Free Gaza Movement

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The Free Gaza Movement Logo

The Free Gaza Movement is a coalition of human rights activists and pro-Palestinian groups formed to challenge the Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip by sailing humanitarian aid ships to Gaza.[1][2] The group has more than 70 endorsers, including Desmond Tutu and Noam Chomsky.

The organizations participating in the Free Gaza Movement include the International Solidarity Movement.[3] The activists participating in the effort include Jeff Halper, Hedy Epstein, Lauren Booth, and members of various Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religious organizations.[2] Israeli intelligence agencies say that it also includes Islamist organizations that pose a security threat to the Jewish state.[4]

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Turkey and Canada have all publicly opposed the 2011 flotilla.[5]

August 2008 sailing

The first sailing took place in early August 2008. It was organized by the Free Gaza Movement and the International Solidarity Movement. Many of the latter's members had been barred from entering Israel on security grounds. According to the Free Gaza Movement's Web site, the group intended for the boat to cross the Israeli-declared "special security zone" to deliver 100 hearing aids to a Palestinian charity as a form of humanitarian aid. A story in Israel-based Haaretz said the organizers were attempting to provoke a clash with the navy that would end with arrests.[3] A spokesman for the group said, "We hope that the Israeli government will have some wisdom. To drag us in and arrest us and say somehow we are a danger is absurd."[6]

They raised $300,000 from private donations and purchased two vessels. The group originally planned to depart from Piraeus on August 1, 2008, stopping at several Greek islands, and to then sail from Cyprus to Gaza on August 5.[7] Organizers of Free Gaza told interviewers that they were not attempting to sail from Egypt or via Egyptian waters because they "did not want to make a political statement" hinting that Egypt disagreed with the plan.[8] Cypriot officials expressed concern about the boat departing from their shores but said they could not prevent it.[3]

On August 23 the ships arrived in Gaza.[9] The Israeli Navy did not stop them but both boats had great difficulty with their communications, a problem they blamed on jamming by Israel in an attempt to prevent them from getting to Gaza.[7]

Consequences

Israeli citizen Jeff Halper did not return to Cyprus on the boats, but traveled into Israel via the Erez crossing. He was arrested and has been told he will be prosecuted for breaking the Israeli law forbidding its citizens from entering the Gaza Strip.[10] A spokeswoman for the Free Gaza Movement believes that Israel’s foreign and interior ministries had given the boats permission to land in Gaza, and she believed that meant they were all in Gaza legally.[11]

Lauren Booth, sister-in-law of Tony Blair, was refused permission to cross from Gaza into both Egypt and Israel after her arrival. Four weeks later, she was given permission to cross at the Rafah border terminal into Egypt.[12]

October 2008 sailing

The second sailing occurred in late October. The movement's 66-foot yacht, named Dignity, arrived at a Gaza port on October 29. The ship carried 26 activists and medical supplies. Although Israeli officials initially announced that they would stop the ship, a last minute decision was reportedly made to allow the ship to enter Gaza. Among the passengers were 1976 Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Corrigan and Palestinian Legislative Council member Mustafa Barghouti.[13] In July 2009, four citizens of the United Kingdom who had decided to stay in Gaza were turned away at both the Israeli and Egyptian border crossings over a period of several weeks when they attempted to leave.[14][15]

December 2008 - February 2009 sailings

The Free Gaza Movement attempted to reach Gaza twice during the 2008–2009 Israel–Gaza conflict.

On December 29, 2008, Dignity set sail from Cyprus, headed for Gaza, attempting to deliver 3.5 tonnes (3.9 short tons) of medical supplies to its residents.[16][17][18] The boat, which was boarded by Caoimhe Butterly, Cynthia McKinney, journalists from Al Jazeera and CNN, three surgeons including Dr. Elena Theoharous, was forced to turn back after being intercepted by Israeli naval vessels off Gaza. According to The Free Gaza Movement, Israeli warships rammed their vessel then fired machine guns in the water. Israel states that the boat had failed to respond to Israeli naval radio contact and was attempting to outmaneuver the warships when the vessels collided. Not having enough fuel to return to Cyprus, the boat docked in Lebanon severely damaged.[19]

The Cypriot foreign minister told public radio his country would lodge a formal protest over the incident.[20] An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman called the allegation of ramming the Dignity "absurd" while denying any intent. The Consulate General of Israel to the Southeast USA called McKinney "irresponsible", accusing her of a "provocation" that endangered many.[21]

In January, the Free Gaza Movement again attempted to bring activists and deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza under the Greek flagged decommissioned ferry called the Arion. The 21 Free Gaza activists, among them several doctors, abandoned their journey after the ship encountered Israeli warships who warned them to leave the area.[22] Greece had informed the Israeli government on its transfer of humanitarian aid days earlier, but also warned the leaders of the expedition about its dangers.

