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Middle East Issues





The Gaza Flotilla: Falsehoods and Facts


CONTENTS
 
In the aftermath of Israel's raid on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara, during which Israeli naval commandos were attacked and several passengers were killed, the media provided non-stop coverage with both information and misinformation. The following backgrounder sorts out the facts from the falsehoods.
 

The Anti-Israel Activists

Falsehood: The purpose of the anti-Israel activists' trip to Gaza was to deliver essential humanitarian aid to Palestinians.

Fact: Organizers of the trip have themselves made clear this isn't true. "This mission is not about delivering humanitarian supplies," said organizer and anti-Israel activist Greta Berlin. Instead, she explained, it is about ending Israel's blockade in order to allow unfettered shipments to the Hamas-ruled territory.

In line with that assertion, the organizers have rejected Israel's repeated offers to deliver their cargo at a nearby Israeli port, after which the supplies, minus cement and other proscribed goods, would be transferred to the Gaza Strip.

At any rate, Israel delivers more goods to Gaza in one week (roughly 15,000 tons) than the flotilla organizers claimed to be bringing (10,000 tons). And according to the Financial Times (and others), "shops all over Gaza are bursting with goods" thanks to the active smuggling tunnels leading into the territory from Egypt.
 
Hamas obviously feels no pressure to get the supplies into Gaza, and is refusing to accept the ships' cargo.
 
 
Falsehood: This was a flotilla of "peace activists."
 
Example: Wall Street Journal reporter Charles Levinson wrote that "A nine-ship flotilla of peace activists and humanitarian aid is steaming toward the blockaded Gaza Strip."

Fact: The most prominent organizers of the flotilla have strongly backed violence. And even if some passengers thought they were involved in a peace mission, video evidence clearly shows passengers on the Mavi Marmara planning, and engaging in, brutal violence.

The two main organizers of the voyage were the Turkish Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH), which has worked closely with terrorist organizations, and the Free Gaza Movement, which is strongly linked to the extremist International Solidarity Movement (ISM).

IHH, which has recruited soldiers for war and delivered arms to fighters, also works closely with the Hamas terror organization. Researchers have cited links between the group and Al Qaida and charged the group with involvement in a failed plot to bomb the Los Angeles International Airport. As MEMRI has documented, many of the participants — from Egypt, Jordan, Yemen — were members of the Muslim Brotherhood and numerous had declared their desire for martyrdom.

Meanwhile, Huwaida Arraf, a leader of the Free Gaza Movement and co-founder of the ISM, has insisted that suicide bombings are "noble" and that Palestinians "must" engage in violence along with non-violence.

Video of flotilla passengers planning and engaging in violence can be seen here.

Media coverage: The Wall Street Journal was virtually alone among mainstream media outlets in describing the ISM and IHH radicals as "peace activists." Subsequent Wall Street Journal reports by other authors avoided this false terminology.

The Blockade and the Interception of the Flotilla

Falsehood: Naval blockades are not permitted under international law.
 
Fact: Naval blockades are legal. They have long been part of customary and even conventional international law, and the relevant legal doctrines were reviewed and codified in the 1994 San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea.
 
 
Falsehood: It is not permissable to stop a merchant ship, as opposed to an army ship.
 
Fact: According to the San Remo Manual, merchant ships violating a blockade may be stopped, or even attacked. Article 98 states: "Merchant vessels believed on reasonable grounds to be breaching a blockade may be captured. Merchant vessels which, after prior warning, clearly resist capture may be attacked."
 
 
Falsehood: Israel violated international law when it stopped the ships in international waters.
 
Fact: Legal experts cited by Reuters note that "Under the law of a blockade, intercepting a vessel could apply globally so long as a ship is bound for a ‘belligerent’ territory."
 
 
Falsehood: Israel prevents essential humanitarian items such as baby formula from entering the Gaza Strip.
 
Example: Free Gaza Movement chair and ISM co-founder Huwaida Arraf told the BBC that items "denied entry under the pretext of security" include baby formula. "Why won't Israel allow in baby formula?" she asked rhetorically. Similarly, ABC Nightline's Martin Bashir said critics of Israel refer to the interception as "an aggressive act designed to prevent supplies from reaching those in desperate need."
 
Fact: Israel facilitates the transfer of thousands of tons of humanitarian items per week into Gaza, including baby formula.

The Violence

Falsehood: Israeli soldiers descended on the ship from helicopters and immediately attacked with machine guns innocent passengers sleeping on the deck.

Example: Free Gaza Movement leader and ISM activist Greta Berlin told the New York Times that Israeli soldiers dropped onto the deck and "opened fire on sleeping civilians." To CNN, she claimed that she watched this happen on tape:

Those of us who were in Cyprus watched this happen. We watched this. We watched them board.
What Israel didn't realize, that there was a live tape going when they boarded the boat. So those of us in Cyprus who were in the office watched them come down off the helicopter, look around, look at each other's guns and start to shoot. (CNN Newsroom, June 1)
(She gave a slightly different account to Al Jazeera, saying that the soldiers opened fire into a crowd even "before their feet hit the ground.") 
 
Berlin also told Al Jazeera and the Los Angeles Times that it was Israelis with "machine guns" that attacked the supposedly innocent passengers.
 
Fact: Video footage clearly demonstrates that this is a lie. The footage, shot from different angles, shows Israeli soldiers landing on the ship being immediately and violently assaulted by gangs of passengers awaiting them on deck. The attack on the Israeli soldiers began, as retired British Marine Officer Peter Cook acknowledged on British television, while the first Israeli soldier still had both of his hands on the rope being used to lower him onto the ship. Cook also said the large Israeli weapon seen in video footage appeared to be a paintball gun, which corresponds with Israel's assertion that these were the primary weapons soldiers brought onto the ship. 
 
 
Falsehood: Passengers on the Mavi Marmara were engaged in "peaceful resistance," had no weapons, and did not violently attack Israeli soldiers.
 
Example: Voice of America quotes former diplomat Phil Wilcox as saying, "I think the sharp international criticism is the result of the use of armed force against unarmed civilians who were engaging in a nonviolent peaceful resistance."
 
Fact: Video footage shows, among other acts of violence, a passenger stabbing an Israeli soldier, gangs of passengers pummeling soldiers with metal rods and other objects, and a soldier being thrown off a high deck. Testimony from both Israeli soldiers and activist passengers describes pistols being taken from injured soldiers. The ship's captain reportedly told Israeli soldiers that the violent passengers threw their guns overboard before the ship was completely taken over.
 

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