The Gaza Flotilla:Facts and Official Reactions / Manfred Gerstenfeld


The Gaza flotilla was a well-thought-out provocation against Israel. The flotilla was falsely presented as an enterprise of humanitarian aid to a needy population. If that were indeed the case the organizers would have accepted Israel's offer to dock the flotilla at the port of Ashdod. The main ship, the Turkish Mavi Marmara and two others, transported people only and no aid. Part of the aid, such as camouflage netting, was clearly meant for Hamas's military purposes. Some samples of the aid, such as medicines, were past their sell-by date. One of the undeclared aims of the main organizers was to support the Hamas regime that rules Gaza. In its charter Hamas promotes genocide of Jews.
The main organizers of the Gaza flotilla were the Turkish IHH, a body for which there are strong indications of having terrorist links. There were also others on board with terrorist links. Several of the participants on the Mavi Marmara were prepared for violence with weapons and attacked the Israeli soldiers. The weapons found were far from normal for a ship purporting to be bringing humanitarian aid. Seven of the nine dead had expressed their wish to die as martyrs before they departed on the journey.
Negative opinions about Israel were hastily expressed by senior officials of various countries and international bodies. They did not care to wait until a reasonable amount of facts were known. Today if one analyzes their statements one finds many fallacies in them. In view of many other far more violent actions by some Western countries on various occasions, the claims about disproportionality of the Israeli interception of the flotilla convey double standards.
The German response to the flotilla affair merits special investigation. On 2 July the German parliament issued a unanimous resolution with an anti-Israeli bias. Never in its history has the Bundestag issued a resolution against any rogue state. The Jewish Central Council in Germany adopted a statement saying that the Parliament's resolution was based on incomplete information and a mixture of half-truths and prejudices.

I. Introduction: The Flotilla
On 30 May 2010, a flotilla of six ships left Northern Cyprus heading to Gaza, carrying 718 people from thirty-seven countries and up to ten thousand tons of what the organizers called humanitarian aid for the Gaza Strip.[1] The proclaimed intention of the flotilla organizers was to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza and break the blockade on the territory, which Israel imposed in 2007 to prevent arms from reaching Hamas, the Islamist terror organization that rules the Strip.[2] It later became clear that three of the ships were not for freight and were not carrying any humanitarian aid. Among these was the largest one, the Turkish Mavi Marmara. The other two were the Challenger 1 and the Sfendonh.[3]

The Israeli government warned the flotilla organizers in advance that they would not be allowed to enter Gaza. However, Israel offered that the flotilla could dock at the Israeli port of Ashdod. The Israeli authorities would then inspect the cargos for weapons and subsequently deliver the humanitarian goods to Gaza by land. Israel additionally offered to coordinate with a third party representing an independent organization such as the United Nations during the proposed goods transfer. The flotilla organizers, however, rejected the offer.[4]

On 31 May 2010, an IDF naval commando unit intercepted the flotilla on its way to Gaza, in international waters about eighty miles from the Israeli coast. The commandos landed on the Mavi Marmara by descending on ropes from helicopters. Video material showed activists wielding metal bars while awaiting the IDF commandos. One can see the activists sawing through the ship's railing to use it as iron bars against the soldiers.[5] Israel says the activists used axes and knives, and fired shots from a gun taken from the soldiers, and from some weapons they had brought. In the fighting nine people aboard the ship were killed, of whom eight were Turkish and one a Turkish-American.[6] Fifty-three activists were wounded along with seven of the Israeli commandos, two of them seriously.[7]

Preparations for Violence on the Mavi Marmara

Video and photo material released by the IDF reveals that prior to the boarding, numerous passengers of the Mavi Marmara were preparing for a violent confrontation: they put on gas masks and armed themselves with rods, slingshots, broken bottles, metal objects, and water hoses. When the IDF soldiers landed on the ship, large groups of passengers immediately started to attack them with these objects.[8] They threw one soldier over the side of the ship. As the flotilla organizers themselves admitted, some of the passengers seized weapons from soldiers.[9]

The IDF says the activists also shot at them. Initially the Israeli commandos used paintball guns. When ferociously attacked, the commandos opened fire to defend themselves. An internal military probe, conducted by Israel and released on 11 July, found that shots were initially fired at the boarding commandos from weapons that the passengers had brought with them. The bullet that was extracted from the knee of one of the soldiers was of a different caliber than that used by the Israeli navy.[10]

(1) The Flotilla Organizers
The major organizer and funder of the flotilla was the Turkish organization IHH (the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief). It was established in 1992 and formally registered in Istanbul in 1995. According to a 2006 report by the Danish Institute for International Studies, the IHH had links to Al-Qaeda and global Islamist networks during the 1990s.

The IHH was the subject of a Turkish criminal investigation in 1997, when sources revealed that senior IHH activists were purchasing automatic weapons from other Islamist groups. When they searched the IHH offices, Turkish security services found weapons, explosives, instructions for manufacturing IEDs (improvised explosive devices), and documents indicating that IHH members were planning to participate in terror activities in Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Chechnya.[11]

The report also notes that the current president of the IHH and organizer of the "Freedom Flotilla," Bulent Yildrim, had galvanized anti-American sentiment, and incitement against U.S. troops, in these areas during the Iraq War.[12]

The Israeli Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (ITIC) describes the IHH as a "radical Islamic organization" that has prominently supported Hamas in recent years, as well as global jihad networks. According to the ITIC, the IHH transfers "significant amounts of money to Hamas institutions in Judea and Samaria, including the Islamic Charitable Society in Hebron and the Al-Tadhamun Charitable Society in Nablus - Hamas' two central ‘charitable societies,' both outlawed by Israel."[13]

A report by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy notes that "in the mid-1990s, Yildrim was directly involved in ‘recruit[ing] veteran soldiers in anticipation of the coming holy war [jihad]. In particular, some men were sent to war zones in Muslim countries in order to acquire combat experience.'"[14] The IHH telephone records in Istanbul reportedly included repeated telephone calls in 1996 to an Al-Qaeda guesthouse in Italy and to North African terrorists active in Europe. In addition, a 1996 CIA report on terrorist abuse of charities stated that the IHH had links to "Iranian operatives."

