The “Free Gaza” Boat Stunt

Aug 26, 2008 | AIJAC staff

Update from AIJAC

August 26, 2008
Number 08/08 #09

Readers will probably have heard about the two boats, carrying pro-Palestinian activists and supplies in a stunt designed to protest Israel’s blockade of non-essential supplies to Gaza, that were allowed by Israeli authorities to reach Gaza from Cyprus yesterday. This Update offers some analysis of the Israeli decision to allow the boats to enter, some background, and some commentary on the whole incident.

First up is Herb Keinon of the Jerusalem Post, who discusses the Israeli security services’ debate about whether to stop and inspect the boat, which would have provided the confrontation and publicity the activists on the boat were seeking, or let it go through, thus minimising the publicity. He says that while the latter argument won, the potential downside is not that there are likely to be significant additional attempts to break the blockade, but that Israel potentially sent the message, especially in the Arab world, that Israel can be forced to buckle with threats of bad media publicity. For Keinon’s full analysis, CLICK HERE. Meanwhile, commenting on a report that many Palestinians were underwhelmed to discover that the Gaza boat contained little beside activists, is scholar Emanuele Ottolenghi.

Next up, the British Israel Communications and Research Centre put out a useful fact-sheet discussing the Gaza blockade, the amount of humanitarian aid and other supplies coming in, and the status of the ceasefire. It makes it clear that supplies are up considerably in the wake of the ceasefire,  even though rockets and mortars continue to be fired. The fact-sheet also has some good details on past border smuggling efforts and attacks on crossing points from within Gaza. For this complete backgrounder, CLICK HERE. Plus, here is a report on Israeli doctors going to Gaza to perform needed surgery. 

Finally, Frimet Roth, the Australian-Israeli mother whose daughter, Malki, was murdered in the Sbarro suicide bombing in Jerusalem in 2001, gives her take on the protesters who organised the “Free Gaza” stunt. She accuses them, in their determination to see the Palestinians as innocent victims, of failing to take account of reality, and specifically points to footage shown recently of Hamas summer camps where pre-teens are taught to bomb and kill. She says the protestors seem to ignore or disregard Israeli victims of the conflict, such as Malki, who was preparing to work at a very different summer camp for disabled children when she was killed. For all of Roth’s heartfelt comments, CLICK HERE.

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Analysis: Winning a media battle, but (potentially) losing the war

Herb Keinon


Ever since the Free Gaza Movement made known its intent a few weeks ago to set sail for the Gaza Strip to “break” the Israeli blockade, it was clear that the two boatfuls of professional left-wing demonstrators and tag-along journalists were after one thing: a huge media event.

Nothing, therefore, would have given them a greater media buzz than if a couple of Israel Navy boats stopped them on the high seas, arrested the protesters (hopefully, from the point of view of the organizers of the protest, with some gratuitous brutality), and dragged the Greek-registered vessels into the Ashdod port.

Imagine the footage, imagine the images, and imagine the public relations bonanza for those few “brave souls” on the sea-weary vessels. Israel would, undoubtedly, have faced a public relations drubbing. So by deciding to let the boats through, the government deprived the protesters of the huge media event they so obviously wanted.

Indeed, instead of footage of heavyhanded Israelis stopping boats carrying an 81-year-old American nun and the sister-in-law of former British prime minister Tony Blair leading the nightly news broadcasts in the West on Saturday night, the story of the boats’ arrival in Gaza barely made a blip on the CNN, Fox, or Sky news broadcasts. With the world’s eyes still glued to the Olympics in Beijing, and the media focusing on US presidential candidate Barack Obama’s choice of Joe Biden as his vice presidential nominee, the Gaza blockade-running story didn’t register in the electronic media.

And in the written press, the protesters didn’t fare that much better. The New York Times ran a small piece on page 16 on Sunday; The Washington Post on page 12; and The St. Louis Post-Dispatch relegated it to a three-paragraph brief. As media events go, this one was not particularly successful.

But the story is not over. The protesters still may get their desired confrontation if they depart the same way they came – by sea – and try to take with them some Palestinians whom Israel regards as security risks. For what is at stake in this whole story is not only the force with which the protesters manage to break into the daily news cycle, but rather whether Israel does or does not control the territorial waters around Gaza.

In the extensive governmental discussions that preceded the sailing, two schools of thought emerged. The first – the one that won the day – was that the protesters should be deprived of their sought-after confrontation.

But there was a minority opinion as well, a second school of thought that maintained Israel should interdict the boats when they entered Israel’s territorial waters, and interrogate and arrest the passengers as gently, but as firmly, as possible.

