More than ten people have been killed after Israeli forces attacked a flotilla bringing aid supplies to the besieged people of Gaza. Details are still sketchy – some sources claim twenty people are dead – but it seems that IDF commandoes stormed the vessels and then opened fire with live ammunition.
The flotilla was part of an international effort bringing goods and supplies barred to Gaza, basic items like building materials and water purifiers. It consisted of three cargo vessels and three passenger ships containing 600 activists, including the Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Corrigan Maguire. There were also journalists on board, including the Sydney Morning Herald‘s Paul McGeough, who is apparently still missing.
Over the past years, we’ve seen many events in the region that shock the conscience but an armed attack on an aid boat is a new low. Already, there are reports of demonstrations around the world.
On 21 March 1960, South African police fired into a group of black protesters, killing 69 of them. That incident – known to history as the Sharpeville Massacre – sparked the movement that eventually brought down the apartheid state. It may be that this latest atrocity will have similarly far-reaching consequences.
Even now, it’s still unclear how many people were killed. Why? As the Guardian says, ‘Israel immediately imposed a communications blackout on the detained activists while simultaneously launching a sophisticated public relations operation to ensure its version of events was dominant.’ So we’re yet to see any of the film taken by the activists as the IDF approached – or even hear from the journalists, like the SMH‘s Paul McGeough, who were on board.
The counter-narrative emerging from the professional Israeli apologists (part-gangsters, part-gramophones, as Orwell quipped in a different context) is that the commandoes acted in self-defence in the face of a ‘lynch mob’ directed by al-Qaida (no, seriously). It’s an oddly apt defence of the indefensible, in that it parrots the rationale for the original Gaza war and the subsequent blockade. No matter how grotesque the disparity in casualties, whether it’s scores of protesters killed and zero soldiers, or 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead, as in the Gaza war, Israel is always already the victim, always engaged in a regrettable course necessitated by the genocidal forces raged against it.
We might note that if an outside observer engaged in the grotesque actuarial calculations of this conflict, he or she might decide that the assault on the flotilla justified a fully-fledged war. After all, as a popular Twitter meme has pointed out, the number of protesters killed in this massacre seems to have outnumbered the number of Israelis killed by Palestinian rockets over the last decade, the statistic quoted in defence of the Gaza incursion.
The other point worth noting about the ‘self defence’ claim is that no-one denies the flotilla remained in international waters at the time of the raid. There is, therefore, a technical term for what took place. It’s called ‘piracy’ – and pirates cannot expect their victims to simply hand over their vessels without protest.
But enough of this. We’re dealing with an episode so blatant and so grotesque that anyone who wants to know will know. In the aftermath of past massacres (Sharpeville or Kent State or Bloody Sunday or whatever) there’s always been an official claim that the sufferers brought their misery upon themselves, that the perpetrators were actually the real victims, that up was down and black was white. But in the end, the facts speak for themselves – and that’s what will happen here.
In any case, let’s not forget the circumstances that made the flotilla so necessary. In Salon, Glenn Grenwald notes:
Regarding the blockade of Gaza itself — about which “Dov Weisglass, an adviser to Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister [said when it was first imposed]: ‘The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger'” — this post documents just some of the effects, with ample links to U.N. reports, including:
* since the intensification of the siege in June 2007, “the formal economy in Gaza has collapsed” (More than 80 UN and aid agencies [.pdf])
* “61% of people in the Gaza Strip are … food insecure,” of which “65% are children under 18 years” (UN FAO)
* since June 2007, “the number of Palestine refugees unable to access food and lacking the means to purchase even the most basic items, such as soap, school stationery and safe drinking water, has tripled” (UNRWA)
* “in February 2009, the level of anemia in babies (9-12 months) was as high as 65.5%” (UN FAO)
In other words, the blockade itself was a crime, a terrible collective punishment that the flotilla was making an attempt to alleviate. Gaza has become a huge prison, and every prison has guards. This massacre illustrates the powers those guards have at their disposal.
