Skip to content

Viva Palestina ‘Global Lifeline’ convoy set to sail to Gaza

14 October 2010
Viva Palestina truck waits in Syria, October 2010

Viva Palestina truck waits in Syria, October 2010

Via Viva Palestina

After a tense ten day stand off in Syria, the Viva Palestina aid convoy to Gaza has now been cleared to sail.

The convoy started out from London on Saturday 18 September and drove down through France, Italy, Greece and Turkey before arriving in the port of Latakia, Syria, on Saturday 2 October. In Latakia, the convoy has been joined by two other convoys. One came from Morocco and Algeria, the other originated in Doha and came through the Gulf states and Jordan.

There are now 147 vehicles about to board two ships together with 380 people from some 30 countries stretching from New Zealand and Australia to Canada and the United States carrying aid worth some $5m. This includes 40 people who were on the Mavi Marmara flotilla which was attacked by Israeli commandos murdering ten human rights activists from Turkey.

Over the last ten days in Syria, the convoy has taken on medical supplies urgently needed in the besieged Gaza Strip. Simultaneously negotiations have been conducted with the Egyptian authorities to allow passage into the port of El -Arish and then on to the Rafah Crossing. The support of the Syrian authorities and others has been vital in the successful negotiations.

Last night, word finally came through that the Egyptian authorities would allow the ships to dock, unload and passage through to the Rafah Crossing and Gaza would be guaranteed.

The ships will now sail past the place where the Mavi Marmara was attacked and flowers will be laid in memory of the victims. When the convoy reaches Gaza the soil from the graves of some of those who were murdered will be used to plant trees as a memorial to the Mavi Marmara victims.

The convoy hopes to reach Gaza this Saturday or Sunday.

Read more updates on the PSC to Gaza blog.

Jewish Boat to Gaza sets sail from Cyprus

27 September 2010
Captain of the Irene, Glyn Secker, now on board the Jewish Boat to Gaza

Captain of the Irene, Glyn Secker, now on board the Jewish Boat to Gaza

Via jewishboattogaza.org

A boat carrying aid for Gaza’s population and organised by jewish groups worldwide has set sail from Cyprus yesterday (26 September) at 13:32 local time.

The boat, Irene, is sailing under a British flag and is carrying 10 passengers and crew, including jews from the US, the UK, Germany and Israel, as well as two British journalists.

At crisis point in peace talks, jews, Israelis, call to lift the siege on Gaza, and to end the occupation.

The boat’s cargo includes symbolic aid in the form of children’s toys and musical instruments, textbooks, fishing nets for Gaza’s fishing communities and prosthetic limbs for orthopaedic medical care in Gaza’s hospitals.

The receiving organisation in Gaza is the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, directed by Gaza psychiatrist Dr Eyad Sarraj.

The boat will attempt to reach the coast of Gaza and unload its aid cargo in a nonviolent, symbolic act of solidarity and protest – and call for the siege to be lifted to enable free passage of goods and people to and from the Gaza Strip.

The boat will fly multicolored peace flags carrying the names of dozens of jews who have expressed their support for this action, as a symbol of the widespread support for the boat by jews worldwide.

Speaking from London, a member of the organising group, Richard Kuper of Jews for Justice for Palestinians, said today that the Jewish Boat to Gaza is a symbolic act of protest against the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and the siege of Gaza, and a message of solidarity to Palestinians and Israelis who seek peace and justice.

“Israeli government policies are not supported by all jews,” said Kuper. “We call on all governments and people around the world to speak and act against the occupation and the siege.”

Regarding the threat of interception by the Israeli navy, Kuper said, “This is a nonviolent action. We aim to reach Gaza, but our activists will not engage in any physical confrontation and will therefore not present the Israelis with any reason or excuse to use physical force or assault them.”

Passenger Reuven Moskovitz, 82, said that his life’s mission has been to turn foes into friends. “We are two peoples, but we have one future,” he said.

Satellite phone on board for contact to the passengers: 00 882 166 861 0337

Media contact in London for interviewing the Boat’s organisers: Yosh, 0044 7816 448 307; media@jewishboattogaza.org

JNews contact in Israel: Miri 00972 549 270 796

Passengers and crew for interview:

Reuven Moskovitz, from Israel, is a founding member of the Jewish-Arab village Neve Shalom (Oasis of Peace) and a holocaust survivor. Speaks German, Hebrew and English.

Rami Elhanan, from Israel, who lost his daughter Smadar to a suicide bombing in 1997 and is a founding member of the Bereaved Families Circle of Israelis and Palestinians who lost their loved ones to the conflict. Speaks Hebrew and English.

Lilian Rosengarten, from the US, is a peace activist and psychotherapist. She was a refugee from Nazi Germany. Speaks English and German.

Yonatan Shapira, from Israel, is an ex-IDF pilot and now an activist for Combatants for Peace. Speaks Hebrew and English.