The logic behind this argument was that Israel had the right, like any country in the world, to protect its borders, and prevent – through its coast guard – the violation of its territorial waters.

The adherents to this position maintained that since the world’s eyes were on the Olympics, since it was August and not many people were paying attention anyhow, since the Democratic party convention in Denver would soon take over the news, an interdiction of the boats now would not make that big a media splash, and even if it did, Israel had good, valid arguments to explain its actions.

Furthermore, this argument ran, Israel would in any event likely have to stop the boats when they sailed out of Gaza, because unlike the situation when they set sail, when Israel knew exactly who and what was on the vessels, that would not be the case for the return trip.

But there is another point as well: it was not only the western media watching the fate of the boats and their passengers, but also the Arab media and the Arab world. As such, Israel – according to this argument – needed to send a message to the Arab world that it took sovereignty over its territorial waters seriously, and would defend that sovereignty, even at the price of some bad press in the Guardian or Le Monde.

Jerusalem doesn’t need to be too concerned that a precedent was set by letting the boat pass, because it made clear this was a one-time deal, and that it reserved the right to stop other boats if they tried to enter Gaza.

Rather, Israel needs to be worried that the country’s enemies will see it is sorely afraid of bad press, and will fold on its principles to avoid a negative media event.

The danger now is not that the two Free Gaza boats will be followed by a flotilla of others bearing more humanitarian aid for Gazans, but rather that the method these protesters used – employing the media as an instrument to force Israel to buckle under – will be honed and adopted for more effective use later.

In the short term Israel did well in depriving the Free Gaza folks their carnival. But in the long term it may be that Israel caused more harm to its interests by avoiding a high-profile, precedent-setting scuffle now on the high seas off the coast of Gaza.

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BICOM BRIEFING, 22/08/2008

As you may be aware, two boats have set sail for the Gaza Strip in order to highlight the situation in Gaza and its borders. In order to give context to the situation, please see the latest BICOM briefing on maritime access and humanitarian supplies in Gaza.

Key points:

  •  Despite 25 rocket and mortar attacks on Israel since the ceasefire was declared in June, Israel has continued to facilitate the provision of aid and supplied utilities in Gaza.
  • In the month since the ceasefire began, the number of truckloads entering Gaza through two of the main crossings increased by 54%, as compared to the previous month.
  • The attacks of Hamas and other militant groups on Israel and their continued rejection of the peace process is preventing normal cooperation and borders functioning between Israel and Gaza. The responsibility lies with Hamas to accept international demands to renounce violence, recognise Israel, and accept previous agreements between Israel and the Palestinians.

What is the threat posed to Israel from Gaza?

– Since Israel withdrew all military and civilian presence from Gaza in August 2005, 4,806 rockets were fired by Palestinian terrorists into Israel. In the first four months of 2008, the rate of rocket attacks was one every three hours.

– Despite a ‘ceasefire’ between Israel and Hamas that came into force on 19 June 2008, there have been 25 separate rockets and mortars fired from Gaza into Israel since then.

– Since 2004, 16 Israelis have been killed by Qassam rockets and hundreds have been injured and maimed.

– 92% of Sderot residents have experienced a Qassam falling on their or an adjacent street.

– Despite the current ceasefire, terror groups are making every attempt to smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip to use against Israel. At the beginning of August, Egypt began destroying 20 tunnels that were used to smuggle arms and supplies from Egypt into the Gaza Strip.[i]

How is Israel working to provide supplies to Gaza?

– Despite the obstacles put in their way by Hamas and other militants who are launching attacks on the crossing points and Israeli towns, Israel is facilitating the supply of vital provisions to the people of Gaza on a daily basis.

– Gaza also shares a border with Egypt – at Rafah – but Egypt, in contrast to Israel, has kept their border almost completely closed.

– Since the ceasefire declared in June, Israel has increased the goods going into Gaza. The UN observer mission in Palestine reported on 22 July 2008: ‘The number of truckloads entering the Gaza Strip through the Sufa and Karni crossings increased by 54% during the four weeks following the ceasefire, as compared to the month before. Imports of cement increased substantially and met Gazan requirements for the reporting period.’

– A total of 3,197 truckloads of goods entered Gaza in July 2008, alone presenting a dramatic increase compared to the previous month (see Table).

– A total of 14,094,260 litres of fuel and 3,017,190 kg of gas were imported into Gaza through the Nahal Oz entry point in June; about 69% of the imported fuel was industrial gasoline needed for the power generation station, 29% was diesel and 2% was petrol.

– Each month Israel allows hundreds of medical patients from Gaza to enter Israel to receive medical treatment. More than 10,000 Gazans received permits to enter Israel for medical treatment in the first half of 2008.

