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Flotilla of Peace?

June 2, 2010

There has been a worldwide condemnation of the Israeli ‘attack’ on the flotilla carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza. The Turkish aid agency IHH (Insani Yardim Vakfi) was sponsoring this aid flotilla with aid material amounting to some 10,000 tons. There were ‘peace activists’ from various countries around the world including the UK, USA, Australia, France, Germany and Norway. There were press photographers and journalists. One Indian journalist, Ashraf Wani is also reported on this aid flotilla.
It must be mentioned that Gaza has been facing a blockade since 2007. The blockade was imposed after Israeli forces entered Gaza and ravaged it in their attempt to clear the Palestinian enclave of Hamas fighters. It must also be recalled that for many years rockets were being fired from Gaza into Israel and towns like Sderot were facing major problem with the loss of lives and limbs of Israelis. These incessant rocket attacks had lead to a continued sense of insecurity among the Israelis living around Gaza. These rockets were being sourced from Iran and were shipped to Gaza. Hamas and Hezbollah had been using these rockets to intimidate Israelis. The blockade of Gaza was not a complete isolation of the Palestinian enclave.
It only meant that Israel took it upon their self to check everything that was entering Gaza. More than 15000 tons of relief material and goods of daily use were being allowed to enter Gaza every week. The only condition was that Israel would monitor everything that was sent into Gaza – looking at their security needs.
The IHH aid flotilla was a fleet of ships that started from Turkey and was trying to enter Gaza. The blockade by Israel was being tested. This was an attempt at trying to ascertain as to whether the Israelis had the will and the fortitude to carry out the blockade that they had imposed. The aid flotilla therefore had activists from various countries around the world. These were the people who have been critical of Israel and have lost no opportunity to support the Palestinian cause.
There has been much criticism of Israel that they stopped the flotilla on high waters – in international waters. They say that they had no authority to check the advance of the aid flotilla in international waters. This is a sly ploy to ensure that the aid flotilla breaks through the blockade imposed by Israel. If the Israeli naval patrol allowed the flotilla to enter Gaza waters (3 nautical miles from Gaza port) they would have declared victory and a cry against Zionism would have rented the air. Besides Palestinian naval boats would have come into the picture and claims would have been made of illegal trespassing by Israeli navy making the whole operation that much more complex. Once the aid flotilla had entered Gaza waters they would have then claimed that the blockade was just on paper if there are enough international observers and media persons on board, and that Israel would succumb to pressure and allow the aid material into Gaza without any checks.
Israeli naval patrol boats tried to stop the flotilla and repeatedly urged them to dock at the Israeli port of Ashdod so that the contents of the aid material be checked and then allowed into Gaza. All efforts by the Israeli patrol boats went unheeded and the IHH sponsored flotilla tried to push forward regardless. I may add here that Turkey and Egypt are two countries from the Islamic world that have cordial relations with Tel Aviv. It is also true that Egypt has also imposed a blockade from their side into Gaza.
When the warnings went unheeded the Israeli naval commandos were heli-dropped onto the ships carrying relief material. What ensued has been shown over TV channels across the world time and time again. One naval commando was thrown overboard to the deck below and then attacked by a group while others were attacked with iron bars and knives. The Israelis claim that their commandos were shot at by those on the aid flotilla but that has not come about in the video footage that has been released till now. The Israeli commandos retaliated and fired back. Nine people died and some others were injured. Israeli commandos were also injured. There were reports in a section of the media in India that twenty people had died in the skirmish but it seems that those reports were erroneous.
Loss of lives and use of violence must be condemned. I do not condone whatever happened. There is no room for violence when the flotilla was called the ‘flotilla of peace’. But the fact is that there was violence and it was started by those peace activists and members of the crew aboard the ‘peace flotilla’. The commandos reacted and people died. By any stretch of imagination, this is a very unfortunate incident. Would such a thing come to pass had the flotilla moved to Israeli port and allowed the authorities there to inspect the cargo and ensured that it reached the residents of Gaza? Had they insisted that they accompany the aid convoy into Gaza I am sure the Israeli authorities would have allowed that too! But their insistence on violating the blockade and testing Israeli resolve was more a political statement than a mere humanitarian gesture. I am sure there was nothing sinister in the aid material and nothing incriminating or vile. IHH should have gone out of their way to assuage any fears that the Israeli’s had as regards the contents of the aid material being sent to Gaza. Peace begets peace. Israeli fears about their security need to be addressed and a friendly country like Turkey should have gone that extra mile to ensure that Israelis were made aware of the contents therein. By the way, IHH is sponsored by the Turkish government.
The violence and the loss of life may have been a media coup for Palestinians and the Arab world and the state of Israel may have been on the back foot in this media blitzkrieg but the fact remains that by taking a tough posture Israel has shown that they will not allow any violation of the blockade imposed on Gaza. Egypt in solidarity with the Islamic world has opened its borders with Gaza for now. There have been demonstrations in all major capitals across the world including Washington DC, Paris, Berlin, London and others against Israeli highhandedness. Even the Security Council has passed a resolution condemning Israel. Israel has been painted as a villainous nation out to suppress anyone who comes in their way. The truth is that Israel has been forced to take such extreme security precautions as they have been attacked incessantly by Hamas and Hezbollah over the years. Do the people of Israel like to live in a state of constant alert? They would love to have peace and tranquility in their region. They would love to lead a ‘normal life’.  Such proactive security precautions are in place because Israel has learnt through experience that that is the only way to ensure peace for its citizens. Palestinians also would love to live in peace, I am sure. There is a need for some real constructive dialogue and either side should refrain from testing others resolve.
Update 3.06.2010: There is another ‘Flotilla of Freedom’ sailing towards Gaza. There could be a repeat action if those on board resort to violence. My hunch is that they won’t. Ban ki-Moon the UN Secretary General has called for lifting of the blockade on Gaza.
Those aboard the flotilla who were detained by Israel have returned to Turkey to hero’s welcome in the middle of the night. I cannot understand as to why their return is being celebrated so? Is it because they have returned back alive or because they have given Israel a hard time by getting the world community against Tel Aviv?
That there is a vibrant democracy in Israel became clear when an Arab female member of Parliament who was on the flotilla stood up to speak. There was an uproar and all hell broke loose. By the way, there are more than a million Arab Israeli citizens and a good percentage of Christians too, living in Israel.
Times London reports that IHH is an organization that covertly supports Hamas. Here is what the Times has reported in the 3rd June on line edition:

The IHH, which Israel says has links with the Palestinian group Hamas, first gained attention in the 1990s. Jean-Louis Bruguière, a French investigating magistrate and an authority on counter-terrorism, has said that in the mid-1990s the group’s leader, Bulent Yildirim, made efforts to “recruit veteran soldiers in anticipation of the coming holy war. In particular, some men were sent into war zones in Muslim countries in order to acquire combat experience”.

Mr Bruguière testified at the US trial of Ahmed Ressam, dubbed the Millennium Bomber, that the IHH had played an important role in a failed plot to bomb Los Angeles airport.

A 2006 report by the Danish Institute for International Studies described the group as a front for funding terrorist organisations and sending Mujahidin to fight in countries such as Afghanistan, Bosnia and Chechnya. The IHH, which is not on US or European terrorist lists, denies accusations of ties to terrorist groups.

The jury is still out, but surely there is more to this than meets the eye.

Update 5.06.2010: Jerusalem Post has reported that the White House has exhorted that aid flotilla dock at Ashdod to avoid confrontation and allow the Israeli government to check the contents therein. This is what Jerusalem Post has reported:

The White House on Friday urged aid boats making their way toward Gaza to accede to Israeli demands that they dock in Ashdod to avoid another violent incident.

“We strongly encourage those on board the Rachel Corrie and other vessels to sail to Ashdod to deliver their materials to Gaza,” US National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said in a statement, referring to a private Irish ship expected to arrive in the vicinity of Gaza Saturday morning.

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