THOUSANDS of people have taken to the streets around the world to denounce Israel over its criminal attack on a convoy of Gaza-bound aid ships that left at least nine volunteers dead and many more wounded. The Freedom Flotilla was carrying over 10,000 tons of aid including food, medicines, medical equipment, reconstruction materials as well as various other vital goods arbitrarily banned by Israel.
Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have called a general strike and three days of mourning in Gaza and the occupied West Bank in solidarity with the victims and the Egyptian government has, at last, opened up its border with Gaza to allow aid into the besieged Palestinian enclave.
But the United Nations has only issued a mealy-mouth message of condolences after US imperialism blocked any condemnation of the Zionist state by the Security Council.
Israeli commandos stormed six ships in international waters, opening fire on unarmed civilians and forcing the flotilla to sail to the Israeli port of Ashdod on Monday. Around 700 volunteers including peace activists, politicians and members of parliaments from all over the world were held in an Israeli prison. Most are now being deported but Israel has still not released the names of the dead and injured.
In Gaza a mourning tent has been set up at the marina where the ships were due to arrive on Monday. There, Hamas leader Ismail Haneya told the media that international efforts to end the Gaza siege would “continue and will never stop”. The “most important issue now is to wait for the reactions of the Arab states and the international community,” he said. “What we need now are deeds, not words, to end the siege on the Gaza Strip as the first step towards ending the Israeli occupation on all the Palestinian territories.”
UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon expressed shock at the deadly military raid, calling on Israel to fully explain its actions. In Kampala, Uganda, where he presided over the first review conference of the International Criminal Court, Ban Ki Moon called for a full investigation into the incident.
When the UN Security Council met four of the Big Five veto powers — Russia, People’s China, Britain and France — explicitly called for Israel’s three-year blockade of the Gaza Strip to be lifted. But the Americans moved to stave off any outright condemnation of Israel. After 12 hours of deliberation the Council called for the release of the ships and the civilians held by Israel but merely condemned actions that “led” to the deaths, but not the actual killing of civilians.
In Israel the propaganda machine has gone into top gear trying to justify the ruthless raid, claiming that their commandos opened fire after being attacked with knives and sticks. But there’s considerable disquiet in the corridors of power in Tel Aviv at the international backlash, particularly from Turkey, which was once Israel’s major ally in the region.
Most of the aid workers on the ships were Turkish and when the news broke on Monday angry crowds took to the streets in Ankara and Istanbul to condemn Israel. Nearly 10,000 people marched from the Israeli consulate in Istanbul shouting slogans and waving banners saying “Killer Israel”. Some tried to storm the building but were restrained by the police.
The Freedom Flotilla was largely sponsored by the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedom and Humanitarian Relief (IHH), a Turkish Islamic charity originally formed in 1995 to help the Bosnian Muslims during the conflict with the Serbs. Though IHH had no official support from the Turkish government, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) was openly sympathetic to its mission to Gaza.
The Turkish army buys some of its weapons from Israel and trains with its armed forces, and last year more than half a million Israeli tourists visited Turkey making it their favourite overseas holiday destination. Now Israelis are being advised to steer clear of the country for the time being and all non-essential diplomatic staff are being withdrawn, following angry scenes in Ankara and Istanbul.
In Tel Aviv Deputy Defence Minister Mattan Vilnai put a brave face on things, admitting that the Israeli action had its faults but nonetheless was “bravely” accomplished. None of the six vessels reached Gaza port — albeit with regrettable loss of life he declared. While the defence forces would learn from its mistakes and do things differently, access to Gaza would continue to be blocked for as long as the Hamas-ruled territory was at war with Israel.
Vilnai dismissed the avowed humanitarian aims of the convoy claiming that the people of Gaza are not hungry; neither is there any humanitarian crisis. Israel supplies its basic needs he said. Life there is certainly hard but “It can’t be easy to live under a Hamas regime, which throws political opponents off the roofs to their death.”
But for Israel’s communists this was just another example of the extent the Israeli government can go in defying world public opinion and humanitarian values.
Communist MP Mohammad Barakeh, the leader of the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality (Hadesh) ironically “congratulated” the Israeli premier Netanyahu and defence minister General Ehud Barak for “the shining victory of their pirate army?the crimes of the pirate government in killing some of the convoy’s participants put the government beyond international and human law.
“Tyrants like Bibi and Barak will find themselves in a suitable place in the garbage can of history”.