Proving that the flotilla organisers are nothing if not persistent, the Canadian flotilla ship, the Tahrir, which had been prevented from leaving a harbour in Crete to sail for Gaza, issued the following press statement last night:
With the support of Greek civil society and people from all around the world the Tahrir is casting off from Greece today.
“The Tahrir is leaving port in Crete, and we are breaking through Israel’s Gaza blockade which now extends to Greek ports,” said David Heap from aboard the Tahrir. “Israel’s expansion of the Gaza blockade to Greece is just the latest example of how the blockade of Gaza is about attacking freedom, not increasing security.”
Shortly afterwards, however, this news item was making headlines:
A Canadian ship taking part in a planned aid flotilla to Gaza has been forced to return to harbour in Crete after an attempt to reach international waters was thwarted by coast guards, according to onboard activists.
… The Tahrir sailed 15 minutes out of harbour before it was intercepted by coastguards, activists told Al Jazeera on Monday.
Meanwhile, it appears that a new UN report is about to be released, affirming the legality of Israel’s blockade and its actions in intecepting last year’s flotilla. The report is alleged to be particularly damning of the role of Turkey in organising the flotilla, especially its links to organising group IHH, which is strongly associated with Hamas. The UN has offered Israel and Turkey a chance to repair ties before the report – which would supposedly cause embarrassment to both countries – is released. The sticking point in negotiations is that Israel believes that its reaction was justified and will not give Turkey the apology that it demands. Therefore, as a Haaretz article rather comically observes,
“Diplomats are working like linguists to find a word that will sound like an apology in Turkish, but won’t sound like an apology in Hebrew.”
Whilst the UN report looks to be exonerating Israel against charges that it breached international law, what is rather illuminating is the argument that the flotilla activists are now using against the Greek Government. As per the above press statement:
Article 13.2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to leave any country”. Preventing flotilla ships from leaving Greek ports is a clear violation of this human right.
This argument demonstrates the way that this movement will cynically twist international law and human rights to achieve narrow political goals. The reality is that Greece is not preventing them from leaving the country – they are free to leave Greece by land, sea or air by any means that they choose, so long as that means is not a ship that is planning to breach the blockade of Gaza.
The international law does not give an unqualified right to leave any country by any means for any destination. In fact, in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, that right is qualified with the following exceptions:
Those which are provided by law, are necessary to protect national security, public order, public health or morals or the rights and freedoms of others.
It is clear that preventing ships from breaching the blockade could fall under at least one of these exceptions.
The true irony is that, while the organisers shout so vehemently about their human rights and the rights of Palestinians, the whole exercise is essentially for the benefit of Hamas, one of the worst abusers of human rights on the planet – particularly the rights of Palestinians. Writing in Slate, renowned intellectual Christopher Hitchens has given an excellent, insightful critique of the flotilla organisers’ philosophy and links to Hamas, explaining how insidious the group is and why this undermines the stated aims of the flotilla:
It seems safe and fair to say that the flotilla and its leadership work in reasonably close harmony with Hamas, which constitutes the Palestinian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. The political leadership of this organization is headquartered mainly in Gaza itself. But its military coordination is run out of Damascus, where the regime of Bashar Assad is currently at war with increasingly large sections of the long-oppressed Syrian population. Refugee camps, some with urgent humanitarian requirements, are making their appearance on the border between Syria and Turkey (the government of the latter being somewhat sympathetic to the purposes of the flotilla). In these circumstances, isn’t it legitimate to strike up a conversation with the “activists” and ask them where they come out on the uprising against hereditary Baathism in Syria?
… The little boats cannot make much difference to the welfare of Gaza either way, since the materials being shipped are in such negligible quantity. The chief significance of the enterprise is therefore symbolic. And the symbolism, when examined even cursorily, doesn’t seem too adorable. The intended beneficiary of the stunt is a ruling group with close ties to two of the most retrograde dictatorships in the Middle East, each of which has recently been up to its elbows in the blood of its own civilians. The same group also manages to maintain warm relations with, or at the very least to make cordial remarks about, both Hezbollah and al-Qaida. Meanwhile, a document that was once accurately described as a “warrant for genocide” forms part of the declared political platform of the aforesaid group. There is something about this that fails to pass a smell test. I wonder whether any reporter on the scene will now take me up on this.