I’ve been following with interest the Free Gaza Movement effort to break the Israeli Navy’s blockade of Gaza by sailing two unarmed sloops from Cyprus to the Palestinian enclave. Due to stormy weather, the project has been forced to put back their scheduled departure date from several days ago.
Israel is ratcheting up the pressure on participants in the voyage. Haaretz reveals that the Israeli foreign ministry has released a legal white paper claiming its navy has the right to use force against the ships:
Defense officials favor forcefully blocking two boats which a group of U.S.-based activists plan to sail to Gaza to protest what they call “the Israeli siege on the Strip,” Haaretz has learned.
…Allowing the ships to reach the Gaza coastline could create a dangerous precedent.
…A position paper by the Foreign Ministry’s legal department says Israel has the right to use force against the demonstrators as part of the Oslo Accords, which names Israel as responsible for Gaza’s territorial waters.
This seems typically out of proportion to the “threat” represented by the enterprise. And one wonders what “dangerous precedent” it could create? Hamas militants disguised as peace activists smuggling Iranian missiles into Gaza by boat? It seems ludicrous that Israeli gunboats will have their weapons targeted on a group of defenseless peace activists attempting to do something no more dangerous than deliver two tons of medical supplies to the local population.
And even if the foreign ministry is right in claiming it has jurisdiction over Gaza waters (which I’m not at all willing to concede given that Ariel Sharon “withdrew” from Gaza years ago–well after the Oslo accords were signed–and supposedly washed his hands of involvement in its affairs) under what justification can it forcefully prevent the ships from entering Gazan waters, detain participants, and subject them to Israeli interrogation? What threat or danger do they pose to anything other than Israel’s image?
Though there are Americans, Europeans and even Israelis on board, the government, again typically sees the project as a wholly owned enterprise of Hamas:
According to some officials, Hamas is keen to exploit the initiative by the activists – including Israeli Hebrew University professor and activist Jeff Halper – for its political needs, and could try to greet the seafarers with fishing boats.
The officials believe that Hamas views the drive as an opportunity to underscore the suffering of the civilian population because of Israel’s policies…
How frightening it must be to the unnamed “officials” that the FGM boats might be welcomed by Gaza fishing boats. And how disturbing it must be for Israel to face the prospect that Jewish and non-Jewish peace campaigners, no less than Hamas itself, may want to bring to the world’s attention the suffering Israel is causing through its suffocation of the enclave.
Writing in her daily update, FGM participant and Tony Blair sister-in-law, Lauren Booth, reveals a frightening psyops campaign being waged against individuals and their families. It appears that unknown opponents of the group have gained access to private cell and home phone numbers and e mail addresses and are sending threatening messages which warn the ships will be sabotaged and those on them killed:
Over the the past 72 hours almost a dozen aggressive messages have been received by members of the groups both on board the ships and in Cyprus. In Nicosia, where twenty human rights campaigners including Hedy Epstein await to board the Freegaza and the Liberty, anonymous callers have been making threats to the general well being of all concerned.
Some of these texts, calls and answer messages focus on the ships being ‘blown up’ or ‘destroyed, killing all on board.’ Unnerving enough. But today I can reveal even more pernicious acts of psychological violence on those both reporting and supporting this effort to ease the blockade of Gaza by Israel.
Since Monday, some campaigners, (who I will not name here for obvious reasons), have received phone calls made to their mobiles. More disturbingly, in an increasing number of cases – to family members.
Now, it is my turn. Yesterday afternoon, on the 14th of August 2008, an anonymous young man called my home in France as my daughters played hide and seek in the garden. This stranger spoke to my husband, warning him that ‘your wife is in great danger. These ships will be blown up.’ My husband asked how it was this person had obtained our private home number. No response was forthcoming, but the illicit threats carried on.
Who is behind these phone calls? Who benefits by upsetting the families of those onboard the Freegaza and the Liberty? Who would wish to unsettle journalists aboard as unarmed ships set sail towards the waters around Gaza and almost certain interception by Israeli forces?
The answer is clear.
Perhaps not as clear as Booth would have us believe. Clearly, pro-Israel far-rightists would be motivated to carry out such a psyops campaign. But would Israeli intelligence be involved? One would have to ask how even a motivated lay true believer could gain access to the private information these harassers now have. I would suggest that it may be likely that the Mossad is involved in some way even if it is just to pass information on to others willing to harass the FGM. Of course, as is typical of their ham-handedness, it only creates more sympathy for the project among those who might be on the fence concerning its goals.
And should the Israeli Navy overreact to the boats as they come closer to Gaza and engage in violence to subdue them, this will provide even further proof to the world that Israel, just as it is brutal in implementing its stranglehold over Gaza–is willing to be almost as brutal in subduing non-Palestinians who seek nothing more than to show Israelis how counter-productive their policy is.