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It’s been less than a week since Israel attacked the Freedom Flotilla sailing towards Gaza, and the details of the story have already been spun repeatedly to make it seem as if the activists are to blame for the raid that left nine dead.

Six ships were carrying 10,000 tons of aid and 700 activists from 42 countries. The aim was to deliver the aid and challenge the crippling Israeli blockade on Gaza – a blockade that Egypt is part of.

Aside from describing the activists as terrorists with Al-Qaeda relation (an act of public relation desperation to resort to such trite and overused labeling), the most popular counter version portrayed the activists as the attackers. The footage meant to show the Israeli raid also showed the activists standing on guard with clubs and sticks in hand. As the armed Israeli commandos descended from helicopters, clashes ensued. This, along with other claims that the activists attacked the Israeli military ships, was used to validate the conclusions some people reached that the activists were the assailants here. Even if the clubs and sticks were comparable to military firearms, those commentators and Israeli officials decided to overlook the simple fact that it was Israeli soldiers who jumped on the ship in international waters. The activists were in self defense. Anyone would resist commandos jumping on his/her ship. And in retrospect they should have been better armed; at least to deter such act of piracy.

There isn’t much to be said. It was an attack. Justice must be served. There’s already another ship, Rachel Corrie, sailing towards Gaza, and with no concrete steps taken against Israel for Monday’s attack, another tragedy is sure to happen.

For more on Israeli hasbara and the spinning of the story, read The Arabist’s in-depth analyses.

The rest of this post are statements from around the world, some strong, some mild, that we’ve received at Daily News Egypt over the past few days condemning the attack. They’ve been quoted here and there, but usually only partially. But first, these are the names of the nine activists killed by Israeli soldiers on Monday. Search each one, find a picture of them, put a face to the name, so that they don’t become just statistics.

The Nine are all Turkish, including one who is also an American citizen:

Cevdet Kılıçlar

Fahri Yaldız

Necdet Yıldırım

Çetin Topçuoğlu

Cengiz Songür

Furkan Doğan (also a US citizen)

İbrahim Bilgen

Ali Haydar Bengi

Cengiz Akyüz

The statements (make sure to read the last one from the Israeli Peace Movement):

Monday’s tragedy is a direct result of the Israeli blockade on Gaza, says Oxfam
Only 22 % of truckloads entering Gaza pre-blockade allowed in by Israel last week
Three-quarters of the damage caused during Israeli military operation “Cast Lead” still not repaired 17 months on

Gaza, 2 June 2010 – Oxfam condemns Monday’s attack on the aid flotilla that resulted in the killing of a number of passengers and it links the tragedy to the failure of Israel and the international community to lift the three year blockade on the Gaza Strip.

“We are shocked at the appalling use of violence and the killing of civilians which occurred when the Israeli forces took over the Gaza Flotilla in international waters”, said Jeremy Hobbs, Executive Director of Oxfam. “Tragedy struck as the international community failed to put enough pressure on Israel to put an end to the crippling policy of blockade. This flotilla would not have been needed, had the Israeli blockade not debilitated Gaza’s economy and prevented desperately needed humanitarian supplies from entering the territory.”

Contrary to what the Israeli government states, the humanitarian aid allowed into Gaza is only a fraction of what is needed to answer the enormous needs of an exhausted   population. For instance, Oxfam estimates that 631 trucks of humanitarian supplies were permitted entry into Gaza last week by the Israeli authorities. This constitutes only 22 percent of the weekly average (2,807 truckloads) that entered during the first five months of 2007, before Israel’s imposition of the blockade. Meanwhile, almost no exports have been allowed out of Gaza.

Despite a very modest relaxation on the entry of some supplies into Gaza in the past months, entry of major essential goods like materials for reconstruction remains in limited quantities or is barred. As a result, three-quarters of the damage and destruction caused to civilian infrastructure during Israeli military operation “Cast Lead” has still not been repaired or reconstructed 17 months on.

