May 31, 2010
This time, the Israeli war machine may have gone too far for international public opinion to stomach. In the early hours of 31 May, before daybreak, Israeli commandos stormed the international civilian aid convoy heading for Gaza. Between 20-24 volunteers onboard have been killed and at least 50 injured, according to various reports, but the number of casualties has risen rapidly from the initial reports of two dead. The final death toll could be greater.
The actions by Israeli forces have been condemned by governments around the world. European governments, including those of Belgium, Ireland, Italy, Germany, Norway and Sweden have summoned their respective Israeli envoys over the incident. Turkish prime minister Recep Erdogan is reported to have cut short a trip to South America and his country is said to have recalled its ambassador to Israel in protest.
In a tired-sounding script, Israeli government spokespeople claimed that its forces were acting in self-defence after they were attacked by aid workers wielding knives when they boarded the main ship – a Turkish vessel – in the six-ship convoy. One Israeli commando was stabbed, Israeli TV reported.
Within minutes of the interception, Israeli forces blacked out all communications from the flotilla, which is carrying 700 civilians from 50 countries, including Britain, Ireland, Turkey and the US. The aid convoy – dubbed the Gaza Freedom Flotilla – had a high-profile assembly in Turkey last week before departing from Cyprus for the Palestinian coast on Sunday. Backed by several governments, including that of Turkey, and counting among its numbers at least four European MPs, a Nobel laureate and journalists from various news media, the aid convoy had declared itself to be a civilian, humanitarian relief operation.
The flotilla was attempting to ferry some 10,000 tonnes of aid material, ranging from medicines, building materials to school equipment, for the 1.5 million Gazans who have been besieged by Israeli military for three years, ever since they democratically elected the Hamas government. After the Israeli onslaught on Gaza during December 2008 and January 2009, in which more than 1,400 people – mainly civilians – were killed, the Palestinian territory remains a disaster zone, with its population living under tents and having to resort to smuggling vital materials via underground tunnels, which the Israeli air force frequently bombard. The Gazans’ only other lifeline is via tunnels into Egypt on their southwestern border, but these, too, are routinely attacked by Egyptian forces.
The Israeli government had denounced the Freedom Flotilla as “provocative” even before it departed and warned that it would be intercepted – despite the fact that the convoy had declared that it would be entering Palestine from international waters in the Mediterranean, well away from Israeli territory.
While the Israeli naval interception was clearly well planned, its accompanying blackout of communications was evidently not swift enough, failing to prevent Turkish satellite TV footage broadcasting for several minutes what was taking place. Those images relayed by international media nail the lie in the Israeli version of events. (Whether the US media do so will be telling.)
This article was posted: Monday, May 31, 2010 at 10:55 am