By Daniel Owens
A flotilla of nine boats, carrying over 10,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid and over 700 pro-Palestinian activists, is expected to arrive in Gaza on Sunday 30th May 2010, if it manages to break through the armed Israeli blockade.
Israeli authorities have vowed to prevent the convoy from reaching Gaza, claiming that there is no humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian territories. However, organisers have protested against the Israeli ‘misinformation campaign’ and have claimed that “for over four years, Israel has subjected the civilian population of Gaza to an increasingly severe blockade, resulting in a manmade humanitarian catastrophe of epic proportions.” The organisers have stated that all the cargo on board is designed to make life better for those living within Gaza, including building materials, medical supplies, dental equipment and chocolate for the children.
The Israeli blockade of Gaza has been in place since the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas took control after a battle with rival Palestinian group Fatah – following the election of Hamas in 2006. Nearly all exports and imports are banned under the terms of the blockage and only a limited supply of humanitarian aid is allowed in (15,000 tonnes per week). The United Nations has stated that this is less than a quarter of what is needed to sustain those within the strip. The Israeli navy also enforces a 23 mile closure of the sea around Gaza which has devastated its fishing industry and has vowed to use limited force to prevent the flotilla from making ground in Gaza.
More concerning than Israel’s apparent ignorance of a humanitarian crisis, or its willingness to threaten force against an unarmed convoy, is the mainstream media’s apparent ignorance of the ‘freedom fleets’ mission. Having browsed several of the leading news websites in the UK this evening (including The Times, BBC News and The Guardian) it is hard to find reference to the mission unless you actually search “flotilla” or “Gaza”. Similarly, watching the 10 o clock news mentioned nothing of their plight and chose to focus on domestic issues such as David Laws’ resignation and the Eurovision song contest.
It appears that Israel is expecting yet more criticism from international groups with YNetnews.com (Israel’s largest paper) reporting that the Knesset are “preparing for the media blitz certain to follow the flotilla, which many believe will harm the state’s already floundering reputation”. The article proceeds to detail how IDF, Foreign Ministry and PR representatives are preparing to make TV appearances to defend Israel’s position – mainly claiming that “the flotilla serves the terror organisation ruling Gaza and not its residents.”
The Jerusalem post published an article claiming that the basic elements of the Israeli media campaign is to “stress that the supplies the ships are carrying are unnecessary and that Israel – together with various international organizations – already transfers these supplies to Gaza via land crossings.” Israeli foreign ministry spokesperson Yigal Palmor stated that “the existing land crossings were more than capable of meeting Gaza’s needs;” that “15,000 tons of supplies enter Gaza each week.” However, contradicting Palmors statement is a UN report that has found that the “Livelihoods and lives of people living in the Gaza Strip have been devastated by over 1000 days of near complete blockade” and that “Most of the property and infrastructure damaged in Israel’s offensive on the Gaza Strip [in 2008] was still unrepaired”
The flotilla, which is currently being delayed in International waters by Cypriot authorities, is expected to arrive in Gaza at some point on Sunday. It is undoubtedly beyond time that action is taken over the blockage and as Richard Falk, Princeton University, has stated “it has been demonstrated that neither governments nor the UN will challenge this blockade, only people of conscience and courage will.” Let’s hope this flotilla makes it.