Israeli piracy and murder: An act of self defence?
By Harsha Walia
website contains many hyperlinks
As international outrage spreads at the Israeli elite commando attack on an unarmed humanitarian convey in the middle of the night on international waters, Israel is desperately trying to rebrand the incident as one of self-defence. It is nothing new for Israel, and other aggressing powers, to smear their victims as perpetrators. Afterall, unjustifiable murder is too jarring to stomach.
Yet, Amnesty International released a statement about Israel's excessive use of force, further stating that Israel's version of events begs credibility. Former Archbishop Desmond Tutu proclaimed the actions of Israel as "completely inexcusable". According to Craig Murray, specialist on maritime law, "To attack a foreign flagged vessel in international waters is illegal."
Deported activists tell a horrifying story of the use of electric shock, live ammunition, smoke bombs, gas canisters, beatings, and seizure of all evidence on cameras. Greek activist Michalis Grigoropoulos said, "They took us hostage, pointing guns at our heads…There was absolutely nothing we could do." A Turkish woman, with her 1 year old baby, recalls "The ship turned into a lake of blood."
Israeli-Arab Knesset member Hanin Zoabi, who was on board, demanded an international inquiry: "It was clear from size of force that boarded ship that purpose was not to stop sail, but to cause largest number of fatalities to prevent future initiatives." In contradiction of the carefully managed public relations campaign, a top Israeli Navy commander brags to the Jerusalem Post that "We boarded the ship and were attacked as if it was a war." The names of the 10-19 dead, 60-80 injured, and hundreds detained have yet to be released.
Zoabi further stated that the passengers made clear they were non-confrontational, substantiated by live footage of a white flag raised shortly after the armed commandos descended from helicopters. Upon release from Israeli custody, two German parliamentarians also denied that the activists provoked the violence, though some had tried to stop the armed onslaught by using two wooden sticks. If that were not enough, custom officials in Greece confirmed that the boats were screened prior to departure and no weapons were aboard.
Even before the events of May 31, the Israeli government had publically warned that the Flotilla would be intercepted, even though the convoy would be entering from international waters in the Mediterranean and not from Israeli territory. An extensive May 25 article in the Jerusalem Post describes a campaign between the media, military, and government officials to "coordinate efforts to stop the flotilla and manage the potential media fallout."
The Gaza Freedom Flotilla convoy was comprised of nine ships and 700 activists, politicians, journalists, Nobel laureates, and aid workers from 40 countries. An initiative that took almost two years of grassroots organization, they were bringing 10,000 tons of medical and humanitarian aid including toys, wheelchairs, construction supplies, paper, food, and medicines for Gaza's 1.5 million besieged residents.
Since 2007, Israel has imposed a tight blockade on Gaza: maintaining control of airspace, waters, and land crossings; disallowing residents to leave without permits; and prohibition on imports and exports including food, fuel, and medical supplies. The result has been catastrophic: 70% of Gazans live on under $1 a day, 60% have no daily access to water, only 23 of 3,900 industrial enterprises are operational. This constitutes collective punishment of an entire civilian population and condemns them to an open-air prison, leading the UN to call the siege `medieval'.
One of the justifications for the siege is the violence inflicted by Palestinian fighters. Palestinians live under occupation and lack any effective military capabilities. According to UN statistics, from 2000-2008, the Israeli military killed 2677 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. In the same period, 11 Israelis were killed by Palestinian home-made rockets. During the bombings of Gaza in 2008-2009, over 1400 Palestinians and five Israelis were killed. While these numbers are clearly asymmetrical, a focus on violence alone obscures the reality of the occupation of Palestine since 1948. UN Special Rapporteur John Dugard has stated that acts committed against a military occupation may not be justifiable but must be understood not as mindless acts of terror but as "a painful but inevitable consequence of colonialism, apartheid or occupation."
Though Stephen Harper and Barack Obama are shameless in rolling out the red carpet for Benjamin Netanyahu; UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk has called on the world to act: "It is essential that those Israelis responsible for this lawless and murderous behavior, including political leaders who issued the orders, be held criminally accountable for their wrongful acts. It is time to insist on the end of the blockade of Gaza. The worldwide campaign of boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel is now a moral and political imperative."
Standing upto one of the worlds most powerful state's – who possesses nuclear capabilities, one of the largest militaries, has repeatedly rebuked international law, and continues an immoral occupation – hundreds of thousands of people have spilled onto the streets in every continent. Spain, Sweden, Greece, Jordan, Egypt, and Turkey have recalled their ambassadors to Israel. Perhaps most poignantly, human rights activists in South Africa called the deadly raid `Israel's Sharpeville' with a bold reminder that "the desperation of the oppressor is an indication of the beginning of freedom for the oppressed."
Harsha Walia is a South Asian activist and writer, formally trained in the law, who is based in Vancouver, Canada. This article originally appeared as an op-ed in the major (corporate) daily Vancouver Sun and is written with that audience in mind.
All at Sea
From Klinghoffer to the Gaza Flotilla
By YVONNE RIDLEY
June 2, 2010
I wonder how many of you remember the hijacking of the Italian cruise ship the Achille Lauro way back in October 1985?
Four members of the Palestine Liberation Front took control of the liner off Egypt as she was sailing from Alexandria to Port Said. It was a bungled operation in which the hijackers killed disabled Jewish-American passenger Leon Klinghoffer and then threw his body overboard.
The incident created headlines around the world and polarized people over the Palestinian cause. It also prompted the law makers to create new legislation making it an international crime for anyone to take a ship by force.