According to the UN, more than 60 percent of families are food insecure and are reliant on food assistance, and four out of five Gazans rely on aid to survive. There are daily electricity cuts in Gaza and the water network is working far below capacity. Some families with as many as seven members are consuming the same amount of water per day meant to meet the needs of just one person. Some patients have even died while awaiting permission to seek treatment out of the Gaza Strip.

This new tragedy strikes as we will soon commemorate the start of the fourth year of blockade. “We strongly condemn the killing, injury and holding by Israel of any passenger, and any use of excessive force against civilians on board a boat that was reportedly bringing direly-needed relief and everyday items into Gaza”, said Hobbs.

“Considering that the detailed facts of the situation remain unclear, Oxfam calls for a full and independent inquiry to ascertain what took place and ensure accountability”, Hobbs said. “The Israeli operation appears to have violated a number of basic rules of International Law. This comes on top of the blockade that inflicts collective punishment on the population, which is illegal under International Humanitarian Law”, Hobbs added.

The forced isolation of the 1.5 million inhabitants of Gaza, which fragments Palestinian society and artificially creates poverty and de-development, must come to an immediate end, as must all attacks on civilians on both sides. Israel and the international community must work together to immediately lift the blockade by fully opening all the crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip. These crossings are equipped with technology to prevent smuggling of weapons.

“It is time for people in Gaza to receive more than promises and see their rights respected,” said Hobbs.

Oxfam works with others to overcome poverty and suffering

***

COUNCIL OF THE EUROPEAN UNION
EN
Brussels, 31 May 2010
10485/10 (Presse 152)
Declaration by High Representative Catherine Ashton on behalf of the EU on the Israeli military operation against the Flotilla
The EU deeply regrets the loss of life during the Israeli military operation in international waters against the Flotilla sailing to Gaza and offers its condolences to the families of the victims. The EU condemns the use of violence that has produced a high number of victims among the members of the flotilla and demands an immediate, full and impartial inquiry into the events and the circumstances surrounding them.

The humanitarian situation in Gaza remains a source of grave concern. The EU does not accept the continued policy of closure. It is unacceptable and politically counterproductive. We need to urgently achieve a durable solution to the situation in Gaza.

The EU underlines its call for an immediate, sustained and unconditional opening of crossings for the flow of humanitarian aid, commercial goods and persons to and from Gaza.

The EU calls on Israel to urgently provide Member States with consular access to and information about their citizens.
The EU calls upon all parties and relevant actors to prevent a further escalation of tensions and underlines the need to continue the proximity talks with a view to the resumption of direct negotiations.

***

Human Rights Watch

Israel: Full, Impartial Investigation of Flotilla Killings Essential

(New York, May 31, 2020, 2010) – Israel should promptly conduct a credible and impartial investigation into the deaths of at least 10 activists after Israeli security forces boarded ships that were part of an “aid flotilla” to Gaza, Human Rights Watch said today.

Human Rights Watch said that the incident, in which dozens of activists and several Israeli commandos were also reportedly wounded, raises grave concerns about possible unlawful and excessive use of lethal force.

“A prompt, credible, and impartial investigation is absolutely essential to determine whether the lethal force used by Israeli commandos was necessary to protect lives and whether it could have been avoided,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Given Israel’s poor track record of investigating unlawful killings by its armed forces, the international community should closely monitor any inquiry to ensure it meets basic international standards and that any wrongdoers are brought to justice.”

According to reports, at 4 a.m. on May 31, Israeli commandos boarded ships of the aid flotilla. Approximately 700 activists were taking part in the 6-ship flotilla. The flotilla’s organizers said it was carrying humanitarian aid intended for Gaza, including cement, wheelchairs, and parts to repair water infrastructure. The activists said the ships were 70 nautical miles offshore when Israeli forces boarded the ships.

The Israeli government stated that activists on the ships violently resisted Israeli boarding forces, seriously wounding two soldiers. Activists aboard the ships stated that Israeli forces killed unarmed members of the humanitarian aid flotilla. Human Rights Watch has not yet been able to conduct its own investigation to determine which account is accurate.  The government had warned the flotilla not to attempt to breach Israel’s blockade of Gaza.

