Archive for the ‘Flotilla’ category

Irish human rights defenders kidnapped in act of Israeli piracy

December 23, 2011

Irish Ship To Gaza crew and passengers in Dublin Airport, on their return from illegal Israeli captivity

Irish human rights defenders kidnapped in act of Israeli piracy
LookLeft #9, December 2011

On the morning of Friday 4th November, Israeli military forces violently intercepted two boats, Irish and Canadian, which were attempting the break the illegal Israeli siege on 1.6 million people in Gaza. The ships, Saoirse and Tahrir, carrying $30,000 worth of medical supplies were in international waters around 80km from their destination when the assault took place.

Fintan Lane, who was on board the Saoirse, described the “violent and dangerous” takeover saying, “it began with Israeli forces hosing down the boats with water cannon and pointing guns at us. I was hosed down the stairs of the boat. The bridge nearly caught fire and the boats were corralled to such an extent that the Irish and Canadian boats collided and nearly sank”.

The passengers were then taken against their will to Israel, removed from the boats in “in a violent manner” and detained in prison for a week. All their property was taken, and none of the electronic equipment – including an EU Parliament laptop belonging to MEP Paul Murphy – has been returned.

Murphy described the conditions in prison as “very poor”, with “conscious sleep deprivation” and “being locked up 21 hours a day”. For Murphy, this was “a glimpse of the conditions faced by many Palestinians, particularly those in the open air prison camp of Gaza”. “We were fortunate to have running water, unlike 100,000 Palestinians in Gaza”, he said.

This sentiment was echoed by former Leinster and Ireland rugby star Trevor Hogan, who felt that, “what we went through is only a fraction of what Palestinians have to go through. I hope Israel would use its power to end this injustice, but until that happens I think people will continue to call for this siege to end and should do whatever they can to lift it”.

Eventually, after a week, all 14 Irish citizens and the 13 internationals on board the Tahrir were deported by the Israeli authorities from a country they had no intention of entering.

This was the first in a series of planned Freedom Waves to Gaza, aimed at highlighting the terrible conditions in Gaza as a result of Israel’s five-year-old siege, and came after a call from 46 civil society organisations in Palestine. Due to fears of physical and/or diplomatic sabotage, as happened the Freedom Flotilla in June, the date of the next Freedom Wave is a closely guarded secret, though it will sail in the new year.

After the Gaza flotilla, what next for Palestine?

August 4, 2011

After the Gaza flotilla, what next for Palestine?

Liberty, Vol 10 #6, July 2011

The Greek government stopped this year’s Gaza Freedom Flotilla dead in the water, refusing to allow the ships set sail on their humanitarian voyage to the illegally blockaded Palestinian area. Flotilla organisers say Greece took this decision after coming under intense diplomatic and economic pressure from the US and Israel. The Greek ban on departures came after two boats, including the Irish MV Saoirse – on which SIPTU official Mags O’Brien was a passenger – were sabotaged while still in port. Almost identical sabotage was discovered on the Greek-Scandinavian Juliano, docked hundreds of miles away, which Irish Ship To Gaza (ISTG) spokesperson Laurence Davis described as “beyond coincidence”.

Despite this serious setback, flotilla organisers vowed to continue their activities until the siege of Gaza has ended and Palestinians are granted unimpeded access to international waters and airspace, in conformity with international law. ISTG coordinator Fintan Lane told a packed meeting in Liberty Hall that “the Saoirse will sail to Gaza”, and that despite the failure to embark, the Flotilla movement had scored “important public opinion victories”.

Indeed, while Israel may have scored a pyrrhic victory in preventing the flotilla’s departure, the media war was emphatically won by the Palestine solidarity movement. Without even reaching international waters, the flotilla succeeded in highlighting the ongoing siege of Gaza, which – according to Amnesty – despite a very limited easing, has shown “few signs of real improvement on the ground,” while “the foundations of the illegal blockade [remain] intact”.

However, it is not just in Gaza that the situation remains appalling. Evictions of Palestinians, home demolitions, mass arrests, military brutality and continued building of illegal settlements continue apace in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. Indeed, the blockade seems to have extended to the West Bank, with hundreds of activists taking part in the Welcome to Palestine ‘flytilla’ prevented from entering Palestine via Tel Aviv airport (to visit the West Bank, one must enter via Israel). Scandalously, many were even prevented from leaving their home airports after airlines bowed to Israeli pressure.

These actions – along with the recent killings of scores of unarmed protesters on Israel’s Syrian, Lebanese and Gazan borders, and increasingly racist and repressive laws being passed by the Knesset – are serving only to show the desperation of the Israeli state as it attempts subdue Palestinian and international civil society resistance to its apartheid policies. While EU and other Western governments – including our own – appear happy to lend both overt and tacit legitimacy to this serial human rights abusing state, ordinary people from every corner of the globe have are showing they will not stand idly by while atrocities and absurdities are committed.

The political elites of the international community will have a chance to support to the creation of a Palestinian state in September, as the UN votes on the PLO “statehood recognition” plan. This plan – anathema to Israel, which is lobbying fiercely against it – aims at achieving UN recognition of a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with Israel. Yet it remains unclear if this plan will succeed, or indeed, if it will even get to the UN, as the US and Israel work against it.

Regarding statehood, it is important to remember the words of the Palestinian Boycott National Committee (representing over 180 civil society groups), who have stated that “recognition of Palestinian statehood is insufficient, on its own, for ending Israel’s occupation and colonial rule. It will not end Israel’s system of legalised discrimination, which fits the UN definition of apartheid, or allow the millions of Palestinian refugees return home”.

In this regard, SIPTU official Mags O’Brien told Liberty, “just like with South African apartheid, it is vital that Irish people, not least trade unionists, work to build the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement as a way of applying pressure on the Israeli state to end its occupation and comply with international law.”