The Dignity's final resting spot is in a Cyprian port after sinking during a storm.[23]

On February 3, 2009 a ship was sent by the Free Gaza Movement and a Lebanese group, the Palestinian National Committee Against the Siege.[24] The organizers said the Tali, a Togo-registered cargo vessel, was "carrying more than 60 tonnes of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip."[25] On February 5, shots were fired and Israeli forces boarded the ship. "They are pointing guns against us; they are kicking us and beating us. They are threatening our lives," Al-Jazeera's Salam Khoder reported from aboard Tali. The ship was then taken to the Israeli port of Ashdod.[26] According to Haaretz, "The IDF said that troops found about 150 bottles of mineral water and a few dozen kilograms of food and medicine on board... plus 10,000 units of human blood plasma which requires constant refrigeration. The IDF found no weapons aboard the ship.[24]

June 2009 sailing

A vessel with a banner that reads "SPIRIT OF HUMANITY" and a Greek flag/ Two container cranes are in the background
The Spirit of Humanity

The Free Gaza Movement returned to Cyprus in March 2009, to begin organizing for the summer sailings. The Arion was renamed Spirit of Humanity and sailed from the port of Larnaca on June 29. The 21 activists on board included former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney and the Nobel Laureate Mairead Maguire. Among the six journalists were two from Al Jazeera and documentary maker Adam Shapiro.[27] They were heading toward Gaza with three tons of medical supplies and a symbolic load of construction materials.[28]

On June 30, the Israeli Navy commandeered the vessel off the coast of Gaza. The Israeli military later issued a statement saying the boat had attempted to break a blockade of Gaza and was forced to sail to an Israeli port after ignoring a radio message to stay out of Gaza waters. The Spirit of Humanity was towed to Ashdod and the crew was detained pending deportation proceedings. After a security check of the humanitarian supplies, Israel officials promised to deliver them to Gaza by ground.[29] Greta Berlin, a representative of the Free Gaza Movement in Cyprus, said: "We are outraged, they just stole our boat and kidnapped our people."[30][31][32] Israeli officials blame the group for the controversy, saying they were looking for confrontation to attract publicity.[33]

Two additional Israeli activists were released the next day.[34] On July 3, five Bahraini activists were deported.[35] A delegation from Bahrain visited Israel in an official capacity for the first time to accompany the deportees although officials said there was no other significance to the visit.[36] McKinney and the others release was delayed after they refused to sign a document admitting they violated Israel’s blockade. From the Givon immigration detention center in Ramla, Maguire said that "deportation orders aren't appropriate for us, as we were taken to Israel against our will."[37] The remaining activists were processed and released between July 5 and July 8.[38][39][dead link][40]

May 2010 sailing

Aengus Ó Snodaigh with the Rachel Corrie before departing for the Freedom Flotilla

The Free Gaza Movement and the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) partnered to send multiple ships to the Gaza Strip in May 2010. Under the coordination of the Free Gaza Movement, numerous human rights organizations, including the Turkish Relief Foundation (IHH), the Perdana Global Peace Organization from Malaysia, the European Campaign to End the Siege of Gaza, and the Swedish and Greek Boat to Gaza initiatives sent three cargo ships loaded with reconstruction, medical and educational supplies. Multiple passenger boats with over 600 people on board accompanied the cargo ships. Passengers included members of Parliament from around the world, U.N., human rights and trade union activists, as well as journalists to document the largest coordinated effort to directly confront Israel’s blockade of Gaza and take in basic supplies. These include the MV Rachel Corrie.[41][42] In response to the plans, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman said: "These people are not supporting the Palestinians and they are not even supporting humanitarian causes. They are engaged in only one thing, and that is to create provocations and to collaborate with Hamas propaganda."[42]