The IHH is a member of the Union of Good, an umbrella organization of more than fifty Islamic funds and foundations around the globe that channels money into Hamas institutions in the Palestinian Authority-controlled territories. According to Palestinian intelligence, this organization "is considered - with regard to material support - one of the biggest Hamas supporters." Israel outlawed the Union of Good in February 2002, and the United States named it a specially designated global terrorist entity in November 2008.[15]

Because of its support for Hamas, the IHH was also outlawed by Israel in January 2008.[16] According to U.S. State Department spokesman Mark C. Toner in June, the United States is likewise considering designating the IHH a terrorist organization.[17] In July 2010, a group of Italian lawmakers under the lead of legislator Fiamma Nirenstein proposed that IHH be included in the European Union's list of terrorist organizations. "The Islamic fundamentalist nature of IHH has been documented by numerous declarations praising martyrdom and Israel's destruction," said Nirenstein.[18]

In Germany, the Coordinating Council of German Nongovernmental Organizations against Anti-Semitism likewise called on the government to place the IHH on the EU list of terrorist organizations, because "like Hamas the IHH is an anti-Semitic organization that promotes terrorism."[19]

Former French judge Jean-Louis Bruguière, who investigated the IHH in the late 1990s, said the group was connected to a 1999 plot by Al-Qaeda to bomb Los Angeles International Airport. He described the IHH as having "clear, long-standing ties to terrorism," and stated that the group was "basically helping Al-Qaeda when Bin Laden started to want to target U.S. soil."[20]

Other Participants in the Flotilla

The Free Gaza Movement, the second group involved in organizing the flotilla, is a multinational coalition of pro-Palestinian groups and activists. It has been trying to break Israel's blockade of Gaza since 2008. The Free Gaza Movement has been endorsed by international figures, including South African archbishop Desmond Tutu and Irish Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire. Israeli intelligence agencies say the coalition has grown to include dangerous Islamic organizations with terrorist links.[21]

A number of individual passengers, not directly affiliated with the IHH or the Free Gaza Movement, appear to have ties with terrorist organizations. In early June, the IDF released a list of five passengers aboard the Mavi Marmara who are linked to terrorist organizations, and stated there might be more. One was Ben O'Keefe, an American-British anti-Israeli activist who, according to the IDF, wanted to enter Gaza to form and train a commando unit for Hamas. Another of the passengers, Ahmad Umimon, a French citizen of Moroccan origin, was identified by the IDF as a Hamas operative. According to the IDF, Hussein Urosh, a Turkish citizen, was supposed to assist in smuggling Al-Qaeda operatives via Turkey into Gaza.[22]

Also on the boats were several functionaries of the Turkish party BPP, which experts describe as militant and anti-Semitic. The BPP has been linked to the murder of an Armenian-Christian journalist in 2007. Michael Kiefer, a German expert on Islam, said the BPP's program is in some aspects comparable to that of the NPD, the German neo-Nazi party. The German Left Party, three members of which participated in the flotilla, described the BPP as having a "racist-nationalist orientation" and a "propensity to violence and...totalitarian structures."[23]

In contrast to the public claims of the flotilla organizers on their nonviolent intentions, the IDF concluded from the preparedness of the activists that the violent attack on the Israeli soldiers was "clearly premeditated."[24]

Prepared for Violence and Martyrdom

Passengers on the other ships peacefully complied with the instructions of the Israeli soldiers and were led safely to shore in Israel's southernmost port of Ashdod. It was only on the Mavi Marmara that numerous passengers violently resisted the boarding. All casualties occurred on this ship.

Photos from this ship show an Israeli soldier who appears to be crying in anguish, gripping the back of his head while someone from behind grasps his arm to direct him down a flight of stairs. His face is bruised and cut, his shirt is ripped open, and he does not appear to have his weapon. Another soldier lies on the floor with blood on his hand while activists look as if they are removing his bulletproof vest. In other pictures this soldier is either being carried or dragged down the stairs; then hands are seen on his chest. He may be attempting to fend them off with his own raised hands. Some of the pictures show a figure in civilian clothes holding a short, black-handled, serrated knife. It is not clear whether this could be a military knife taken from one of the commandos.[25]

In a video shot on board the Mavi Marmara on 30 May by one of the passengers, Yildrim is seen on board telling dozens of activists to throw Israeli commandos overboard if they attempt to board the ship. "If they board our ship, we will throw them into the sea, Allah willing!" he says.[26]

The MEMRI research institute has released footage of statements made by Yildrim prior to the flotilla raid, which read: "From here, I call upon all the leaders of the Islamic world, and upon all the peoples.... Anyone who does not stand alongside Palestine - his throne will be toppled.... everything is progressing towards Islam.... What Can The Enemy Do To Me?... If They Kill Me - That Is Martyrdom for the Sake of Allah...."[27]

In footage that the IDF captured on the Gaza flotilla, a passenger describes how he has attempted in previous convoys to become a martyr and that "with God's luck" he will succeed on this flotilla.[28]

Of the nine passengers who died, eight belonged to the IHH radical Islamic group, and seven of them had expressed their desire to die before the flotilla set sail for Gaza. According to a Turkish newspaper, nineteen-year-old Furqan Dogan, the youngest of those killed in the fighting, had written in his diary: "These are the last hours before I join the sweet experience of being a shahid. Is there anything more beautiful than this?"[29]

"Humanitarian" Intentions?

