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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 24, June 5, 2010

Freedom Flotilla Massacre In International Waters

A Crime Against Humanity

Thursday 10 June 2010, by Arshi Khan


Israeli attacks on the Freedom Flotilla ships in the morning of May 31 killing over 19 and injuring over 30 peace and humanitarian aid activists in the open seas (international waters, not Israeli zone) are brutal exposition of criminal acts under international law. Israeli helicopters and military ships carried out shooting over the unarmed persons without any warning simply for the reason that the ships were carrying humanitarian aid materials to the besieged Palestinians in Gaza suffering under intensive Israeli blockade since the summer of 2007. Despite the show of white flags and zero-provocation by the peace activists, the attackers failed to display any restraint, the communication lines of Flotilla ships were cut off and soon Israel resorted to media blackout on May 31 about the whereabouts and conditions of the injured civilians.

Humanitarian Advance against Blocakde

FREEDOM FLOTILLA was a kind of humanitarian march towards Gaza for expressing freedom of the civilians for fulfilling the basic needs of life. It was an organised work of human rights and peace activists who were concerned about the continuing pains and predicaments of Palestinians caged in open-air prison—Gaza having a 1.5 million population. Freedom Flotilla comprised seven boats in a joint effort that included Turkey and Greece. About 700 unarmed civilians from 33 countries joined together with a cargo vessel from Ireland—the MV Rachel Corrie—which carried 10,000 tonnes of construction materials, cement, medicines, medical equipment and special donation of printing paper from Norway. This is to recall that the Israeli blockade puts heavy restrictions over the supply of goods reaching the needy and helpless Palestinians in Gaza. The forbidden goods are the following—jam, chocolate, dried fruit, fresh meat, writing implements, note-pads, heaters, newspapers, fruit juice, building materials, plastic toys, textiles, etc. This prohibition violates Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Those items which are approved for supply are not free to flow with freedom. Palestinians in Gaza cannot go abroad for study due to restrictions over their freedom of movement which violates Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1966. They cannot visit their relatives even in the West Bank as the borders are closed.

This blockade was imposed after the Hamas elected leader formed their government in Gaza in 2007 for their simple mistake that Hamas does not recognise Israel as the latter treats the former as terrorists. This blockade continued with unilateral Israeli attacks lasting 22 days—‘Operation Cast Lead’ (mainly bombings) on Gaza during December 2008 and January 2009 which killed 1434 Palestinians including 434 children. Civilian infrastructures were bombed and among these were six universities and hundreds of schools. As many as 21,000 human dwellings were bombed thus turning the families shelterless in winter. Moreover, Israel didn’t allow any humanitarian organisation or the UN for the reconstruction of Gaza. One can easily understand the multiplying sufferings of the people due to the bombings and economic blockade. The main purpose of Israel is to inflict physical and mental damages on a day-by-day basis. The UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights, Richard Falk, described it as “a prelude to genocide”.

Worsening Conditions

IT was in this background that some intellectuals, peace activists, lawyers decided to launch the Freedom Flotilla to break the unlawful siege against the Palestinians in Gaza as basic human rights cannot be usurped by Israel which has no legitimate ground to do so for either its defence or security. Gaza is in urgent need of basic supplies for survival; but the US, EU, UN and the Russian Federation failed to reach out to the caged people in Gaza as they are engaged in thrashing Iran. The peace activists had been voicing for protection but the sea-dragons of the Mediterranean like the US and NATO remained interested in bombing and killing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. They could have sent their warships or patrolling wings as necessary escorts. As Israelis are habituated to violating international law—illegal occupation of territories belonging to the Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese people, uprooting the native dwellers and settling illegal foreign Jewish settlers in Palestinian territories, extra-judicial killings and denying Palestinians of their national sovereign rights since 1948 and more after 1967—they stormed the six peace vessels at 4.30 am on May 31.

The most affected vessel was the Mavi Marmara which had 400 Turks out of 581 passengers. There were 27 British, 30 Greeks, 11 Swedes and many others including the 1976 Nobel Peace Laureate, Mairead Corrigan-Maguire of Northern Ireland, and Swedish crime novelist Henning Mankell other than lawmakers, film-makers, journalists and politicians from the Middle East, the US and Canada. Caoimhe Butterly, an Irish pacifist activist who was shot and injured in the West Bank in 2002 after standing in the path of Israeli tanks, was on board. Three German MPs—Annette Groth, a human rights policy spokes-woman, Inge Höger, a member of the defence and health committees, and Norman Paech, who is also a Professor of Public Law in Hamburg—were also believed to have been on board. The Free Gaza Movement website lists passengers from Holland, Belgium, the US, Ireland, the UK, Greece, Poland, Palestine and Germany. Most were on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara, and they included the Israeli Arab, Raed Salah, seriously injured, who was aquitted earlier this month. The oldest passenger was believed to be David Schermerhorn, 80, an American film producer whose work includes City of Ghosts.

Varied Reactions

THERE have been varied reactions from different quarters which need to be mentioned here. Turkey called this aggression ‘state terrorism’ and a ‘bloody masacre’ while the Arabs described it as a ‘crime’. On the other hand, Western Europe— particularly Italy, France, the UK, Germany, the EU —and the US used words like ‘regrets’, ‘concerned’, ‘to maintain restraint’ etc. against Israel. The Turkish Government is under tremendous pressure from the protesting public for issuing a warning against Israel. As a result, it called an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council in New York and a meeting of the NATO countries as well as a meeting of the EU Ambassadors in Brussels. Turkey has called back its envoy from Israel and cancelled football matches and joint military exercises with it. Greece has also sought an explanation from the Israeli envoy and cancelled its joint naval military exercises with it. It is, however, regrettable that the condemnation draft of Turkey against Israel in the UN Security Council was negotiated for about 12 hours for a change of words due to American objections.

Turkish Overtures

ON June 1, the Turkish Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdoðan, speaking at the Turkish Parliament (TBMM), recalled his confrontation with Israeli President Shimon Peres at the Davos summit in January 2009. In a memorable outburst, Erdoðan stormed out of the debate after telling Peres: “You know well how to kill people.” “Before this, I told them face-to-face, ‘You know how to murder and the recent attack proves it true.’” He said Turkey’s hostility was as “strong as its friendship is valuable”. Erdoðan said the Israeli action was an attack “on international law, the conscience of humanity and world peace”. He called on Israel to immediately end the “inhumane” blockade on Gaza. He said that “Israel in no way can legitimise this murder, it cannot wash its hands of this blood”, and Turkey would continue to support the Palestinian people. He said: “We will not turn our back on Palestine, Palestinians and Gaza.” He also urged Israelis to question the actions of their government. He declared: “It is damaging your country’s image by conducting banditry and piracy. It is damaging interests of Israel and your peace and safety. It is the Israeli people who must stop the Israeli Government in the first place. Israel cannot face the international community without expressing ‘regret’. Israel cannot ensure its security by drawing the hatred of the entire world.” However, the attack on the Flotilla and the Israeli policy of media blackout and arrogance clearly show what the result of the so-called peace process under proximity talks would be. The need of the hour is to teach lessons to Israel how to follow international law. For this purpose all peaceful methods have proved to be ineffective and now there is a genuine necessity of using force against Israel under Chapter VII of the UN Charter as humanitarian intervention so that the image and the honour of the UN could be saved to some extent.

Dr Arshi Khan is an Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Aligarh Muslim University.

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