Glyn Secker, from the UK, is the boat’s captain and a member of Jews for Justice for Palestinians. Speaks English.

Dr Edith Lutz, from Germany, is a peace activist and a nurse. She was on the first boat to Gaza in 2008. Speaks German and English.

Itamar Shapira, from Israel, is Yonatan’s brother, and a member of the boat’s crew. Speaks Hebrew, Spanish and English.

Eli Osherov, Israeli reporter from Israel Channel 10 News.

Supporters: Jewish organisations and individuals from UK, Holland, Germany, US, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, France, Austria, Australia and Israel.

Organisers and sponsors: European Jews for a Just Peace, Jews for Justice for Palestinians (UK), Juedische Stimme fuer einen gerechten Frieden in Nahost (Germany), American Jews for a Just Peace (USA), Jewish Voice for Peace (USA), Jews Against the Occupation Sydney.

Visit jewishboattogaza.org and join us on Facebook and Twitter.

TUC passes Palestine solidarity motion and condemns the Histadrut

15 September 2010

The following motion was passed unanimously by the annual Trades Unions Congress conference in Manchester yesterday, 14 September 2010.

Congress condemns the Israeli blockades of the Palestinian territories, particularly the Gaza strip where there is a severe and ongoing deterioration in the living conditions of those living there.

The actions of the Israeli military, under the orders of their government, in mounting a deadly assault on activists on the Mavi Marmara and other ships seeking to take humanitarian aid to Gaza, is particularly condemned.

Congress furthermore condemns the Histadrut statement of 31 May which sought to justify the Israeli action and the failure of the Histadrut to condemn settlement construction. Congress endorses the 3 June 2010 statement of the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions, criticising the Histadrut and calling for an immediate end to the military blockade on Gaza and for a full independent inquiry into the attack on the Mavi Marmara.

Congress believes that the effective annexation of massive swathes of land by Israel in defiance of international law, using walls and checkpoints and destroying Palestinian homes in the process, is a deliberate strategy to undermine the viability of the West Bank and thereby the potential for an independent Palestinian state.

Congress calls on the UK government and the EU to take much stronger political steps to ensure Israel abides by UN resolutions.

Congress instructs the General Council to work closely with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign to actively encourage affiliates, employers and pension funds to disinvest from, and boycott the goods of, companies who profit from illegal settlements, the occupation and the construction of the Wall.

Congress instructs the General Council to bring to Congress a report on the impact of the boycott and investment withdrawal strategy, together with the outcome of the PGFTU/Histadrut discussions recently facilitated by the ITUC and TUC. Congress agrees to join unions around the world for maximum coordination internationally for active solidarity to end the siege of Gaza and for a free Palestine.

Mover: Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association
Seconder: GMB
Supporters: UNISON, Public and Commercial Services Union, Fire Brigades’ Union

More on the story from the Morning Star.

Video documentary: Lifeline to Gaza: The Return

5 September 2010

Check out Hassan Ghani’s documentary of last December’s convoy to Gaza, which premiered on Press TV two weeks ago. BBC take note; this is what honest journalism looks like …

Complain to the BBC about the outrageous Panorama propaganda

1 September 2010

Many of you will have seen the Panorama show aired by the BBC two weeks ago. If you haven’t yet seen it, you can watch it here now:

No informed viewer could fail to have been disgusted by the blatant bias shown by presenter Jane Corbin. The amount of airtime and credence given to Israeli lies throughout was shameful. Throughout the programme, we were constantly asked to identify with the Israeli soldiers, whose lies about the peace activists on board the flotilla were repeated over and over again, without any serious questioning.

Apparently, while the majority of world opinion is finally turning away from supporting this pariah apartheid state, while consumers, trade unions, investors, academics, musicians and artists are boycotting Israel, the BBC thinks it’s the corporation’s job to help the war criminals cover up their crimes.

This blog has previously reported the personal testimonies of people who were on board the Mavi Marmara. The torture and barbarity they were subjected to was unjustified and unjustifiable (to re-use a Cameron quote). The stories put out by Israeli soldiers and generals in their defence are total fabrications.

Just one point puts it all in perspective: if Israel hadn’t been intending to kill unarmed civilians, why did they send their deadliest fighting force, equipped with live ammunition, to stop the flotilla in the middle of the night? Surely Israel has plenty of police trained in opposing civil disobedience-type actions? The flotilla was heading away from Israel at the time of the attack, trying to avoid a night-time confrontation. It posed no threat to Israel, and if it had, there are many ways to stop boats without attacking all those on board.

Even more to the point: the UN calls the blockade and the occupation unlawful. Under international law Israel has no right to stop aid ships that are bound for Gaza. Moreover, they stopped the ships in international waters, which no nation has the right to do. And given that they did that, any defence the people on the ship put up was perfectly justified under international law. It comes to something when a BBC reporter nods sympathetically as an international pirate complains that he came under attack, when he was the one who forcefully boarded a ship in international waters while shooting live ammo!

