Gaza Freedom Flotilla

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Coordinates: 32°38′28″N 33°34′02″E / 32.64113°N 33.56727°E / 32.64113; 33.56727

The Gaza Freedom Flotilla, organized by the Free Gaza Movement and the Turkish Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (İHH), was carrying humanitarian aid and construction materials, with the intention of breaking the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the Gaza Strip.123

On 31 May 2010, Israeli forces boarded the ships from speedboats and helicopters and killed nine activists (see Gaza flotilla raid). Widespread international condemnation of and reaction to the raid followed, Israel–Turkey relations were strained, and Israel subsequently eased its blockade on the Gaza Strip.

Overview

The flotilla was the Free Gaza Movement's ninth attempt to break the naval blockade imposed by Israel on the Gaza Strip.4 Israel proposed inspecting the cargo at the Port of Ashdod and then delivering non-blockaded goods through land crossings, but this proposal was turned down.5 Israeli forces then raided and seized the Gaza-bound ships in international waters of the Mediterranean Sea.6

Five shipments had been allowed through prior to the 2008–09 Gaza War, but all shipments following the war were blocked by Israel.7 This flotilla was the largest to date. An Islamic aid group from Turkey, the İHH (İnsani Yardım Vakfı) (Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief) sponsored a large passenger ship and two cargo ships.

While one U.N report found Israel's blockade of Gaza to be legal,89 another set of U.N. experts, reporting to the Human Rights Council, came to the opposite conclusion finding that it violated international law.10

Organization

Ships

The ships of the Gaza flotilla raid comprised three passenger ships11 and three cargo ships:

  • Challenger 1 (small yacht),11 US, Free Gaza Movement
  • MS Eleftheri Mesogios (Free Mediterranean) or Sofia (cargo boat), Greece, Sweden 12 Greek Ship to Gaza
  • Sfendoni(small passenger boat), Greece 11 Greek Ship to Gaza and European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza
  • MV Mavi Marmara (passenger ship),11 Comoros, İHH
  • Gazze, Turkey, İHH
  • Defne Y, Kiribati, İHH

Two other Free Gaza Movement ships, Challenger 2 (USA flagged) and MV Rachel Corrie (Cambodia flagged) were behind the rest of the flotilla due to mechanical problems. There have been claims this was due to Israeli sabotage.13 Challenger 2 aborted,citation needed but the Rachel Corrie continued its journey.14

Flag Name Organisation Port Passengers Crew Cargo
United States USA Challenger 1 Free Gaza Movement Heraklion
United States USA Challenger 2 Free Gaza Movement Heraklion
Greece Greece MS Eleftheri Mesogeios Greek Ship to Gaza Piraeus Wheelchairs, building materials, medicine15
Greece Greece Sfendoni Greek Ship to Gaza,
European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza
Piraeus
Comoros Comoros MV Mavi Marmara IHH Antalya 581
Turkey Turkey Gazze IHH Antalya 5 13 2,104 tons of cement, 600 tons of construction steel, and 50 tons of tiles16
Kiribati Kiribati MV Defne Y IHH Antalya 27 23 150 tons of iron, 98 power units, 50 precast homes, 16 units of children's playground equipment, food, shoes, medicine, wheelchairs, clothing items, notebooks and textbooks1617
Cambodia Cambodia MV Rachel Corrie Free Gaza Movement Dundalk 11 8 550 tons of cement, 20 tons of paper, 100 tons of high-end medical equipment, wheelchairs, books, fabric, and thread

Cargo

Three of the flotilla ships carried only passengers and their personal belongings,11 while three other ships carried 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid, with an estimated value of $20 million. The cargo included food, wheelchairs, books, toys, electricity generators, operating theater equipment, medicines,1819 medical equipment, textiles, footwear, cash, mobility scooters, sofas, and building materials, such as cement,20 which are prohibited under the Israeli blockade, although Israel offered to allow the cement to enter Gaza, if the flotilla were to dock in Ashdod.21

The flotilla was reported to be carrying ballistic vests, gas masks, night-vision goggles, clubs, and slingshots,22 although the UNHRC report does not mention these items23 and in the Turkish Report on the Israeli attack on the Humanitarian Aid Convoy to Gaza it states that all passengers and crew as well as the cargo were searched to international standards and no weapons were found, on the ships departing from Turkey.24

