Palestine: Unarmed aid convoy attacked by Israeli commandos

June 1, 2010
The Freedom Flotilla involves about 800 activists, journalists, aid workers and officials from 40 countries. Cartoon: Carlos La

* * Update: On May 31 heavily-armed Israeli commandos attacked the unarmed Freedom Flotilla. Israeli forces have fired on activists in at least one of the boats, with media reports of up to 10 people killed and many more injured.

By June 3, Israel had finally released and deported most of the more than 700 passengers it had captured during the assault. Al Jazeera has compiled a list of eyewitness statements from those onboard the boat, which can be read here. The accounts debunk the Israeli PR spin that its murderous assault was somehow an “act of self defence”.

* *

The Israeli Defence Force may deploy a full naval fleet in waters around Gaza to prevent more than 10,000 tonnes of vital humanitarian relief aid and supplies from reaching Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

A convoy of nine vessels is carrying badly needed medical equipment, food supplies, cement, tools, machinery and a huge team of skilled aid workers via the Mediterranean to Gaza.

The Freedom Flotilla involves about 800 activists, journalists, aid workers and officials from 40 countries. Passengers include a Holocaust survivor in her 80s, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and a decorated US army colonel.

The flotilla aims break Israel’s total blockade on Gaza. Israel has responded with “strict warnings and even threatened to fire upon the convoy”, Gulf News said on May 25.

The MV Rachel Corrie set off from Ireland on May 14. The boat is named after a 23-year-old peace activist killed by an Israeli bulldozer in 2003. By May 24, vessels from Turkey and Greece were waiting near Cyprus ready to sail south to the Gaza strip.

Upcoming emergency protests in Australia:

Adelaide: Friday June 3, 3.30pm, Victoria Square, protest organised by Action for Palestine. Bring placards, banners, your friends and your outrage!

Brisbane: Friday June 4, 5pm, Brisbane Sq, Cnr Queen and George Sts.

Canberra: Thursday June 3, 4pm rally at Garema Place organised by AJPP and UnionsACT.

Melbourne: Saturday June 5, 2pm, outside State Library, City.

Perth: Sunday June 6, 12 noon at Wesley Church. Organised by Friends of Palestine.

Sydney: Saturday June 5, 2pm, Sydney Town Hall.

Wollongong: Saturday, June 5, 12 noon, Outside Telstra building, cnr Crown and Kembla Sts, Wollongong.

If you know of more protests, please include details in the comment section at the end of this article.
The purpose of the journey was to draw international attention to the ongoing crisis in Gaza, caused by Israel’s illegal land and naval blockade, and provide seriously needed materials for the besieged territory’s 1.5 million residents.

Since 2006, Israel has maintained total control over Gaza’s borders, airspace and seas. It also launches periodic incursions and assaults on the territory.

Up to 75% of the damage caused by Israel's 2008-09 war on Gaza has not been repaired, the United Nations said. This is due, in large part, to the severely inadequate provisions allowed across the Israeli and Egypt-controlled border crossings.

Countless aid organisations, as well as the World Health Organisation and United Nations secretary Ban Ki-moon, have condemned the siege.

A May 26 Amnesty International report called it “a military blockade of the Gaza Strip, which effectively imprisoned the 1.5 million residents and resulted in a humanitarian crisis”.

“Israel often stopped international aid and humanitarian assistance from entering Gaza”, Amnesty said.

“Permission to leave Gaza to receive medical treatment was denied or delayed for hundreds of seriously ill Palestinians and at least 28 individuals died while waiting for permission to travel.”

In early May, John Ging, head of United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Gaza since 2006, called on boats such as the Freedom Flotilla to break the siege, a May 26 article said.

“We recommend the world send ships to the shores of Gaza, and we believe that Israel would not stop these vessels because the sea is open, and many human rights organizations have been successful in previous similar steps, and proved that breaking the siege on Gaza is possible.”

Al Jazeera reported on May 17 that Naor Gilon, deputy director general of Israel’s foreign ministry, said: “Israel has no intention of allowing the flotilla into Gaza.”

There were reports the Israeli navy was running training exercises in preparation for the flotilla.

Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak has ordered that waters off Gaza become a closed zone for 20 nautical miles. said on May 25: “Reports coming from the Israeli Navy say they will jam the flotilla’s signals and communications, isolating those on board the ships, and barring the world from witnessing what could become a confrontation or prolonged naval stand-off.”

A “protest” in support of Israel’s policies was also launched from northern Israel. Two boats set sail from Herzliya on May 22, displaying photos of rocket fire on Israel and photos of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldier Gilad Shalit, captured by Palestinian resistance fighters in Gaza.

The Israeli government has also claimed Gaza does not need the international aid. But the Free Palestine Movement in the US said Gaza has received almost none of the US$4.5 billion in aid pledged by the international community after Israel’s brutal 2008-09 assault.