The Israelis stole all the camera and video footage taken by those on board the flotilla, as well as their personal possessions. (Some people even found that soldiers had used their credit cards when they got home.) Anything the Israeli army is now releasing has clearly been selected and edited by them to back up whatever specious arguments they want to make.

The fact that the Panorama programme made no serious mention of most of these basic facts; no mention of the illegal blockade; no mention of the illegal occupation; no mention of the ethnic cleansing, bombing, executions, house demolitions and many other crimes committed by Israel, and which explain the background to the flotilla’s mission, but instead chose to give the majority of airtime to Israelis keen to present those on the flotilla as crazy muslim terrorists and the attack as a ‘slightly misjudged’ but perfectly acceptable and even normal ‘operation’, tells its own story about the role of the BBC and its alleged ‘values’ and ‘impartiality’.

Similarly outrageous was the Beeb’s keenness to emphasise the ‘Islamist’ aspect of the flotilla, and of the Turkish government, following the racist Israeli logic that the merest hint of ‘muslim’ involvement is enough to justify their barbarity or to negate the concern that people in Turkey (as in most other parts of the world) feel for the plight of the Palestinian people.

The repeated slanders against humanitarian aid organisation IHH volunteers as ‘terrorists’ is another example of this. No mention was made in the programme of the charity’s UN-recognised status, or of its many projects building wells in Africa or feeding refugees in Pakistan; of its orphan-sponsoring programmes all over the world, or its clinics in Haiti.

The unspoken conclusion that was being pushed onto British viewers was that those on board the flotilla were ‘muslims’, in which case, we needn’t take their concerns seriously or mind much if they got killed! (An easy bit of racism to peddle in the light of the routine covering up and normalising of massacres against civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan.)

Media workers should be ashamed to be associated with this kind of programme, which has more in common with Goebbels than with honest journalism.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign is calling on people to complain about the programme. When you’ve done that and got their standard brush-off response, follow it up with further action. Please do everything you can to bring the broadcasters to account and let them know that they do not speak for decent British people!

Pressure building: US questions its unwavering support for Israel

5 July 2010
tags:

A prominent US military strategist has joined a growing body of opinion in US ruling circles that is moving away from uncritical support for Israel. He says that the Netanyahu government has maintained a “pattern of conduct” that has pushed the balance toward Israel being more of a liability than an asset.

By Chris McGreal via the Guardian

There are questions that rarely get asked in Washington. For years, the mantra that America’s intimate alliance with Israel was as good for the US as it was the Jewish state went largely unchallenged by politicians aware of the cost of anything but unwavering support.

But swirling in the background when Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, arrives in Washington tomorrow to patch up relations with the White House will be a question rarely voiced until recently: is Israel ‑ or, at the very least, its current government ‑ endangering US security and American troops?

Netanyahu would prefer to be seen as an indispensable ally in confronting Islamist terror. But his insistence on building Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem, which is causing a deep rift with Washington, is seen as evidence of a lack of serious interest in the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. That in turn is seen as fuelling hostility towards the US in other parts of the Middle East and beyond, because America is perceived as Israel’s shield.

In recent months Barack Obama has said that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a “vital national security interest of the United States”. His vice-president, Joe Biden, has confronted Netanyahu in private and told the Israeli leader that Israel’s policies are endangering US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Senior figures in the American military, including General David Petraeus who has commanded US forces in both wars, have identified Israel’s continued occupation of Palestinian land as an obstacle to resolving those conflicts.

More recently, Israel’s assault on ships attempting to break the Gaza blockade has compromised relations with Turkey, an important American strategic ally.

A former director of intelligence assessment for the US defence secretary, last month caused waves with a paper called Israel as a Strategic Liability? In it, Anthony Cordesman, who has written extensively on the Middle East, noted a shift in thinking at the White House, the US state department and, perhaps crucially, the Pentagon over the impact of Washington’s long-unquestioning support for Israeli policies even those that have undermined the prospects for peace with the Palestinians.

He wrote that the US will not abandon Israel because it has a moral commitment to ensure the continued survival of the Jewish state. “At the same time, the depth of America’s moral commitment does not justify or excuse actions by an Israeli government that unnecessarily make Israel a strategic liability when it should remain an asset. It does not mean that the United States should extend support to an Israeli government when that government fails to credibly pursue peace with its neighbours.

“It is time Israel realised that it has obligations to the United States, as well as the United States to Israel, and that it become far more careful about the extent to which it test the limits of US patience and exploits the support of American Jews.”

Cordesman told the Guardian that the Netanyahu government has maintained a “pattern of conduct” that has pushed the balance toward Israel being more of a liability than an asset.

“This Israeli government pushed the margin too far,” he said. “Gaza was one case in point, the issue of construction in Jerusalem, the lack of willingness to react in ways that serve Israel’s interests as well as ours in moving forward to at least pursue a peace process more actively.”