After the deadly clash of 31 May, the flotilla organizers repeatedly affirmed that their intentions had been of a purely humanitarian, nonviolent nature. However, a statement issued by the Gaza Freedom March before the raid revealed that the outbreak of violence was considered a possible, if not desirable option from the beginning: "A violent response from Israel will breathe new life into the Palestine solidarity movement, drawing attention to the blockade."[30]

In contrast to the "humanitarian" posture that most of the activists were careful to stress before and after the raid, a MEMRI video and translation showed that Yildrim explained at a Hamas rally in Gaza that the operation was part of a global jihad to overthrow governments and install Islamist dictatorships.[31]

Content of the Cargo

The content of the cargo that was supposed to meet the needs of the Gaza population raised further questions about the alleged humanitarian objectives of the organizers. When the IDF inspected the goods, they discovered that some of the medication brought by the flotilla has passed its expiration date by more than a year. Also found on the ships was fabric in camouflage colors, apparently meant for Hamas terror operatives. Hamas refused to let aid material enter Gaza after the raid.[32]

According to a report by the ITIC, most of the fifty-three injured passengers, twenty-three of them severely, in the confrontation on the Mavi Marmara have been identified as activists of the IHH and Turkish local networks collaborating with it. All but one of them are Turkish nationals. They are "most probably Islamist by nature."

On the other hand, not one of the injured passengers belonged to pro-Palestinian organizations or human rights organizations from Western countries. The report concludes that "this is yet another testimony that human rights activists who joined the flotilla out of humanitarian considerations took no part in the violent confrontation initiated by IHH."[33]

As a Washington Post editorial pointed out,

Turkey's ambassador to the United States makes the argument that Israel had no cause to clash with the "European lawmakers, journalists, business leaders and an 86-year-old Holocaust survivor" who were aboard the flotilla. But there was no fighting with those people, or with five of the six boats in the fleet. All of the violence occurred aboard the Turkish ferry Mavi Marmara, and all of those who were killed were members or volunteers for the Islamic "charity" that owned the ship, the IHH.[34]
Open Jew-Hatred among the Activists

On 25 May, a Greek activist aboard one of the ships compared the flotilla to the fight against Nazi Germany, claiming: "We're helping the Palestinians, just like the Greeks helped during World War II against the Nazis."[35]

On 29 May, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said: "If the ships reach Gaza, it's a victory for Gaza. If they are intercepted and terrorized by the Zionists, it will be a victory for Gaza, too, and they will move again in new ships to break the siege of Gaza."[36]

An audiotape published by the IDF revealed that the activists on the flotilla told the IDF to "go back to Auschwitz" when the IDF commandos contacted the boats via radio. The activists also said, "We're helping the Arabs go against the US, don't forget 9/11 guys."[37]

An Al-Jazeera report from 28 May, translated by Palestinian Media Watch, shows activists on board before departing for Gaza, chanting intifada songs aimed at Jews and praising martyrdom. Chants include "Intifada, intifada, intifada! Khaybar, Khaybar, oh Jews! The army of Mohammed will return!," referring to a battle between early Muslims and Jews in the seventh century.[38]

The Turkish Government's Involvement in the Flotilla

Before the flotilla departed, Turkish officials turned down Israel's offer to deliver the humanitarian goods via Ashdod, claiming they could not impose their will on the IHH, which they described as a nongovernmental organization. The fact that Murat Mercan, a deputy of the ruling AKP, participated in an earlier land convoy to Gaza raises further questions about the Turkish government's alleged noninvolvement in the affair.[39] The IHH has strongly praised Turkish prime minister Erdogan in the past. "All the peoples of the Islamic world would want a leader like Recep Tayyip Erdogan," Yildrim proclaimed at a Hamas rally in Gaza in 2009.[40]

According to the ITIC report, Erdogan maintains close links to the IHH. The flotilla was launched "with the full knowledge and agreement of Erdogan, who expressed personal interest in its success and his intention to exploit it [to] promote his status in Turkey and the Arab-Muslim world." The report quotes passengers saying that prior to the flotilla, Erdogan reasoned that a possible confrontation with Israel could serve his own needs. These statements were supported by descriptions found in files on laptop computers belonging to the passengers.[41]

The AKP's Support for Hamas

Since coming to power in 2002, the AKP has consistently shown that it views Hamas as a legitimate authority, both verbally and through its actions. For instance, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal visited Ankara in 2006.[42] On 20 July 2010, Turkey's foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu met with Meshaal in Damascus, reportedly to discuss efforts to heal the rift between Hamas and Fatah.[43] Reuters reported that Davutoglu and Meshaal also discussed how to "break the Israeli blockade" of Gaza during their talks. "Davutoglu affirmed to Meshaal that Turkey will stand by the Palestinian people until the Gaza siege is lifted," a Palestinian politician with Hamas connections told Reuters in Damascus.[44]

Erdogan repeatedly voiced his opinion that Hamas is not a terrorist organization, but "Palestinians in resistance, fighting for their own land."[45]