– As mutual confidence in the ceasefire grows, Israel will be in a position to further increase the quantity and variety of goods entering Gaza.

Table: Goods entering Gaza from Israel in July 2008

Cargo Type Truckloads
Aggregates 1,307
Animal feed 293
Dairy and frozen products 238
Fertilised eggs 14
Fruit and vegetables 265
Live animals 62
Medical tools 26
Other goods 259
Packed cement 85
Foodstuff 199
Cooking oil 48
Wheat 166
Flour 145
Rice 9
Sugar 81
Total 3,747

How are terrorists preventing the normal functioning of Gaza’s borders?

– The main difficulty in ensuring a normal flow of goods in and out of Gaza is the actions of Hamas and other terror groups. Hamas, which took control of the Strip by force, has refused to accept the Quartet principles of renouncing violence, recognising Israel, and accepting previous agreements between the two sides.

– Not only have Hamas and other groups rained a campaign of terror down on Israeli civilian towns, but they have targeted the very crossings which are used to bring goods into Gaza and which allow medical patients to cross into Israel for treatment. This has made the operation of the crossings substantially more dangerous and logistically more complicated. Examples of recent attacks include:

i. 22 May 2008: a Palestinian bomber blew up an explosives-laden truck on the Palestinian side of the Erez crossing, causing substantial damage.

ii. 20 April 2008: Hamas gunmen wounded 13 Israeli soldiers in an assault with mortar shells, explosives-laden vehicles and gunfire against the Kerem Shalom crossing.

iii. 9 April 2008: Two Israeli civilian fuel truck drivers working at the Nahal Oz fuel depot – which supplies fuel to Gaza – were killed in an attack by Gaza militants.

– Terror groups have repeatedly exploited the flow of goods into and out of Gaza to attack Israeli civilians:

December 2007: 6.5 tons of potassium nitrate, used to manufacture rockets and explosives, were discovered in sugar bags entering Gaza marked as EU humanitarian aid.

 March 2004: Two Hamas terrorists entered Israel from Gaza, hiding in a concealed compartment with children’s supplies and food, and blew themselves up, killing ten people and wounding 16 at Ashdod port.

Does Gaza’s maritime access hold specific security concerns?

– To prevent smuggling and terror activity, the waters off the Gaza Strip are patrolled by the Israeli Navy. In 1999, Israel agreed to the construction of a seaport for Gaza and construction began in 2000, but the outbreak of the Second Intifada halted the plan. In the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access, it was again agreed that construction of a seaport could begin; however, after Hamas took over control of the Gaza Strip, the agreement could not be implemented.

– Hamas has used fishing boats to smuggle weapons and operatives into Gaza. In May 2005, the Israeli Navy caught a Palestinian fishing boat smuggling in hundreds of kilograms of explosives.

– Israel also fears that terrorists holding Gilad Shalit may attempt to smuggle him out of Gaza via the sea.

Background: Israel and the Gaza Strip

– Israel withdrew all civilian and military presence from Gaza in 2005 in an attempt to help create grounds for Palestinian sovereignty without Israeli control.

– In November 2005, Israel and the Palestinian Authority reached the Agreement on Movement and Access, giving Palestinians control over their borders for the first time and, in the case of Rafah (the border between Egypt and Gaza), without any Israeli presence on the ground. The agreement created a framework for greatly advancing movement and access in Gaza and the West Bank, including the import and export of goods and the movement of people.

– Unfortunately, after winning the elections in 2006 and eventually entering into a unity government with Fatah, Hamas achieved complete control of Gaza with a violent coup against Fatah in 2007. The absence of Israeli forces was used by Palestinian terror organisations to strengthen their hold over the area, and enhance the threat they pose to Israeli communities located around Gaza.

Map: Gaza Strip border crossings

Image of Gaza Border Crossings

[i] Avi Issacharoff, “Egypt closes dozens of tunnels used by Gaza smugglers”, Haaretz, 11 August 2008. http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1010220.html; and “Gaza Tunnel Collapse Kills Three”, BBC News, 11 August 2008. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/7554397.stm  

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Blind and ignorant

Gaza-bound activists exhibit total disregard for innocent Israeli terror victims

Frimet Roth

Ynet.com  08.19.08, 16:52 / Israel Opinion

Seven years ago this week, the bombing of Jerusalem’s Sbarro restaurant took the lives of 15 innocent Jews. Among them was my daughter, Malki.

Seven is a significant number in Jewish tradition. The seventh day of the week is the Sabbath. The seventh year, the Shmittah,imposes a moratorium on farming in Israel along with unrestricted access to private fields for everyone. The bride circles the groom seven times under the wedding canopy. Seven is the number of Israel’s native fruits as well as the number of divine commandments given to Noah and his descendants.

