By Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Laureate
On Saturday 5th June, 2010, 35 heavily armed Israeli Navy Seals commandeered our boat, MV Rachel Corrie, one of the Freedom Flotilla, in International waters (30 miles off the coast of Gaza). As they did so, we 19 humanitarian activists and crew, sat on the deck.
We were quietly anxious, aware of the solitary figure in the wheelhouse with his hands held high against the window, in full view of the three Israeli warships, 4 approaching zodiacs and 2 commando carriers, whose guns were pointing in his direction. I personally wondered if the courageous Derek Graham would live to tell the tale, conscious of what happened on the Turkish ship, Mavi Marmara, earlier in the week.
On Monday 3lst May, 2010, we heard via satellite phone that the Israeli Commandoes had boarded in International waters, from helicopter and zodiacs, the Turkish Ship, MV Mavi Marmara, killing and injuring many people. It was later confirmed that 8 Turkish people, l Turkish/USA, unarmed civilians had been shot (2 in the head and several in the back). All 6 boats on the Freedom Flotilla had been commandeered by Israeli Navy and taken to Israel and during this attack by Israel over 40 people were injured.
These killings of unarmed civilians were devastating news to us all and something we never expected to happen. All those participating in the Freedom Flotilla participated because they were moved by the suffering of the Palestinian people of Gaza.
They were not Terrorists; they were human beings, who cared for other human beings in their suffering. Gaza cut off by land crossing, sea (its port had been closed for over 40 years since Israeli occupation and had the Free Gaza Rachel Corrie Cargo boat been able to enter Gaza, it would have been the first Cargo boat ever to do so). Gaza has rightly been described as the largest open air prison in the world, with Israel holding all the keys for its one and a half million people living under a policy of collective punishment by Israeli.
Under siege for over 3 years now, with a shortage of medicine, basic materials to rebuild their homes, after the 22 day bombardment by Israeli in Dec/Jan.2009 has left Gaza and its people, a place of suffering and isolation.
The flotilla was not only to bring humanitarian aid, books for children, toys, writing material, but to help break the siege of Gaza, which is slowly strangling its people.
The violations of international law committed by Israel are well documented by the UN, and many independent human rights bodies. All of these violations of International laws and norms are committed under the guise of ‘national security’, a policy of isolating Gaza to weaken Hamas.
It is a policy that is clearly not working. As we have learned in N. Ireland, violence never works, so why not try talking to Hamas, as the British Government had to talk to rep. of IRA and Loyalist paramilitaries, in order to move to peace.
The brutal and illegal attack of aid ships in International waters on May 3lst and the subsequent boarding of the MV Rachel Corrie, also in international Waters, is a symptom of the culture of impunity under which Israel operates.
The Israeli Government was quick to blame the activists on board the MV Mavi Marmara, claiming that they attacked first and were members of terrorist groups.
They also claimed that the HLL the Turkish Humanitarian Group who organized the Mavi Marmara had terrorist links. The HLL is not a banned organization in Turkey and has no links to terrorist organizations. It was disappointing to see how many International governments and media outlets immediately accepted Israel’s version of events without further investigation.
Sure, there have been calls for a ‘prompt, Impartial, credible and transparent’ investigation into the events of May 3lst by the United Nations Security Council. Yet the United States and others seem to think that Israel can conduct such an investigation on its own. In the words of my colleague, Nobel Jody Williams, this is like “the fox accounting for the number of chickens left in the henhouse”; such a response cannot stand, and nothing less than an independent investigation will be acceptable to the international community.
This attack on the Freedom Flotilla is a tipping point. It is time for the International Community to finally stop allowing Israel to act with blatant disregard for Human Life, Human rights and International Law.
The partial lifting of the siege shows what International pressure can achieve, but it is not enough and only a full lifting of the siege can bring re freedom to the people of Gaza.
It is time for Israel to choose peace. It is time for world leaders and the international Community to join together and call on Israel to lift the siege of Gaza completely, End the occupation of Palestine and allow the Palestinian people their right to self-determination.
To help bring closer that day we can all do something. Not everyone can go with the Free Gaza boat people, but supporting the BDS campaign, calling for an end to EU special trading status with Israel insisting that USA end its economic/military assistance to Israel until it upholds it international commitments. Palestine is a key to peace in the Middle East so by us all refusing to be ‘silent’ in the face of Israel’s continued apartheid policies we can all bring closer an end to all violence in the Middle East.
– Mairead Maguire is Nobel Peace Laureate. Visit: www.peacepeople.com. This article was contributed to PalestineChronicle.com.