Australians to join next Gaza flotilla

May 20, 2011
Sydney rally to protest Israel's attack on the first Freedom Flotilla, June 5. Photo: Lauren Carroll Harris

Three Australian activists will take part in the Freedom Flotilla 2, the successor to the first Freedom Flotilla to Gaza in May 2010 that was brutally attacked in international waters by Israeli commandos.

Green Left Weekly’s Pip Hinman asked former NSW Greens parliamentarian Sylvia Hale why she has joined the Australian contingent on the flotilla.

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The first Freedom Flotilla in 2010 was attacked by Israeli commandos and nine activists were killed. Another aid flotilla for Gaza, in which you are taking part, is to set sail from European ports in June. What do you hope to achieve by taking part?

Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza is a gross violation of international law and of the human rights of the people of Gaza.

The siege continues because Israel's western allies, principally the US, Britain and Australia, continue to condone Israel's collective punishment of the people of Gaza.

I hope that the presence of Australians on the flotilla will encourage a greater awareness in Australia of the impacts of the blockade on the people of Gaza and on the need to end it.

What sort of backing does the Freedom Flotilla 2 have?

The 2010 Flotilla consisted of six ships; the 2011 Flotilla will comprise 15 and will carry activists from 25 nations. If we don't succeed in 2011, then I am confident that next year's flotilla will be even larger.

How do you expect the Israeli government to resist the flotilla’s attempt to break the blockade?

Israel, as it has for decades, seems determined not to change course but to thumb its nose at world opinion.

News is arriving of an armed attack by Israeli forces on a Malaysian ship, the Spirit of Rachel Corrie, which is on a humanitarian mission to transport sewage pipes to Gaza to repair Gaza's sewage treatment works.

The works were extensively damaged during Operation Cast Lead [Israel’s December 2008-January 2009 military attack on Gaza].

Until the works are fixed, hundreds of thousands of litres of untreated raw sewage will continue to pour into the Mediterranean each day — posing a major health and environmental danger not only to Gaza but to all countries bordering the Mediterranean.

The failure of the US and Australia to speak out against Israeli government policies has encouraged Israel's brazen contempt for human rights, its preparedness to abduct and assassinate political opponents, to inflict massive casualties on unarmed civilian populations and to resort to draconian forms of collective punishment.

Israel says that it has relaxed the siege on Gaza and the interim Egyptian government has said that it will open the Egypt-Gaza border crossing. Is this the case?

The United Nations reported that the period March 30 to April 12, 2011 “witnessed the greatest escalation in violence in Gaza and southern Israel since the end of the “Cast Lead” offensive in January 2009.

“Overall, 23 Palestinians, including ten civilians, were killed and 65 Palestinians, including 46 civilians, and two Israeli civilians, were injured. The Kerem Shalom crossing was closed between 5 and 12 April bringing the transfer of goods to and from Gaza through the crossings with Israel to a complete halt.”

The UN consistently reports on the consequences of the ongoing siege for Gaza: widespread unemployment, extensive malnutrition and grossly inadequate living conditions.

Although Egypt has said that it will open the Rafah crossing into Gaza, it has yet to do so.

Israel has objected to the signing of an agreement between the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank and Hamas government in Gaza with a view to declaring a state of Palestine in a few months. What is your view on this process and what impact do you think the flotilla will have on these developments?

As the WikiLeaks documents make clear, Israel has consistently thwarted any attempts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel's foreign policy has centred on its being able to portray itself as an island of stability in a sea of Islamist hostility.

Its alarm at the overthrow of [Hosni] Mubarak in Egypt, at the emergence of democratic movements within Arab countries and at the “detente” between the PA and Hamas suggest that the Israeli government knows only too well that the tide of events is running against it.

Should it attempt to attack the flotilla as aggressively as it did in 2010, the ensuing international outrage and media attention could well lead to an even greater focus on Israeli duplicity.

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