In what can be seen as a particularly noteworthy development, Turkish justice minister Sadullah Ergin reached an agreement with his Hamas counterpart Faraj al-Ghoul in early July 2010 to cooperate in suing the Israeli officers who took part in the flotilla raid. Ergin stated that "Turkey is ready to co-operate to reveal Israel's outrageous crimes against humanity," and that "extensive legal measures must be taken in order to operate against the occupation's commanders in the international courts." If the legal action continues, it will be filed at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. [46]

On 4 June, Namik Tan, the Turkish ambassador to the United States, called for engaging Hamas in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "For a final solution, you cannot ignore Hamas. That's what we are saying," said Tan. "This is not the first time that we are trying to bring this into the discussion. We have told this to the Israelis, to our American friends, to our international interlocutors, everyone. How could you imagine a final solution without Hamas?"[47] The AKP government has expressed this view on several occasions. For example, in May 2010, Turkish president Abdullah Gul stated that "unfortunately Palestinians have been split into two.... In order to reunite them, you have to speak to both sides. Hamas won elections in Gaza and cannot be ignored."[48]

According to a columnist for the major secular daily Hürriyet, the public attitude in Turkey toward Hamas - and Israel - has changed over the past couple of years. He writes that "today pro-Hamas and anti-Israeli demonstrations attract hundreds of thousands of people in Turkey, and the country is witnessing drastic changes in popular attitudes toward Israel, Hamas and the Palestinian issue."[49]

II. Background Information:

(1) The Gaza Blockade
Following the Oslo agreement of 1993, Israel handed over administrative and police authority in Gaza to the newly established Palestinian National Authority. In 2005, Israel, under the lead of then-prime minister Ariel Sharon, dismantled all the Israeli housing units in Gaza, thus evacuating about eight thousand Israeli citizens from the territory.[50] In the Palestinian elections of 2006, the militant Islamist organization Hamas won the majority of the votes. In the summer of the following year, Hamas launched a military coup against the Fatah forces in Gaza. The organization has been in de facto control of the territory since then.[51]

Hamas is labeled a terrorist organization by the United States, Canada, and the European Union.[52] Its charter calls for the elimination of Israel and the murder of all Jews, quoting classical anti-Semitic documents such as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion as well as religious sources such as the Quran and the Hadith.[53]

From 2001 to 2008, Hamas launched more than eight thousand rockets and mortar shells into populated Israeli areas.[54] In 2006, Hamas abducted then nineteen-year-old IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, who has since then been held hostage in Gaza. Hamas has refused visitation requests from the International Committee of the Red Cross. When Schalit's family asked the flotilla organizers to bring aid to their son and to pressure Hamas to allow international organizations to visit him, the organizers declined. Nick Kaufmann, attorney for the Schalit family, commented on the rejection: "I thought this movement supports human rights, as it claims, but according to the reaction it seems that it is only interested in provocation and expressing support for a terror group that doesn't really care about human rights."[55] In 2010 as well, rockets have been fired against Israeli civilian targets from Hamas-controlled Gaza.

To prevent arms from reaching Hamas, Israel has maintained a naval blockade around Gaza since 2007. Yet at the same time, and despite the ongoing attacks by Hamas, Israel transfers about fifteen thousand tons of supplies and humanitarian aid every week to Gaza, which is home to about one and a half million people. From 18 January 2009 to 5 June 2010, Israel transported more than a million tons of aid, including almost fifty thousand tons of cooking gas and 136 million liters of fuel. Israel's humanitarian-aid corridor is regularly used by international organizations such as the United Nations and the Red Cross. Israel also provides water and electricity to Gaza.

In addition, Israel allows the transfer of medical patients out of Gaza. The Palestinian families treated in Israel receive the same subsidized healthcare as Israelis. This comes to about 10 percent of the cost for the same treatment in the United States.[56]

Contrary to what is often claimed, statistical data reveals that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Considering infant mortality and life expectancy, the two most important indicators for the humanitarian situation in a country, Gaza shows better results than most other Arab countries as well as Turkey, from which the flotilla was launched.[57]

As Israeli journalist Ben-Dror Yemini noted in a column on the question of additional flotillas, "it is a little strange that humanitarian aid comes from people whose situation is much worse, and goes to people whose situation is much better. It could be that there is a need for additional ships. But the direction should be reversed. It is Turkey that needs the help. It is the Gaza Strip which should join the aid delegation for the benefit of the poor Turks."[58]

(2) Legal Aspects of the Blockade
As international law expert Ruth Lapidoth points out in a paper for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, naval blockades have been in existence for hundreds of years. They were first specifically mentioned in the 1856 Declaration of Paris Respecting Maritime Law, and described in further detail in the 1909 London Declaration on Naval Warfare. Even though this declaration was never formally ratified, states actually followed the rules laid down in it, and thus it became binding customary law.[59]

This framework concerning naval blockades was updated in 1994 into a legally recognized document called the San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea. The manual established three key requirements for a naval blockade: a blockade must be declared and notified to all belligerents and neutral states; access to neutral ports cannot be blocked; and an area can only be blockaded that is under enemy control. "On the basis that Hamas is the ruling entity of Gaza and Israel is in the midst of an armed struggle against that ruling entity, the blockade is legal," said Philip Roche, partner in the shipping disputes and risk management team with law firm Norton Rose.[60]

The Israeli military advocate general, Maj.-Gen. Avichai Mandelblit, told the Israeli public commission that is investigating the flotilla incident - also known as the Turkel Committee - that the maritime blockade imposed by Israel on Gaza is motivated solely by security considerations of preventing weapons from reaching the Strip. He added that this was in total compliance with international law.[61]

Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz pointed out that the firing of thousands of rockets into Israel by Hamas constitutes an act of war, to which a blockade is a legally justified response. "When the United States blockaded Cuba during the missile crisis, the State Department issued an opinion declaring the blockade to be lawful," Dershowitz notes. "This despite the fact that Cuba had not engaged in any act of belligerence against the United States. Other nations have similarly enforced naval blockades to assure their own security."[62]

(3) Legal Aspects of the Interception of the Ships
Examining the interception of the flotilla, Lapidoth points out that the relations between Israel and Hamas are characterized by "armed conflict." Consequently, the IDF operation on the high seas must be viewed according to the internationally recognized rules of armed conflict. Lapidoth writes that "[t]his means that Israel may control shipping headed for Gaza - even when the vessel is still on the high seas. Israel may not do so in the territorial sea of a third country, such as Cyprus, but in time of armed conflict Israel may check vessels on the high seas that are headed for Gaza."[63] An expertise paper by the Research Service of the German parliament reached the same conclusion.[64]

Force may be used in the boarding of the ships. "If force is disproportionate it would be a violation of the key tenets of the use of force," said Commander James Kraska, professor of international law at the U.S. Naval War College. Yet this does not exclude the use of guns in a situation where, as occurred on the Mavi Marmara, the forces are being attacked with weapons such as knives and clubs. "While the full facts need to emerge from a credible and transparent investigation, from what is known now, it appears that Israel acted within its legal rights," said J. Peter Pham, a strategic adviser to U.S. and European governments.[65] Regarding the fact that the IDF operation was carried out in international waters, Dershowitz notes that it is legal to enforce a blockade even before the offending ships cross the line into domestic waters. "Again the United States and other Western countries have frequently boarded ships at high sea in order to assure their security."[66]

Because, under international law, the interception of the flotilla is considered a state action, it cannot be viewed as an "act of piracy" as some of Israel's opponents claimed. Commander Kraska commented: "Whether what Israel did is right or wrong, it is not an act of piracy. Piracy deals with private conduct particularly with a pecuniary or financial interest."[67]

III. International Reactions

1) Reactions from International Institutions
The reactions of international institutions as well as individual countries have been categorized below according to the following issues: (1) statements concerning the interception of the flotilla; (2) statements addressing the question of an international investigation; and (3) statements on the Gaza blockade in general.

United Nations
(1) "The Security Council expressed deep regret at the loss of life and injuries resulting from the use of force during the Israeli military operation early on Monday in international waters against the convoy sailing to Gaza. It condemned those acts which had killed at least 10 civilians and wounded many more."

(2) "It took note of the statement of United Nations Secretary-General on the need to have a full investigation into the matter and it called for a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards."

(3) "Stressing that the situation in Gaza was not sustainable, the Council re‑emphasized the importance of the full implementation of resolutions 1850 (2008) and 1860 (2009). In that context, it reiterated its grave concern at the humanitarian situation in Gaza and stressed the need for the sustained and regular flow of goods and people to Gaza, as well as unimpeded provision and distribution of humanitarian assistance throughout the enclave."[68]

On 21 July, the UN under-secretary-general for political affairs presented a briefing to the Security Council. It stated that convoys such as the Gaza flotilla "are not helpful to resolving the basic economic problems in Gaza and needlessly carry the potential for escalation." The briefing also called for the "immediate release" of Schalit and called the lack of humanitarian access to him "inexcusable."[69]

On 23 July, the UN Human Rights Council named a panel of experts to investigate whether the Israeli interception of the flotilla had been a breach of international law.[70]

The UN secretary-general has since established a commission of inquiry that includes representatives of Israel and Turkey. This commission will also examine the internal inquiries of the two countries. Much has become known about the Israeli investigation and little if anything about the Turkish one.

European Union
Baroness Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs, rushed out on 31 May to make a statement.

(1) She "condemned the violence that claimed the lives of nine passengers on ships carrying aid to the Gaza Strip."

(2) She "demanded an ‘immediate, full and impartial' inquiry into the confrontation."

(3) Ashton also "appealed for an end to Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip, imposed after the militant Hamas group seized the Palestinian territory in 2007. Her remarks were echoed by Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, who added that the blockade was ‘unacceptable and counterproductive.'"[71]

European Parliament
The European Parliament adopted - with a majority of 470 to 56 and 56 abstentions[72] - a resolution on 17 June that "condemned the attack against the flotilla in international waters, which is a breach of international law." The resolution also called for an international and impartial inquiry and urged Israel to end its blockade of Gaza. On the other hand, the resolution demanded that all attacks against Israel cease immediately and warned that the perpetrators must face full responsibility, and called for the release of Schalit.[73]

There was no substantiation for the claim that the attack was a breach of international law. If media had interviewed those MEPs who voted for the resolution, one wonders how many of them could have explained why the Israeli act against the flotilla constituted such a breach.

Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC)
The OIC is an international organization composed of fifty-seven Muslim countries. It was established in 1969 and has a permanent delegation at the United Nations. The organization describes itself as "the collective voice of the Muslim world and ensuring to safeguard and protect the interests of the Muslim world in the spirit of promoting international peace and harmony among various people of the world."[74] Its charter lists as one of its goals "to endeavor to work for revitalizing Islam's pioneering role in the world" and "to enhance and strengthen the bond of unity and solidarity among the Muslim peoples and Member States." It also calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.[75]

(1) As far as positions on the three issues are concerned, the OIC published a statement on 31 May 2010: "the OIC Group strongly condemns the illegal, brutal and provocative Israeli aggression carried out in international waters against the civilian convoy of ships that was carrying vital humanitarian aid to be delivered by hundreds of international peace and human rights activists to the occupied and besieged Gaza Strip. The OIC Group also condemns in the strongest possible terms the killing and injury of several civilians by the Israeli military forces that attacked the Turkish vessel in the humanitarian convoy."

