To review. Since June 2007, Israel has imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip, allowing just a trickle of humanitarian goods to enter the area. If you go to the website of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, you’ll read about the “[m]illions of dollars worth of international food aid” that “continually flows through the Israeli humanitarian apparatus” (“Behind the Headlines: The Israeli humanitarian lifeline to Gaza,” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 25 May 2010). But this is propaganda, pure and simple. Yes, Israel allows some goods to enter Gaza, but it obviously doesn’t allow in enough to meet the area’s needs. Before the blockade, nearly 600 truckloads of goods were entering Gaza each day; today the number is around 100 (Locked In: The Humanitarian Impact of Two Years of Blockade on the Gaza Strip,” Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs occupied Palestinian territory, August 2009).
Consequently, Gaza continues to experience what can only be described as a humanitarian catastrophe. Here are a few examples from two recent UN reports:
- “As of June 2009, a total of 46% of agricultural land in the Gaza Strip was assessed to be inaccessible or out of production owing to destruction of lands during ‘Cast Lead’ and inaccessible areas lying within the ‘security buffer zone.’ Only a limited percentage of this land has been rehabilitated due to the blockade that restricts the import of materials and equipment for rehabilitation and access to damaged areas.”
- “Since January 2009, fishers’ access to fishing grounds has been further restricted to 3 nautical miles (nm) from the shore. This has resulted in a depletion of catches and revenues. In Gaza, the majority of profits from fishing come from sardines, however, schools of sardine pass beyond the 3 nm mark and sardine catches are down 72%. Adult fish are mostly found beyond the 3 nm limit and therefore fishing within the current zone rapidly depletes new generations of fish, with severe implications for fish life-cycles and therefore long-term fishing livelihoods” (Farming without Land, Fishing without Water: Gaza Agriculture Sector Struggles to Survive, OCHAoPt, May 2010)
- “[R]estrictions on the import of cement make impossible the reconstruction of some 12,000 Palestinian homes damaged or destroyed by Israeli military operations in recent years, as well as a further 20,000 homes needed to accommodate natural population growth in the Gaza Strip. In the same vein, UNRWA needs to build 100 schools in Gaza to cope with population growth; the number of students in UNRVWA schools by the start of the coming academic year will have increased by 15,000 above the classroom capacity since the start of the blockade in 2007; 15 schools are needed immediately.”
- “[A] new poverty survey conducted by UNRWA showed that the number of Palestine refugees completely unable to secure access to food and lacking the means to purchase even the most basic items, such as soap, school stationary and safe drinking water, has tripled since the imposition of the blockade in June 2007” (Impending Assistance: Challenges to Meeting the Humanitarian Needs of Palestinians, OCHAoPt, May 2010).
In response to this, the Free Gaza Movement recently organized a flotilla of eight boats to sail to Gaza to break the blockade and deliver several tons of humanitarian items, including cement, generators, water purification equipment, school notebooks, prefabricated homes, crayons, pens, pencils, footballs, basketballs, and an assortment of medical equipment, including CAT scanners, wheelchairs, and crutches (Harriet Sherwood, “Gaza aid flotilla to set sail for confrontation with Israel,” Guardian, 25 May 2010).
But Israel wasn’t about to let a bunch of peace activists diminish its “deterrence capacity,” so Saturday night, the Israeli Navy intercepted six of the flotilla’s boats and forbade them from continuing to Gaza. Unable to stop the largest boat, the Turkish Mavi Marmara, the Navy requested assistance. Israeli military helicopters soon surrounded the Mavi Marmara and commandos then rappelled down onto it. After that, Israeli officials claim that the soldiers “were attacked with clubs, metal rods and knives.” Although the exact chronology of events is still fuzzy, it’s clear that Israeli commandos, at one point or another, opened fire and ended up killing at least nine activists (Isabel Kershner, “Deadly Israeli Raid Draws Condemnation,” New York Times, 31 May 2010).
According to Israeli officials, “two violent activists” stole pistols from some of commandos “and apparently opened fire on the soldiers as evident [sic] by the empty pistol magazines. As a result of this life-threatening and violent activity, naval forces first employed riot dispersal means, followed by live fire” (“IDF forces met with pre-planned violence when attempting to board flotilla,” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 31 May 2010). But this account is contradicted by some of the ship’s passengers, who “said the troops opened fire as soon as they stormed the convoy.” Moreover, a reporter traveling with the activists “said that a white surrender flag was raised from the ship and there was no live fire coming from the passengers” (“Israel attacks Gaza aid fleet,” Al Jazeera English, 31 May 2010).
Whatever the case, it’s important to keep a couple things in mind. First, the ship didn’t contain Scud missiles or nuclear warheads intended for Hamas—but humanitarian goods, things like cement, school notebooks, crayons, wheelchairs, and crutches. Second, the incident took place in international waters. “Israeli Military spokeswoman, Avital Leibovich, confirmed that the attack took place in international waters, saying: ‘This happened in waters outside of Israeli territory, but we have the right to defend ourselves’” (ibid.). So Israeli soldiers had no right whatsoever to board the ship, and the activists had every right to defend themselves, just as each of us would have the right to defend ourselves if someone intruded into one of our homes.
Like I said, there’s no whitewashing what happened. The propagandists will keep trying, and consequently they’ll keep making asses of themselves. Because the facts speak for themselves.
I’ll be writing more about this in the next day or so.