“The Israeli government’s opposition to the flotilla initiative was well advertised, but does not address the main issues – did Israeli forces use unlawful lethal force aboard the ships, and could alternative steps have been taken that would have avoided the violence,” Whitson said.

Human Rights Watch called on Israel to grant all detained and injured flotilla members immediate access to counsel and their families, and to disclose the identities of all those injured and killed.  According to the flotilla’s organizers, Israeli authorities have denied those detained in Ashdod port access to their lawyers, and have yet to disclose where the injured have been hospitalized. All communications from the flotilla and flotilla members have apparently been blocked, and the names of those killed have not been released.

Israel has blockaded Gaza’s land and sea borders since Hamas seized control of the territory in June 2007. Egypt has been an essential partner in the blockade along Gaza’s southern border. The blockade, which amounts to the unlawful collective punishment of Gaza’s civilian population, has severely damaged the economy, leaving 70 to 80 percent of Gazans in poverty and dependent on humanitarian aid.

The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials provide that authorities shall, as far as possible, apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms. The Principles provide that if the lawful use of force and firearms is unavoidable, then the authorities must use restraint and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offense. Lethal force may be used only when strictly unavoidable to protect life. The Basic Principles also call for an effective reporting and review process, especially in cases of death and serious injury.

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, please visit:

http://www.hrw.org/middle-eastn-africa/israel-and-occupied-territories

***

The Jewish Voice for Peace

When I got the news about Israel’s armed attack on the Gaza Flotilla at 2:30 am on the morning of May 31, I felt sick. I immediately called a dear friend in Jerusalem, one of the most committed activists I know.  Across the ocean, I could hear in her voice that she was in tears. “The worst part about it, ” she said, “is that nothing will change.”

“No,” I replied. “I can’t believe that can be true.  Things have to change.”
“Well,” she said, “then it is up to you, the internationals.”

She’s right. It is up to us, the internationals both here in the United States and abroad. That is why I want you to send a message to US President Obama if you live outside of the United States, and to Obama and the US Congress if you are a U.S. resident, demanding the immediate release of the detained human rights activists, an end to the siege on Gaza, an impartial investigation of the attack on the flotilla, and a suspension of US aid until Israel abides by international law.

We still don’t know a lot about what happened to the flotilla of boats carrying some 700 human rights activists from around the world and over 10 tons of humanitarian aid to Gaza– Israel has kept the activists under a near total media blackout while sharing only its implausible narrative of events. What we do know is that Israeli commandos boarded a ship in international waters and killed at least ten activists, injuring dozens of others.

Israel insists that highly trained commandos were forced to lethally fire on activists, creating a new definition of self-defense. In the first alternative accounts to appear, an Israeli Knesset member and an Al Jazeera cameraman who were on board the ship at the time each described something different, a scene of chaos with civilians waving white flags and commandos using stun guns, rubber bullets and tear gas. Regardless of what actually happened when armed soldiers landed, Israel’s wanton killing of civilians is unacceptable.

We still don’t know th
e names of those who were killed or injured, or where they are from. And we don’t know the whereabouts or well-being of more than 400 activists still being held by Israel.

These deaths, and the attacks on the boats, have hit all of us around the world particularly hard. There were people from 40 different countries on board the ships, including Israelis and Palestinians. Israel sent armed commandos onto a civilian ship in international waters, a brazenly illegal act to enforce Israel’s nearly 3-year illegal siege of Gaza – a siege that has left 1.5 million men, women and children living like prisoners on substandard diets, deprived of the simplest things like potato chips, musical instruments, and toys. The flotilla wasn’t just about this one delivery of aid. It was about the right of Palestinians to have sea, land and air routes to the rest of the world and for the need to end the blockade.

I know that there comes a point in one’s life when you simply have to take a stand. You cannot sit by silently and watch ongoing and wholly unjustified destruction of life, tacitly supported by governments around the world, and simply do nothing.

The flotilla was filled with people just like you and me who finally decided it was time to risk life and limb to take a stand, to break through those prison walls, and we thank them for it.

