Israel commits a criminal act by attacking ships with humanitarian aid to Gaza

Israel commits a criminal act by attacking ships with humanitarian aid to Gaza

The Gaza Strip, one of the world’s most densely packed places and today, is a firmly sealed human pressure cooker. Their desperation may lead to more violence and profoundly damaging to one of the world’s oldest and largest refugee populations, if urgent action is not taken to address it.

The 1.5 million people of Gaza — more than half of whom are under the age of 18 — are struggling under severe embargo further tightened by Israel.

To ease their living conditions, the Free Gaza Movement organized a flotilla of six ships with humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza. In particular, the ban on building materials had prevented Gazans from repairing thousands of homes that were damaged or destroyed in an Israeli military offensive in January 2009..

The flotilla, which includes three cargo ships and three passenger ships, is trying to draw attention to Israel’s three-year blockade of the Gaza Strip. The boats are carrying items that Israel bars from reaching Gaza, like cement and other building materials. The activists said they also were carrying hundreds of electric-powered wheelchairs, prefabricated homes and water purifiers.

On 30 May, Huwaida Arraf, one of the organisers of the Freedom Gaza Movement, said the six-ship flotilla began the journey from international waters off the coast of Cyprus after two days of delays. She said they expected to reach Gaza, about 400km away, and that two more ships would follow in “a second wave”.

Some 700 pro-Palestinian activists are on the boats, including 1976 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire of Northern Ireland, European legislators and an elderly Holocaust survivor.

.Israel’s attack on international waters:

This is the ninth time that the Free Gaza movement has tried to ship in humanitarian aid to Gaza since August 2008.

Israel has blocked them from entering Gaza waters since a three-week military offensive against Gaza’s Hamas rulers in January 2009. The flotilla bound for Gaza is the largest to date

When Israel learnt about the flotilla, three Israeli navy missile boats left their base in Haifa, steaming out to sea to confront the ships and Israel Radio broadcast a recording of one of the missile boats warning the flotilla not to approach Gaza.

On 31 May, Israeli naval commandos raided at least one of the six ships carrying aid for blockaded Gaza, killing at least 19 persons ( most of them are believed to be Turkish) and wounding 70 people including one Australian on board. An Arabic satellite service and a Turkish TV network reported the raid.

The al-Jazeera satellite channel reported by telephone from the Turkish ship leading the flotilla that Israeli navy forces fired at the ship and boarded it, wounding the captain. The Turkish NTV network also reported an Israeli takeover with gunfire.

The Israeli leaders tried to justify the raid by stating that two activists were found with pistols they had taken from commandos and opened fire.

The ship was 115 kilometres off from the Israeli coast and was clearly in international waters. This was a serious breach of international law and Israel cannot justify its raid on any excuse. Greta Berlin, of Free Gaza Movement reportedly rejected Israeli version and said “ This is a lie” adding that the civilian passengers on board never thought there would be violence.

International condemnation:

The Israeli raid on a ship carrying humanitarian aid echoed worldwide condemnation. The attack damaged Israel’s ties with Turkey, one of its most important Muslim partners. Turkey recalled its Ambassador to Israel and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan cut short his visit to Latin America. Turkey would raise the matter to the Security Council.

In several European countries, Israeli envoys were summoned to explain the raid. Israeli Prime Minister who was visiting Canada cancelled his scheduled trip to Washington. Egypt and Jordan, two Arab neighbours, that have peace treaties with Israel also summoned Israeli envoys to protest the raid. Qatar strongly condemned Israel for its unwarranted military action.

The UN Secretary General wanted a full explanation from Israel on the raid. Two senior UN officials ( Robert Serry and Filippo Grandi) involved in the Middle East peace process, condemned the attack

The EU’s Foreign Affairs High Representative Catherine Aston called for an investigation into the events and the immediate lifting of blockade of Gaza.

Israel’s arrogance & inaction by Quartet:

Israel does not care international community or the UN simply because the big powers in the Security Council tolerate its illegal behaviour. The Council imposes sanctions on other countries but on Israel. It gets away easily from international crimes.

Israeli leaders were surprised at the international backlash against their war in Gaza last year and continue to be wounded by the UN Goldstone Report that said there was strong evidence that Israel had committed crimes against humanity. (Judge Goldstone is a Jew ).

The US together with the EU, UN and Russia ( known as the Quartet ) in April 2003, released its roadmap that outlined a three-stage program leading to an independent Palestinian State by 2005. By 2010, no Palestine State has been constituted because of Israel’s defiant policy of continuing illegal settlements in Palestinian lands with impunity.

There is a view in the Middle East that European Union (EU), a party to quartet of the 2003 road map for peace in Israel-Palestinian conflict, has appeared to have abandoned its centrist stance and has moved closer to the Israeli position.

EU’s position on the Middle East issues before 2005 tended to fall between Arab and Israeli position and usually offered a sensible approach to peace-making between the Palestinians and Israelis. Regretfully, both London and Berlin appear to have discarded neutrality between the two sides of the conflict and moved closer to the Israeli position.

EU’s strength rests on the fact that it may point out wrongdoings of all sides and remains impartial and fair. By articulating the middle ground, EU can improve the chances of parties themselves moving in the direction of peaceful settlement.

Russia does not seem to be seriously engaged in the peace process of the Middle East.. The Palestinian conflict has given rise to militants in the Middle East and they may be attracted to the Caucasus where insurgency in Dagestan, Ingushetia and Chechnya exist for some time. Once the Palestinian issue is resolved, much of the militancy in the region and beyond will likely to disappear.

Another dimension is the implementation of single standard of morality and law for all countries in the region. One law is for Israel and another for Palestine or Lebanon or Iran is discriminatory. This will not hold because it constitutes a double standard.

The Quartet appears to be well placed to carry out a policy based on law, equity, impartiality and inclusion in its engagement in the Middle East to reverse the growing cycle of tension and violence

The Quartet must put pressure on Israel to halt illegal settlements in occupied West Bank including in East Jerusalem and create an environment in which both States—Israel and Palestine-can live peacefully with secure and viable borders. Palestinian state must not be fragmented by Israeli illegal settlements in between the teritories of Palestine State.

On 23rd March, 2010, Israeli hawkish Prime Minister Netanyahu declared in a passionate speech in Washington to the powerful US-Israel lobby AIPAC (American Israel Public Affair Committee) that “Jerusalem is not a settlement,” spelling out an apparent message of no compromise towards the US.

Although the Obama administration has cautioned that building more Jewish settler homes in annexed east Jerusalem directly undermines US credibility as a mediator and efforts to get “proximity” talks started between Israel and the Palestinians, Israel snubs the US publicly.

By Barrister Harun ur Rashid
Former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.

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