And this is the reason for the brief history lesson - under article 3 of the Rome Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation of 1988, it is an international crime for any person to seize or exercise control over a ship by force, and also a crime to injure or kill any person in the process.
The treaty necessarily adopts a strict approach. One cannot attack a ship and then claim self-defense if the people on board resist the unlawful use of violence.
In other words, according to international law, the actions of the Israeli military were beyond the law and those involved should be treated no differently than, say, the Somali pirates who are also in the habit of boarding ships by force.
Any rights to self defense in such dramatic circumstances rests purely with the passengers and crew on board. Under international maritime law you are legally entitled to resist unlawful capture, abduction and detention.
What those on board the Freedom Flotilla did was perfectly legal. I believe they acted with great courage in the face of heavily armed IDF commandos, while others might have thought their actions reckless. Whatever your view, a number paid the ultimate price for their international right to resist.
Israel now stands virtually alone having exposed itself as a pariah state. I wrote an article last year calling them the Pirates of the Mediterranean after they had illegally boarded other aid ships, kidnapping crew and passengers.
Now I want you to ask yourself this question … if a group of Somali pirates had forced their way onto half a dozen humanitarian aid ships from the West, slaughtering around nine or 10 people and injuring scores more what do you think the international reaction would have been?
Let me tell you. A NATO task force would by now be steaming towards the Horn of Africa accompanied by a couple of drones and various members of the press to record the occasion. (On a point of interest the Achille Lauro sank in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Somalia in 1994.)
So why is Israel allowed to get away with murder? In a pre-meditated act the Zionist State showed once again its total disregard for human life – and international law.There were pensioners, women and children on board those ships which were carrying bags of cement, electric wheelchairs, toys, medicines and water purifiers for Gaza's people.
Realizing Israel had shot itself in the foot, Isrsael's prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu then started shooting from the lip.
He asked us to believe that his troops were acting in self-defense. And then, 24 hours later, given time to come up with more lies he told the world that the soldiers were armed with paintballs and had not expected to use their weapons. Not content with insulting our intelligence he said his nice, cuddly IDF folk had only boarded the boats to carry out an inspection and inventory.
Then backing him up was Mark Regev, Israel's political Pinocchio. He reckons these evil-doers on board the boats grabbed the IDF's real guns and used them to fire on the soldiers.
These are the same soldiers that come from an elite, highly trained, crack squad … hmm Mr Regev, if that's the case why would you send in the A-Team if they were just going to do an inventory? And if they were such a hot squad how did a bunch of civilians manage to overpower them and give them a good slap?
Either Israeli soldiers fight like a bunch of old women – which Hizb'Allah says they do – or they intended to massacre those on board to make sure that no other peace activists get involved in trying to help the Palestinian people of Gaza.
Well if that was the aim then it has failed. As I write this some heroic friends of mine from the Free Gaza Movement including Malaysian lawyer Matthias Chang are bound for Gaza now onboard the appropriately named ship Rachel Corrie.
Yvonne Ridley is a British Journalist and author of In The Hands of the Taliban which is due to be updated and republished later this year. She is also a presenter for The Agenda and co-presenter of the Rattansi & Ridley show, both of which are broadcast on Press TV. In addition she is a founding member of the Stop the War Coalition as well as the RESPECT political party.
Freed Eyewitnesses Begin to Speak Out
June 3, 2010 Contact: email@example.com
Washington Report on Middle Eastern Affairs
Gaza Freedom Flotilla eyewitness accounts contradict Israeli reports that its navy commando units used paintball guns and stun grenades only in "self defense" during their brutal assault on the international aid flotilla on May 31. Israeli troops killed at least 9 people, but the names of the victims and numbers are still unclear. Israel is deporting more than 600 activists detained during the attack in response to the UN Security Council's call for the immediate release of ships and civilians held by the country. A press release from the Free Gaza Movement reports that four Arab-Israeli political leaders are still detained and face charges on several serious criminal offenses for their participation in the peaceful attempt to break the Israeli blockade.
Crew from the Irish ship Rachel Corrie, named after an American peace activist who was crushed by a bulldozer as she attempted to protect a Palestinian home from being demolished, say they are determined to finish their journey to Gaza, despite the Israeli attack earlier this week. The ship carries 15 activists, including Máiread Corrigan, a Northern Irish peace activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and Denis Halliday, who ran U.N. humanitarian aid programs in Iraq in 1997-98 before resigning in protest at economic sanctions against the country. An American ship is also expected to arrive at approximately the same time next week.
Egypt has eased its blockade and opened the Rafah border crossing as a result of the assault, and hundreds of Palestinians have been able to leave Gaza to buy badly needed supplies. Urgently needed humanitarian aid, including blankets, tents, and power generators are now reaching Gaza through Rafah.
The Israeli government has actively used Youtube and other social media to release new, heavily edited footage from Monday's raid to try to support their disputed reports amid staunch worldwide criticism of their deadly operation. For more information please watch the Youtube clips, listen to the radio shows and read the reports below.
