Flotilla II: Brave Activists, Spineless Politicians

By Stuart Littlwood

It doesn’t look good.

Our oh-so-moral international community, always poking its democracy-loving nose into any trouble spot that might threaten western security (whatever that means) and always eager to mobilize its mighty weapons of war, is still reluctant to operate on the cancer it foolishly implanted into the Holy Land 63 years ago and which now menaces the world.

Instead, our heroes encourage it to grow and won’t even protect the ‘caring services’ wishing to sooth the excruciating pain suffered by the Palestinian victims.

And right now it’s disappointing to find that the Free Gaza Flotilla’s new international media office in London is not up to the job. It issued its first press release this week. An accompanying note told us that "the steering committee decided it didn’t want a unified media strategy" – a fatal mistake, surely, when faced with an aggressive campaign of distortion, disinformation and sabotage mounted by Israel and its massive stooge network to scupper the sailings. It also mentioned a letter to British prime minister David Cameron but didn’t make the text available. And it revealed they still hadn’t written to the Foreign Office – unbelievable,

The press release announced that a boat packed with Freedom Flotilla activists had sailed along the Thames to Westminster. MP Caroline Lucas went ashore at the Houses of Parliament "to deliver a message of freedom for Palestine" and afterwards "asked William Hague what the government is doing to support the flotilla to Gaza".

No further details were given. So what exactly was the "message of freedom" delivered to Parliament, and how was it received? And, most important, what did foreign secretary Hague say?

Back came the reply: "Freedom for Palestine was the message. Ms Lucas posed a question in Parliament. Our press release was about our action and her involvement in it. You can look up Hague’s response in Hansard if you’re interested but he didn’t say anything we wanted to repeat in that press release."

That’s the sort of attitude that’s guaranteed to bury a release in a news editor’s wastepaper basket. You don’t ask a high-credibility MP like Caroline Lucas to publicly pin down a foreign secretary like Hague who’s a prominent cheer-leader for Israel, and hide the result.

As for the flotilla’s abrupt "Freedom for Palestine" message to Parliament, at the very least the press office could have beefed it up with a list of freedoms taken for granted in Westminster but denied to Palestinians… like freedom of self-determination, freedom to choose their own government, freedom to trade with the outside world, freedom to come and go, freedom to work, freedom to attend university even within their own country let alone abroad, freedom to worship in their holy places, freedom to reunite with their families, freedom to travel for medical care, freedom to fish their own territorial waters, freedom even to have a good night’s sleep. The ‘packaging’ possibilities are endless.

Here’s how Hansard (29 Jun 2011: Column 969) recorded the Lucas – Hague encounter:

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): Earlier today, Palestine solidarity groups, politicians, teachers and others marked the anniversary of the attacks on the Free Gaza flotilla last year by sailing down the river outside Parliament and marking the launch of a new Free Gaza flotilla. As the Foreign Secretary has previously said that the situation in Gaza is unacceptable and unsustainable, will he tell us what further action he is taking to help get the siege lifted, and will he do everything that he can to get guarantees that this new flotilla will be safe from attack?

Mr Hague: We have continued to take the action that I set out in the House last year. We have urged Israel greatly to improve access to Gaza. It has taken some steps, but those steps have not been as fruitful as we had hoped when they were set out. Egypt has now opened an important crossing into Gaza, which may also provide some relief. The answer relies on the general lifting of a blockade of Gaza and on a negotiated two-state solution in the middle east. However, embarking on new flotillas is not the way in which to bring that about. We advise against all travel to Gaza by British nationals, which includes people who may be thinking of boarding a flotilla to go there. We hope that Israel will make only a proportionate response to any such flotilla, but it is, none the less, not the way in which to sort out the problems of the middle east. Such problems require negotiations in good faith by the parties concerned.

Actually Hague’s answer is very useful because it reads like the work of Israeli speechwriters and rhymes perfectly with the nonsense he has spouted before. He insists that flotillas are "not the way". Well, what is? The proper way to break a siege, which the UN itself calls “illegal and contrary to Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention”, is surely for the UN to apply sanctions. Failing that, the right thing would be for UN warships to break the siege… or for international civil society to do it escorted by UN warships or by warships belonging to the nation(s) of the flagged humanitarian vessels threatened with attack.