The family of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit offered the organizers of the flotilla full support provided that "in addition to their demand that Israel lift its blockade they will urge Hamas to allow the soldier to receive letters and food packages from his family and allow international organizations to visit him". According to Attorney Nick Kaufman, who approached the Free Gaza Movement on behalf of the kidnapped soldier's family the offer was refused.[43][44] The group strongly denied this, saying they had always called for the release of all prisoners, including Palestinian prisoners in Israel, and that they had accepted Mr. Kaufman's request and would give his letter to the Irish MPs to deliver to Hamas, but never heard back from him.[45]

On May 27, 2010, The Jerusalem Post reported that participants included Mahmad Tzoalha and Sahar Albirawi, whom it called Hamas activists, although neither man was on any of the passenger manifests, as well as Sheikh Raed Salah, leader of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel.[46] Also some 700 pro-Palestinian activists were on the boats, including 1976 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire of Northern Ireland, European legislators and Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein, 85.[47]

The six-ship flotilla began the journey on May 30, 2010. Before dawn the following morning, the vessels came into contact with the Israeli navy in international waters off the coast of Gaza.[48] The Aljazeera satellite channel reported by telephone from the Turkish ship leading the flotilla that Israeli navy forces fired at the "Blue Marmara Ship"(Mavi Marmara Gemisi) and boarded it. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) says the soldiers were attacked with knives and clubs as they boarded. It says soldiers opened fire after a protester grabbed a weapon from one of the commandos and fired on one or more of the commandos.[49][50][51] Organizers of the flotilla said the troops opened fire as soon as they stormed the ships.[52][53] Reports are of up to 16 people being killed along with dozens of injuries.[54][55][56]

In August, the Israeli military arrested several Israeli soldiers, accusing them of selling laptops that belonged to the passengers.[57][58]

Controversy

In October, 2012, Free Gaza Movement c0-founder, Greta Berlin had been accused of being antisemitic following a controversial tweet, originating from her personal Facebook account, and posted under the Twitter account of the Free Gaza Movement. The tweet published the title of the video, “Zionists operated the concentration camps and helped murder millions of innocent Jews," and was a speech by conspiracy theorist Eustace Mullins asserting that Zionists were responsible for the Holocaust and were admirers of Hitler.[59][60] The Free Gaza Movement later deleted the tweet.[61] Berlin apologized and declared that she had "shared it without watching it,"[62] and she implied no endorsement of Mullins' antisemitic views. She wrote she intended to post the video in a private Facebook group where she had been participating in a discussion of similar propaganda.[61][63] Larry Derfner published a statement by sixteen people stating that "ours is a small and secret Facebook group, 37 members strong" and that the group had been discussing "the role of the Zionist movement during the Holocaust" when Berlin posted the video.[63] In response, the Jewish Voice for Peace group, which had endorsed one event for Berlin's book tour distanced itself from Berlin and the Free Gaza Movement.[64] However, Lenni Brenner, the man who has written extensively about Zionist collaboration with the Nazis, wrote a definitive article on what happened regarding the tweet, and most of the controversy has now disappeared. [65]

Reception

Jeffrey Goldberg wrote that the Free Gaza Movement is "the leading edge of the international campaign to delegitimize Israel and bring about its end as the national home of the Jewish people," and that they are "a hypocritical organization" he argues since they protest Israel's part of the blockade but not the Egyptian blockade of Gaza.[66]