Global Condemnation of Israeli Armed Attack on Gaza-Bound Freedom Flotilla: At Least 10 Dead, Hundreds Remain in Detention
Amy Goodman Show
It was early Monday morning as Israeli soldiers stormed the Gaza-bound international aid convoy called the Freedom Flotilla in international waters about forty miles off the coast of Gaza. The six ships had nearly 700 international activists on board and 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid. They were aiming to break the three-year-long siege of the Gaza Strip. Israeli commandos landed on the lead ship in the convoy, the Turkish Mavi Marmara, which had about 600 activists on board. At least ten and as many as nineteen civilians on board the ship have been reported to have died in the attack. Israeli troops proceeded to seize the Mavi Marmara and the five other ships and take them to the port of Ashdod. Hundreds of activists are being detained in an Israeli prison, and nearly fifty others have been deported. The United Nations Security Council has condemned the attack and called for the immediate release of the ships and the civilians held by Israel and called for an impartial investigation. All the permanent members of the Security Council except for the United States explicitly called for Israel's three-year blockade of the Gaza Strip to be lifted. Turkey has compared Israel's actions to state terrorism. We speak to Adam Shapiro, Amira Hass, Ali Abunimah and Richard Falk. [includes rush transcript]
Adam Shapiro, co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement and a board member of the Free Gaza Movement.
Ali Abunimah, co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse.
Richard Falk, United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories.
Amira Hass, columnist with Israel's Ha'aretz newspaper and the only Israeli journalist to have spent several years living in and reporting from Gaza and the West Bank.
•Palestinian President Abbas Faces Uproar for Aiding US-Israeli Derailment of UN Report on Gaza Assault
•Israel's Explanation for Deadly Gaza Aid Attack "Full of Holes as a Window Screen"–Former US Ambassador Edward Peck
•As Global Outrage Mounts, Israel Deputy UN Ambassador Defends Deadly Attack on Gaza Aid Ships Citing "Danger" of Flotilla
•The Dangers and Difficulties of Reporting from Gaza: Two Journalists Recount Their Experiences
•Boycott, Divest From, and Sanction Israel?: A Debate on BDS with Omar Barghouti and Rabbi Arthur Waskow
This transcript is available free of charge. However, donations help us provide closed captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing on our TV broadcast. Thank you for your generous contribution.
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AMY GOODMAN: We've been here in Louisiana going through southern Louisiana and the Mississippi Delta since last Friday, and our intention today was to bring you a special for the hour, but because of events in the Middle East, we are switching gears. And we'll bring you many of the voices, we'll introduce you to many of the people we met, in the coming days. Right now we turn, though, to the Middle East. Anjali?
ANJALI KAMAT: That's right, Amy. We turn now to the Middle East. It was early Monday morning as Israeli soldiers stormed the Gaza-bound international aid convoy called the Freedom Flotilla in international waters about forty miles off the coast of Gaza. The six ships had nearly 700 international activists on board and 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid. They were aiming to break the three-year-long siege of the Gaza Strip.
Israeli commandos landed on the lead ship in the convoy, the Turkish Mavi Marmara, which had about 600 activists on board. These are excerpts from the raw video captured by an Al Jazeera producer on the ship minutes before the ship lost satellite contact with the world. It features two of the journalists on board.
HASSAN GHANI: This is the MV Marmara. This is Hassan Ghani reporting for Press TV. We have had several injuries here. One is critical. He has been injured in the head. We think he may die if he does not receive medical treatment immediately. Another person being taken past in front of me right now has been seriously injured. We are being hit by tear gas, stun grenades. We have navy ships on either side and helicopters overhead. We are being attacked from every single side. This is in international waters, not Israeli waters, not in the sixty-eight-mile exclusion zone. We are being attacked in international waters, completely illegally.
JAMAL ELSHAYYAL: To confirm and update you, the Israeli navy has now boarded the Mavi Marmara, where 600 civilians have been trying to deliver aid to Gaza. Live munition has been fired. There are reports that one person has been killed. Several, I have seen with my eyes, have been injured. We've seen them. Doctors trying to work to heal the injured. The organizers onboard the Mavi Marmara, after two people have been confirmed killed by the Israeli army, have now asked all the passengers to go inside. They've raised the white flag, this after Israeli commandos descended upon the ship in international water from a helicopter, as well as surrounded it by vessels from all sides. Tens of people, civilians, have been injured. There are still sounds of live fire, despite the white flag being raised. Tens of people have been injured, two people have been killed, onboard the ship which holds 600 activists, parliamentarians, women, children and the elderly, all of whom are civilians. Organizers have asked everyone to go inside, so this is where we shall head. Jamal Elshayyal, Al Jazeera, onboard the Mavi Marmara in the international waters of the Mediterranean Sea.
ANJALI KAMAT: That was the last bits of video from an Al Jazeera producer onboard the Mavi Marmara before losing satellite contact with the world early Monday morning. At least ten and as many, according to some reports, as nineteen civilians onboard the ship have been reported to have died in the attack. There has been a near-complete blackout of information.
Israeli troops proceeded to seize the Mavi Marmara and the five other ships and take them to the port of Ashdod. Hundreds of activists are being detained in an Israeli prison, and nearly fifty others have been deported. Israel has still not released the names of the dead, the injured, and the detained international civilians.
Three Turkish activists who were deported back to Istanbul late Monday night spoke to journalists. This is Mutlu Tiryaki described the ordeal onboard the Mavi Marmara.
MUTLU TIRYAKI: [translated] When we stepped on the board, they emerged from helicopters and military boats and attacked us. They approached our vessel with military ships after issuing a military warning. We told them we were unarmed. Our sole weapon was water.
ANJALI KAMAT: The United Nations Security Council has condemned the attack and called for the immediate release of the ships and the civilians held by Israel and also called for an impartial investigation. All of the permanent member of the Security Council except for the United States explicitly called for Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip to be lifted.
Turkey has compared Israel's actions to state terrorism. At the emergency Security Council meeting Monday, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu described the incident as murder and piracy.