(2) "The OIC Group stresses that the Israeli military aggression on the civilian convoy of ships constitutes a flagrant violation of international law, including international humanitarian law and human rights law, and also constitutes an explicit act of piracy under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.... The international community must undertake all necessary measures to hold Israel accountable for the perpetration of this condemnable and illegal act. The OIC Group...calls upon the United Nations Secretary-General to immediately initiate a full, impartial, transparent, independent and credible investigation in conformity with international standards into the Israeli military aggression and demands that the perpetrators of this crime be brought to justice."

(3) "The OIC Group reiterates that the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip constitutes collective punishment on a massive scope and scale and is tantamount to a war crime against the Palestinian people. The OIC Group reiterates its firm and unwavering demand for an immediate end to this unlawful Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip and the opening of all crossing points to allow for the freedom of movement of persons and goods into and out of the Gaza Strip and to allow for unfettered humanitarian access."[76]

Arab League
The Arab League's position on the interception of the flotilla stated:

(1) "The Arab League strongly condemns this terrorist act."[77]

(2) The Arab League announced that it would "file a lawsuit with the International Court of Justice over Israel's attack on the Gaza-bound aid convoy and violations of international laws" and "said the Arab Summit should reconsider the status of the Arab Peace Initiative in the light of Israel's stances."

(3) The Arab League also called for "the lifting of the siege on the Gaza Strip and demand[ed] that measures and mechanisms be taken and adopted to achieve this."[78]

(2) Reactions from Individual Countries
Many countries reacted to the flotilla incident. Most issued statements, while a number of them resorted to diplomatic measures against Israel. In view of the silence of the international community vis-à-vis much more severe incidents, many reactions to the flotilla raid can be characterized as highly disproportionate.

Below is a selection of official reactions in a few countries. An overview of many more countries can be found in the appendix.

(A) United States
U.S. special Middle East envoy George Mitchell said:

(1) "The United States deeply regrets the tragic loss of life and injury suffered among those involved in the incident aboard the Gaza-bound ships."

(2) "We joined in and we support the security council's statement on this tragedy

(3) and will continue to work aggressively to see that the full range of the needs of all of the people of Gaza are met."[79]

(B) EU Countries
The position of a number of EU countries is discussed below.

Germany's foreign minister Guido Westerwelle (Free Democrats) said:

(1) "I am deeply concerned about the serious incident off the shores of Gaza. I deeply regret that it led to deaths and injuries." Even after the Germans and other nationals from the flotilla had left Israel, "there can be no normal transition to the normal agenda."

(2) "We need a full, transparent and neutral inquiry as soon as possible.... Were that inquiry to show that the principle of proportionality enshrined in international law had been violated, this would be unacceptable."

(3) "It is of vital importance to us that humanitarian supplies can at last be delivered unhindered."[80]

Chancellor Angela Merkel suggested that members of the Middle East Quartet should participate in inquiries in Israel.[81]

On 2 July, the Bundestag, the German parliament, issued a resolution calling for the immediate lifting of the Gaza blockade and an investigation with international participation into the behavior of "both sides," meaning the flotilla organizers' links to radical Islamist organizations as well as the IDF operation on the high seas. While the document repeatedly stresses the importance of what it calls "Israel's legitimate security needs" and refers to "hints" of the flotilla organizers' links to "Hamas and other radical Islamist groups," it says there is "strong evidence" that Israel violated the "principle of proportionality" in the raid. It also calls the blockade of Gaza "counterproductive," claiming it "does not serve the political and security interests of Israel."[82]

All parties of the political spectrum, ranging from the conservative CDU (Christian Democratic Union) to the extreme-Left Die Linke, voted in favor of the resolution.[83]

Three members of the Bundestag from Die Linke (or the Left Party), the party most hostile toward Israel, had participated in the Gaza flotilla. Die Linke had originally proposed a resolution much more condemnatory of Israel, but finally agreed to the final version supported by all other parties. Die Linke's foreign policy spokesman, Wolfgang Gehrcke, said "for the first time on the Middle East question, all parties in the chamber have a joint motion. This signal will certainly be recognized in the Middle East as well, especially in Israel and Palestine."[84]

Reactions to Germany's Official Statements

Why did the Bundestag issue such a unique declaration? Benjamin Weinthal commented in the Weekly Standard: "The Bundestag resolution is the first post-Holocaust legislative act in the Federal Republic to apply disparate treatment to Israel.... Given the so-called German-Israeli special relationship based on Israel's security needs being integral to the interests of the Federal Republic, a detached, objective observer could interpret the resolution as a brazen act of betraying Israel's national security."[85]

Several Jewish organizations voiced strong protest against the resolution. The Jewish Central Council in Germany came out with a resolution saying it could not remain silent about the attempts to make Israel responsible for the escalation in the Middle East and the difficult situation of the Palestinian population in Gaza. It pointed out that as far as the Gaza flotilla was concerned, "too many important details remain in the dark and the truth will come out one day. Only then judgments can be made and legitimate claims formulated for the future."

It then addressed the motion of the Bundestag (and the proposed motion of Die Linke, which was later withdrawn), saying these were based on

incomplete information and a mixture of half-truths and prejudices. They were one-sidedly taking a position against Israel. This behavior is without precedent in the history of the friendship of Federal Germany and Israel. It aggravates the conflict in the Middle East instead of enabling a peace perspective.

