Flotilla aims to turn tide on Israel's Gaza policies


OPINION:A year ago today, pro-Palestinian activists and Israel clashed at sea. Soon, another flotilla will near Gaza . . .

THE LONG-RUNNING Palestinian question is so full of twists and turns that even as a Palestinian I sometimes find it difficult to explain its various aspects. Describing the myriad harassments to which the Palestinian population is exposed – be they bombs, hostile checkpoints or imprisonment – sounds like something out of a Kafka novel; it is almost too sordid to be real. It is exhausting to keep up with a seemingly never-ending conflict.

The unfortunate reality is that the plight of the Palestinians is a dramatic one. It is a history of military occupation, statelessness, extrajudicial killings, detention without trial and law-enshrined discrimination.

Despite the depth of the problems, activists do not tire or lose hope. They continue to spread understanding of the conflict, because as revolutions across the Middle East have shown, it is ordinary decent people, and not governments, who hold the key to dismantling unjust regimes.

This time last year, 742 people from 42 countries boarded ships headed for Gaza on the Freedom Flotilla. Making good on Israel’s promise to stop the ships from completing their humanitarian mission, Israeli commandoes descended on the ships in international waters and killed nine people. The world was shocked at what seemed to be an act of piracy on the high seas, and on June 17th, 2010, the European Parliament condemned the attack as a breach of international law.

Despite widespread condemnation, no one has yet been brought to trial for the killing of the activists, and governments in Europe, including that of Ireland, continue business as usual with Israel. This sends a dangerous signal that Israel may attack foreign citizens with impunity, and encourages it to repeat last year’s unlawful assault.

Despite the danger-fraught mission, more than 1,000 citizens from around the world, supported by tens of thousands of small donations from ordinary people, will take part in a second flotilla in late June. It will be composed of 11 ships from the US, Canada France, Italy and elsewhere. The exact date and place of departure is not being publicised to decrease the chances of sabotage by Israeli agents.

The goal of Freedom Flotilla II Stay Human, as the second flotilla has been named, is once again to defy the Israeli siege on Gaza and focus the world’s attention on the Palestinian plight. Participating ships will carry items banned by Israel, such as reconstruction materials and medical equipment. An Irish vessel carrying 25 passengers, including prominent figures such as Trevor Hogan and Felim Egan, will participate.

For those awaiting a diplomatic process to resolve the Palestinian question, I am afraid there is none. It is easy to get sidetracked by the frequent announcements about a new round of US or Quartet-brokered talks in which the “final status” negotiations for a Palestinian state are parcelled out into infinitely smaller packages dealing with borders here and postponing the refugee issue there, but usually ending up only addressing the eternal question of Israel’s “security” concerns. It is never about the Palestinian people’s security, who since 2008 have endured over 2,200 casualties.

Since the 1993 peace accords, Israeli settlement building above water aquifers and at the expense of Palestinian farmland has been accelerated. Demolitions of Palestinian homes have increased. While the West Bank continued to be overtaken by illegal settlements and plundered for resources, Gaza was meted out a cruel isolation policy. Israel treats the two non-contiguous land masses as two different issues – a policy which jars with the peace process’s aim of allowing the emergence of a viable Palestinian state.

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s recent speech to the US Congress confirmed the fact Israel has no intention of facilitating the establishment of an independent state for the Palestinians, nor has it any intention of allowing Palestinians to be equal citizens in a bi-national single state.

Literature on the development of the Palestinian territories illustrates how, through closures and the division of Palestinian areas into separate enclaves, Israel keeps Palestinians indefinitely reliant on aid and the random opening of crossing points.

Any increases in GDP or employment have the effect of masking their causes: 1) aid; 2) the fact that growth only occurs because it comes in the wake of some extremely low starting point – such as the 2008-2009 war on Gaza.

Restricted areas make up 17 per cent of Gaza’s total land mass, and 35 per cent of its agricultural land. Fishermen cannot enter 85 per cent of the maritime areas they are entitled to access according to the Oslo Agreements. Access restrictions are routinely enforced by firing on anyone entering the restricted zones. Since operation Cast Lead, the Israeli army has killed another 200 Palestinians in numerous assaults.

Despite the likelihood of casualties, the Israeli authorities have not informed the population about the exact boundaries of the restricted areas and the conditions under which access to these areas may be permitted or denied. Furthermore, the imposed ban on the construction of three wastewater treatment plants has contributed to the daily release of 80 million litres of raw sewage into the sea, causing significant environmental and health hazards. It is these and similar daily hardships that mobilise people to do something tangible, such as get on a ship bound for Gaza.

Israel has launched a major public relations and diplomatic campaign to undermine the flotilla. Its claims range from a denial of any humanitarian crisis in Gaza to outright vilification of the passengers on the flotilla. Predictably, the campaign fails to acknowledge Palestinians are equal human beings who deserve to get medical aid, nutrition and education on their own, and not at the mercy of Israel, the UN or aid agencies.

By reaching Palestinians through their own port, the flotilla would defy the dehumanisation of a whole population and support the citizens of Gaza to assert their dignity.

The Palestinians will accept nothing less than a total end to the illegal blockade of Gaza and all forms of violence and discrimination against them. I urge all people of good conscience to demand the same.

Claudia Saba is a Palestinian PhD candidate in UCD studying the politics of wastewater management in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and is a spokeswoman for Irish Ship to Gaza – www.irishshiptogaza.org

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