AHMET DAVUTOGLU: This action was uncalled for. Israeli actions constitute a grave breach of international law. In simplest terms, this is tantamount to banditry and piracy. It is murder conducted by a state. It has no excuses, no justification whatsoever. A nation state that follows this path has lost its legitimacy as a respectful member of the international community.
AMY GOODMAN: But Israel insists that its troops had acted in self-defense after being attacked by those onboard. Israel's deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, Daniel Carmon, said the civilians on the ship were not peace activists.
DANIEL CARMON: What kind of peace activists use knives, clubs, fire from weapons stolen from soldiers and other weapons to attack soldiers who boarded the ship in accordance with international law? What kind of humanitarian activists, some with known terrorist history, embrace Hamas, a terrorist organization that openly shuns a two-state solution and calls for Israel's destruction, defying conditions set by the international community and the Quartet? The answer is clear: there are not peace activists.
AMY GOODMAN: Although governments across the world have strongly condemned Israel's attack, the United States says it's still gathering the facts and regrets the loss of life. This is the US deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, Alejandro Wolff.
ALEJANDRO WOLFF: We are working to ascertain the facts. We expect a credible and transparent investigation and strongly urge the Israeli government to investigate the incident fully. As I stated in the council chamber in December 2008, when we were confronted with a similar situation, mechanisms exist for the transfer of humanitarian assistance to Gaza by member states and groups that want to do so. These non-provocative and non-confrontational mechanisms should be the ones used for the benefit of all those in Gaza.
AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, thousands of people in cities across the world, from Turkey to Europe to the United States to Pakistan, have come out on the streets to protest the bloody attack on the humanitarian aid convoy.
PROTESTER: [translated] This is totally inhumane. None can defend this inhumane violence.
PROTESTERS: Free, free Gaza! Free, free Gaza! Stop Israeli war crimes!
PROTESTER: I'm here today because I'm an American Jew and I totally am opposed to what Israel is doing. Killing those people on the boat who were trying to bring material aid to a starving, imprisoned people is an insane crime, and it doesn't represent the values of Jews and all people around the world.
PROTESTER: [translated] The truth is that Israel is not the only one responsible. All the official Arab regimes are responsible for this crime. Obama is responsible. The international community is responsible. The International Criminal Court, they became responsible when they remained silent about the crimes being committed against the people of Gaza.
PROTESTER: Continuously breaking international law, and it has never lived up to any United Nation resolution. And we have seen a lot of times that both the European Union and the United States have told Israel that they went too far.
PROTESTER: [translated] It depends on people. We have to force our governments to react. We have to force Europe to react, because this is a humiliation to Europe. A cocky mobster who dares to do what Israel has done in the Mediterranean, in international waters—what kind of security do we have in the Mediterranean? That's the question we should ask ourselves.
PROTESTER: I know the people onboard. They are people from all walks of life. There are teachers. There are professors. There are journalists. There are politicians. There are cleaners. These are people like you and me who believe in taking aid to poor people. And these are the people that are being gunned down in cold blood by Israel today.
AMY GOODMAN: Voices of shock and outrage from around the world over the Israeli commando attack on the Gaza peace flotilla. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, the War and Peace Report. When we come back, we'll be joined by a number of guests. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: We're in New Orleans, Louisiana, here to cover BP and the geyser that continues to gush from the bottom of the sea. But because of events in the Middle East, we have switched gears today to cover what happened, the Israeli commando attack on the Free Gaza Freedom Flotilla.
We're joined by a number of guests, but we're going to begin in New York with Adam Shapiro. He's the co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement and a board member of the Free Gaza Movement, one of the groups that coordinated the Freedom Flotilla. His wife Huwaida Arraf, the chair of the Free Gaza Movement, was on the flotilla.
Adam, can you explain to us what you understand happened on—well, it was early Sunday morning in the—what happened to the flotilla?
ADAM SHAPIRO: The boats were making their way, the six ships, in international waters, far in international waters. They were still at least fifty miles offshore, and so well off the coasts of Israel and Gaza. And as they were making their way, Israeli warships surrounded the flotilla, all the ships, and the first ship to come under attack by helicopter, with commandos coming down from helicopter, as we've seen on the media, on the footage, was this big Turkish ship, the Mavi Marmara. And soldiers, as they came down, started opening fire immediately, as was reported by the Al Jazeera correspondence on live stream that we have. And the soldiers injured and eventually killed at least one person, before other passengers decided at that point to try to act in self-defense and to try to stop soldiers, more soldiers, from coming onto the ship.
What needs to be acknowledged here is that Israel acted violently by attacking our ships, to begin with. And under international law, under the law of the seas, our people, as the people on that ship coming under such an attack, an illegal attack on the high seas, do have a right to defend themselves. Now, we don't necessarily encourage people to take up any kind of weapons against the Israelis, and certainly our activists train in nonviolence, but given the kind of scenario that was unfolding on that boat, I certainly do understand the desire of people to try to protect themselves and try to protect others who were already injured.
The other ships, including the one that my wife Huwaida was on, also came under attack. We don't know, because we didn't have satellite feeds on those ships, the kinds of attacks that they suffered. And we still don't know, because all of the detainees are being kept from any kind of communication with media, with their families, even up until now with their lawyers and with their embassies.
ANJALI KAMAT: Adam Shapiro, do you know how many people died? And do you know how many people are being detained by Israel?
ADAM SHAPIRO: Until now, we still don't know the exact number of dead. Israel refuses to release the names of the people that it killed, despite numerous requests from various embassies, some governments and, of course, the media. And the exact number of dead, the exact number of injured, and the exact number of who are in detention, we do not know, because, again, we are completely—this is becoming a major coverup by Israel to keep all information blocked, blanketed from getting out.