The claim for an immediate lifting of the Gaza blockade is not complemented by a realistic solution to prevent the smuggling of weapons over the land and sea borders.[86]
The council pointed out that the entire strategy behind the document was seriously deficient.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center noted in a public statement that "We heard no such unanimity from German politicians when Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists targeted Israeli civilians, including Holocaust survivors and their families."[87] European Info Press commentator Dean Grunwald pointed out that the Bundestag had never in its history issued a resolution against any of the true "rogue states in the world, no matter how inhuman they are."[88]

For twenty-three years, until 2009, Gert Weisskirchen was a member of the Bundestag on behalf of the Social Democrat Party. He criticized the decision on many levels, saying that before the vote all the parliamentarians should have inquired who had organized the flotilla and which propaganda purposes it served. He asked since when the German parliament could decide what served the interests of Israeli security. And even if it did, how could it make such a decision without an intensive dialogue with the Knesset? Weisskirchen added that possibly not all the parliamentarians knew that, according to its charter, Hamas seeks to destroy Israel.[89]

Weinthal suggested that "the anti-Israel Bundestag resolution is not an expression of prudent foreign policy criticism, rather an act of absolution for a guilt-ridden country that frequently views Israel as a disturber of the peace instead of a liberal democracy with shared Western values."[90]

It is interesting to note that on 4 September 2009, a German officer in Kunduz, Afghanistan, called in an airstrike that killed up to 142 Afghans, of which an estimated eighty were civilians. A NATO report revealed that the deadly operation "was the result of a combination of ineptness and deliberate misinformation, without which the airstrike would never have occurred." As a result of what became known as the Kunduz affair, former German defense minister Franz Josef Jung was forced to resign from his new job as labor minister. Others also had to draw personal consequences. A parliamentary investigative committee was set up to examine the incident.[91]

Yet this incident, with its far larger number of deaths, triggered neither international outrage nor resolutions by parliaments of foreign countries. This was despite the fact that in Kunduz civilians were killed who had not taken part in any provocative actions. The participants in the flotilla, however, knew they were running risks and most of those killed were seeking to be "martyrs."

(1) State Secretary for Foreign Affairs Frank Belfrage said: "In view of the very serious incident and the boarding of the humanitarian fleet, we summoned the Israeli Ambassador this morning and requested an explanation of what has occurred and what has happened to our compatriots. What has happened is completely unacceptable and if, moreover, these events have occurred in international waters this is even more serious and Europe must react strongly."

(2) Foreign Minister Carl Bildt requested on the same day that the European Union's Political and Security Committee (PSC) be convened.[92]

(3) Sweden has been calling for some time for the blockade to be lifted. In January 2009, Bildt emphasized the importance of breaking Gaza's isolation, which he called "serious in humanitarian terms."[93] In March 2009, Gunilla Carlsson, minister for international development cooperation, said in a speech in Sharm el-Sheikh in the Sinai: "Gaza can never truly develop without private initiative, free trade and economic interaction. For all these reasons the Gaza borders must be opened unconditionally and immediately, for goods and persons, for aid and trade."[94]

Immediately after the raid, Bildt met the two Swedish flotilla activists in Istanbul, where he expressed his sympathy for them and their cause and condemned Israel.[95] He also stated that Israel's Palestinian policy was "catastrophic" and "leads to one problem after another."[96]

Sweden's reaction requires particular attention. Anti-Israeli incitement is of major proportions in the country's political system. It comes mainly from the three opposition parties, the Social Democrats, the Greens, and the Left. Yet the current foreign minister, Bildt, from the largest government party, the Moderates, has often taken anti-Israeli initiatives as well. He is on record for the statement: "It is possible to make peace without Hamas the same way it is possible to make peace without Netanyahu on the Israeli side."[97]

Yet another reason for a special interest in Sweden's position is the frequent anti-Israeli incitement in the media, parts of the Lutheran Church, and other elements of civil society. Malmö can be considered a serious candidate for the title of the European Union's capital of anti-Semitism. Half of the town's Jewish population has left in the past few years because of frequent harassment and the subsequent disinterest of the authorities.

Commentator Ilya Meyer has written:

In an average month of 30 days, there are never more than 3 days without some negative reporting on Israel in the publicly-funded TV (SVT). Check out the news function on teletext and on a minimum of 27 days out of 30, there will be a story about Israel. Not about Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, the Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Somalia, Bangladesh. The standing joke in Sweden is that one can always tell when there is a new employee at the taxpayer-funded SVT, because that is the day there is no anti-Jewish item on teletext. New recruits never make the same mistake twice, if they wish to keep their jobs. Sweden's state-funded radio, SR, is the same.[98]
Bildt's harsh reaction to the flotilla affair is all the more notable in light of his approach to Iran, a country ruled by Islamists who deny the Holocaust, call for Israel's destruction, and run a highly suspicious nuclear program. When the European Union deliberated on tougher sanctions against Iran, Bildt tried to stall these efforts and questioned the legality of such sanctions. He even suggested supporting the nuclear-fuel-swap deal with Iran that Brazil and Turkey proposed in May 2010, which, in the words of Wall Street Journal commentator Mats Tunehag, "would have done nothing to stop Iran's illicit nuclear program but would have saved Tehran from additional sanctions."[99]

United Kingdom
UK foreign secretary William Hague addressed the House of Commons on 2 June. He said:

(1) "There is real understandable and justified anger at the events which have unfolded...we deeply deplore the loss of life and look to Israel to do everything possible to avoid a repeat of this unacceptable situation. The UN Security Council and the European Union have rightly condemned the violence which resulted in the loss of these lives."

