Gaza blockade and Freedom Flotilla 2: Rebuttal of Windsor Star’s factually-challenged letter to the editor
No 214 Posted by fw, July 6, 2011
Acknowledgment: Thanks to Linda Belanger and Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East for referring me to authoritative resources related to this story.
On July 5 the Windsor Star revealed its ideological bias when it published, as its Letter of the Day, a 783-word, factually-challenged submission from Windsor resident Neal Guttman, Blockade a response to attacks. Mr Guttman was responding to a June 24 letter from Sue Breeze, Gaza-bound boat set for a challenge. In her letter, Ms Breeze, who is a participant on the Canadian boat to Gaza, briefly explained why the boat’s freedom riders felt compelled to challenge Israel’s illegal blockade of Gaza.
In an attempt to set the record straight, I posted in the Star’s digital edition a lengthy response to Guttman’s attack on Ms Breeze in the Comments section linked to his letter.
As a further effort to inject documented evidence into the discussion, here is a slightly revised version of my Windsor Star post. I have set out to reveal significant gaps in Mr Guttman’s knowledge of the humanitarian situation in Gaza, Israel’s blockade of Gaza, and the recent conflicts between the two parties. I begin with Mr Guttman’s unfounded and reprehensible personal allegations about Sue Breeze.
Claim: Ms Breeze is anti-Semitic and in support of the “right” of Gaza’s government to import arms to kill vulnerable Israeli civilians. She is nothing more than “a collaborator with jihadists and anti-Semites. . . In short, the flotilla in which she so proudly plans to participate is nothing more than a supreme act of Jew hatred, rather than a commitment to peace, justice and freedom, as she claims.”
- Response: Shocking unfounded allegations, but I suppose not surprising in the sense that they merely echo Israeli propaganda. When pro-Israeli apologists run out of arguments, they resort to character assassination, inevitably playing the anti-Semitic card. Anyone who dares to criticize Israeli acts of brutality is by definition an anti-Semite. And worse than the anti-Semites are those despicable “self-hating Jews” who dare support the Palestinian cause. Guttman’s vile, shocking and absurd allegations about Sue Breeze don’t deserve a reply but he leaves me no choice. And I’m surprised the Windsor Star allowed his derogatory remarks to be published. On second thought, I take that back — I’m not surprised.
Guttman’s Claim — Israel’s blockade is recognized as permissible under international law.
- Inconvenient fact — Israel’s blockade is illegal because it does not respect the laws of war. A blockade is a military tactic, one that applies during times of declared war and occupation. In such times, a blockade per se is not explicitly illegal. But Israel has not declared war on Gaza and claims not to occupy it. Moreover, as a military tactic, a blockade must adhere to the laws of war, as embodied, for example, in the Fourth Geneva Convention, which specifies that the belligerents cannot restrict foodstuffs, medicines and other aid; cannot obstruct medical evacuations; cannot prevent civilians from leaving the war zone; and cannot prevent civilians from pursuing their livelihoods. Because the Israeli blockade violates all of these precepts, it is illegal. In addition, neutral organizations including the International Committee of the Red Cross and Amnesty International have declared the blockade to be a form of “collective punishment” and a clear and flagrant violation of Israel’s obligations under the Geneva Convention.
Claim — Hamas is an internationally recognized terrorist group
- Inconvenient facts — 1) Edward Peck, former Deputy Director of the Reagan White House Task Force on Terrorism, wrote this about terrorism: “In 1985…they [the US government] asked us to come up with a definition of terrorism that could be used throughout the government. We produced about six, and each and every case, they were rejected, because careful reading would indicate that our own country had been involved in some of those activities. After the task force concluded its work, Congress got into it, and you can Google into U.S. Code Title 18, Section 2331, and read the U.S. definition of terrorism. And one of them in here says ‘international terrorism,’ means ‘activities that,’ I quote, ‘appear to be intended to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping.’ Certainly you can think of a number of countries that have been involved in such activities. Ours is one of them. Israel is another. And so, the terrorist, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. And I think it’s useful for people who discuss that phrase to remember that Israel was founded by terrorist organizations and terrorist leader, Menachem Begin, who became statesmen and went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize. And Nasrallah may not be the same kind of guy, but his intentions are the same. He wants to free his country from domination by another.”