Two-thirds of the medicines delivered by the flotilla expired between six and fifteen months prior to the raid,25 and were found to be useless.26 Some other medicines found on the flotilla were due to expire soon. Additionally, Israel said that much of the cargo, including sensitive medical equipment, was found to have been scattered in the ship's holds, and put in piles rather than packed properly for transport, and consequently damaged.11 Operating theater equipment, which was supposed to be kept sterile, was carelessly wrapped. The expiring medications and sensistive equipment were kept in frozen storage in the Israeli Defense Ministry before delivery to Gaza.27

Passengers

In previous voyages, Free Gaza vessels carried 140 passengers in total. In this flotilla, over 600 activists were on board the Mavi Marmara alone.28 There were 663 passengers from 37 nations on board the flotilla.6 Notable people aboard the flotilla included Denis Halliday former UN Assistant Secretary-General, Edward Peck former U.S. Ambassador to Mauritania and Joe Meadors a survivor of the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty.29 Israeli-Arab member of Knesset Haneen Zoubi, leader of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel Raed Salah, Swedish novelist Henning Mankell, convicted hijacker Erdinç Tekir, who participated in the Black Sea hijacking,30 and a number of parliamentarians from European and Arab national legislatures and the European Parliament.3132

Ties with groups marked as terror organizations

In Jun 2010 Assistant Secretary of State P.J. Crowley told reporters Wednesday: "'We know that IHH representatives have met with senior Hamas officials in Turkey, Syria and Gaza over the past three years,'" and "'That is obviously of great concern to us.'"33

the AP was quoted on msnbc The Turkish Islamic charity behind a flotilla of aid ships that was raided by Israeli forces on its way to Gaza had ties to terrorism networks, including a 1999 al-Qaida plot to bomb Los Angeles International Airport, France's former top anti-terrorism judge said Wednesday.34

In Jun 2012 it reported that the IHH director Fehmi Bülent Yıldırım is reportedly being investigated by Turkish authorities for allegedly creating a financial partnership with the al-Qaeda.35

Motives

Israel questioned the humanitarian motives of flotilla organizers. Israel said it had invited the organizers to use the land crossings but they were "less interested in bringing in aid than in promoting their radical agenda, playing into the hands of Hamas provocations. While they have wrapped themselves in a humanitarian cloak, they are engaging in political propaganda and not in pro-Palestinian aid."36

According to an early IDF press release, the ship carried 75 mercenaries with links to al-Qaeda and other terror organizations, who carried $10,000 apiece on their persons,37 The claim was never substantiated and was later withdrawn.38 Israel has said that the group boarded separately in a different city and went on deck under different procedures. The Turkish Customs officials and the İHH denied the allegations.3940

The impending arrival of the fleet was known to Israel government, military intelligence and press.4142 Israel said that the flotilla was violating international law, but one of the flotilla's organizers, Greta Berlin, stated that "[w]e have the right to sail from international waters into the waters of Gaza".43 Israel informed the fleet that it would be redirected to the port of Ashdod44 and the cargo would be transferred to Gaza after undergoing a security inspection.45 Foreigners would be deported or, if they did not willingly agree to be deported, detained.46

The flotilla organisers rejected Israel's demand, as it did not believe that Israel would transfer the cargo to Gaza,47 and said that, "This mission is not about delivering humanitarian supplies, it's about breaking Israel's siege on 1.5 million Palestinians...4348 We want to raise international awareness about the prison-like closure of Gaza and pressure the international community to review its sanctions policy and end its support for continued Israeli occupation."47

The UNHRC fact-finding mission noted a "certain tension between the political objectives of the flotilla and its humanitarian objectives", which came to light "the moment the Government of Israel made offers to allow the humanitarian aid to be delivered via Israeli ports but under the supervision of a neutral organization". It also announced that Gaza did not have a deep sea port capable of receiving the sort of cargo ships participating in the flotilla. It concluded that "whilst the mission is satisfied that the flotilla constituted a serious attempt to bring essential humanitarian supplies into Gaza, it seems clear that the primary objective was political, as indeed demonstrated by the decision of those on board the Rachel Corrie to reject a Government of Ireland-sponsored proposal that the cargo in that ship be allowed through Ashdod intact".49

Some supporters of the flotilla said that "a violent response from Israel will breathe new life into the Palestine solidarity movement, drawing attention to the blockade."50 Two of the activists (Ali Haydar Bengi and Ibrahim Bilgen) who died during the MV Mavi Marmara clash had previously said that they wished for martydom.51 On 29 May, Aljazeera broadcast footage of Mavi Marmara activists participating in a chant calling for battle against Jews.5152