It was a point made forcefully by Biden to Netanyahu in March after the Israelis humiliated the American during a visit to Jerusalem by announcing the construction of 1,600 more Jewish homes in the city’s occupied east.

The Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported that at a meeting between the two men, Biden angrily accused Israel’s prime minister of jeopardising US soldiers by continuing to tighten the Jewish state’s grip on Jerusalem.

“This is starting to get dangerous for us. What you’re doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us and it endangers regional peace,” Biden told Netanyahu.

Obama’s chief political adviser, David Axelrod, said the settlement construction plans “seemed calculated to undermine” efforts to get fresh peace talks off the ground and that “it is important for our own security that we move forward and resolve this very difficult issue”.

Netanyahu sought to head off the issue when he spoke to pro-Israeli lobbyists in Washington earlier this year. “For decades, Israel served as a bulwark against Soviet expansionism. Today it is helping America stem the tide of militant Islam. Israel shares with America everything we know about fighting a new kind of enemy,” he said. “We share intelligence. We co-operate in countless other ways that I am not at liberty to divulge. This co-operation is important for Israel and is helping save American lives.”

But that argument is less persuasive to the Americans now. Last month, Israel’s ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, said the Jewish state had suffered a “tectonic rift” with America. “There is no crisis in Israel-US relations because in a crisis there are ups and downs,” he told Israeli diplomats in Jerusalem. “Relations are in the state of a tectonic rift in which continents are drifting apart.”

Oren said that assessments of Israeli policy at the White House have moved away from the historic and ideological underpinnings of earlier administrations in favour of a cold calculation.

Cordesman said it is too early to tell whether Netanyahu has fully grasped that while there will be no change in the fundamental security guarantees the US gives Israel, “the days of the blank cheque are over”.

He added: “I think it is clear there is more thought on how to deal with Gaza, how to deal with the underlying humanitarian issues, less creating kinds of pressures which frankly, from the viewpoint of an outside observer, have tended to push Hamas not toward an accommodation but toward a harder line while creating of all things an extremist challenge to Hamas. But until you see the end result, some comments and some token actions don’t tell you there’s been a significant shift.”

Gerry Adams: Israeli aggression must be challenged

2 July 2010
Protest against Israel's attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla in Derry, 31 May 2010

Protest against Israel's attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla in Derry, 31 May 2010

By Gerry Adams via An Phoblacht

You may recall my meeting with Caoimhe Butterly of the Free Gaza Movement. On 17 May 17, I dedicated my blog to the story of the MV Rachel Corrie and the flotilla to the Gaza Strip. I’m glad I did.

But I never imagined what would happen to it.

I was on my way to an early-morning event in Tir Éoghan when the car radio broadcast the awful news of the death and destruction visited upon the mercy mission by the Israeli government.

There is no justification for the military actions of the Israeli government against the humanitarian flotilla. The Gaza Freedom Flotilla was a humanitarian mission carrying 10,000 tonnes of aid to the besieged Gaza Strip.

For four years the Israeli government has illegally imprisoned over one and a half million men, women, and children in the most horrendous of conditions.

These people have been denied many of the basic necessities of life, including the essential construction equipment and materials that would allow Gazans to rebuild their shattered infrastructure.

Last year’s devastating assault by the Israeli army on the Gaza Strip caused enormous damage: 1,400 people were killed and many more grievously wounded; 3,500 homes were destroyed; 28,000 homes damaged; 800 industries were damaged or destroyed; 10 schools were destroyed and 204 were damaged; 57 kilometres of roads were destroyed.

In April 2009, I visited the Gaza Strip. I saw for myself the conditions there. I spoke to UN officials as well as representatives of political and community organisations and aid groups.

No amount of PR words by the Israeli government can take away from the humanitarian crisis which its actions are directly responsible for.

The flotilla organisers had repeatedly declared their peaceful intent. In the full glare of the international media, the flotilla was engaged in bringing in humanitarian supplies. I believe it is this which the Israeli government resented most because it exposed the lie that they were allowing sufficient aid into the region.

The images of armed commandos dropping from helicopters on to unarmed ships, and then opening fire and killing aid workers engaged in a humanitarian effort, has again exposed the aggressive and intransigence attitude of the Israeli government.

The decision to storm the ships is par for the course for a government that feels itself immune from international law and sanction.

It also breaks international law by the blockade and siege of Gaza.

It breaks international law in building a separation wall that scars the landscape of Palestine and which denies Palestinian families access to each other, to jobs, to their land and to water.

It breaks international law in occupying Palestinian land.

It breaks international law by building illegal settlements on stolen Palestinian land.

It breaks international law by expelling families from their homes.

It has done all of this for many years and with little adequate response from the international community.

Israeli actions must be condemned by all governments and political leaders who believe in democracy, peace, security and the standing of international law.

The Irish government also needs to use its influence to persuade the EU to discontinue its preferential trade agreement with Israel.

As evidence of the outrage felt by citizens, the Irish government should also expel the Israeli ambassador.

