NEAR EAST REPORT AIPAC'S BIWEEKLY ON AMERICAN MIDDLE EAST POLICY
Flotilla activists prepare to set sail for Gaza.
Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou has barred Gaza-bound ships
from leaving Greece.
Gaza Flotilla Goes Nowhere
The attempt to break the Israeli naval blockade of the Gaza Strip ended earlier this month with a whimper, when the boats bound for the Hamas-controlled territory were prevented from leaving Greece. At the same time, the publication of a U.N. report regarding the flotilla of May 2010 has been delayed at the request of the Turkish government. The Turks are believed to be unhappy with the findings of the report, which apparently declares that Israel's blockade is legal under international law, thereby pulling the rug out from under the maritime convoys. These two events may dissuade pro-Palestinian activists from trying to sail to Gaza again in the future, signaling the end of the flotilla era.
Premeditated ViolenceIn May 2010, a group of six ships carrying pro-Palestinian activists set sail for Gaza, with the stated goal of breaking Israel's maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by the U.S.-designated terrorist organization Hamas. On May 31, Israeli naval commandos intercepted the ships in international waters off Israel, attempting to board them and redirect them to the Israeli port of Ashdod for
While the passengers aboard five of the six ships responded peacefully, allowing the ships to be towed to Israel and their cargo transferred through Israel to Gaza, activists aboard the Turkish Mavi Marmara violently resisted. They used baseball bats and steel bars to attack the Israeli soldiers, who defended themselves with non-lethal weapons as well as live fire. As a result of the violence, nine Turkish activists were killed and seven Israeli soldiers were injured.
The events aboard the Mavi Marmara led to widespread condemnation of Israel and a crisis in Israel-Turkey relations. The underlying motivation for the blockade—ongoing rocket attacks from Gaza targeting Israeli civilians, designated as war crimes by human rights organizations—was ignored by much of the international community. Critics failed to understand or acknowledge that the flotilla organizers had rejected Israel's proposal to deliver the cargo through Ashdod, and that Israeli forces had acted in self-defense against a premeditated attack.
As most of the world rushed to denounce Israel, the U.S. Senate and House were steadfast in their support of the Jewish state. In letters addressed to President Obama, more than three-quarters of the House and Senate reaffirmed Israel's right to defend its citizens by preventing arms smuggling into Gaza. U.S. lawmakers also emphasized that the main organizer of the flotilla was the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), an organization with close ties to Hamas. The passengers who attacked the Israeli soldiers were extremist members of the IHH, who had proclaimed their willingness to be martyrs for the destruction of Israel.
More Unhelpful ProvocationsAttempting to repeat what they saw as a public relations success last year, pro-Palestinian activists again declared their intention to embark on a flotilla bound for Gaza this summer. They openly admitted that the flotilla was not a true humanitarian effort, but rather a confrontational act designed to put global pressure on Israel.
Numerous governments and international bodies publicly opposed the planned 2011 flotilla, including the United States, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the Quartet (the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia). "The Quartet strongly urges all those wishing to deliver goods to the people of Gaza to do so through established channels so that their cargo can be inspected and transferred via established land crossings," reads a Quartet statement.
In the end, this year's flotilla never made it very far. The government of Cyprus banned the flotilla ships from sailing from its ports, while the flagship of the 2010 flotilla, the Mavi Marmara, pulled out after the Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu called on the organizers to postpone the voyage. Two ships did not leave port because of damage they had sustained, which organizers attributed to Israeli sabotage.
As the remaining ships were preparing to set sail from Greece, the Greek government announced that it was forbidding any vessels bound for Gaza from leaving its ports. The government proposed to send aid to Gaza aboard Greek ships under U.N. supervision, but the organizers rejected the offer. When three ships defied the Greek orders and tried to slip away, they were intercepted and brought back to shore by the Greek coast guard. The remaining seven ships are currently moored in ports across Greece, under the supervision of the Greek security forces.
Waiting for the U.N.'s Palmer ReportJust as the flotilla activists were heading home, their efforts derailed, the U.N. announced that publication of a report on the events surrounding last year's flotilla had been delayed and that it would be filed by July 27. The report, authored by a four-member panel headed by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer, is expected to support Israel's positions on a number of points.
The report, according to sources, concludes that Israel's blockade of the terrorist-controlled Gaza Strip is legal and that the raid on the Mavi Marmara was conducted in accordance with international law. Furthermore, the report is believed to be critical of Turkey for not doing enough to prevent the flotilla from setting sail for Gaza and for conducting a tendentious investigation into the events in the aftermath of the violent skirmish at sea. Israel is criticized for using excessive force against the passengers of the Mavi Marmara.
In order to avoid wording that would cast Turkey in an unfavorable light, Turkish officials reportedly requested that the filing of the Palmer report be postponed. Israeli and Turkish officials are currently engaged in discussions with the goal of coming to an agreement over the content and the wording of the report. Such an agreement would play a key role in restoring relations between the two countries to their previous state.
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