(2) "The United Kingdom has played its full part in the European Union and United Nations in agreeing on the need for a full, credible, impartial and independent investigation into the events. Our goal is a process which ensures full accountability for the events which occurred and which commands the confidence of the international community, including international participation."[100]

(3) "They [the events] arise from the unacceptable and unsustainable situation in Gaza which is a cause of public concern here in the UK and around the world. It has long been the view of the British Government, including the previous Government, that restrictions on Gaza should be lifted, a view confirmed in United Nations Security Council Resolution 1860 which called for sustained delivery of humanitarian aid and which called on states to alleviate the humanitarian and economic situation. That this has not happened is a tragedy.... We will therefore continue to press the Israeli Government to lift the closure of Gaza...."[101]

Hague said the European Union could help control the flow of goods into Gaza and make sure no arms would reach Hamas.[102]

On a visit to Turkey in late July 2010, Prime Minister David Cameron strongly condemned the flotilla raid and likened the situation of Palestinians in Gaza to that of a "prison camp." "The Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla was completely unacceptable," he said. "I have told prime minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu we will expect the Israeli inquiry to be swift, transparent and rigorous." Cameron added: "Let me also be clear that the situation in Gaza has to change. Humanitarian goods and people must flow in both directions. Gaza cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp."[103]

Cameron did not mention the genocidal character of the Hamas Charter during his stay in Turkey. A party in power that calls for mass murder of Jews apparently is no longer worth mentioning or condemning by a British democratic politician if that does not suit the host prime minister. It might also have been considered impolite as Turkey has not yet recognized its guilt in the Armenian genocide during World War I.

A negative Turkish reaction to Israel's interception of the flotilla was inevitable given that nine of its citizens had been killed and others wounded. This was so even if the flotilla was provocative and the ship on which the violence took place brought no aid. However, the content, duration, and vehemence of the Turkish government's reaction to the incident indicated that it was using it to address other agendas.

The reaction was not only among the strongest but also one of the most significant, given Turkey's decades-long history as Israel's closest ally in the Muslim world. Many observers have interpreted the particular harshness of the official Turkish reaction as a sign of the Islamist Turkish government's attempt to style itself as a new key player in the Muslim world while partly turning its back on the West.[104]

In its official statement following the IDF operation, the Turkish Foreign Ministry not only condemned Israel in the harshest terms but also made more general statements on what it seems to perceive as Israel's "character": "Israel has once again clearly demonstrated that it does not value human lives and peaceful initiatives through targeting innocent civilians."[105]

Furthermore, the statement hinted at a downgrading of the two countries' diplomatic ties, asserting that "[t]his grave incident which took place in high seas in gross violation of international law might cause irreversible consequences in our relations" (emphasis added).[106] Turkey had already withdrawn its ambassador from Israel and announced it would not fill the post unless the Israeli government formally apologized for the killing of the nine Turkish citizens.[107] Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said Israel would face legal action in a Turkish court.[108]

At the UN Security Council, Turkey's foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu called the IDF operation "‘murder' conducted by a State.... A nation that followed that path," he argued, "lost its legitimacy as a respectable member of the international community" (emphasis added).[109] Later he added that the normalization of Turkish-Israeli relations would depend on Israel accepting an international inquiry.[110]

Turkey's deputy prime minister said his country would work to reduce its military and economic cooperation with Israel. Existing contracts, he said, would be reviewed and revised or canceled.[111]

Erdogan made some particularly hostile remarks. Thus, he said: "They [the Israelis] have once again showed to the world that they know how good they are at killing people."[112] In what can be read as a reference to the traditionally anti-Semitic child- murder libel, he claimed: "They even slaughtered 19-year-old Furkan. They did not even care for the babies in the cradle."[113] He also said Hamas was not a terrorist organization, but "fighting for their own land."[114] Erdogan also reacted as a typical Holocaust inverter, claiming that "the world now perceives the swastika and the Star of David together."[115]

In light of the extraordinary outrage displayed by the Turkish government, Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum, drew a comparison in the Washington Post between the situation in Gaza and the Turkish occupation of Northern Cyprus. He pointed out that, whereas the Turkish occupation of 37 percent of Cyprus amounted to a "forced ethnic cleansing," the only people Israel had forcefully evicted from Gaza were Jews in 2005. Likewise, he noted that since 1973, 160,000 Turkish citizens had settled on formerly Greek lands in Northern Cyprus whereas "not a single Israeli community remains in Gaza."

Pipes concluded that Northern Cyprus "resembles an ‘open-air jail' more than Gaza does. How rich that a hypocritical Ankara preens its moral plumage about Gaza even as it runs a zone significantly more offensive. Instead of meddling in Gaza, Turkish leaders should close the illegal and disruptive occupation that for decades has tragically divided Cyprus."[116]

Barry Rubin, director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center in Israel, said that many Turks who support opposition parties see the Gaza flotilla as practically a conspiracy. "A radical Islamist group close to the government organized this whole affair which, while nominally independent, enjoyed the Turkish government's patronage. This flotilla was a semi-official operation by the AK-ruled state apparatus."[117]

Erdogan's demonization of Israel as a naturally violent, murderous entity is all the more perverse in light of his own militant statements on Kurdish rebels just three weeks after the flotilla affair, in which he threatened that the rebels "would drown in their own blood."[118] As the Turkish military admitted on 18 June 2010, Turkish soldiers killed no less than 120 Kurdish rebels in air raids and ground incursions in Kurdish Iraq during May and June 2010.[119]

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