Former U.S. Marine Kenneth O'Keefe, who was aboard the Mavi Marmara, stated that the activists knew from the outset that there would be no passive resistance. "I knew that if the Israelis boarded that ship, it would be a disaster...You have to be an idiot to board that ship and think it will be a ship of passive resistance," he told Haaretz newspaper.53

Initial leg

Six of the eight ships set out on 30 May 2010 from international waters off the coast of Cyprus;46 the remaining two were delayed by mechanical problems.54 "We do not even have a jackknife here, but we will not let Israeli soldiers on board this ship," İHH leader Fehmi Bülent Yıldırım told reporters via a live video stream before the convoy set sail.28

The government of Cyprus refused to cooperate with the Free Gaza Movement or allow activists to sail from its harbors. The Cyprus Police stated that "anything related to the trip to Gaza is not permitted," and as a result remaining MPs and activists embarked instead from Famagusta in Northern Cyprus.5556 Cypriot and Greek MPs and activists refused to embark via ports in Northern Cyprus.57 Having been delayed by two days, the flotilla aimed to reach Gaza on the afternoon of 31 May.46

Pre-raid sabotage rumors

The IDF or the Mossad may have sabotaged three of the ships before the raid.58 According to the National Post, Israeli deputy defense minister Matan Vilnai hinted that Israel had exhausted covert means of stalling the vessels. He said: "Everything was considered. I don't want to elaborate beyond that, because the fact is there were not up to 10, or however many ships were [originally] planned."59 A senior IDF officer hinted to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that some of the vessels had been tampered with to halt them far from the Gaza or Israeli coast.6061 According to UPI press coverage, the officer alluded to "grey operations" against the flotilla and said that no such action had been taken against the Mavi Marmara out of fear that the vessel might be stranded in the middle of the sea, endangering the people on board.5861 Israel was accused of sabotaging activist ships in the past but no evidence has been found to back up these claims.58

Three ships – the Rachel Corrie, the Challenger I and the Challenger II – suffered damage or malfunction. While the Challenger I was able to continue, the Challenger II had to turn back halfway through the journey and Rachel Corrie docked for repairs in Malta. Greta Berlin of the Free Gaza Movement said that electric wires may have been tampered with.62

Raid and aftermath

Israeli forces raided the flotilla on the night of 30–31 May 2010 in international waters of the Mediterranean Sea, boarding the ships using speedboats and helicopters. Nine activists were killed. Dozens of activists and seven Israeli soldiers were injured.

After the raid, the activists were detained in Israel pending release: all were deported by 6 June. The ships were towed to Israel and those claimed by their owners were returned. The aid was delivered to Gaza under United Nations supervision on 17 June.

Widespread international condemnation of and reaction to the raid followed. Various investigations were conducted, including by the United Nations, Israel and Turkey. Israel-Turkey relations were strained, and Israel subsequently eased its blockade on Palestine.

Subsequent events

Freedom Flotilla II

Freedom Flotilla West Papua

Another movement happen in Pacific region, On 15 August 2013, at 10 pm, two peace mission yachts of 15 Aboriginal and Papuan activists in support of the West Papuan independence struggle from Indonesian leave Cairns, Australia headed to the Merauke Town, southern region of Indonesia's Papua.63

The Australian and West Papuan activists are set to sail to territory of West Papua without permission while Indonesian military has confirmed that they will raid them if they crossing the borders. The fleet is expected to make unauthorised landfall in West Papua in September.

Meanwhile, Four West Papuan pro-independence leaders were arrested by authorities on Wednesday, in Sorong - a coastal city in the western Indonesian province of West Papua - on charges of organising a congregation pray meeting at the Marantha Church in the city.

Over 2000 people had gathered at the local church to pray for the safe passage of the West Papua Freedom Flotilla, around 200 policemen surrounded the church and arrested the four leaders.

In show of global solidarity, a demonstration took place outside the Indonesian Embassy, in The Hague, calling for the safe passage of the Freedom Flotilla to West Papua. The campaigners have opened an office in the city in an effort to push for the cause of West Papua's independence and highlight the alleged human rights abuses that have taken place in West Papua since 1962.64

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Citations

External links

Wikinews-logo.svg News related to Attorney general drops case against Israeli participants in Freedom Flotilla at Wikinews