The proper way for Israel to avoid trouble would be to end its illegal blockade and end its illegal occupation of the rest of Palestine, and not interfere with humanitarians going about their lawful business.

As for “negotiations in good faith”, does William Hague think he’s talking to idiots? What make-believe world is he living in?

A year ago, on 2 June 2010 after Israel’s assault on the Mavi Marmara killing nine unarmed humanitarians, including an American, Hague made similarly daft remarks in the House of Commons:

• "Our clear advice to British nationals is not to travel to Gaza." Music to Israel’s ears, of course, as Hague helped to legitimize the illegal sea blockade and armed assault against unarmed citizens in international waters.

• "We deeply deplore the loss of life…"

• "Their welfare [meaning the British nationals on board] is our top priority." Mr Hague knew of Israel’s intention to go to any lengths, including the use of lethal force, to stop the mercy ships but he took no precautionary action.

• He referred to "individuals who are allegedly involved in violence against Israeli servicemen during the boarding", failing to grasp that the violence was committed by Israeli storm-troopers dropping from helicopters with guns blazing under cover of darkness in international waters.

• "Restrictions on Gaza should be lifted – a view confirmed in United Nations security council resolution 1860." Bravo, he gets that right. But Resolution 1860 goes much further and calls for the sustained reopening of crossing points on the basis of the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access, which provides for
– the reduction of obstacles to movement within the West Bank
– bus and truck convoys between the West Bank and Gaza
– the building of a new seaport in Gaza
– re-opening of the airport in Gaza
Eight months earlier the European Council had repeated the EU’s call for “an immediate, sustained and unconditional opening of crossings for the flow of humanitarian aid, commercial goods and persons to and from Gaza” and for “full implementation of The Agreement on Movement and Access”. So where is all that?

• "We will… continue to press the Israeli government to lift the closure of Gaza, and plan early discussions… about what more can be done to ensure an unfettered flow of aid." Has unfettered flow happened? Of course not. And it won’t happen without naval escorts and/or sanctions. If Mr Hague doesn’t understand this he hasn’t been paying attention.

Hague was challenged by Sir Gerald Kaufman, the straight-talking Jewish MP, who pointed out that any one of the 37 UK citizens might have been killed when the Israelis “committed a war crime of piracy in international waters, kidnapping and murder—and all in pursuit of upholding an illegal blockade on Gaza that amounts to collective punishment…” He asked Mr Hague for his assurance that further steps would be taken if the Israelis failed to comply with the modest request that had been made.

But Hague sidestepped, saying: "It is our strong advice to British nationals, as it has been in the past and will be in the future, not to travel to Gaza—let me make that absolutely clear—as they would be going into a dangerous situation, but it is absolutely wrong to maintain the blockade."

Jeremy Corbyn asked if it wasn’t time for sanctions such as revoking the EU-Israel trade agreement. Hague replied that he did not think imposing sanctions was the right policy – but gave no reason. So no consequences.

Frank Dobson suggested that Britain and the other European members of NATO should give naval protection if another flotilla were to set off for Gaza, with the Royal Navy reverting to its traditional role of protecting the freedom of the seas. Hague dismissed this too.

The government chicken coop happily clucked its approval as Hague handed the Israelis total victory.  As expected, year later and there has been no improvement. Israel is making the same murderous threats against the latest flotilla. And Hague is making the same stupid remarks.
‘Reckless to Travel to Gaza’

A year before that, in July 2009, I received a letter from the office of Britain’s then foreign secretary David Miliband in reply to questions about Israel’s hijacking of the mercy ship Spirit of Humanity on the high seas and the outrageous treatment of six peace-loving British citizens including the skipper. They were en route to Gaza, not Israel, had their gear stolen or damaged and were thrown into Israeli jails. The letter said: "All those on board, including six British nationals, were handed over to Israeli immigration officials. British consular officials had good access to the British detainees and established that they were treated well.”