It is also vital that the Palestinian organisations now agree a government of national unity. Differences should be set aside in the national interest of the Palestinian people and a joint political position agreed between Fatah, Hamas and the many other political groups.

George Galloway and Kevin Ovendon: Point of no return for Israel after Mavi Marmara massacre

1 July 2010
George Galloway and Kevin Ovendon address Viva Palestina convoy members held up in Jordan by Egyptian intransigence, Christmas Day 2009

George Galloway and Kevin Ovendon address Viva Palestina convoy members held up in Jordan by Egyptian intransigence, Christmas Day 2009

“There can be no peace between truth and falsehood … there can only be eternal struggle between them.” Padraig Pearce’s words uttered on the eve of the first world war ring true today following the massacre aboard the Mavi Marmara at the end of last month.

Via Morning Star

The desperate attempts by the Israeli government and its supporters to blame the victims of terror for what is an act of state terrorism are sickening and depraved. But they show little sign of success.

None but the dwindling hard core of Israel apologists is taken in by a propaganda campaign which fast unravelled even as it began. The testimony of the survivors is coming out now thick and fast.

But you really need to know only one thing – on the one hand nine lie dead and scores more wounded. On the other are a couple of roughed-up Israeli soldiers. That says it all.

Under all the great legal, moral and religious codes, the victims facing brutality from elite assassination forces had the right to defend themselves with their bare hands and with whatever was to hand.

Indeed that’s what passengers aboard a ship bound for Palestine in 1947 did. It was carrying displaced persons from war-torn Europe and was boarded by British soldiers.

The passengers resisted. Three were killed. One had his head stoved in by a British rifle butt.

The British government claimed extremists on board had provoked the deaths. World opinion did not buy it and nor did the leaders of the zionist movement.

The ship was called the Exodus. It was carrying Jewish refugees and the episode became a cornerstone of the foundation myth of the state of Israel.

The attack on the Mavi Marmara represents another sort of turning point – and it has the potential to become decisive.

The Palestine solidarity movement has been shrouded in the miasma of defeat that has settled on the Middle East and sedimented in the minds of many activists for far too long. But in the wake of this massacre it is finally lifting and we can begin to see a way forward through the thinning fog.

Some may say it is scandalous that the daily humiliations and oppression of the Palestinians in besieged Gaza, the occupied West Bank and in refugee camps have not generated the breadth of response that this atrocity against their supporters has.

But analogous events in other struggles have helped to focus world attention on the primary victims of colonial and racial oppression.

When two Jewish civil rights volunteers from New York were murdered alongside a black activist in Mississippi in June 1964 the result was to deepen and radicalise the movement for black equality and liberation in the US. The anniversary of the lynching is today.

For the Palestine solidarity movement the Mavi Marmara massacre is another Sharpeville or Soweto – two of the great milestones in the struggle against apartheid.

It is the Sharpville and Soweto of the solidarity movement, but not for the Palestinians themselves. They have endured more, and more massive, massacres for 62 years – from Deir Yassin, through Black September and Sabra and Shatila to the Gaza invasion of 18 months ago.

It is the accumulation of those crimes and Israel’s increasingly egregious refusal to abide by the norms the ‘international community’ says it upholds that has laid the basis for turning the reaction to the Mavi Marmara into a decisive advance in the struggle.

Israel is facing growing pressure. In 2006 it lost politically and militarily in its war on Lebanon. The attack on Gaza in the winter of 2008/9 brought unprecedented condemnation and numbers onto the streets in cities around the world.

The forging of passports for use in the assassination of Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai earlier this year left many people in Britain, Australia, Ireland and Germany who had not previously been sympathetic to the Palestinians wondering why their governments were sponsoring this piratical state.

In the US larger numbers of people than ever are asking why, at a time of economic austerity, the White House and Congress vote through billions of dollars of subvention to Israel every year. The US authorities were paying for the very bullets that Israel’s commandos fired five times into Furkan Dogan, a 19-year-old US citizen aboard the Mavi Marmara.

US General David Petraeus recently told a committee on Capitol Hill that he thought Israel had become a strategic liability for the US.

While there remain powerful overlapping interests between US and Israeli imperialist strategies in the Middle East, their interests are not identical. And the geopolitical map is changing.

Tel Aviv would do well to remember the dictum of Britain’s arch-imperialist prime minister Lord Palmerston – Britain, or any great power, “has no eternal friends and no eternal enemies, just eternal interests”.

Turkey’s renewed role in the near and Middle East is one of the clearest indications of the dilemmas facing Israel and the US.

Historically Turkey has been a key US ally – it was the stationing of US missiles there that provoked the Cuba missile crisis at the height of the cold war.

But its government is now reflecting pressures for a realignment. Seven years ago the Turkish parliament refused to allow the country’s military bases to be used in the invasion of Iraq, a decision that had a profound impact on the course of the war by preventing a US invasion from the north and thus creating a wider space for the insurgency to develop.