But seven is not unique in the life-long process of grieving for a child. It is just one more year of incessant pain and longing.

This year’s anniversary of the Sbarro terrorist massacre, however, is likely to coincide with an event certain to exacerbate those sentiments.

Two boats chartered by the California-based Free Gaza Movement left Cyprus a few days ago. They are currently heading for Gaza. Dubbed the Free Gaza and the Liberty, the organizers say they are transporting 45 self-proclaimed humanitarians from 15 nations.

The identities of most of the participants and their date of arrival have not been released. Yet the media buzz is that they will dock on the date of the yahrzeit, August 21.
Among the handful of passengers names that have been publicized are those of an 84 year old Holocaust survivor; the sister-in-law of former British Prime Minister and now Middle East envoy Tony Blair; an Israeli left-wing activist; and a Catholic nun. Rumor has it that actor Leonardo DiCaprio is also on board and South African Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu is one of several dignitaries to have endorsed the voyage.
Reality rears its ugly head

The participants in this lame-brained scheme are probably bubbling over with good intentions, convinced that the Gazans are pitiful victims. What is baffling is their indifference to the hard facts of the conflict into which they are plunging head first.

While Lauren Booth, Blair’s sister-in-law, says she is eager to show the world the reality of what’s going on in Gaza, it is evident that reality plays only a bit part in this Hollywood-style production.
Reality rears its ugly head, for example, in a piece of footage that these humanitarians probably did not watch.

A film circulated last week shows Gaza children at a summer camp graduation where some 200 boys strutted their newly-acquired skills.
With soldierly precision, the Hamas-trained pre-teens are shown marching and repeating after their instructor: “Kill!”, “Slaughter!”, “Blow Up!” and “Charge!”
Wearing T-shirts bearing the logo “Despite the Siege,” they somersault over one another while older Hamas militants shoot into the air. Wooden rifles are used as props in some exercises while fingers pointed like guns feature in others.
Many more stunts not seen on the film were detailed in the international press:
“The youths leaped through hoops set on fire…an older youth lay on the ground as a minivan drove over him (and he) later smashed concrete plates set on fire with a quick snap of his hands… youths leaped off wooden bars, a few landing in a smoldering fire pit lit below them all while bearded gunmen fired their assault rifles in the air and around the youths’ feet.”
In the film, a journalist asks one camper what he would like to be when he grows up: “I want to be a military man, a holy warrior.”
Any rational observer of these campers could not delude himself about the Gazans’ intentions. As the International Herald Tribune summed it up: “The goal of the Hamas camp was clearly to train the youth in military tactics and impart the militant Islamic ideology that has characterized Hamas.”
The “Free Gaza” activists exhibit total disregard for the innocent Israeli victims of Gaza’s past terror attacks. Their brash interference with measures that preempt more such tragedies declares that stance loud and clear.
Israel’s vital security operations off the Gaza coast are designed to prevent the infiltration of terrorists, weapons and other materials of terrorist warfare into Gaza. Yet the protection of innocent Israeli lives apparently does not cut it with these activists as a legitimate humanitarian goal.
Making peace more elusive

And what of the Palestinians who suffer at the hands of their own regime, officially recognized as a terrorist group by major Western governments? Are the “Free Gaza” supporters at all disturbed by Hamas’ recent brutal attacks on their own brethren, Fatah activists?
Would any group members consent to live, for even a day, under the Islamist totalitarian regime they are now bolstering? Would they send their own children to the sort of camps that Hamas runs?
Organizers of this puerile project say their cargo includes 200 hearing aids intended for Gaza children who have been injured by explosions and sonic booms. Again, they seem unaware of the facts: Israel routinely admits Gazans into its hospitals to receive cutting-edge medical care free of charge and transfers many tons of humanitarian aid daily into the Strip.
With a little further investigation, the “Free Gaza” meddlers might also have learned about my daughter’s camp experiences.
On the day of her murder, Malki was headed to a Jerusalem suburb to attend a meeting of counselors preparing for their summer camp. The activities included swimming, hiking, singing, dancing, drama and sports. Malki had also returned only several days earlier from the north of Israel where she had been a volunteer counselor at Etgarim, a camp for physically and mentally disabled children. Her smile beams out from the photos we have of her there, hugging campers with Down Syndrome.
But introducing information like this into the mix would confuse the Gaza-bound activists. Their support for this terrorist enclave can only survive as long as they remain blind and ignorant.
This folly will render the prospect of wholesome camps for Gaza children more unlikely and the chance of a lasting peace here ever more elusive.

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