It should be noted that the response to the atrocity has been immediate and worldwide. The Age carries the following roundup:
In the [Turkish] capital Ankara about 1,000 people gathered outside the residence of Israeli ambassador Gabby Levy and shouted “Damn the Zionist murderers!” and “Israel will drown in the blood of the martyrs!”.
They threw eggs and plastic bottles into the garden of the residency. Reports said demonstrations were held in dozens of cities across the country.
In London more than 1,000 people — some of whom had friends on the ships carrying aid to blockaded Gaza — protested outside the residence of British Prime Minister David Cameron and the Israeli embassy.
Chanting “Free Palestine” and brandishing the Palestinian flag and banners condemning Israeli “war crimes”, activists blocked a major route through the capital.
“We have close friends on the boat on which people were killed and we are here waiting for news,” said Kate Hudson, the chairwoman of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
In Paris about 1,200 people joined a noisy protest near the Israeli embassy, waving Palestinian flags and shouting “Palestine will survive”. Some through stones at police and tried to break through barriers around the building.
Scuffles broke out when rival protestors waving Israeli flags approached, prompting police to fire tear gas. Officers also fired tear gas at protesters in Strasbourg while there were rallies in cities including Marseille and Lyon.
Greek police used tear gas to force back around 1,500 protesters outside the Israeli embassy in Athens, while another 2,000 people rallied in the northern city of Thessaloniki.
In Lebanon thousands of Palestinian refugees and activists waving Palestinian flags and banners marched in the country’s 12 refugee camps.
“Where is the international community? Where are human rights?” they chanted in the Al-Bass camp in the southern coastal city of Tyre.
In Beirut hundreds called on Israeli embassies in the Arab world to be shut down and for Israeli ambassadors to be expelled.
At a demonstration of about 3,000 people at the Beddawi camp in the northern city of Tripoli, anger also turned on Israel’s traditional ally, the United States.
“God is great and America is the greatest evil,” they chanted. “Give us weapons, give us weapons and send us on to Gaza.”
There were even demonstrations inside Israel, where hundreds of protestors flooded the streets of the Arab city of Nazareth as Israeli police raised the level of alert across the country and deployed reinforcements.
Several thousand Egyptians, mainly supporters of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood, demonstrated in Cairo and other cities. Egypt is one of only two Arab states to have peace agreements with Israel, along with Jordan.
More than 2,000 people in Amman protested what Jordan’s Information Minister Nabil Sharif dubbed a “heinous crime” and demanded that Jordan shut down the Jewish state’s embassy and expel the Israeli ambassador.
In Iran’s capital Tehran, dozens of people pelted stones at the UN office chanting: “This savage regime of Israel must be wiped out.” They burnt the Israeli flag and tore up pictures of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
In Pakistan politicians, lawmakers and journalists staged a peaceful protest in Islamabad, denouncing the killings and calling on the United Nations and the United States to intervene.
Around 6,000 people rallied in Stockholm and others protested outside the Israeli embassies in Belgium, Copenhagen and The Hague.
In Geneva around 200 people rallied outside the UN’s European headquarters demanding an inquiry into the raid, and hundreds of Bosnians marched through Sarajevo, brandishing Palestinian flags.
Around 2,000 people protested in Morocco while several hundred rallied in the capital of the Saharan nation of Mauritania, where parliament called on the International Criminal Court to intervene.
Details of the Australian protests are below:
Melbourne: Tuesday June 1, 4.30pm, Bourke St Mall, CBD
Sydney: Tuesday June 1, 5.30pm, Town Hall, CBD
Brisbane: Tuesday June 1, 5pm, Brisbane Square (cnr George and Queen sts)
Perth: Tuesday June 1, 5pm, Wesley Church, cnr William & Hay Sts, Perth
Adelaide: Details coming soon – keep checking back here!
Canberra: Tuesday June 1, 5pm, outside Israeli Embassy, 6 Turrana St, Yarralumla. Plus also a rally in Garema Place on Thursday 3 June at 4.00 pm (organised by Australians for Justice and Peace in Palestine)
Newcastle: Tuesday June 1, 4pm, Sharon Grierson’s office, Hunter St