ANJALI KAMAT: Have you heard from your wife, Huwaida Arraf?
ADAM SHAPIRO: Literally just now, as I came on this program, I received confirmation that she has been released. She is without phones and without any money. They took all of her stuff from her. But she's been released from prison and should be on her way to Jerusalem hopefully right now.
AMY GOODMAN: I'd like to go to Israel and the West Bank. I want to see right now if Amira Hass is on the line. She is the reporter for Ha'aretz.
Amira, we wanted to get the response to what has taken place in Israel and the Occupied Territories and what you understand, because this is the big issue right now, that the Israeli government has spoken out about what has happened, but very few people understand actually, outside of what the Israeli government has said, what took place on these ships. Certainly in the United States, the news media is quoting the Israeli government, the prime minister, various military spokespeople. But since hundreds of people have been detained, and we don't know the names of the dead or the injured, we are not hearing any other part of the story.
AMIRA HASS: Exactly, Amy. The details cannot be told yet, because we don't—other than the soldiers and the few people who returned to their homes, in Turkey mostly or in Greece, we don't have details yet, because we depend only on the official versions of the Israel—of the Israeli army and the Israeli government. I'm here in Ramallah, and so I don't know—I only follow on the news and what my friends tell me in Israel.
On the one hand, there have been quite a few demonstrations, as I understand, against the attack and against the decision to stop the flotilla. There is a strike in Palestinian communities in Israel proper. There is a strike in Gaza, I think. But also in the West Bank, the police cleared a strike and three days of mourning. In the West Bank, I've seen that the Palestinian police is trying very hard to prevent people from clashing with the Israeli army, feeling more—feeling deterioration. So what I've noticed is there is—there are many, many security vehicles of the Palestinian Authority near junctions, near areas where the Israeli army is located. They opened, as I read—I haven't seen it—they opened wake houses in several municipalities all over the West Bank. But people—there were a few demonstrations yesterday in the West Bank, demanding actually the Palestinian Authority to stop all negotiations with Israel and to stop the military coordination with Israel, which is a very—it's a sore wound in Palestinian life, this military security coordination. So far, as I understand, the PA of course has condemned, but has not—is not reacting to this demand, to the public demand. We don't know what will happen next.
But I think that beyond those details, what's becoming clearer and clearer—and I think that's also to many Israelis—is that who is really under blockade is not Gaza and not the Palestinians, but Israel, under a self-imposed blockade, because they think they could continue to violate our—not only international law or concepts, but also common sense. It's all reacting against the common sense of every normal person in this world, you know, like if you think about Noam Chomsky not allowed to enter the country. So this is the main thing we can see. From the very beginning, the decision to not allow this ship from entering Gaza, from reaching Gaza, then this attack on civilian ships and then expecting the people will accept this attack, as Adam said, in international water. So it's a complete act of piracy. And then these soldiers expect to be received as if they were, I don't know, guests. So this shows about a certain—and unfortunately, the Israeli society is behind the government in that sense, still behind the government. So it is under blockade. The Israeli society is under self-imposed siege.
ANJALI KAMAT: Amira Hass, you were supposed to be on one of the boats in the flotilla?
AMIRA HASS: Yes, I registered, as I—as you know, we are not—Israeli journalists are not allowed to enter Gaza through Erez, and I did enter—over the past year and a half, I did enter three times, so-called illegally. And the first time was with a boat. And I registered to enter, and I was supposed to be on the boat with Dror Feiler, the Israeli Swedish activist and musician. But unfortunately, because they kept postponing the date, I had something I could not cancel in Jerusalem at the end of last week, so, unfortunately, I did not join it. Or fortunately.
AMY GOODMAN: Amira Hass, you talked about the protests in the Palestinian territories. What about in the Israeli Jewish community? What has been the response? And what are you seeing on Israeli television? What kind of video? What is the story, the narrative, you're getting?
AMIRA HASS: There were. Israeli activists has been—has had several demonstrations since yesterday, as I could tell by emails and by what friends told me, and Palestinians in Israel, as well, of course. There are all sorts of condemnations by Israeli organizations and organizations for human rights organizations. So there is an activity, as an—adding to the quite rejectivity of Israeli Jews against the occupation, which we see permanently. But it's an activity of a minority. There are, of course, publicists and some public personalities who are alarmed by Israeli blindness, I think, as I can tell by the reports.
Now, the Israeli version, as is seen and is almost the only version that is shown to the Israeli public, is that once they went down the ropes, the soldiers, they were immediately attacked by some people, who had with them knives and sticks or whatever, and were beating them. The official—the video, the photos. And you can hear also on the voice—you can hear that the soldiers are surprised or shocked. And so are their officers, their commanders, which watch everything through the—whatever equipment they have. I tend to believe that they were indeed surprised. They did not expect resistance. They did not expect to be challenged. I cannot tell if it was after—by what we are shown, if it was after some shots were—that they shot and killed some people, or was it simultaneously when they slid down from the helicopters. But this is what is seen on the Israeli—on Israeli TV. And this is also what—I read some testimonies of soldiers, and this is also what soldiers tell, told from a military correspondent of ours who of course got the permission to speak to them. We don't get any detailed account of anyone of those who were on the ship.
ANJALI KAMAT: I want to bring Ali Abuninah, the co-founder of the Electronic Intifada and author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse, into the discussion. He's joining us from Chicago.
Ali, can you talk about the reaction from the United States from the Obama administration and also at the Security Council?
ALI ABUNIMAH: Yes. Good morning.
