Freedom Flotilla 11 Impacts on Israel’s Illegal Siege of Gaza Even Before Departure

Significantly, Israel has increased the number of trucks permitted to deliver humanitarian supplies into Gaza prior to the departure of Freedom Flotilla 11 at the end of June. Such is the hasbarist audacity of Israel.

Israel’s announcement today that it is “allowing between 210 and 220” trucks into Gaza with humanitarian aid is a direct response to the pressure that the upcoming Freedom Flotilla II is creating. Since July 2007, Israel has kept the number of allowed trucks at 25% of what the pre-blockade numbers were and of what is required by Gaza residents. To date, Israel has not responded to calls by human rights organizations or the UN to increase the numbers. Only as a result of the mounting pressure from the Freedom Flotilla has Israel altered its policy. However, today’s allowance still falls 35% short of what is needed in Gaza.

Letting in more trucks is not enough. More trucks with food and medicine are only meant to give the appearance of an open Gaza. More trucks does not mean freedom; more trucks does not mean rebuilding the hundreds of homes and buildings that the Israeli military destroyed during Operation Cast Lead (only 12 of the trucks being allowed in contain construction material for UN projects); more trucks does not mean Gaza is not occupied and its residents subjected to collective punishment; more trucks does not mean that Israel has ended its cruel blockade; more trucks does not mean that Palestinians are any less imprisoned.

More trucks do, however, mean that Israeli farmers and merchants make money off the occupation. as most international agencies bringing aid into Gaza are forced to buy their supplies from Israel.

In contrast to the results of the latest flotilla’s pressure, and while Israel’s piracy and murderous acts against the first Freedom Flotilla were found clearly illegal and that Israel’s closure regime was considered “to constitute collective punishment of the people living in the Gaza Strip and thus to be illegal and contrary to Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention”.by the UN Fact Finding Mission appointed by the UN Human Rights Commision to investigate, UN chief Ban Ki Moon is adamant that “flotillas were not helpful in resolving the basic economic problems in Gaza, though the situation there remains unsustainable, and that assistance and goods destined to Gaza should be channeled through legitimate crossings and established channels.”

Rebecca Collard, a Canadian journalist based in Jerusalem comments on the current situation in Gaza:

It isn’t just the sea that is blocked. Much of Gaza’s agricultural land, where farmers once grew crops and herded animals, has been placed off-limits by an Israeli security-justified buffer zone. These restrictions are compounded by the blockade.

“Protein intake for Gazans has plummeted, partly due to the blockade of the land and partly due to the blockade of the sea,” says Simon Boas, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s coordinator for the Gaza Emergency Programme.

Dov Weissglas, then-adviser to the Israeli prime minister, was quoted in 2006 as saying: “We need to make them lose weight, but not to die.” The policy seemed to be: make Gazans hungry enough to reconsider electing Hamas, but not starving to the point of a humanitarian – and therefore diplomatic – crisis.

Fishermen and farmers suffer the highest levels of food insecurity in the territory. “It’s the only group whose food insecurity is rising,” Boas says. El-Najjar’s family is one of 50 vulnerable families assisted by the FAO project to supplement their diets and incomes. His family now has all the fish it can eat from their 120 cubic metre pool. The rest he sells for about 10 Israeli shekels (Dh11) per kilogram – a price that is affordable for many here but one that earns him no more than a few hundred shekels per month.

Instead, most farms now rely on Iyad Deeb al Attar, who runs a hatchery near Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip. Al Attar is something of an expert – he worked for 15 years in the Israeli cities of Haifa, Ashkelon and Ashdod as well as Dugit, an Israeli settlement that once stood not far from his current farm. When Israel pulled its army and settlers out of Gaza in 2005, it took the fish farms with them. Al Attar decided to start his own.

“The market needs 18,000 tonnes each year,” estimates al Attar. The tonnage of farmed fish produced in the Gaza Strip has doubled each year since 2007. This year, the output from Gaza’s fish farms is predicted to top 200 tonnes and is expected to continue to grow rapidly.

What we need is to produce our own fish food,” says Adel Jamel Atallah, director general of the fisheries department. Almost all the fish feed in Gaza comes from Israel, leaving the industry reliant on high-priced imports subject to Israel’s whim.

A basic machine to produce fish food pellets costs about $75,000. It requires expertise to make a pellet that has the right quantity of protein and still floats.

“But electricity is the main problem – it’s off about eight hours per day,” says Atallah.

Gaza suffers a massive power deficit and electricity is essential to run machines that pump oxygen into the water. Farmed fish can die in few hours without it. Some fish farms have human-powered systems using pedals to keep the water moving. Others simply throw their children in the pools as splashing around is enough to oxygenate the water, although those who can afford it use generators.

In addition to humanitarian aid and construction materials, The Audacity of Hope, the U.S. boat which will form part of Freedom Flotilla 11 will bear more precious cargo – “thousands of letters of friendship and solidarity with the people of Gaza from people throughout our country” and 34 passengers from 14 different states in the US according to U.S. Boat to Gaza co-ordinator, Leslie Cagan.

Richard Levy, attorney and passenger on The Audacity of Hope says:

“Because Israel occupies Gaza, and accordingly has obligations under the Geneva Conventions, it cannot legally blockade Gaza.” Therefore, he continued, “attempts by the Israeli government to prevent ships from going to Gaza are equally illegal.”

Related Links

Report of the international fact-finding mission to investigate violations of international law, including international humanitarian and human rights law, resulting from the Israeli attacks on the flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian assistance* [pdf]
ICRC information on Gaza from Mathilde De Riedmatten, deputy head of the ICRC’s sub-delegation in Gaza
Flotilla of ‘aid’ boats into Gaza is a redundant gesture – Michael Coren’s despicable hasbara against the people of Gaza and the flotilla. I’ve left several comments 🙂
How will Israel deal with the next flotilla

This time around, the navy has been preparing rigorously for the operation, enlisting all of its Flotilla 13 commandos from the reserves and running different training models with various scenarios, from passive resistance – such as sit-downs – to potential gunfights and booby-trapped ships.

In addition to Flotilla 13 – better known as the Shayetet – the ships will be boarded by members of the Border Police’s Yasam Unit and the Prisons Service elite Masada Unit, both known for their expertise in crowd control and the use of non-lethal means to quell violent riots.

The teams will be supported by snipers – whose job will be to neutralize violent protesters before the commandos board the ships – with dogs from Oketz, the IDF’s canine unit, and operators from Yahalom, the elite unit from the Engineering Corps.

Palestine / Israel Links

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Several studies in Israel and one conducted by AIPAC and another by the Jewish National Fund in Germany show that perhaps as many as half of the Jews living in Israel will consider leaving Palestine in the next few years if current political and social trends continue

During the recent meetings in Washington DC between Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s delegation and Israel’s US agents, assurances were reportedly given by AIPAC officials that if and when it becomes necessary, the US government will expeditiously issue American passports to any and all Israeli Jews seeking them.

Israeli Arabs need not apply.

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