Misinformation about Gaza
and the flotilla debacle

By Maurice Ostroff
June 7, 2010

Whether or not one considers the Gaza blockade justified, moral or wise, intellectual honesty demands that we base our conclusions on credible information. Unfortunately the majority of reports about the Gaza blockade are glaringly misleading.

Politicians, journalists and other pundits cannot reach rational conclusions, about Gaza while they continue to ignore the following indisputable FACTS.

1. The blockade of Gaza is a joint Egyptian-Israeli operation, supported by the Quartet.

The strident calls on Israel only, to lift the blockade create the false impression that only Israel has been blockading Gaza, whereas intellectual honesty requires that any reference to the blockade should describe it as the Egyptian-Israeli blockade.

The pundits need to be reminded that until now, the blockade has been supported by the Quartet as spelled out in a June 3 article in the Guardian “End the Gaza blockade? If only it were that simple”, as follows:

“Those who call on Israel to lift all restrictions on access to Gaza have not grasped the changed political reality… The policy of the Quartet and Israel since 2007 has been to isolate Hamas and strengthen the West Bank Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad. This is why most western diplomats refuse to have contact with Hamas officials, without Hamas first moderating its position by recognizing Israel, renouncing violence, and adhering to previous peace agreements.. Western policymakers must address the rights of the people of Gaza, but must also take account of the imperative not to strengthen those who reject the peace process, or their backers in Tehran and Damascus.”

Egypt’s recent partial opening of the Rafah crossing reminds us that the blockade of Gaza has been conducted equally by Egypt It has been actively destroying underground tunnels and last December it began constructing an underground steel wall. The world seems to have forgotten that British MP George Galloway was deported from Egypt when he arrived with activists who were prevented from taking 200 aid trucks into Gaza.

2. The blockade and boarding the ships are perfectly legal

Journalists and politicians who glibly talk of the blockade as illegal are displaying ignorance. Israel’s boarding of the ships is in full compliance with the Helsinki Principles on the Law of Maritime Neutrality.

According to clause 5.2.10…a blockade, i.e. the interdiction of all or certain maritime traffic coming from or going to a port or coast of a belligerent, is a legitimate method of naval warfare.. Neutral vessels believed on reasonable and probable grounds to be breaching a blockade may be stopped and captured. If they, after prior warning, clearly resist capture, they may be attacked”.

Clause 5.1.2 provides that “…merchant ships flying the flag of a neutral State may be attacked if they are believed on reasonable grounds to be carrying contraband or breaching a blockade, and after prior warning they intentionally and clearly refuse to stop, or intentionally and clearly resist visit, search, capture or diversion”.

Gaza is controlled by a belligerent Hamas that has been declared a terrorist organization by the USA, Canada and the EU. The official, openly declared policy of Hamas is to destroy Israel completely and to replace it with an Islamic state. Hamas refuses all efforts at negotiating a peaceful solution and Iran continues to supply Hamas with rockets and other weapons. Hence a state of belligerence exists, as contemplated in the above rules, and the blockade is designed legally to prevent arms and support material from being supplied to Hamas.

3 Background to the blockade.

The blockade was initiated by Egypt and Israel in 2007 with the full support of the US and the Quartet when Hamas seized control from the Palestinian government in the bloody Battle of Gaza described by PA leader Hanan Ashrawi as “a situation of mutiny and armed insurrection challenging the institution of the PA”. (http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=2921040n

We need to be reminded that before the Palestinian uprising, economic cooperation between the Palestinians and Israel was growing. Palestinian trucks moved freely on Israel’s roads facilitating the export of thousands of tons of agricultural products from Gaza to Jordan and beyond. Palestinian businessmen traveled freely and conducted their affairs in Israel and up to 100,000 Palestinians worked in Israel.

Unfortunately very little is known, even by experts on Palestine, about the many cooperative efforts established by Israel that were forced to close as a result of the intifadas. Before Hamas took control of Gaza, Israel and the Palestinian Authority cooperated in creating employment opportunities along the “seam-line”. A successful industrial zone was created at Erez which employed about 5,000 workers in some 200 businesses half of which were Palestinian-owned, producing everything from plastics to car parts. This was part of a larger Gaza Industrial Estate (GIE), slated to provide up to 50,000 jobs. Additional areas were planned for the Kerem Shalom area near Rafah in Gaza.

But the GIE zone became the target of deadly Palestinian attacks leading to its closure. Even the golden opportunity for a new prosperous Gaza created by Israel’s disengagement from the strip was rejected. The Gazans wantonly destroyed thousands of greenhouses and other projects left behind by the Jewish settlers that could have provided income for over 4,500 families.

4. “This mission is not about delivering humanitarian supplies, it’s about breaking Israel’s siege”

According to AFP, the above statement was made by Greta Berlin, an organizer of the flotilla on May 27, 2010.

Unfortunately, while many of the participants in the flotilla were genuinely motivated by humanitarian considerations, others were not so benign; they evidently planned a violent confrontation designed to break Israel’s alliance with Turkey. While five ships in the first convoy were peacefully diverted to Ashdod the sixth had 600 activists on board, sponsored by the “charitable” organization, Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH), an organization that was described by the Danish Institute for International Studies as having maintained links with al-Qaida and a number of global jihad networks during the 1990s

On June 1 2010, the Jerusalem Post reported that in 1997 when the Turkish government launched a raid on the organization’s offices, they found weapons, explosives, and instructions for bomb-making.

Under the telling headline ‘Israel Has Fallen into the Radicals’ Trap’, Spiegel Online of June 1, commented:

“…It is telling that the fighting only broke out on one boat in the flotilla: the Mavi Marmara, the only passenger ship, which was commanded by the radical Islamic Insani Yardim Yakfi (IHH). It is a group that has, since the 1990s, been accused by the American and French secret services of maintaining ties to jihadist organizations under the guise of humanitarian aid. In recent years, they successfully collected donations for the terrorist Hamas organization, which they then smuggled into the Gaza Strip. It appears that there were radical Islamist elements aboard the IHH ship … who didn’t want to limit their actions to peaceful resistance.”

If the intention of the flotilla had been entirely humanitarian, the organizers would willingly have accepted the offers by Israel and Egypt to transport all humanitarian supplies to Gaza after offloading either at Ashdod or El Arish.

Opportunities rejected

Unfortunately very little is known, even by experts on Palestine, about the many cooperative efforts established by Israel that were forced to close as a result of the intifadas.

Before Hamas took control of Gaza, Israel and the Palestinian Authority cooperated in creating employment opportunities along the “seam-line”. A successful industrial zone was created at Erez which employed about 5,000 workers in some 200 businesses half of which were Palestinian-owned, producing everything from plastics to car parts. This was part of a larger Gaza Industrial Estate (GIE), slated to provide up to 50,000 jobs. Additional areas were planned for the Kerem Shalom area near Rafah in Gaza.

But the GIE zone became the target of deadly Palestinian attacks leading to its closure. Even the golden opportunity for a new prosperous Gaza created by Israel’s disengagement from the strip was rejected. The Gazans wantonly destroyed thousands of greenhouses and other projects left behind by the Jewish settlers that could have provided income for over 4,500 families.

{} {} {} The writer is a business consultant whose op-eds have seen the light in several publications, notably in The Jerusalem Post.

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