Keeping the Sea-Lane to Gaza Open

By Stuart Littlewood – London
Not a lot of people know this, but the success of the ‘Free Gaza’ boats in breaking the siege, and their safe arrival and departure, was due to the intervention and good offices of the British Foreign Office.

Seriously. I have it on good authority.

Before the peace activists set sail, the British government was asked about “action to ensure the freedom boats’ safe and uninterrupted passage to Gaza considering these are international waters and Palestinian territorial waters”. Any attempt to stop the boats would surely infringe the right to freedom of movement to and from Gaza, and seriously breach the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which Israel is a party.

The minister in charge of Middle East affairs Kim Howells – a strong supporter of the Iraq war – has now revealed that "FCO officials spoke to Israeli officials in advance of the trip and Israel allowed the boats peacefully into Gaza."

Bravo. Our chaps in London lift the phone to their chaps in Tel Aviv and – hey presto! – It’s all fixed. That’s diplomacy.

But is it true that it is now fixed with Israel to keep the sea-lane to Gaza open… permanently?

This calls for celebration. The Royal Navy has been guaranteeing the freedom of the seas for centuries. How silly of us to suspect for one moment that our highly-trained matelots might be frightened of Israeli pirates.

Wait a minute though, what about poor Lauren Booth, the sister-in-law of ace peace-envoy Tony Blair who arrived with the Gaza voyagers and has been marooned ever since, unable to leave the concentration camp through either Israel or Egypt? As I write, she is still trapped, caged, incarcerated and cooped up with the starving 1.4 million prisoner-citizens of Gaza. Why aren’t those fearless fixers in London on the diplomatic hotline to Tel Aviv and Cairo? Have their phones gone dead? Has Mossad cut the cable? Has this latest power-surge of diplomacy blown a fuse?

Fear not, Mr. Howells has the answer: "We are currently speaking to the Israelis to ensure the safe and speedy departure of the British Nationals still in Gaza."

No worries for us Brits abroad then, eh? But what are we doing to speed the departure of all the other people who are unlawfully prevented by Israel and Egypt from leaving – like the students who have won places at overseas universities, and like the chronically sick whom Gaza’s health authority cannot treat because the US-EU-Israel axis is withholding medical drugs and hospital equipment spares?

And what about the truck-loads of humanitarian aid, all the way from Scotland and elsewhere, denied entry to Gaza? What are we doing about these scandalous breaches of human rights and international law?

Desmond Tutu accuses the West of “silent complicity” in the Palestinians’ suffering. What price the grand-sounding International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights?

Not to worry. The freedom of the seas is guaranteed, isn’t it?

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

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