The MV Rachel Corrie is (at time of writing) 150 miles from the Israeli exclusion zone round the Gaza Strip. The ship is carrying items banned by the Israeli blockade of Gaza, including cement and building materials. The passenger list on the ship is mainly British and Irish citizens, including Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire. So who are these people, why are they there and what on earth is Israel going to do this time?
Why Are They Heading to Gaza?
The campaign of sending ships to Gaza has been organised and promoted by the Free Gaza Movement. The organisation aims to break the three year old blockade of Gaza which has devastated the region and impoverished a group of people in what has been called ‘collective punishment’, the idea of punishing a whole group of people for the actions of a minority within it. In this case, punishing all the people of Gaza for the words and actions of Hamas.
The mission can be summarised best by the Free Gaza Movement:
“We want to break the siege of Gaza. We want to raise international awareness about the prison-like closure of the Gaza Strip and pressure the international community to review its sanctions policy and end its support for continued Israeli occupation. We want to uphold Palestine's right to welcome internationals as visitors, human rights observers, humanitarian aid workers, journalists, or otherwise.We have not and will not ask for Israel’s permission. It is our intent to overcome this brutal siege through civil resistance and non-violent direct action, and establish a permanent sea lane between Gaza and the rest of the world.”
Blockade you say...?
The current Israeli blockade of Gaza has been in operation for 3 years. Following unilateral withdrawal of troops from the area in 2005, Israel stated it was no longer the occupying force in Gaza and that Hamas was running the place. However, it kept it’s hermetically sealed perimeter force including the security wall, and maintains military vigil of the territorial waters of Gaza and its airspace, having blown it’s international airport to bits in the early noughties, and torn the runways up.
Hamas militants, somewhat miffed about being imprisoned in an Israeli built fortress with no access to the outside world, took to sending the odd rocket over the walls into neighbouring Israeli villages like Ashkelon and Sderot. Cue Israeli air raids on this densely populated ghetto killing ‘militants’ and civilians alike in their ones, twos, tens and hundreds.
The blockade itself has been widely condemned by the world community and described by UN officials as ‘grim’, ‘deteriorating’ and like ‘a medieval siege’. According to released Israeli govt documents on the blockade, in calculating the amount of aid allowed into the area, the daily calorie allowance for Palestinians used is only 850 calories. Less than half the average calories for a woman per day recommended by the world health authority. Dov Weisglass, Former Israeli Premier Ariel Sharon’s Chief of Staff, made a joke out of this. “It’s like a meeting with a dietitian,” he said. “We need to make the Palestinians lose weight, but not to starve to death.”
The Israeli government says the blockade is in place to stop weapons smuggling into the Gaza Strip. Fine....then why aren’t they letting everything else through and just stopping weapons?
Below is the list of things which are allowed in to Gaza. Have a good long think about what is not on that list and just how viable a weapon it might make....is the state of Israel really concerned that Gaza is about to launch a chocolate bomb at Ashkelon?
Who is on The Ship?
The following high profile passengers on the MV Rachel Corrie, released via the Free Gaza Movement website:
Mairead Maguire from Belfast, Ireland, a Nobel Peace Laureate (l976) and Co-founder of Peace People, Northern Ireland. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work for peace and a nonviolent solution to the Ethnic/political conflict in Northern Ireland. Mairead went on the maiden Voyage of Dignity in October 2008, the second successful voyage for the Free Gaza Movement. She was also on Board ‘Spirit’ when Israel hijacked the Boat in International Waters, taking all 2l humanitarian passengers to Israel, where they were arrested, detained for a week in an Israeli prison and then deported.
Denis Halliday, from Ireland, a UN Assistant Secretary-General from 1994-98. Appointed by SG Boutros Ghali, he served as ASG UN Human Resources Management in New York and in mid 1997 to end 1998 as Head, Humanitarian Programme in Iraq to support the Iraqi people struggling under the genocidal impact of UN Sanctions. Since resigning from the UN in 1998, Halliday has delivered numerous parliamentary briefings, provided extensive media inputs and has given public/university lectures on Iraq, human rights, and the UN, in particular its reform.
Matthias Chang Wen Chieh is a Malaysian of Chinese descent. He is a Barrister of 32 years standing and once served as the Political Secretary to the Fourth Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad. He is the author of three bestsellers, “Future Fast Forward”, “Brainwashed for War, Programmed to Kill”, and “The Shadow Money-Lenders and the Global Financial Tsunami”, published in the US and in Malaysia.
Mohd Nizar bin Zakaria,Perak, Malaysia, MP Mohd Nizar bin Zakaria is a Member of the Malaysian Parliament.
In addition, there is a three-member camera crew on board from Malaysia TV3 and journalist Shamsul Akmar bin Musa Kamal.
I’m behind the curve...didn’t a bunch of ships already get stopped?
This week, a flotilla of humanitarian aid ships (of which the Rachel Corrie would have been included, were it not for a technical fault which kept her in dock at Cyprus) were surrounded and boarded in international waters by Israeli sea and air crews, during which Israeli armed forces shot and killed 9 Turkish passengers and injured many others.
What does Israel Think About all This?
Since then, Israeli public feeling has been sharply divided. However, it is really only the most nationalist of voices which have given their full backing to the attacks. The main opposition from within Israel seems not to be one of principle but one of practise i.e. that the IDF has committed a gross blunder and someone should be held to account – ‘why were our boys on that boat in the first place?’ type stuff. Some quarters of Israeli media have positioned this as a public relations blunder on the part of the IDF. This is best summarised by the Haaretz article below:
However, the mainstream media in Israel and the Israeli government have been on PR overdrive this week. Having seized all the goods and telecommunications equipment of the passengers on the flotilla AND incarcerating them for days without the possibility of uttering so much as a peep to the newshungry global community – the Israeli PR machine pumped out their own video version of events with suitable polemic across the world, filling the void. So now, the original version of events is set and it is for the passengers of the ships to provide a verbal counter argument with no visual/audio record of their own to contest the Israeli’s. Unless by some miracle...somebody smuggled something. I sincerely hope this is the case and some balance is possible.
What is Israel going to do to the Rachel Corrie?
Frankly, we just don’t know.
The Israeli government has stated clearly that it will not allow the MV Rachel Corrie to dock in Gaza. It has also offered to take in the 1200 tonnes of aid aboard the ship to Gaza over land once it has checked the contents. However, this is a non option for the humanitarian teams aboard as the whole point of the aid is that it contains many items which are required by the people of Gaza but NOT ALLOWED by the Israeli blockade. Therefore, if they hand it over the Israeli’s they clearly will not take it into Gaza.
The passengers of the MV Rachel Corrie have stated that they will not put up resistance if boarded by the Israeli’s. This may indicate that the ship will be guided into Ashdod, a large port in Israel and the contents of the ship sorted and sifted by the Israeli forces and maybe a trickle getting through to Gaza. But the purpose of the flotilla is larger than any one ship getting through. It is about the whole world knowing what is happening to the people of Gaza and increasing international pressure on Israeli to just plain stop it.
Accounts and Updates from the Flotilla
FIRST BRITISH EYE-WITNESS ACCOUNT OF THE GAZA FLOTILLA MASSACRE (words and full video of Sarah Colborne's press conference)
GAZA FLOTILLA RAID: 'WE HEARD GUNFIRE - THEN OUR SHIP TURNED INTO A LAKE OF BLOOD'
LAUREN BOOTH: WHY WE SAILED TO GAZA
EGYPT OPENS BORDER WITH GAZA