Tuesday, August 19, 2008

More on the Free Gaza Movement

We recently circulated a post concerning the Free Gaza Movement, a group of international activists who are sailing 2 ships to Gaza to break the siege and deliver humanitarian supplies. Below is an interesting exchange of letters between organizers from the movement and a PR official from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. In one way, the exchange illustrates the futility of 'speaking truth to power': as Noam Chomsky points out, people in power generally already know the truth and they don't care. The question here is not whether the Ministry for Foreign Affairs will acknowledge that the children of Gaza need hearing aids, the question is whether the Israel navy is going to attack the ships.

A press release from the organization (first piece below) points to the fact that the Ministry describes the Movement as "humanitarian", and has entered into dialogue, and claims that this is a positive sign. At the same time, an article in the Jerusalem Post states that "the Navy has been ordered to turn back" the ships, and Ha'aretz reports that it might use force to do so, as allowing the ships to proceed would "create a dangerous precedent." In the meantime, the group is facing obstacles of a different sort, as they (and their families) have been barraged with threatening phone calls from anonymous sources.

Supporters of the occupation are perhaps right to be worried, because in some ways, the Free Gaza Movement is in a no-lose situation. If they get through, they will be able to deliver their humanitarian supplies. If they are confronted by the Israeli navy, it could generate publicity and help expose the nature of the siege – not to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, but (as Chomsky says) to people who can collectively constrain, dismantle and overthrow power. We can help them succeed not only by responding to their call for funds, but by alerting the media to this event and helping publicize their efforts as widely as possible.

Judith Norman

For reports on the Israeli response, see:
http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1218710388004&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull or

Israeli Government Recognizes "Humanitarian" Mission to Break the Siege of Gaza
For more information, please contact:
Greta Berlin, Cyprus +357 99 081 767 Iristulip@gmail.com
Angela Godfry-Goldstein, Israel +972 547 366 393 Angela@icahd.org

NICOSIA, CYPRUS (18 Aug. 2008) - In a letter today to the Free Gaza Movement, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs acknowledged that the group of international human rights activists attempting to break the siege of Gaza were "humanitarian," and stated that the Israeli government "assume[s] that your intentions are good."

Greta Berlin, one of the organizers of the Free Gaza Movement stated that, "Since the Foreign Minister's office responded to our invitation to join us, and said that we have good intentions, we now fully expect to reach Gaza."

According to recent reports in the Israeli media however, the Israeli military is preparing to use force to stop the nonviolent campaigners from reaching Gaza. It's not clear if the letter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs signals a change of policy, or is simply an attempt to open up an official dialogue between the state of Israel and the Free Gaza Movement regarding the current blockade.

The Free Gaza Movement is preparing to sail two ships into Gaza carrying 40 human rights workers from 17 different countries. They will also deliver hearing aids for children who have lost some or all of their hearing due to Israeli sound bombs and sonic booms.

The ships have been named the SS Free Gaza, and the SS Liberty - in recognition of the USS Liberty, a U.S. Navy ship, carrying 340 that was attacked by Israeli fighter planes and torpedo boats on 8 June 1967, assassinating 34 American sailors and wounding 170.

The Free Gaza Movement hopes to draw attention to the devastating consequences of the Israeli blockade by actively demonstrating the power of non-violent direct action to change inhumane governmental policies. ###

18 August 2008

Noam Katz
Director, Public Relations Department
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Israel

Dear Mr. Katz,

The Free Gaza Movement thanks Foreign Minister Livni for your response regarding our efforts to break the siege of Gaza. We appreciate Israel's formal recognition of our human rights mission, as well as its acknowledgement that our "intentions are good."

However, several factual errors in your letter need to be addressed. You wrote, "Your claim that the residents of the Gaza Strip are suffering from hunger is groundless…" According to the United Nations' Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), "only 43.5% of basic commercial food import needs were met during the period between 3 and 30 December 2007." Furthermore, in May 2008, several international aid organizations, including CARE International UK, CAFOD, Christian Aid, Oxfam, and Medecins du Monde UK, stated that, "the stranglehold on Gaza's borders has made ... the work of the UN and other humanitarian agencies ... virtually impossible. Only a trickle of medicine, food, fuel and other goods is being allowed in. [The Israeli Blockade of Gaza] has made people highly dependent on food aid, and brought the health system and basic services such as water and sanitation near to collapse."

Although, we appreciate your offer to deliver humanitarian supplies for us, Israel's deplorable track record of delivering supplies is, in fact, the very reason for our mission.

Your offer also slights our human-rights mission, which is to break your siege of Gaza. We intend to raise international awareness about the open-air prison called Gaza, where Israel collectively punishes 1.5 million Palestinians. We want to pressure the international community to review its sanctions policy and end its support for Israel's continued occupation. Finally, we want to uphold Palestine's right to welcome internationals as visitors, human rights observers, humanitarian aid workers, and journalists.

