Twelve months ago yesterday (May 31), the Israeli military intercepted the International Freedom Flotilla in international waters as it headed for Gaza. On board the various boats making up the convoy were pro-Palestine activists from all around the world, including Ireland. They were attempting to break the illegal siege of Gaza and were carrying shipments of humanitarian aid which they intended to deliver to the besieged strip.
What followed was a massacre. Nine activists on board the Mavi Marmara were murdered by Israeli troops, many more seriously injured. Those that survived were kidnapped and forcibly brought to Israel against their will where they were interrogated, beaten and tortured in many instances. Their passports were seized and other properties stolen. This was an act of naked unprovoked aggression, international piracy and state terrorism.
So a full year on from the massacre aboard the Mavi Marmara, many questions remain to be answered.
What efforts are being made by the so-called 'International community' to bring to justice those that ordered and carried out this slaughter and other Israeli war crimes?
What efforts are they making to bring an end to the inhumane and illegal siege of Gaza which the flotilla was trying to breach?
What efforts are they making to force Israeli compliance with international law, whether in relation to illegal settlements, their apartheid wall or political repression?
What efforts are they making in relation to the kidnapping, internment without trial and abuse and torture of prisoners, including hundreds of children?
Twelve months on and the answer to all the above is a shameful 'none'.
The reality is, despite Israel's claims to have 'eased' the siege last year and despite the opening by Egypt of the Rafah crossing last week, Israel continues to illegally blockade Gaza. While the opening of the Rafah crossing is welcome, it relates solely to the movement of people and does not address the core issue of free movement of goods to and from Gaza or the movement of people between Gaza and the West Bank which Israel continues to ban.
A UN report published in March of this year said that Israel's restrictions continue to ensure no improvement in people's lives and continue to violate international law.
According to the report “as an occupying power, as well as in every instance in which it exercises control over Gaza and its population, Israel is bound by international humanitarian and human rights law obligations. This legal framework prohibits Israel from imposing restrictions that are detrimental to the rights and needs of the population and which are not strictly required by legitimate security needs. Such restrictions may amount to collective punishment, which is prohibited under any circumstances.”
The report adds: “Israel must fully lift the blockade. This includes a removal of restrictions on the import of construction materials and the exports of goods, as well as a lifting of the general ban on the movement of people between Gaza and the West Bank via Israel. Additionally, Israel must remove to the fullest extent possible the current restrictions on the access of people to areas in the vicinity of the perimeter fence and to sea waters along Gaza’s coast. When resorting to the use of force, it must ensure that civilians and civilian objects are not targeted, and that all necessary measures are adopted to prevent or minimize the negative effect of attacks on the civilian population and its property.”
As you read this, the former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic is in custody awaiting charges of war crimes committed during the Balkans wars. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has said that the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has a case to answer for war crimes committed by his troops bombing civilian areas. The US and British military are currently involved in a bombing campaigning of Libya supposedly to protect Libyan civilians and bring Gaddafi to justice for his alleged war crimes.
But no such effort has been made to bring Israels leaders to justice for their crimes. In fact much effort has been made to bolster the zionist regime and protect their war criminal leaders. The British government introduced measures to prevent the arrest of Israeli leaders when in Britain while Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu only recently addressed the US Congress where he was treated to a heroes reception despite the atrocities he is responsible for.
Despite condemning the attack on the flotilla last year, the European Union has steadfastly refused to break off diplomatic and economic links with Israel, with moves currently underway to start upgrading those links even further. The Dublin government, despite saying there would be 'serious consequences' for Israel if they harmed any Irish citizens, have also refused to take any meaningful action against them. Both the previous and the current government in Leinster house refuse to countenance shutting down the Israeli embassy and severing all diplomatic and economic links with the zionist state.
It is this shameful lack of action in defence of the rights of the Palestinian people by governments and other institutions whose duty it is to uphold human rights and international law that has forced activists to organise last years flotillas and other such actions. Indeed, a second flotilla will now set sail for Gaza in late June. This will comprise of more than 1000 activists, including an Irish ship with many Irish activists onboard.
Outlining the reasons for the second flotilla, Irish Ship to Gaza (ISTG) coordinator Fintan Lane said:
“Israel has no right to treat the people of Gaza as inmates in what has become the world’s largest prison. This amounts to collective punishment, and as such is a violation of international humanitarian law. Irish Ship to Gaza is part of a broad-based, grassroots international movement of concerned citizens who are committed to peacefully uphold the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people in the face of continuing inaction by our governments.”
Already Israel have issued threats to use military force once again to prevent the flotilla getting through to Gaza. With this threat of piracy, kidnapping and other violations of international law, as well as the events of last year in mind, you would think that the 'International community' and governments around the world would be intervening to hold the Israeli's to account and ensure safe passage for this humanitarian flotilla.
Their response however has been truly shameful. Rather than ensuring that Israel complies with international law and insisting that they will be held to account for their crimes if they attack the flotilla, various governments and institutions such as the UN have ceded to pressure from Israel and are instead trying to prevent the flotilla from being able to depart for Gaza at all.
It is a warped logic of ignoring the crimes of the perpetrator, shifting the blame onto the victim of those crimes. Indeed if the UN took meaningful action and ensured the ending of the siege there would be no need for this or any other flotilla.
The bottom line is that the Palestinian people continue to live under a brutal military occupation. Peaceful protests continue to be attacked by Israel. Palestinian civilians continue to be murdered by Israeli troops. Palestinian land continues to be stolen as illegal settlements and the illegal apartheid wall continues to be built.
While Palestine remains occupied, it is our duty as Irish socialists and republicans to give whatever practical support and solidarity to the Palestinian people.
Over the coming weeks let us all redouble our efforts and help to end the siege of Gaza, to bring an end to the apartheid Israeli regime and to secure freedom at last for the Palestinian people.