Now, as citizens of the world, we owe it to the people of Palestine, and the people of Israel who want to live in peace, and the brave people on that flotilla, to build the movement to make Israel accountable to international law and standards of simple human decency – especially because our governments have failed us.

The response of the U.S. government thus far has been wholly inadequate, with a mild statement “regretting the loss of life,” without assigning any blame for the fiasco, let alone applying any sanctions for Israel’s acts.  Please, join me in telling President Obama and Congress enough is enough

. US taxpayer dollars fund Israel’s occupation, and together with wall to wall uncritical diplomatic support have sent the message that any Israeli action, no matter how foolhardy, will be backed by the full might of the United States.

It’s time for that to stop.

We must also continue to build the already massive global people’s movement for justice, which has undeniably found its greatest impact in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. This is about all of the ways, big and small, people can bypass their often ineffective governments to use economic pressure to make the Israeli government accountable to international law. After launching our energetic support for campus efforts to divest from the occupation, Jewish Voice for Peace will let you know soon about our own divestment campaign to help bring pressure on Israel to reach a just solution.It is time for the United States, as Israel’s closest ally and most powerful nation in the world, to stop unconditional support for the Israeli government.Doing so will protect Israelis and Palestinians, American citizens, and internationals alike.

Click here to demand that President Obama and Congress call for an immediate lifting of the siege of Gaza,

an international and impartial investigation into the tragic killing of civilians in a humanitarian mission, and the suspension of military aid to Israel until he can assure the American public that our aid is not used to commit similar abuses.

Rebecca Vilkomerson,
Executive Director,
Jewish Voice for Peace

***

The Israeli Peace Movement

Press Release 05/31/2010

Uri Avnery: this night a crime was perpetrated in the middle of the sea, by order of the government of Israel and the IDF Command

A warlike attack against aid ships and deadly shooting at peace and humanitarian aid activists It is a crazy thing that only a government that crossed all red lines can do

“Only a crazy government that has lost all restraint and all connection to reality could something like that – consider ships carrying humanitarian aid and peace activists from around the world as an enemy and send massive military force to international waters to attack them, shoot and kill.

“Noone in the world will believe the lies and excuses which the government and army spokesmen come up with,” said former Knesset member Uri Avnery of the Gush Shalom movement. Gush Shalom activists together with activists of other organizations are to depart at 11:00 from Tel Aviv to protest in front of the prepared detention facility where the international peace activists will be brought.

Greta Berlin, the spokeswoman for the flotilla organizers located in Cyprus, told Gush Shalom activists that the Israeli commandos landed by helicopter on the boats and immediately opened fire.

This is a day of disgrace to the State of Israel, a day of anxiety in which we discover that our future was entrusted to a bunch of trigger-happy people without any responsibility. This day is a day of disgrace and madness and stupidity without limit, the day the Israeli government took care to blacken the name of the country in the world, adding convincing evidence of aggressiveness and brutality to Israel’s already bad international image, discouraging and distancing the few remaining friends.

Indeed, today a provocation took place off the coast of Gaza – but the provocateurs were not the peace activists invited by the Palestinians and seeking to reach Gaza. The provocation was carried out by Navy ships commandos at the bidding of the Israeli government, blocking the way of the aid boats and using deadly force.

It is time to lift the siege on the Gaza Strip, which causes severe suffering to its residents. Today the Israeli government ripped the mask of its face with its own hands and exposed the fact that Israel did not “disengage” from Gaza. Real disengagement from the area does not go together with blocking the access to it or sending soldiers to shoot and kill and wound those who try to get there.

The State of Israel promised in the Oslo Accords 17 years ago to enable and encourage the establishment of a deep water port in Gaza, through which Palestinians could import and export freely to develop their economy. It’s time to realize this commitment and open the Port of Gaza. Only after the Gaza port will be open to free and undisturbed movement, just like the Ashdod and Haifa ports, will Israel really have disengaged from the Gaza Strip. Until then, the world will continue – and rightly so – to consider the Gaza Strip under Israeli occupation and the State of Israel as responsible for the fate of the people living there.