Israel has claimed it will deliver the ships’ cargo by land (after arresting and deporting the activists), but flotilla organisers say this is a lie.

The first aid flotilla, organised by the Free Gaza Movement in August 2008, carried 44 people from 17 countries and was welcomed by thousands of Palestinians.

Since then, five protest boats have managed to land in Gaza. The past three attempts have been halted by the Israeli military.

In December 2009, one boat was rammed at sea by an Israeli gunboat. Its cargo was confiscated and passengers were arrested, detained and then deported.

Organisers said the size of the Freedom Flotilla is for protection as well as bringing significant aid.

Aengus O’Snodaigh, a member of the fleet from Irish republican party Sinn Fein, said: “We will not allow our flotilla to be divided. We will stay with our cargo ships — they are the core of the flotilla carrying essential construction materials denied entry into Gaza — cement, steel, and houses.

“This action is not a symbolic gesture but a concrete intervention to allow the people of Gaza to rebuild their lives with dignity.”

Below: Political scientists Norman Finkelstein discusses Israel's attack.


Ships forcing their way into Gaza will do nothing to aid the people there. Existing land crossings are more than capable of meeting their needs. International aid organizations and the private sector of Gaza ensure that all the necessary food, medicine and clothing are provided to the Strip via Israel. In a typical week, 15,000 tons of supplies enter Gaza. Truckloads of meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, fruits, vegetables, milk powder, baby food, wheat and other staples arrive in Gaza on a daily basis. Building materials are also shipped in, when monitored by International organization so as not to be commandeered by Hamas for the fortification of bunkers. Since the ceasefire in January 2009, well over a million tons of humanitarian supplies entered Gaza from Israel - that is almost a ton of aid for each man, woman and child in the Strip. The land crossings remain the most efficient system to transfer goods to Gaza, and the flotilla organizers are well aware of this fact. The organizers also know that since December 2008, their ships have been denied permission to land. Israel has invited the organizers of the flotilla to use the land crossings, in the same manner as all the reputable international organizations. However, they are 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. If the organizers were truly interesting in providing humanitarian aid - as opposed to engaging in publicity stunts - they would use the proper channels to ensure delivery of any supplies.
This is a pathetic excuse for the ongoing blockade of Gaza. "Existing land crossings are more than capable of meeting their needs" In fact, Israel allows only the minimum number of calories necessary to ensure physical survival. "If the organizers were truly interesting in providing humanitarian aid..." If Israel was truly interested in democracy, they would not kill unarmed peace activists in the middle of the night in international waters! Kevin Rudd and Stephen Smith should immediately denounce Israel in the strongest possible terms. Australia should break diplomatic relations with Israel!
Stanly- Even if you dont think this is about aid- (Amnesty International Disagrees what really makes this so uncomprehensively evil is that Israel has just murdered up to 20 unarmed and peaceful activists while they illegally commandeered a civilian boat in international waters. It is blatantly and obviously illegal. People have been murdered for the audacity of taking medicines to the sick and food to the hungry. Even IF you think that aid wasn't neccessary- what crime has been committed that warranted 19 dead and dozen injured.
Gaza is not part of Israel. Never was - not even Australia nor USA regards it as Israeli territory. The ships were seized in international waters by pirates calling themselves the Israeli Navy. The 600 captured are all hostages held in Israeli dungeons. "Ships forcing their way into Gaza will do nothing to aid the people there" - WRONG twice over Already Israel has promised to send its pirate booty to Gaza incl that which is regarded by them as contraband. WRONG Egypt has promised to temporarily open its border. Israel/Egypt currently allows no books, no building materials, severely restricted levels of food and medicines to the beseiged country. Hamas IS the democratically government of Gaza. It has no problems with the aid. (Like it or not) just as a Likud dominated coalition Is the democratically elected government of Israel The government of Jerusalem is about as relevant to the people of Gaza as that of Central African Republic or Mongolia. The Israeli Gvt's publicity stunt in capturing 600 defenceless humanitarian workers and food destined for the destitute - may work inside Israel. It is turning Israel's Arab partners away.
8 out of 10 Gazans depend on foreign aid to survive. The World Food Program says Gaza requires a minimum of 400 trucks a day to meet basic nutritional needs - yet an average of just 171 trucks worth of supplies enters Gaza every week, Clothes that were held in the port of Ashdod for over a year were released into Gaza but arrived covered with mold and mildew, unusable. 95% of Gaza's water fails World Health Organization standards leaving thousands of newborns at risk of poisoning. Anemia for children under the age of 5 is estimated at 48%. 75 million liters of untreated sewage are pumped into the Mediterranean Sea every day - because piping and spare parts are not permitted. During the 2009 bombing: More than 120,000 jobs were lost as Gaza's industrial zone was destroyed... 15,000 homes and apartments were damaged or destroyed... 1/3 of all schools were destroyed. None of these can be rebuilt, because construction supplies are kept out by the Israeli authorities.

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