is calling for the release of two Irish people being detained in Israel.

Derek Graham and Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Maguire were removed from a ship, which was bringing humanitarian aid to Gaza.

They're being held in Israel, while they await deportation.

Minister Martin says his department has been in contact with the Israeli authorities and the Irish embassy in Tel Aviv, and has been assured that Ms Maguire and Mr Graham are both well and are being properly treated.
And what about the US Department of State? Considering that there were at least 3 US citizens aboard that were captured by Israel and considering that one of those, Cynthia McKinney, is a former member of the US House of Representatives you would think that the very least the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, could do is to issue a statement calling for the release of its citizens. Were still waiting for that. There have been no public statements from the White House or the State Department in any of the press reports I have seen. In this case silence is not golden, it is complicity.

Additional Links


Anonymous said...

If Israel is occupying Gaza, and controlling it's borders as you point out... then... the boat was attempting to enter waters controlled by Israel.

I'm sorry but it's pretty straightforward.

Frank Hope said...

If only life were so simple. First Israel claims it isn't occupying Gaza, because if it did it would be violating various Geneva conventions. Second there is an Oslo accord that Israel has violated by limiting Gazans to within 3 nm when the agreement was that they are permitted 20 nm.

Finally, it is not OK for Israel to "occupy" Palestinian land for over 40 years. It is an illegal occupation. The blockade is illegal. Israel doesn't have a legal leg to stand on.

If there is anything that is absolutely "straightforward" about this, it is that Israel is in violation of multiple UN resolutions and international laws. If not for the protection in the UN offered by the USA, Israel would be subject to severe sanctions. Americans are as much losers in all this as the Palestinians.