Israel: God's chosen pirates

Israel: God's chosen pirates
Comment: Six years after the attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, accountability remains absent, and measures to improve the situation have only served to institutionalise the blockade, writes Belal Dabour.
5 min read
06 Jun, 2016
Gaza Freedom Flotilla was perhaps the most effective act of support Gaza received [Getty]

The attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla on 31 May 2010 marked one of the most notorious acts of piracy in recent history. Boats and helicopters carrying hundreds of Israeli navy commandos who, in the midst of the Mediterranean and under the cover of darkness, raided six Gaza-bound ships that had sailed from Turkey, the biggest of which was Mavi Marmara.

On board were over 600 peace activists, including former Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki, Israeli Arab MK Hanin Zoubi as well as several diplomats and high-profile figures.

The flotilla was carrying medicines, school supplies and building materials that were desperately needed in the Gaza Strip, just a year after Israel's operation Cast Lead and with a blockade that - at the time - was well in to its fourth year.

This was a crime like no other perpetrated by Israel. The raid took place in international waters and inflicted a heavy human cost. Nine activists were killed immediately, and a tenth died later of his wounds. Over one hundred were injured, and the boats and all those on board were taken into Israeli custody.

Despite the cruelty it suffered, the Gaza Freedom Flotilla was perhaps the sincerest and most effective act of support Gaza has received over the last decade. Activists from over 40 nations moved from protesting and organising sit-ins to direct action.

They gathered, made plans, purchased aid and supplies, rented ships and boarded them, knowing very well who they would be standing against. It was a daunting task that everyone in Gaza recognised and followed with admiration and high hopes.

Prior to this, the activists had rejected an offer to deliver the aid to Israel, and to let it decide which items would be passed on to Gaza. This would have meant losing the symbolism of their actions, and aware that a few tons of aid would do little to ease the suffering of a population nearing two million, the activists preferred to make the delivery themselves.

This would allow them to make the point that the blockade was illegal, understanding that what Gaza needed most was to have its story brought into the spotlight.

Even today, the Israeli raid remains a shocking reminder of the prolonged blockade in Gaza

The Israeli attack left everyone shocked and dismayed. In Gaza, mourning was genuine and overwhelming. Feelings of sorrow among Gazans reached a level similar only to the martyrdoms of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Yasser Arafat.

But the point was made nonetheless, in a way that few had anticipated. Even today, the Israeli raid remains a shocking reminder of the prolonged blockade in Gaza.

Unlike other Gaza-related incidents, the elephant in the room could not be ignored, nor could the event be framed around an artificial, worthless narrative that was essentially a combination of words like "cycle of violence", "both sides" and "rockets". 

For a fleeting moment in a newscast, the issue of the Israeli blockade was there - inescapable, unavoidable.

And this was reflected in life in the Strip. On 1 June 2010, the then Egyptian President Mubarak ordered the indefinite opening of Rafah crossing. Over the following six months, 40 percent of Gazan residents who needed to travel were allowed to move across the borders, compared to only 8 percent in the year prior to the Israeli attack on Mavi Marmara.

Israel found itself in a precarious position, forced to at least pay lip service to ease the uproar. In June, the Israeli Cabinet announced an easing of the blockade on Gaza, and promised a "significant increase" in the volume of goods transferred to Gaza.

The calorie-count was on hold. Items like chocolate, soda drinks, ketchup and infant formulas found their way into the Strip again, casting the illusion of improvement. Meanwhile, important commodities like construction materials, remained on Israel's list of controlled items.

Besides its cruelty, Israel's raid on the Freedom Flotilla further highlighted its impunity. A report by the UN Secretary-General's panel of inquiry into the incident found the attempt to break the illegal blockade on Gaza "reckless", condemning passengers for their "violent resistance" to armed troops who invaded their ships in international waters.

Items like chocolate, soda drinks, ketchup and infant formulas found their way into the Strip again, casting the illusion of improvement

The fact that a US citizen was among those killed on board the Mavi Marmara changed nothing in the discourse. No significant action that would hold Israeli criminals accountable was undertaken, and Israel got away lightly with a slap on the hand.

Furthermore, under international humanitarian law, Gaza's residents are "protected persons" and have an inherent and legal right to defend themselves against occupation by force. Showing complete disregard for this, and the context of occupation, the report found that Israel's naval blockade on Gaza was a "legitimate security measure… and its implementation complied with the requirements of international law."

To date, there has still been no accountability, and Israeli criminals remain free to reign, travel and commit more crimes. Since the raid on the Marmara, they have launched two more major onslaughts on Gaza.

Israel's siege continues unabated and intact, likely to be the only thing in the Middle East that hasn't changed over the last years.

Despite the outcry and even rejection of Israel's proposed "easing" of the blockade as insufficient and dishonest, the years that followed have brought systemisation rather than the lifting of the siege. Protocols such as the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism have merely served to institutionalise the siege instead of bringing it to an end.

Belal Dabour is a Palestinian doctor in Gaza. Follow him on Twitter: @Belalmd12

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.