Last week Turkey voted alongside Brazil at the UN security council against fresh sanctions on Iran. And Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan clashed with Israel’s Ehud Olmert over the Gaza massacre at a glitzy Davos shindig last year.

Sections of the Turkish capitalist class want the state to provide a more independent role, bridging economic relations between the Middle East and Europe, while the military-security apparatus remains locked in an old alliance with Israel and the US.

These conflicting pressures on the Turkish government put paid to the idea that it had somehow planned to stage the massacre on the flotilla as a provocation to Israel.

The flotilla was clearly a civil society initiative in solidarity with the people of Gaza, coming mainly from the Islamically inspired welfare and humanitarian organisation the IHH, which created mass, popular calls on the Turkish government to act, which it did.

So Israel and the US are now embarking on a concerted attempt to unwind this process by propagandising against the IHH and seeking to isolate the elements of Turkish society which stand most strongly with the Palestinian cause.

The solidarity movement needs to launch a well-thought-out response if it is to catch this changing tide. As the anti-war movement in Britain has done over the defence of muslim communities under attack following 11 September 2001, we need to stand in solidarity with the Turkish movement and reject all attempts to claim that Islamic civil and political organisations such as the IHH and the parliamentary Islamist parties in Turkey are in any sense cyphers for al-Qaida.

The movement must become permeable to new forces, especially embracing the young muslims who took to the streets over Gaza and again over the Mavi Marmara massacre.

The success of the three Viva Palestina humanitarian convoys to Gaza in the last 18 months testifies to success of that approach.

The forces that can be won to active engagement in the solidarity movement are now very wide indeed. A recent survey analysed by Peter Beinart in the New York Review of Books found an increasing disconnect between young, liberal jewish people and zionist organisations such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which seek to speak in the name of all jews.

Younger people were much more likely to be critical of Israel and to hold it to universal standards of behaviour rather than churning out apologias.

The initiatives by land and sea to break the blockade on Gaza and end the siege are critical for two reasons.

First, Gaza is at the cutting edge both of the solidarity movement and of the attempts by Israel and its backers to defeat the Palestinian resistance by destroying the wing that Palestinians invested most hope in at the free elections held four years ago – Hamas.

The apartheid wall, the occupation of the West Bank and the ethnic cleansing of east Jerusalem are monstrous injustices, but the key to resolving them is to end the Gaza blockade, thus helping to create conditions in which the Palestinian movement can overcome disabling divisions and exert far greater political pressure.

Second, the convoys and flotillas provide high-profile and direct challenges to both Israel and to those other states that help to enforce the siege.

Behind those who have travelled on them stand many thousands who have raised money and tens of thousands who offered support in other ways.

There are now international efforts under way to ensure that the land and sea missions are better co-ordinated, bigger and with more countries taking part.

Viva Palestina has initiated an international land convoy, in conjunction with a large sea mission, leaving in September of this year just after Ramadan.

The aim is not to loosen the bars around Gaza – which Israel and Egypt under the pressure of the flotilla fallout are already doing – but to end the siege entirely, allowing commercial and economic relations between Gaza and the rest of the world, which it needs to develop freely.

Coordinating these next steps will be a theme of discussion at the Summer University of Palestine taking place in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley from 25 July to 1 August.

It is attracting internationally acclaimed experts and speakers on Palestine and is receiving registrations from around the world.

But although all movements require activists, this cannot be a movement only of activists – it must become a more general movement of people for whom Palestine has become the international symbol of the fight against injustice.

The struggle against apartheid provides valuable lessons. It combined direct action against racist South Africa and its interests with mass mobilisations – demonstrations, cultural events and so on – and a range of activities aimed at isolating the regime through sanctions, boycotts and divestment.

Each one reinforced the other and was accompanied by clear refutations of apartheid propaganda.

Such initiatives are needed now, simultaneously at different levels. One element is a co-ordinated and targeted consumer boycott. Few people in the mid-1980s knew the full connections between British capital and apartheid South Africa.

However millions knew not to buy Outspan fruit or bank at Barclays. Some went further in picketing supermarkets or occupying Barclays branches. A similar focused call which could be popularised as the cutting edge of a wider boycott would be helpful today.

Respect Party leader Salma Yaqoob last year managed to get cross-party support on Birmingham City Council – the largest local authority in Europe – to move towards a boycott of Israel.

Following the recent local government elections there will be other councillors who can move, or be moved, in the same direction.

The cancellation of gigs in Israel by a number of bands following the flotilla attack led to cultural figures and commentators in Israel voicing fears that the radicalising policies of Binyamin Netanyahu were leading to the country becoming a pariah state.

Trade unions in Britain and in many other countries now have extensive policies aimed at boycotting at least some contacts with and products from Israel.

The TUC congress in September may well see successful moves to harden that position. In 1985 a 21-year-old Dublin shopworker called Mary Manning read just such a union policy circular and told a customer that she could not check-out her grapefruit because it was on the apartheid boycott list.