Among the more than 700 people on the ship from about thirty-two countries are thirteen United States citizens, including a former ambassador, Ed Peck, who has been released and is reported to be on his way back to the United States. But as in the previous Israeli acts of piracy and war against ships heading to Gaza—you remember when Cynthia McKinney was kidnapped and jailed in Israel for trying to reach Gaza—once again, the United States government is saying and doing nothing publicly that suggests any great concern for its citizens who have been kidnapped by Israel.
And the statements from the Obama administration, particularly that by the US representative at the United Nations, Alejandro Wolff, were really quite shocking and astonishing. You played a clip during the news, where he suggests really that the flotilla were themselves to blame, talking about using non-confrontational and non-provocational methods rather than going by ship—in other words, suggesting—agreeing with the outrageous Israeli claims that trying to reach Gaza with humanitarian aid is somehow a provocation or a confrontation. And Ambassador Wolff also reaffirmed Israel's so-called right to self-defense in this context, which suggests that the United States, unless it makes clear otherwise, believes that attacking a civilian ship on the high seas and massacring an unknown number of its passengers is somehow self-defense.
I think we also have to keep our eye on the context here, Anjali. Just a week or so ago, the United States Congress voted by 410-to-four—I'll repeat that, 410-to-four—to a request from the Obama administration for additional military aid, another $205 million. This was clearly a political move by the Obama administration to fund the rather useless Iron Dome rocket defense as a way to appease Israel politically. But the message Israel got from this, as it has gotten from US and international complicity and complacency, the failure to hold Israel accountable for the war crimes documented in the Goldstone report; the failure to hold Israel accountable for the act of international terrorism and murder in a hotel room in Dubai; the failure to hold Israel accountable for four years of murderous siege on Gaza that has killed, by itself, 400 Palestinians for lack of access to medical aid and other needed supplies. The failure to hold Israel accountable in all these ways has sent Israel the message: do what you like, get away with whatever you want to, until people hold Israel accountable.
And so, what the Freedom Flotilla was, was it was a peaceful, unarmed people's navy, assembled to fill the void and the vacuum where the Obama administration should be, where the UN Security Council should be, where the Arab governments should be, where the European Union should be. And it is a shocking outrage and a crime that will live in infamy, along with the bombing of the King David Hotel, along with the attack on the USS Liberty, along with so many other appalling crimes, that international humanitarian workers bringing aid were attacked on the high seas.
I spoke to you a few months ago when I was in Cairo with the Gaza Freedom March. By now, people have tried to reach Gaza to break the siege by land. They have tried by sea. And they have lost their lives. They have given their lives in the cause of breaking this siege on Gaza. And we have to ask, we have to ask, for what crime are 1.5 million people in Gaza being held prisoner? There is a museum in Berlin, which I visited as a schoolboy, to those who were killed trying to cross, those who were machine-gunned trying to cross over the Berlin Wall. Well, an unknown number of people, because Israel won't tell us, were machine-gunned for trying to break this blockade. When will there be accountability? And when will the Obama administration stop this outrageous complicity, this enabling, this acting as an accomplice with these crimes against people in Palestine and now against Americans, Turks, Greeks, Jordanians, Palestinians, Lebanese, Swedes, French people, German people, members of Parliament, doctors, retired people, trying to bring medicine to people in Gaza? That our government has not stood up and condemned this in the clearest possible terms is a sign that something is sick in the United States' system when it comes to speaking about and dealing with Israel. There is a sickness that has to be addressed.
AMY GOODMAN: Ali Abunimah is speaking to us from Chicago. He's the founder of the Electronic Intifada. Adam Shapiro in the studio with—in New York at Democracy Now!. Amira Hass is with us from Ramallah in the West Bank. When we come back from break, we're going to Richard Falk, the UN special rapporteur for human rights in the Palestinian territories, to talk about international law.
I'm Amy Goodman with Anjali Kamat, and we're broadcasting from New Orleans, from New Orleans, Louisiana, where the BP oil catastrophe continues to unfold. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, the War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman with Anjali Kamat. We're in New Orleans; our guests are around the world. We're going to turn right now to Richard Falk, the UN special rapporteur for human rights in the Palestinian territories.
This issue of international law, of international waters, Richard Falk, talk about your reaction to what took place. I had originally said on Sunday morning; in fact, it was 4:00 Monday morning on the waters, on the high seas, when the Israeli commandos raided the Gaza Freedom Flotilla.
RICHARD FALK: Good morning, Amy. This was a shocking incident that involved, as your other guests have said, a complete disregard of international law, in several respects. It was an act of naked aggression. It was done on the high seas. It was done in defiance of elementary humanitarian standards. It was known that this flotilla had no weapons. It was not a security issue by the remotest stretch of the imagination. If there was a right of self-defense, it belonged to the people onboard these ships. Israel, as the aggressing state and political actor, had no claim whatsoever of self-defense. It's an absurdity. And one can only imagine if another country that the United States didn't like had engaged in this kind of behavior, we would have been denouncing them or, worse, using force. One can only imagine what would happen if Iran had done something of this comparably outrageous character and sought to provide some kind of legal cover for it, while silencing those that actually experienced the incident.
So I feel that we've almost never seen such a direct confrontation with the most elementary principles of international law. And it is a disgrace that our government has decided to stand apart from all other countries in the world, including our normal European friends, and withheld a denunciation and a call for lifting the blockade, because one needs to appreciate that underneath this criminal act, which amounts to a crime against humanity, underneath this has been the almost three years of criminal blockade of the people of Gaza. The blockade is a direct violation of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention that prohibits collective punishment. And this is one of the first examples where a civilian population has been locked inside a zone that has been subjected to this kind of mental and physical threat to subsistence and survival.
