A group of 47 international peace activists from fourteen nations, derisively called “pirates” by the Israeli defense ministry, set sail for Gaza from Larnaca, Cyprus earlier today. Their goal is to break the blockade of the small Palestinian enclave imposed by Israel as punishment for the population’s choice of Hamas to lead it.
The voyage should take about 30 hours which would place them in the vicinity of Gaza sometime tomorrow (Saturday). The question on everyone’s minds is will the Israeli Navy use force, a possibility suggested by the foreign ministry as Israel’s perogative to stop the voyage.
Yesterday, Israel increased the exclusion zone around Gaza from 12 to 36 miles by declaring it would engage in naval exercises. In all likelihood, Israeli officials realized that scores if not hundreds of Gaza fishing boats would be steaming out to meet the Free Gaza Movement flotilla. Allowing the Navy to intercept the boats farther from shore ensured less interference by outside forces and perhaps less press coverage. It is however ironic that the Navy will be escorting Israeli journalists covering the story to the site.
It is auspicious that European legislators have endorsed and will be participating in the voyage:
A Greek member of parliament, Tassos Kourakis of the Coalition of the Radical Left, will sail to Gaza on the mission. Kyriakos Triantafyllides, Cypriot member of the European Parliament and chairman of its delegation to the Palestinians, announced that the mission has the support of the delegation.
Keep tuned to this space for the latest developments. And if you hear news before you read it here please let me know what you discover.
I’ve said before in my coverage that I’m not wholly uncritical of the Free Gaza Movement strategy. Like many such peace activists, they give off a holier than thou quality that can be annoying. In addition, by introducing an entirely extraneous subject of the Israeli attack on the U.S.S. Liberty they’ve served to dilute their political message:
[Paul] Larudee [spokesperson for the FGM voyage] also asked if Israel planned to bomb the Liberty…named after the USS Liberty, which was bombed and strafed by Israeli warplanes on June 8, 1967, in international waters off northern Sinai.
During this attack, 34 US seamen were killed and 172 were injured. The incident was covered up by then-President Lyndon Johnson, US Defence Secretary Robert McNamara and Admiral John S. McCain, father of the current Republican presidential candidate.
Jim Ennes, an officer on the USS Liberty, spoke to Larudee before the Free Gaza mission and said that survivors asked the activists to read a prayer when the boats enter international waters off Gaza.
During a dockside ceremony…a Palestinian peace activist, threw one long-stemmed rose into the harbour below the Liberty to commemorate the lives of…US seamen who died on the USS Liberty.
Speaking as someone who has been involved in progressive politics for decades, there is a tendency on the left to believe if one issue is good then two is better. But grafting additional causes onto one good issue is often a way to distract one’s focus from the main agenda.
Despite this criticism, I wish them all Godspeed and a hero’s welcome when they arrive in Gaza harbor. If, however, the Israelis have other plans for them, I urge my readers to be vigilant and lend your voice in their defense is they are arrested by Israel.