We would like to, once again, invite Foreign Minister Tsipi Livni to join us on our historic voyage to end the siege of Gaza, and to see first hand the devastating effects of Israeli policies on the men, women, and children of the Gaza Strip.

Greta Berlin, Ramzi Kysia, Tom Nelson
Free Gaza Movement, Cyprus
+357 99 081 767


18 August 2008
The Steering Committee for the Free Gaza Movement, Cyprus

Dear Committee Members:

Your letter to Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Livni as published on your website has been brought to our attention. We assume that your intentions are good but, in fact, the result of your action is that you are supporting the regime of a terrorist organization in Gaza, an organization dedicated to non-recognition of the State of Israel and its right to exist; an organization that sends women and children to commit suicide in order to hurt others; an organization that has committed dozens of terrorist acts against Israeli civilians, including massive attacks of rockets and mortar bombs on Israeli communities in the heart of Israel's sovereign territory. It is this organization that does not allow the Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace. In 2005, Israel withdrew all of its forces and all of its citizens from the Gaza Strip so that the Palestinians could manage their own lives; in return, innocent Israeli citizens were the targets of repeated attacks
launched from within Palestinian civilian population centers, turning the Palestinian population into hostages of the terrorist organizations and the Hamas regime. The attacks from the Gaza Strip against Israeli communities continue to this day.

In June 2007, Hamas led a violent coup in Gaza and seized the government illegally, a fact which led to an international boycott and isolation of its government. The international community also set clear conditions that Hamas must fulfill in order to be regarded as a partner for diplomatic contacts and normal economic relations. Hamas is the central player in the Gaza Strip and the address to which you should direct your complaints concerning the situation there. In this protest voyage to Gaza, you seek to remove legitimate pressure on the Hamas government and to violate the conditions of the international community; therefore we cannot cooperate with your efforts.

Your claim that the residents of the Gaza Strip are suffering from hunger is groundless considering the amount of food that passes every day from Israel to the Gaza Strip. There isn't another conflict in the world in which one side supplies all the needs of the other side – food, medicines, water, fuel and electricity. Thousands of Palestinians have crossed into Israel from the Gaza Strip to receive medical treatment at Israeli hospitals.

We would like to point out that the area to which you are planning to sail is the subject of an advisory notice that has been published by the Israeli Navy, which warns all foreign vessels to remain clear of the designated maritime zone off the coast of Gaza in light of the current security situation.

We have received information that you are planning to bring humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip. We would like to bring to your attention that the transfer of humanitarian aid to Israel is effected, at present, through agreed-upon channels, and the Israeli authorities will ensure that the shipment reaches its destination via the land crossing points. We will be happy to assist you in this endeavor.

If your intentions are good, please choose this way; if you do not intend to deliver the humanitarian aid via Israel, this proves that your goal is political and constitutes the legitimization of a terrorist organization.

Noam Katz
Director, Public Relations Department
Ministry of Foreign Affairs -----


5 August 2008 Tzipi Livni Foreign Affairs Minister, Israel

Dear Foreign Minister Livni: On behalf of the Free Gaza Movement, we would like to formally invite you to join us on our upcoming voyage from Cyprus to the Gaza Strip. We feel that your presence on this important mission would help alleviate concerns that have been expressed in the Israeli media about our objectives. More importantly, we believe that it would be extremely helpful for you to see firsthand the horrific effects of Israeli policies on the people of the Gaza Strip, as well as to witness firsthand the effectiveness of non-violent action in bringing about positive change.

While we disagree with many of the statements and policies you have made as the Israeli Foreign Minister, we wholeheartedly agree with a portion of something you wrote two years ago when you said:

"For too long, the Middle East has been governed by zero-sum logic. One side's loss was seen as the other's gain. This thinking has brought much suffering to our region" (Tzipi Livni, "The Peace Alternative," Asharq Alawsat, 18 June 2007). This is absolutely correct. We seek an end to this suffering. We find ourselves, and you must be feeling this intensely yourself, in truly difficult times. The one thing that is clear is that violence has not worked for anyone in this conflict. As a group of avowed non-violent, peace activists, we hope that you will accept this opportunity, move past the zero-sum logic of your government's blockade, and join us on this historic voyage to break the Siege of Gaza.

Your government's siege on the people of Gaza has been deemed illegal by numerous human rights organizations, has lead to the death of over 200 patients in the last year as a result of being denied adequate medical care, and has caused a man-made humanitarian catastrophe in the Gaza Strip. Clearly this is not the behavior of a civilized government, nor can these policies ever lead to peace for Israel.

Our voyage may seem to be a quixotic endeavor and therefore easily dismissed, but as a group of individuals who fervently believe that such moves can be vitally transforming, and that individuals do indeed each have the power to change our world for the better, we hope that you will take our offer seriously. We set sail for Gaza in the next few days. Please join us.

Sincerely Yours,
The Steering Committee for the Free Gaza Movement, Cyprus
Tel. +357 99 081 767

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