ANJALI KAMAT: Richard Falk, given the international of outcry over this incident, do you think there will be enough pressure to implement the recommendations of the Goldstone report to finally lift the siege on Gaza?
RICHARD FALK: It is hard to tell at this point. What is clear is that the United States continues in its role as the protector of Israeli impunity in circumstances that are so extreme that it will build additional anti-US attitudes throughout the world, not only in the Islamic world. And it is probably a matter that will be determined in large part by how sustained the civil society reaction to these events are. I've said for some time that the best hope for the Palestinians is not at a governmental level or through reliance on the United Nations, but rather through the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign, which has increasingly come to resemble the anti-apartheid campaign that was so successful in delegitimizing the racist regime in South Africa. I think this legitimacy war is being waged now as the primary arena of struggle. And it has shown the immoral failure of established governments to do what should have been done years ago and insisted that this blockade be lifted and used nonviolent coercion by way of sanctions in the event that Israel continued to refuse to end the blockade. It is a crime that has no borders at this point. And it's only the peoples of the world, really, that represent the conscience of humanity in a circumstance of this kind.
AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Richard Falk, UN special rapporteur for human rights in the Palestinian territories and the Occupied Territories. The countries that have called in the Israeli ambassador for an explanation are Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Cyprus, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Jordan, New Zealand, among others.
Ali Abunimah, can you talk about the videotape? And again, we have to stress, in the brief coverage that we see in US media right now, because we do not even know the names of the dead or the injured, not to mention hundreds of people who are now in jail in Israel, we're only getting one side here. But the videotape that the Israeli government is showing of what happened on the lead ship, on the Turkish ship, Ali?
ALI ABUNIMAH: Yes. I mean, what we have to do is put all this in the context of Israel's propaganda strategy. What they've done is imposed a total news block-out—blackout. Hundreds of people are detained. They've had no access to lawyers, certainly no access to media. It was reported there was one Al Jazeera cameraman, of the six Al Jazeera staff who were kidnapped with the ships, who was released. And what he said is that all the passengers were allowed to leave the ships only with their passports, with no other personal belongings. He was personally attacked by Israeli soldiers while he was filming, and his camera smashed. In any case, no journalists were allowed to leave the ships with any film or any recordings whatsoever. We don't know the names of the dead. The families of all those passengers are anxiously awaiting news of their loved ones. Why is this? So that the Israeli narrative can get a long head start. This is all about the Israeli propaganda strategy to give the Israeli propagandists, like Mark Regev, a free run. They've had more than twenty-four hours. And, Amy, it's working in the mainstream media, because they're only reporting, you know, the atrocious reporting on National Public Radio and on the BBC, which is taking mostly the Israeli version.
Even the videos the Israelis received, what they do confirm to us is that Israel attacked a civilian ship with attack helicopters, speedboats and commandos. Now, they show people fending off the soldiers. I mean, in this country, in the United States, people lionize the passengers on Flight 93 who tried to fight off the hijackers to no avail. So there was a natural reaction there. What we don't know is when that happened. The Al Jazeera footage, which came out before the feed was cut by Israel, showed people—or there was evidence of people being shot at and killed as soon as the Israelis attacked. Hanin Zoabi, the member of Parliament in the Knesset, the Palestinian who was released and gave a press conference today, talked about the sudden attack with sound bombs, tear gas, explosions. The same—the Al Jazeera journalist who was released said the same thing. Because the Israelis are obscuring or removing the time stamps from the videos they are releasing, we have no idea when those videos were taken, and they're showing very short clips. But what is not in doubt and what nobody disputes, not even the Israelis, is that an Israeli military force carried out an unprovoked attack on the high seas against a civilian vessel, and people have been killed, people who were on a humanitarian mission. And there is no justification for that.
AMY GOODMAN: Adam Shapiro, we want to bring you in before the end.
ADAM SHAPIRO: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Adam, we want to bring you in before the end, because in addition to what happened on the high seas, you have the West Bank attack on a young Cooper Union art student, a student in New York who was in the West Bank. Can you explain who she is and what happened?
ADAM SHAPIRO: As you said, Emily [Henochowicz] is a twenty-one-year-old Cooper Union art student who was there in the West Bank joining the International Solidarity Movement as an activist protesting what's going on in the West bank. I mean, obviously, Gaza is very bad, but there continues to be land confiscation, home demolitions, the building of the wall in the West Bank. Emily was attending a protest at Qalandia checkpoint, demonstrating against what happened to our flotilla. The Israelis opened a barrage of tear-gas canisters, fired at very close range, at her specifically. Eyewitness accounts talk about two tear-gas canisters being shot right at her feet and then a third being shot at her head, hitting her in the left eye, I believe. And we have received word from the doctors that she has lost her left eye.
This is yet another attack on an unarmed international civilian coming to join the Palestinians in protest, coming to stand up for human rights. There is a war. There is a war now. Israel has launched this war. It launched it earlier with attacks on Rachel Corrie, on Tom Hurndall and other internationals, but this is now an open war Israel has launched on foreigners. There is no citizen. There should be travel warnings issued now to all foreigners trying to enter Israel or the Occupied Territories. You are targeted by Israel.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you all for being with us. I want to thank Adam Shapiro in New York; also Amira Hass of Ha'aretz, speaking to us from Ramallah; Ali Abunimah in Chicago; Richard Falk, speaking to us, UN special rapporteur on the Palestinian territories. Two more boats are headed to Gaza to deliver humanitarian aid. Mairead Maguire is on one of them, among many. She is the Nobel Peace Prize winner.
