The organizers of a flotilla seeking to challenge Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip have been delayed from departing because of a mounting campaign by Israeli officials to discredit the activists.
Israel’s nervousness comes after an incident 13 months ago in which Israeli commandoes boarded a ship that was part of a similar flotilla. The commandoes killed nine people after encountering resistance from the activists on board, and the international outcry from the incident forced Israel to ease its land blockade of Gaza.
As the flotilla — which is expected to be made up of 10 ships with pro-Palestinian activists from various nations, including a group from the United States — prepares to depart later this week, both sides are becoming increasingly vocal about the flotilla, and calling foul play on the other side.
Here’s what both sides are saying:
The anti-flotilla argument
Israeli newspapers have charged that the flotilla is carrying sacks of chemicals on board its ships and is planning to bring violence. A headline in Israel’s Maariv newspaper next to a photo of a vessel reads “Coming to kill.”
Israeli officials insist the naval blockade of Gaza is meant to prevent the smuggling of weapons into the territory. On Wednesday, an Israeli cabinet minister said Israel is “prepared for the worst” and promised to block the flotilla before it gets to Gaza.
Yid with Lid, a blog on Jewish issues, agrees with the Israeli government, writing: “The objective of the ‘Ships of Fools’ has nothing to do with helping the people of Gaza, or promoting peace. Its purpose is to delegitimize Israel and kill Jews.”
The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs has even accused a senior Muslim Brotherhood figure as being behind the flotilla.
A pro-Israeli group Act for Israel tweeted Wednesday:
The pro-flotilla argument
Activists who plan to board the flotilla insist they will go unarmed and that there are no chemicals aboard the ship.
Gabriel Schivone, a member of Tucson Free Gaza and of University of Arizona Students for Justice in Palestine, wrote in New America Media this week: “Later this week, I will be on board a ship named The Audacity of Hope, bound for Gaza along with 50 other Americans...my fellow passengers and I will be unarmed. Our only cargo is thousands of letters to the people of Gaza from individuals across the United States.”
Dror Feiler, an Israeli-born activist from Sweden and an organizer of the flotilla, told The Post , “We have no intention of confronting anyone. All our passengers sign a declaration of nonviolence. We are training for nonviolence, to avoid a repetition of what happened last time.”
And on Monday, Scandinavian organizers of the trip said the propeller of one ship had been cut in the Greek harbor, from where the boats are set to sail at the end of the week.
Organizers also point to a foul play in the form of a video hoax earlier this week. A man claiming to be a gay rights activists had recording a video claiming that an organizer of the trip had rejected his offer to bring gay activists to support it. Two days ago, pro-Palestinian Web site Electronic Intifada revealed that the man was just an Israeli actor. A pro-flotilla Twitter user wrote sarcastically:
I wouldn't be surprised if Israel is training actors to pretend they are Flotilla activists so they can videotape them "attacking" soldiers