References

  1. ^ "Profile: Free Gaza Movement". BBC. 2010-06-01. Retrieved 8 February 2011. 
  2. ^ a b "Group will test Israel’s Gaza blockade". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. 2008-07-30. Retrieved 2009-07-04. 
  3. ^ a b c Ravid, Barak (2008-07-28). "Israel concerned leftists plan to send ship from Cyprus to break Gaza blockade". Haaretz. Retrieved 2009-07-04. 
  4. ^ [1] Israel says Free Gaza Movement poses threat to Jewish state, Scott Wilson, Washington Post, June 1, 2010.
  5. ^ Bronner, Ethan (16 June 2011). "US Warns Americans Against Joining Gaza Aid Flotilla". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 June 2011. 
  6. ^ Wheeler, Carolynne (2008-08-18). "Israel to treat Gaza peace boats 'like pirates'". London: Telegraph. Retrieved 2010-05-31. 
  7. ^ a b "Gaza activists fight poor communications, rough seas". Reuters. 2008-08-23. Retrieved 2009-07-04. 
  8. ^ Cohen, Jean (2008-08-30). "'Free Gaza,' plans to sail from Greece to Gaza". European Jewish Press. Retrieved 2013-09-09. 
  9. ^ "Activist boats reach Gaza Strip". BBC. 2008-08-23. Retrieved 2008-12-30. 
  10. ^ Israeli police hold Gaza activist BBC 26 August 2008.
  11. ^ Israeli arrested for entering Gaza Jerusalem Post (mirrored by Karmalised.com) 26 August 2008.
  12. ^ Escape from Gaza (Lauren Booth). The Scotsman 21st Sept 2008.
  13. ^ Gaza activist boat docks, Jewish Telegraph Agency (JTA), October 29, 2008.
  14. ^ "gaza totnes". Thisissouthdevon.co.uk. 2009-07-08. Retrieved 2010-05-31. 
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  16. ^ "Pro-Palestinian activists say Israel Navy fired on protest boat off Gaza shore". Haaretz/Reuters. 2008-12-30. Retrieved 2008-12-30. 
  17. ^ "Gaza aid boat 'rammed by Israel'". BBC News. 2008-12-30. Retrieved 2010-05-02. 
  18. ^ Fisher-Ilan, Allyn (2008-12-30). "Israeli naval ship clashes with Gaza aid boat". Reuters. Retrieved 2008-12-30. 
  19. ^ YNET Navy orders aid boat to Gaza to retreat, December 30, 2008
  20. ^ Tran, Mark (2008-12-30). "Israel accused of ramming Gaza aid ship". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-07-03. 
  21. ^ "Gaza relief boat damaged in encounter with Israeli vessel - CNN.com". cnn.com. 2008-12-30. Retrieved 2008-12-30. 
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  23. ^ Susan Schwartz (7 February 2009). "Israel Attacks Humanitarian Ship, Hijacks Crew". The Muslim Observer. Retrieved 2010-05-29. 
  24. ^ a b "Israel releases passengers of impounded Gaza-bound ship". Haaretz. 02-06-2009. Retrieved 10-06-2010.  Check date values in: |date=, |accessdate= (help)
  25. ^ "Gaza Humanitarian Aid Ship Hijacked". Free Gaza Movement. 2009-02-55. Retrieved 2010-05-31.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  26. ^ "Israel seizes Lebanese ship heading for Gaza". CBC News. 02-05-2009. Retrieved 10-06-2010.  Check date values in: |date=, |accessdate= (help)
  27. ^ Ponsford, Dominic (2009-06-30). "Six journalists detained after Israel boards Gaza boat". Press Gazette. Retrieved 2010-05-31. 
  28. ^ Free Gaza boat stopped by Navy June 29, 2009
  29. ^ "Cynthia McKinney to Appear in Israeli Court After Gaza-Bound Boat Is Seized". Fox News. 2009-07-04. Retrieved 2009-07-05. 
  30. ^ Israel to deport peace activists sailing to Gaza (June 01, 2009)
  31. ^ Damien Henderson (2009-07-04). "Scots activist tells of tough conditions in Israeli prison". Herald Scotland. Retrieved 2010-05-31. 
  32. ^ "Campaigner tells of Israel arrest". BBC News. 2009-07-03. Retrieved 2010-05-02. 
  33. ^ "McKinney Freed; Heading Home". WSB News. 2009-07-05. Retrieved 2010-05-31. 
  34. ^ Kershner, Sabel (2009-07-02). "Activists Held by Israel for Trying to Break Gaza Blockade". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-07-05. 