More Gaza Flotilla Detainees Released;
Larudee Badly Beaten But Now Headed to Greece
Retired diplomat Ed Peck, USS Liberty vet Joe Meadors reach home and speak out;
other US detainees reportedly leaving Israel
El Cerrito, CA – Dr. Paul Larudee, a passenger on the Freedom Flotilla that was attacked by Israel before it could deliver its cargo of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, was badly beaten and tasered during the Memorial Day commando raid, but according to latest reports he was released from detention late Wednesday night and is now in flight to Greece.
Larudee, a resident of Richmond, CA, participated in the international flotilla as part of a delegation from the Free Palestine Movement (FPM), a California-based non-profit. Two other members of the FPM group - Ambassador Ed Peck of Chevy Chase, MD, a retired US diplomat, and Joe Meadors of Corpus Christi, TX, a USS Liberty veteran (hence now a survivor of two unprovoked Israeli attacks on the high seas) - have returned home safely and are now speaking out about their ordeal. As of Wednesday afternoon California time, two other members of the group - Gene St. Onge and Janet Kobren, both of Oakland, CA - have been held up for the last 12 hours at Israel's international airport near Tel Aviv. but are expected to board a flight to Istanbul soon, before proceeding home to the US.
Gayle McLaughlin, Mayor of Richmond, said "I have worked with Paul on local housing issues in Richmond, and I know he has a track record of commitment to nonviolence in standing up against the oppression of Palestinians. I condemn the Israeli assault on this humanitarian flotilla and join others in calling for an end to the blockade of Gaza."
Ambassador Peck this morning described the Israeli commando raid on the Sfendoni, the Freedom Flotilla ship he and other FPM delegates were aboard: "The first thing we knew was the sound of footsteps, and my eyelids flicked open, and there they were, heavily armed. The Israeli government keeps referring to the paint guns, but the paint guns were attached to the automatic weapons and the stun grenades and the pepper spray and the tasers and everything else that these guys carry. ... And it was all over in the inside of the ship, where I was. But up on the upper deck, where some people had been sitting and sleeping, they made an effort to peacefully prevent the Israelis from taking over the wheelhouse, and we had a number of people injured in that. Nothing of a critical nature, but we had people on crutches and people with bandages and peoples with their arms in slings, and the captain had his neck in a brace."
"I was deported for having violated Israeli law," Peck added. "I asked [the Israeli official processing his deportation], 'What law have I violated?' He said, 'You have illegally entered Israel.' I said, 'Well, now, wait. Our ship was taken over by armed commandos. I was brought here at gunpoint against my will, and you call that illegally entering Israel?'"
To Navy vet Joe Meadors, "There is no doubt that the Israelis were committing piracy on the high seas against the Freedom Flotilla and used deadly force against unarmed humanitarians whose only crime was defending themselves against a sea and airborne invasion by heavily armed aggressors."
"As a survivor of the June 8, 1967 Israeli attack on the USS Liberty," Meadors said, "I am fully aware of the tactics the Israelis are capable of and willing to use with impunity and without remorse. That time they fired machine guns, cannon, rockets, napalm, and torpedoes on us, then deliberately machine-gunned life rafts we had dropped over the side in anticipation of abandoning ship. And the only response from the American government was to impose a gag order on the crew of the USS Liberty."
"This time, too," Meadors continued, "the Israelis have shown no remorse, and I fear that the US government is again granting them impunity."
As to the other FPM detainees, St. Onge suffered a gash on his head when kicked by an Israeli soldier as he tried to protect a fellow passenger whom the commandos were beating on the deck of the Sfendoni, he told his wife Jan St. Onge. Kobren was allowed to make a brief phone call to the US from a women's prison unit in Beersheba, Israel, yesterday and reported that she is good health, but all the prisoners' belongings had been taken from them.
Larudee, 64, is a longtime activist in the struggle for justice for Palestine: he and Kobren co-founded the FPM in 2009, and he previously co-founded the Free Gaza Movement, the organization that first broke the Israeli blockade of Gaza from the sea in 2008, and the International Solidarity Movement, a group that has sent hundred of Americans and other internationals to support non-violent Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation. Paul holds a Ph.D. in linguistics and makes his living as a piano tuner.
At least seven other US citizens took part in the Freedom Flotilla under the auspices of other organizations. One, Huwaida Arraf, chair of the Free Gaza Movement, was released Tuesday. The FPM has no confirmed information about the status of the other six: Iara Lee, a filmmaker from San Francisco; Kathy Sheetz, a retired nurse from Richmond, CA, and Woods Hole, MA; Ann Wright, a retired U.S. Army Colonel and a U.S. diplomat until she resigned in opposition to the Iraq war; David Schermerhorn, a film producer from Deer Harbor, WA; Fatima Mohammadi, a longtime activist from Chicago; and Khalid Turaani, who was founder and executive director of the former American Muslims for Jerusalem and now lives in Dubai.
For more information about the Free Palestine Movement, see www.freepalestinemovement.org <http://www.freepalestinemovement.org> .
For information on other groups that played major roles in the Freedom Flotilla, see savegaza.eu/eng/ <http://savegaza.eu/eng/> (the European Campaign to End the Siege of Gaza), www.freegaza.org/ <http://www.freegaza.org/> (the Free Gaza Movement), and www.ihh.org.tr/filistin/en/ <http://www.ihh.org.tr/filistin/en/> (The Foundation For Human Rights And Freedoms And Humanitarian Relief of Turkey - IHH).
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