“Free Palestine, Free Palestine!” was the chant that echoed on the crowded streets outside the offices of the City Council Tuesday afternoon. Charles Barron was the only council member among those protesters outraged by the attack of Israeli Navy commandos Monday on a humanitarian flotilla bound for Gaza.
“We denounce this act of piracy,” Barron charged. “This was clearly a state sponsored act of terrorism by the Israeli government, which has left nine innocent human rights activists dead.”
The attack on the flotilla’s lead ship, Mavi Marmara, containing 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid for the beleaguered people of Gaza, was surrounded by Israeli gunboats in international waters and then encircled by helicopters that hovered while commandoes descended upon the ship on ropes.
“They were in international waters,” Barron continued, “and if they were Somalis protecting their maritime waters from pollution, they would be considered pirates. So, Israel should be denounced for this piracy in international waters.”
According to reports from the Israeli government, the commandos intercepted the ships before they entered their waters and threatened to violate the blockade and economic embargo that has been in place since 2007, when the Hamas government was voted into office.
President Barack Obama, after hours of silence, said he “deeply regretted” what had happened and announced that an investigation would be launched.
Meanwhile, protest demonstrations occurred all over the world, and nowhere more aggressive than in Turkey. Many of the human rights activists on board the ship–and at least four of those reported killed–were Turks.
More than 10,000 people in Istanbul marched on the Israeli consulate, waving banners and shouting “Killer Israel.” Bulent Arinc, Turkey’s prime minister, said there were up to 400 Turks among those on board the Mavi Marmara, the Turkish cruise vessel leading the Freedom Flotilla.
The UN called for an end to the counterproductive and unacceptable blockade of Gaza. “We wish to make clear that such tragedies are entirely avoidable if Israel heeds the repeated calls of the international community to end its counterproductive and unacceptable blockade of Gaza,” said a joint statement from Robert Serry, UN special coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, and Filippo Grandi, commissioner of the UN Relief and Works Agency.
Councilman Barron, who traveled to Gaza last year and experienced similar intransigence by the Israelis to allow them to deliver food and medical supplies, said, “I’ve seen the destruction of Gaza. And what it amounts to is the systematic denial of the Palestinians’ human rights, their inability to have food, water and medical supplies. It’s a clear case of genocide.”
“Wake up, Israel,” screamed an impassioned Emad, a Palestinian activist who has also traveled to Gaza. “This is not about Muslim versus Jew. One of those on the ship was a Holocaust survivor, so wake up Israel.” He noted that the U.S. annually supplied the Israeli government with $20 billion for its military. “American taxpayers’ money is funding commandos who kill innocent people,” he lamented.
Bill Doares of Al-Awda, the Palestine Right to Return Coalition; Palestinian artist and activist Samia Halaby; and Colette Pean of the International Association Against Torture were equally outspoken and disturbed by the Israeli aggression, which they agreed was “excessively brutal, illegal and immoral.”
It is still not clear what provoked the violence, and watching film footage of the Israeli raid is inconclusive since it was supplied by the Israeli Defense Forces.
Thus far, Edward Peck, a former U.S. ambassador who was on the ship, is the only eyewitness to come forth to explain what happened.
Peck, 80, said he was aroused at 4 a.m. in the morning. Suddenly, there were Israeli commandos on board the ship staring at him. “We were in international waters when they came aboard our ship,” he explained.
“I jumped out of bed fully clothed because there are no facilities on the ship. No shower, no wash, no nothing and went upstairs. There I encountered a group of Israeli commandos who said, ‘Sit down,’” Peck recounted on ABC-TV. “They were by that time in control of the ship and fine. You know, they didn’t harm anybody after that. They harmed some folks in getting on board, as people tried to block them from taking over.”
Peck, who is known for his opposition to the Bush administration and its wars in the Middle East, was told by his captors that he had violated Israeli law. “Which one?” he asked. “They said I had entered Israel illegally. But if I’m brought into the country under armed escort, that is not entering the country illegally. Well, they didn’t agree with that. I was deported, so I suppose that goes on my record.”
But at least he’s alive and back with his family. It was reported that the government had released others and delivered the supplies to Gaza, which for hundreds of activists who gathered Tuesday evening outside the Israeli consulate, does not absolve the murders of those aboard the Mavi Marmara.
Orthodox Jews join demonstrators
Among the throng of protestors assembled outside the Turkish and Israeli consulates on Tuesday were a considerable number of Jews who, like the massive demonstrations around the world, condemned Israel and its violent attack on the humanitarian flotilla to Gaza Monday morning.
It was indeed strange to see several orthodox Jews with red Turkish crescent and star flags in their hands. But at an earlier rally outside the City Council offices, a speaker informed the crowd that a Holocaust survivor was among the activists on the Mavi Marmara, the ship on which nine human rights activists were killed.
One of the slogans that resonated up and down Second Avenue and 42nd Street near the Israeli consulate was “End the Blockade on Gaza” and “American Dollars Feeds Israel’s War Crimes.”
According to the Israeli government, the commandos were defending themselves after descending on the ship. The film footage that can be seen on YouTube is inconclusive on this point, and for the Israeli Defense Forces to show the collection of tools as weapons possessed by the activists was ludicrous.
The demonstrations lasted about two hours and included members of several activist groups, along with orthodox Jews in their traditional regalia.
There were no arrests and no major incidents. Although, similar to the earlier rally outside the City Council offices, there were passersby who expressed differences with the protestors, insisting that the commandos were justified in their raid on the ship and were merely protecting themselves against the activists.