The war of words between Israel and the Free Gaza Movement is heating up as its ships prepare to sail toward Gaza in an attempt to break the Israeli blockade. I’ve written before here that there are some aspects of this project that don’t have the greatest appeal to me, but that I support it nevertheless.
For example, the group’s invitation to Tzipi Livni to join them on their voyage is fatuous and annoyingly so. Likewise, their decision to name one of their ships the S.S. Liberty in honor of the U.S.S. Liberty, which was attacked by Israel during the 1967 War. An FGM press release even refers to the “assassination” of U.S. sailors during the incident. Gimme a break. Whatever happened in 1967, whether it was a dastardly act or an accident, these were sailors serving military duty. “Assassination???” C’mon. This just shows the group’s partisan agenda. As a political activist, I hate the idea of muddying the waters and confusing your prospective audience by combining disparate political goals. What, in God’s name does the U.S.S. Liberty have to do with the Gaza blockade? To me, it simply dilutes the power and purity of whatever idea or goal you’re pursuing.
But none of these criticisms outweigh the essential importance of the political statement FGM is making. The fact that the Israeli foreign ministry bothered to address FGM directly indicates it takes the project seriously. But I found the ministry statement to be riddled with inaccuracies and parroted arguments. Take this:
We assume that your intentions are good but, in fact, the result of your action is that you are supporting the regime of a terrorist organization in Gaza…
In fact, FGM’s goals have nothing to do with Hamas and everything to do with alleviating the suffering of the average Gazan who is not responsible for whatever sins Hamas may or may not have committed.
In June 2007, Hamas led a violent coup in Gaza and seized the government illegally, a fact which led to an international boycott and isolation of its government.
This, in fact, is a basic and egregious error. In fact, the international boycott began in 2005 after Hamas won the PA election and not after Hamas took over Gaza. Keep in mind this is an official statement of the Israeli foreign ministry and they can’t even get their facts straight.
Hamas is the central player in the Gaza Strip and the address to which you should direct your complaints concerning the situation there.
This is blaming the victim. Because Hamas won an election, Israel is justified in essentially strangling the innocent civilian population of Gaza. And not only is it justified in doing so, it is Hamas’ fault it has had to do so.
Your claim that the residents of the Gaza Strip are suffering from hunger is groundless…There isn’t another conflict in the world in which one side supplies all the needs of the other side
This is a real laugher. In its reply, the FGM quotes various humanitarian sources serving Gaza:
According to the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), “only 43.5% of basic commercial food import needs were met during the period between 3 and 30 December 2007.” Furthermore, in May 2008, several international aid organizations, including CARE International UK, CAFOD, Christian Aid, Oxfam, and Medecins du Monde UK, stated that, “the stranglehold on Gaza’s borders has made … the work of the UN and other humanitarian agencies … virtually impossible. Only a trickle of medicine, food, fuel and other goods is being allowed in. [The Israeli Blockade of Gaza] has made people highly dependent on food aid, and brought the health system and basic services such as water and sanitation near to collapse.”
This closing statement from the Israelis, which was preceded by a “generous” offer from them to guarantee delivery of FGM’s aid via Israeli-controlled land crossings, was also typically cheeky:
…If you do not intend to deliver the humanitarian aid via Israel, this proves that your goal is political…
In other words: if you seek to deliver the aid yourself and independently then you are an enemy of Israel. However, if you allow us, the Occupiers, to deliver it to Gaza on your behalf, then you truly are humanitarians and not political partisans. Which of course implies that the Israelis themselves are NOT political or partisan.
The Independent reports a defense ministry spokesperson referring to the FGM as “pirates,” an ominous escalation of the verbal conflict between the two entities:
“From my point of view this is some kind of pirate ship,” said Shlomo Dror, a defence ministry spokesman.
“You can demonstrate, that’s OK with us. But you are not allowed to break international law.”
Which, of course, is ironic. This means Israel claims its blockade is being mounted on behalf of international law. The opposite, of course, is the case. International law specifically forbids a nation from besieging a civilian population and blaming it for the acts of military forces.
Finally, the FGM ships are not “pirates” nor are they a danger to Israel. The government has threatened to “use force” to prevent them from reaching Gaza. Again, this is a completely unjustified threat compared to the “danger” the group represents. Pro-Israel supporters have made death threats to private unlisted phone numbers and sent similar e-mail messages to participants and crew in an attempt to intimidate them. If Israel engages in violence of any kind in detaining the activists, it deserves the opprobrium of the world community.
My piece about the “Gaza Fulbright 3” was published today at Comment is Free under the title, Let Them Come and Study.