Tag Archives: Turkey

American flotilla passengers set to challenge U.S. support for Gaza blockade

This article originally appeared in Mondoweiss:

The pressure is mounting on the second “Freedom Flotilla” to Gaza.  Anti-flotilla lawsuits in New York and Toronto have been filed, the Israeli government is ramping up its propaganda efforts and the Turkish Mavi Marmara ship is no longer sailing following U.S. pressure.

But the American passengers are still determined to sail on The Audacity of Hope later this month, and they are now on their way to Greece to complete the initial leg of their journey before setting off to the Mediterranean from an undisclosed port.

And if there was one important and unifying message the American flotilla passengers conveyed yesterday at a press conference where they took questions from reporters, it was this:  the U.S. Boat to Gaza effort is a direct challenge to American support for Israel and its crippling blockade of Gaza.

Gabriel Schivone, an Arizona resident and activist, said that he will be wearing a Star of David around his neck on his journey to Gaza to “symbolize the root meanings of Judaism that are not emphasized enough, namely welcoming a stranger as you were a stranger, helping free the slave as though you were once enslaved.  So rather than travel to contribute to more death and suffering, I choose to travel there to directly and nonviolently protest the support and participation of my own government in these crimes.”

Schivone is joining 36 other Americans who are off to Gaza.  Hundreds of people from some 20 countries are set to take part in the flotilla aiming to break Israel’s blockade.

“We have a special responsibility,” said Richard Levy, a labor and civil rights lawyer joining the boat.  “Our country is not supporting what [Bashar] Assad is doing.  It is not supporting what [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad is doing…But the fact is, we are the main supporters of what Israel is doing in the Middle East.  And that support has been destructive not only to the Palestinian people but to this country in a very, very large way.”

Levy also reported details of a meeting U.S. flotilla activists had with the State Department in which they provided details about the mission and asked for protection.  The activists also wanted to “talk policy issues,” which the State Department declined to meet with them about.

A State Department spokesperson told reporters June 1 “that groups and individuals who seek to break Israel’s maritime blockade of Gaza are taking irresponsible and provocative actions that entail a risk to their safety.”

Shortly after the meeting, according to Levy, the State Department sent them a communique that “warned people not to go on the flotilla, that Israel could be expected to use force, and that Israel expected to enforce its blockade.”

“The State Department is on notice, the president is on notice,” said Levy. “Communications have been made with all levels of the State Department and the administration to let them know that this is a boat of U.S. citizens on a peaceful mission, and that we expect the United States government to speak to Israel or to do what it needs to do to protect its citizens.”

‘The Palestine Cables’: Gaza is a burning issue from Egypt to Latin America to Pakistan, to John Kerry being ’shocked by what I saw’

This is the third installment of my new column on WikiLeaks and Israel/Palestine at Mondoweiss.  You can read all the installments here.

Forsaken by the “peace process,” ignored by mainstream media, denied justice two years after Israel committed what many rights groups called war crimes– still, the plight of Palestinians in the blockaded Gaza Strip remains a burning issue around the world.  Cables from the trove of State Department documents WikiLeaks has been releasing show that global civil society’s outrage at the brutal 2008-09 Israeli assault on Gaza has resonated with governments everywhere, and that Gaza remains a symbol of everything that’s wrong with the Israeli occupation.

–A cable from February 2010 states that Egypt’s government has voiced concern over “intense domestic and regional criticism of perceived complicity in the Israeli blockade of Gaza” because of its “counter smuggling efforts, including the construction of a subterranean steel wall along the Egypt-Gaza border.”

–The General Intelligence Chief in Egypt, Omar Soliman, told a U.S. diplomat in April 2009 that “‘incidents like Gaza…inflame public anger'” and that Operation Cast Lead “put ‘moderate (Arab) regimes’ in a corner.”

–The undersecretary for Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs told a U.S. diplomat during a February 2010 visit that the “‘humanitarian situation in Gaza,'” which is not a punishment of Hamas, but of the Gazan people, fed Turkish popular anger against Israel.”

–A document prepared for a U.S. Senator’s upcoming visit to Saudi Arabia in March 2009 states that, “Saudi and Arab public opinion have reacted strongly to the Israeli offensive on Gaza, creating intense pressure on Arab governments to act. The Saudis fear instability and increasing Iranian influence could result, and believe that there is a limited window of opportunity for action.”

–Lashkar-e-Taiba, a militant Islamist group that operates out of Pakistan, “purportedly raises funds for the Palestinian people in response to Israel’s attacks on Gaza,” according to an August 2009 cable.

But as the international coalition that made headlines last May when Israeli naval forces raided their flotilla and killed 9 people showed, the issue of Gaza doesn’t only resonate in the Arab and Muslim world.

–When Assistant Secretary Thomas Shannon visited Spain in January 2009, “Gaza crept into discussions of Latin America,” according to a State Department cable.  While that cable doesn’t go into more detail about the content of the discussions about Gaza, it likely reflects the intense Spanish and Latin American solidarity with the people of Gaza.  In a February 2009 cable, Benjamin Netanyahu told a Congressional delegation that “there were larger demonstrations against the Gaza operation in Madrid and London than in the West Bank.”

–U.S. Senator John Kerry told Qatar’s prime minister in February 2010 that he was “‘shocked by what I saw in Gaza.'”

The two-year anniversary of the Israeli assault on Gaza is approaching, and the situation in the Strip has not changed much. But friends of the Palestinians can surely take solace in the fact that governments around the world are beginning to take notice of Palestinian conditions as a result of popular pressure.  The WikiLeaks cables show further that Israel may have gone too far during those “22 days of death and destruction.”

For more WikiLeaks news and analysis relating to Israel/Palestine, see:

Foreign Policy’s Mideast Channel, Matt Duss:  “Linkage and its discontents: What WikiLeaks reveals about Israel-Palestine”

The Angry Arab News Service, As’ad Abu Khalil:  “Why Israel has not figured in Wikileaks yet”

The Guardian, Ian Black:  “WikiLeaks cables: Syria believed Israel was behind sniper killing”

AFP“WikiLeaks: Fatah asked Israel to attack Hamas”