The Gaza Freedom Flotilla consisted of six ships carrying 750 people and food, medicine and housing materials for Gaza. Starting out in Turkey, the ships were crossing the Mediterranean Sea to break the blockade of Gaza and deliver the aid. On May 31, 2010, while the ships were in international waters, the Israeli military surrounded the flotilla and staged a commando raid on the flotilla’s largest ship, the Mavi Marmara, killing nine people aboard and wounding dozens more.
Nine killed as ‘Troops started firing before they even touched down’
By LeiLani Dowell
Published June 2, 2010
A firestorm of condemnation and protest has followed Israel’s latest brutality—the massacre of nine unarmed activists by the Israeli navy in international waters north of Gaza. The activists were part of a 750-member delegation on a six-boat flotilla attempting to bring humani-tarian aid to the besieged people of Gaza.
The Freedom Flotilla was the largest attempt to date in the growing movement to break a three-year blockade of Gaza by Israel. Led by the Free Gaza Movement and Insani Yardim Vakfi, a Turkish organization, the flotilla carried some 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid, including medical and construction supplies.
New York demonstration protesting the flotilla killings.
WW photo: G. Dunkel
Representing 40 different countries, participants in the inter-national delegation included 85-year-old Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein and government diplomats from various countries.
Unwarranted attack in international waters
Some 70 miles off the Israeli coast, Israeli naval vessels and a helicopter surrounded the convoy on May 31, 2010. In an act of piracy, heavily masked Israeli commandoes slid down ropes from helicopters onto the largest of the six convoy ships, the Mavi Marmara. Journalists aboard the ship reported that the troops started firing before they even touched down. Reports also note that passengers aboard the ship were waving white flags at the time of the invasion.
‘We communicated that we were unarmed’
Huwaida Arraf, a Free Gaza Movement leader, told the New York Times: “We communicated to [the Israeli Defense Forces] clearly that we are unarmed civilians. We asked them not to use violence.”
Houston protest after the attack on the Mavi Marmara.
WW photo: Gloria Rubac
In an absurd propaganda spin, the Israeli Defense Forces claimed that upon boarding the ship, the IDF naval soldiers were met with “live fire and weaponry including knives and clubs,” forcing them to use what they called “riot dispersal means.” Suggesting that the activists did not have the right to defend themselves against the attack, the military reports the wounding of four Israeli soldiers as justification for the slaying of innocent civilians aboard the ship. Danny Ayalon, Israeli deputy foreign minister, also claimed at a press conference that “the organizers are well known for their ties to global jihad, Al Qaeda and Hamas.”
According to reports, the Israeli navy seized all six ships and, after telling the press the ships would be taken to Ashdod, towed them to Haifa to avoid scrutiny. Meanwhile, all other participants aboard the ship have been imprisoned or deported.
Worldwide protests condemn massacre
Protests broke out around the world in condemnation of the massacre. Massive rallies took place in Turkey, where protesters attempted to storm the Israeli Consulate in Istanbul. Demonstrations were held in Cyprus, Iraq, Norway, Sweden and in Paris, Rome and more than 20 cities in Greece.
In the U.S. emergency protests were held May 31, 2010, in cities throughout the country in spite of the Memorial Day holiday. Protesters denounced the U.S. for providing military and other material support to client-state Israel, allowing it to carry out such atrocities. The Obama administration has pledged at least $30 billion in military aid to Israel over the next 10 years.
Turkey recalls ambassador, charges ‘state terrorism’
Turkey’s government, which had in large part sponsored the flotilla, immediately recalled its ambassador from Israel and requested an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council that was held on May 31, 2010. Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the incident “state terrorism.”
Other governments were forced to respond as well. Both Turkey and Greece canceled joint military exercises they had planned with Israel, and Israeli envoys were summoned by the governments of Turkey, Egypt, Jordan and several European countries in protest of the attack.
Murat Mercan, the head of the Turkish Grand National Assembly’s foreign affairs commission, noted on television: “We are going to see in the following days whether Israel has done it as a display of decisiveness or to commit political suicide.” (New York Times, May 31, 2010)
Obama does not condemn attack
The response from the U.S. was far milder. After a June 1, 2010, meeting in Washington between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was canceled, the New York Times reported that rather than expressing condemnation of the raid, the White House “released a statement saying that President Obama had spoken with Mr. Netanyahu and understood his need to return immediately to Israel. In addition to regrets about the loss of life, ‘the president also expressed the importance of learning all the facts and circumstances around this morning’s tragic events as soon as possible,’ the statement said.” (May 31, 2010)
Siege leaves Gazans impoverished, with health deteriorating
A recent World Health Organization (WHO) report states that the health of Gaza’s population continues to deteriorate as a result of the Israeli blockade—a form of collective punishment unleashed by Israel after Hamas took electoral power in the area.
The WHO report notes acute shortages of cooking gas, fuel and other basic necessities in Gaza and states that 98 percent of industrial operations have been shut down since 2007. A ban on the import of building materials means that some 6,400 homes destroyed by Israel’s 2008-2009 bombings have not been rebuilt. The same military operation destroyed water and sanitation infrastructure that Gazans have also been unable to repair, according to a May 18 IRIN report. (IRIN, the Integrated Regional Information Network, is a news agency that focuses on human rights issues in regions often neglected by establishment media.)
The report shows 56 percent of Gazans living below the poverty level in the third quarter of 2008, with chronic malnutrition at 10.2 percent. However, the situation is not much better for the rest of Palestine, with 51 percent of all Palestinians living below the poverty level in the same period.
Steadfastness of Palestinians inspires people’s movement
The continued attacks on the Palestinian people and their steadfast allies will only increase the call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. This most recent atrocity exposes not only the ruthlessness of the settler Israeli state—and the U.S. as its sponsor—but also shows the steadfastness and determination of people around the world to free Palestine.