She was sacked, but the strike by her and 10 workmates for a year that resulted became an international cause celebre for wider solidarity.

If the general consumer boycott, mass initiatives and trade-union policies are popularised they are likely to intersect with more people like Mary Manning today.

Dockers in Durban and Sweden have already refused to unload Israeli ships. And dockers and their supporters in Oakland, California, did the same yesterday.

All these strands make up a movement that has the capacity to alter policy in the West and contribute to political processes in the Middle East to help end the suffering of the Palestinians. This will require serious strategic and tactical coordination as well as drawing in fresh forces.

Ending the siege of Gaza is an obtainable victory and an important step forward in the wider and longer struggle for a free Palestine. The eternal struggle will end only when justice prevails and freedom is won.

Smash-EDO decommissioners vindicated as crown court agrees that Israel was committing war crimes in Gaza

1 July 2010

Five activists who caused £180,000 damage to an arms factory were acquitted after they argued they were seeking to prevent Israeli war crimes.

This is an important victory – and a vindication of all those arguing in favour of a sustained campaign of non-cooperation with British, US and Israeli war crimes. Interesting to note the judge’s direction to the jury – clearly the pressure of public anger over Gaza is having its effect on the state.

Israeli soldiers invading into Gaza in January 2009

Israeli soldiers invading Gaza in January 2009

Story below via the Guardian.

Five activists who caused £180,000 damage to an arms factory were acquitted after they argued they were seeking to prevent Israeli war crimes.

The five were jubilant after a jury found them not guilty of conspiring to cause criminal damage to the factory on the outskirts of Brighton.

The five admitted they had broken in and sabotaged the factory, but argued they were legally justified in doing so.

They believed that EDO MBM, the firm that owns the factory, was breaking export regulations by manufacturing and selling to the Israelis military equipment which would be used in the occupied territories. They wanted to slow down the manufacture of these components, and impede what they believed were war crimes being committed by Israel against the Palestinians.

After being acquitted, one of them, Robert Nicholls, told the Guardian: “I’m joyful really, at being a free man. The action was impulsive really, we just wanted to do something that would make a real difference to the people of Palestine.”

Another, Ornella Saibene, said: “I’ve felt very peaceful all the way through the trial because I’m proud of what I’ve done. It was the right thing to do.”

They are the latest group of peace and climate-change activists to successfully use the “lawful excuse” defence – committing an offence to prevent a more serious crime – as a tactic in their campaigns. The acquitted are Nicholls, 52, Tom Woodhead, 25, Harvey Tadman, 44, Ornella Saibene, 50, all from Bristol, and Simon Levin, 35, from Brighton. They had decided to act last January after three weeks of Israeli military manoeuvres against Gaza in which many Palestinians were killed. According to a UN investigation by former South African judge Richard Goldstone, Israel committed war crimes by deliberately attacking civilians during the offensive known as Operation Cast Lead.

In his summing up, Judge George Bathurst-Norman suggested to the jury that “you may well think that hell on earth would not be an understatement of what the Gazans suffered in that time”.

The judge highlighted the testimony by Caroline Lucas, the Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, that “all democratic paths had been exhausted” before the activists embarked on their action.

Hove crown court heard the activists had broken into the factory in the night. They had video-taped interviews beforehand outlining their intention to cause damage and, in the words of prosecutor Stephen Shay, “smash-up” the factory.

These statements were posted on the Indymedia website shortly after they were arrested. Dexter Dias, barrister for one of the defendants, accused Paul Hills, EDO MBM’s managing director, of lying in the witness box when he said his company did not supply components which were being used by the Israeli military. The jury is considering its verdict on two other defendants, Elijah Smith, 42, and Chris Osmond, 29 of Brighton.

Message from Gaza Freedom Flotilla volunteers to packed London meeting: we will continue and so must you!

11 June 2010

At a packed meeting in central London on Wednesday evening, British volunteers on board the Gaza Freedom Flotilla gave their eye-witness accounts of what happened to them during and after the attack by Israeli pirates.

Watch videos from this meeting on YouTube

Many important facts emerged clearly from the speakers’ testimonies:

  • That there were no weapons on board the boats. This was well known to the Israelis, as it had been repeatedly stated by the organisers and the Turkish port authorities before the boats sailed. Volunteers saw Israeli soldiers staging the ‘finding’ of a pistol that was clearly Israeli army issue in a passenger’s bag for the benefit of a cameraman who was with them.
  • That the soldiers were firing live rounds at the ship before they boarded. The first deaths occurred, and wounded people were being treated, before any boots had hit the deck. Moreover, many volunteers had wounds in their feet, as a result of being struck by bullets fired from above.
  • That the attack wasn’t expected at that time. The ships had changed course to avoid a night-time confrontation, moving farther away from Israeli waters, and volunteers were sleeping or praying when the assault started. Many came up to try to defend the ship in their pyjamas.
  • That the raiding commandos treated every passenger on board the ship as an ‘enemy combatant’, making no distinction of age, gender, occupation etc. Women and elderly people were beaten; a baby was forced to witness brutal torture of one volunteer; journalists were treated as if they were criminals or terrorists.
  • That Israel did everything it could to stop evidence of its crimes getting out. Some of those killed were executed with shots to the head while trying to film or take photos of the attack. The raiders did their best to jam all broadcasting signals before the boats were boarded, and only didn’t succeed because one channel had been kept secret. During the attack, one of the helicopters tried to ram the satellite dish. Photo and video equipment, sim and memory cards etc were all stolen.
  • That the commandos were shooting to kill, and that they wanted to inflict serious casualties on the flotilla. Live fire continued after the white flag had been waved, and also after announcements of surrender in Hebrew and English had been made over the ship’s tannoy. Several people who died could have been saved by timely treatment that was denied to them. Instead of evacuating the wounded, the commandos refused them vital help. Others who survived may well find they are affected for life by bad treatment – refused even stretchers when ordered to move, so that volunteers had to carry them on blankets.
  • That Israel’s brutal, dehumanising treatment of Palestinians extends to those who support the Palestinian struggle against occupation. After the ships had been taken, many volunteers were beaten. At least one was used as a human shield. All were tortured, humiliated, denied access to food, water, medicines, washing facilities, toilets or clean clothes. Even after two days in prison, wounded prisoners were still wearing the same blood-stained clothes they left the ships in. Those with wounded legs and feet were forced to hop without crutches or wheelchairs to the waiting planes; their comrades were beaten for trying to help them to walk. A Turkish volunteer who had watched her husband die was forced to leave his body and thrown in jail with no consideration for her grief; she was later forced to identify him from a picture of his two-day-old bloated corpse.
  • That those on the smaller boats were also treated with overwhelming violence, although no live ammunition was used against them. People trying to defend their boats with only linked arms were attacked with tasers, stun guns, electric shock probes, sound bombs, tear gas and more. They too were bound, beaten and humiliated after their boats were captured.
  • That Britain is as complicit in the treatment of these prisoners as it is in all Israel’s other crimes. The British consul quickly became notorious for being the most sycophantic towards the Israelis and the least interested in the welfare of British prisoners. Many British volunteers never even saw him. Those who didn’t all had names or an appearance that might indicate that they were muslim.
  • That the Turkish government stepped in where the British failed to do. It was the Turkish volunteers and government who took responsibility for making sure that the British volunteers were safely evacuated, providing transport and refusing to leave them behind. In Turkey, British volunteers were treated as heroes, and given clothes, money, counselling, medical attention, accommodation and flights home.
  • That if Israel hoped to deter these and future volunteers from trying to break the blockade on Gaza, their plan has seriously backfired. All those who spoke reiterated their determination to return as soon as possible. Viva Palestina’s George Galloway announced that the biggest convoy yet would be leaving overland on 16 September, at the same time as a flotilla of 62 ships (one for every year of the occupation) will be building up in the Mediterranean. These two convoys will be aiming to arrive simultaneously in Gaza in early October. PSC’s Sarah Colborne sent a message to the meeting asking everyone there to mobilise in memory not only of the flotilla dead, but of all those who have died over the years for a free Palestine. The Palestine Solidarity Campaign announced its intention to support the forthcoming flotilla and convoy, and to work with Viva Palestina, Free Gaza, Stop the War and muslim organisations to build a really broad, mass solidarity movement for Palestine in Britain.
  • That Israel is not going to be allowed to forget about the crimes it committed against the flotilla, any more than it is going to be allowed to continue with the siege and occupation unhindered. The IHH (the Turkish aid organisation that chartered the Mavi Marmara) have begun a massive evidence-gathering operation, with a view to taking out criminal proceedings in the Turkish and other courts. Meanwhile, the Emir of Qatar has offered to pay the legal expenses of every volunteer willing to take up a case against Israel, anywhere in the world. In the court of public opinion, these cases will be bound to inflict more heavy blows on Israel’s shrinking support-base. Moreover, pressure for an international inquiry (as opposed to an Israeli whitewash) is also going to keep on growing. George Galloway called on all activists to keep up this pressure and declared that “we will set up our own if we have to”.
  • That as well as joining convoys and flotillas, there is a huge job of work to be done in building awareness and solidarity with the Palestinian people in our communities. As Alex Harrison of the Free Gaza Movement pointed out, what is happening in Gaza is not a natural disaster; the problem is not one of ‘aid’ but of human rights, freedoms and dignity, of self-determination as opposed to colonial oppression.
  • That this massacre may well prove to be the watershed moment in the fight against Israeli apartheid, as the Sharpeville massacre was for South African apartheid. George Galloway pointed out the need to urgently seize the opportunity presented by the sudden rise in public awareness to force our complicit governments into taking action against Israel.