That’s not what the peaceful seafarers were saying. They were assaulted, put in fear of their lives and deprived of their liberty for fully a week – a long time in a stinking Israeli jail – for committing no offence.

The letter continued: "The Foreign Secretary said in the House of Commons on 30 June that it was ‘vital that all states respect international law, including the law of the sea… We regularly remind the Israeli government of its obligations under international law on a variety of issues, including with respect to humanitarian access to Gaza as well as Israel’s control of Gazan waters…

"Our Travel Advice makes clear that we advise against all travel to Gaza, including its offshore waters; that it is reckless to travel to Gaza at this time…"

So, instead of keeping the seaways open, it seems the British Government has colluded with Israel to put part of the Holy Land off-limits to British pilgrims, humanitarians and businesspeople and implicated itself in the collective punishment Israel continues to inflict on the Palestinian citizens of Gaza.

Fast-forward to this week and Middle East minister Alistair Burt echoing his boss William Hague after visiting the Gaza Strip. He told the Jerusalem Post that he was opposed to the latest flotilla and that the action by pro-Palestinian campaigners was a political gesture and a challenge to Israel’s authority. "There are better ways to do this in humanitarian terms, and better ways politically."

What are these "better ways"? Everyone would love to know.

And what exactly is Israel’s "authority" over who comes and goes in international waters, or who enters or leaves Palestinian territory?

Burt also said: "I am here to encourage the Israeli government and the Palestinians to get back around the table." Hasn’t he heard? Everyone’s done with time-wasting “negotiations”. The path to justice and peace is already set down in law and UN resolutions. It’s time to pursue that path and enforce those laws.

Is anyone safe in the international community’s hands?

In case you’re wondering, Mr Burt used to be an officer of the Conservative Friends of Israel, Mr Hague has been a signed-up Friend of Israel since he was a teenager, and Prime Minister David Cameron also counts himself a Friend of Israel and says he’s a Zionist.

This unpleasant trio of supporters of the Israeli regime are just the UK tip of a sinister and menacing Western-world iceberg. Nothing should surprise us about the behaviour of the rest of the so-called international community.

The international community was happy to slap cruel sanctions on Iraq’s women and children for 12 years before bombing the hell out of them. The international community has been happy to bomb the hell out of women and children in Afghanistan for nearly 10 years. The international community is current bombing the hell out of women and children in Libya and, I hear, using DU (depleted uranium) ordnance for good measure. The international community stood happily by and watched Israel unleash its Cast Lead blitzkrieg against Gaza’s trapped civilians, killing 1400, maiming countless more and wrecking their infrastructure. Not a single aircraft carrier, destroyer, Tornado jet or Apache helicopter was deployed in their defence, nor has there been any move in the UN to sanction against Israel for its continuing blockade of Gaza. Nor have there been any consequences for Israel’s interception of the Mavi Marmara on the high seas, which the UN says was "clearly unlawful". Even the International Criminal Court drags its feet. Meanwhile the international community has taken sanctions against Iran and can’t wait to bomb the hell out of the Islamic Republic’s women and children.

"There is no greater priority, no more important responsibility than the safety of all our citizens…" So said one of our previous prime and no doubt many other heads of state. Somebody please correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t believe a single member of our international community has promised to protect the brave men and women of the Flotilla while in international waters from the vile threats of the regime that committed wholesale murder against the last flotilla. Indeed, the international community seems prepared to let Israel carry on with its dirty work, its defiance of all laws and codes and its crimes against humanity.

In the UK Cameron, Hague and Burt would do well to remind themselves what it is they are paid and sworn to do… whether it is to protect British citizens going about their peaceful and lawful business on the high seas, or to further the lawless ambitions of a criminal foreign regime that’s contemptuous of human values.

The British public know the answer. If Israel harms a hair on the head of any Britisher aboard this flotilla, or shows disrespect, Messrs Burt, Hague and Cameron may get the roasting they so richly deserve.

I wouldn’t mind betting that the same fate awaits Obama and Clinton if any American citizen is harmed this time.

– Stuart Littlewood is author of the book Radio Free Palestine, which tells the plight of the Palestinians under occupation. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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