  35. ^ "US McKanny, 13 activists still in Israel jail, Bahrainis freed". Worldbulletin.net. 2009-07-04. Retrieved 2010-05-31. 
  36. ^ "Bahraini officials pay first visit to Israel-report". Reuters. 2009-07-03. Retrieved 2009-07-05. 
  37. ^ Mairead: My terror as Israelis seized aid boat, Belfast Telegraph, 3 July 2009.
  38. ^ Cook, Rhonda (2009-07-05). "McKinney released, returning to United States". Atlanta Metro News. Retrieved 2010-05-31. 
  39. ^ "International Middle East Media Center". Imemc.org. Retrieved 2010-05-31. 
  40. ^ East, Middle (2009-07-08). "Israel deports seafaring activists". ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). Retrieved 2010-05-31. 
  41. ^ "Freedom Flotilla Sail into Gaza on May". English.wafa.ps. 2010-04-28. Retrieved 2010-05-31. 
  42. ^ a b Sokol, Samuel (April 22, 2010). "Gaza Boat Organizers Endorse Terrorism". Five Towns Jewish Times. Retrieved April 28, 2010. 
  43. ^ "Shalit family's offer to back Gaza flotilla declined - Israel News, Ynetnews". www.ynetnews.com. Retrieved 2010-05-27. 
  44. ^ "Gaza aid convoy refuses to deliver package to Gilad Shalit". Haaretz. 2010-05-27. Retrieved 2010-05-29. 
  45. ^ "Israel’s Disinformation Campaign Against the Gaza Freedom Flotilla". International Solidarity Movement. Retrieved 2010-05-29. 
  46. ^ "MK in service of Hamas?". Ynetnews.com. 1995-06-20. Retrieved 2010-06-01. 
  47. ^ "Israel attacks Gaza aid fleet". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 2010-05-31. 
  48. ^ Harel, Amos (2010-05-31). "Israel Navy commandos: Gaza flotilla activists tried to lynch us". Haaretz. Retrieved 2010-05-31. 
  49. ^ Goldenberg, Tia. "Israeli army: At least 4 killed on Gaza flotilla". ajc.com. Retrieved 2010-06-01. [dead link]
  50. ^ "Israeli navy storms Gaza aid ship". BBC News. 2010-05-31. Retrieved 2010-06-01. 
  51. ^ Ferziger, Jonathan; Ben-David, Calev (2005-05-30). "Calls Grow for Israel to Open Gaza Border After Clash (Update1)". Bloomberg.com. Retrieved 2010-06-01. 
  52. ^ "Israel attacks Gaza aid fleet". The Mindanao Examiner. 2010-05-31. Retrieved 2010-05-31. 
  53. ^ "Gaza flotilla: 2 dead, dozens injured in navy boarding". Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 2010-05-31. 
  54. ^ Tia Goldenberg (2010-05-31). "Reports: Israeli ships attack aid flotilla, 2 dead". Associated Press. Retrieved 2010-05-31. 
  55. ^ Kershner, Isabel (2010-05-31). "Deadly Israeli Raid on Aid Flotilla Draws Condemnation". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-05-31. 
  56. ^ Martin, Patrick (2010-05-31). "Anger mounts after deadly Gaza aid flotilla strike". Toronto: The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2010-05-31. 
  57. ^ "Israeli troops charged with stealing laptops off aid ships". The Irish Times. 2010-08-08. 
  58. ^ http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3939471,00.html
  59. ^ Benjamin Weinthal (October 4, 2012). "Free Gaza Group: Zionists Ran Concentration Camps". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved October 7, 2012. 
  60. ^ "Flotilla Sponsor Tweets that Zionists Helped Perpetrate the Holocaust". JTA. October 4, 2012. Retrieved October 7, 2012. 
  61. ^ a b Apology Regarding Tweet, Free Gaza Movement website.
  62. ^ Tristin Hopper (October 4, 2012). "Free Gaza Group: Zionists Ran Concentration Camps". National Post. Retrieved October 7, 2012. 
  63. ^ a b Larry Derfner (October 6, 2012). "Head of Free Gaza Movement: Anti-Semitic Video In Question is 'Disgusting'". 972. Retrieved October 7, 2012. 
  64. ^ Jewish Voice for Peace Statement on Greta Berlin and Allegations of Anti-Semitism
  65. ^ http://www.thestruggle.org/g_berlin_controversy.htm
  66. ^ Nazi Propaganda Makes a Comeback on Twitter

External links