- 2) Since 2004, Hamas leaders have repeatedly and consistently stated that they would accept a peace based on an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders (i.e. the Green Line.) (As of Jan. 2009 Israel currently maintains a de facto occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and has about 450,000 colonists in occupied Palestinian territory). On January 6, 2004, the co-founder of Hamas, a democratically elected party, offered Israel de facto recognition if Israel withdrew to the 1967 borders. (Source: ABC News, Jan 26, 2004). Significantly, during the 2006 Palestinian elections, Hamas omitted any call for the destruction of Israel in its election platform.(Source: Guardian newspaper, Jan 19, 2006)
Claim — Perhaps Ms Breeze is unaware that under the 1993 Oslo accords between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Israel withdrew from Gaza and turned its administration over to the Palestinians in 1994. In 2005, all Israeli military and civilian presence was unilaterally removed [from Gaza] by Israel, leaving greenhouses, civilian infrastructure and buildings.”
- Inconvenient facts — 1) Re the Oslo Accords, in a 2001 video, Benjamin Netanyahu, reportedly unaware he was being recorded, said: “They asked me before the election if I’d honor [the Oslo accords]… I said I would, but [that] I’m going to interpret the accords in such a way that would allow me to put an end to this galloping forward to the ’67 borders. How did we do it? Nobody said what defined military zones were. Defined military zones are security zones; as far as I’m concerned, the entire Jordan Valley is a defined military zone. Go argue.” Netanyahu then explained how he conditioned his signing of the 1997 Hebron agreement on American consent that there be no withdrawals from “specified military locations,” and insisted he be allowed to specify which areas constituted a “military location” – such as the whole of the Jordan Valley; “Why is that important? Because from that moment on I stopped the Oslo Accords,”
- 2) Netanyahu affirmed with much fanfare in August 2005 Israel “disengaged” from Gaza pulling out about 8,000 colonists who had been illegally planted there and vacating its military installations which had been in place for decades. However, according to the 1907 Hague Regulations, “Territory is considered to be occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army. The occupation applies only to the territory where such authority is established, and in a position to assert itself.” This stipulation is considered by legal experts to be the test of “effective control”. Thus the Hague Regulations apply as long as the occupying power exercises effective control over the territory. Effective control would be reflected by a progressive scale of military activity considering such factors as whether the occupier “controls all access to a territory, dictates events in that territory, and reserves the right to intervene militarily.” By this definition, which Israel conveniently rejects, it (and its proxy Egypt) “occupies” Gaza and is thereby bound by the responsibilities of an occupying power.
Claim — Gaza until then had been a major exporter of fresh produce to Europe. Rather than live in peace with its Israeli neighbours, the Palestinians destroyed the infrastructure and greenhouses, and continue to live off the welfare of (primarily) western nations, ever the perpetual victims.
- Inconvenient facts: 1) The Palestinians took over the Jewish greenhouses in the Gaza Strip when Israel withdrew its communities from the area. Prior to Israel’s August withdrawal, the residents of Gaza’s Gush Katif slate of Jewish communities ran greenhouses known for producing high-quality insect-free vegetables. The Gush Katif gardens featured some of the most technologically advanced agricultural equipment and accounted for more than $100 million per year in exports to Europe. The greenhouses also supplied Israel with 75 percent of its own produce. The hothouses were passed to the Palestinians in September 2005 in a $14 million deal brokered by former World Bank President James Wolfenson and several wealthy Jewish Americans.
- 2) The Palestinians who took over the greenhouses told the Israeli-Palestinian Economic Cooperation Fund that they had failed in their efforts to grow bug-free produce. Palestinian owners turned to the United States Agency for International Development, which has been involved in reconstruction efforts in Gaza, to hire former Jewish Gaza greenhouse owners as consultants for their declining vegetable businesses. The Israelis declined to help.
Claim — Re the 2009 Mavi Marmara flotilla: Any reasonable person who viewed the many Internet videos (and read accounts from other participants on the other boats in the 2009 flotilla) knows that the Israeli commandos, armed with paintball guns, were brutally attacked by last year’s “humanitarian activists,” and only opened fire in a last-ditch attempt to save their own lives. The dead “humanitarians,” it turns out, were jihadists who had made their wills prior to departure and smuggled arms onto their boat. Ms. Breeze’s professed adherence to her fellow travelers’ non-violence conflicts with the facts from last year.
- Inconvenient facts – 1) On 23 July 2010 the United Nations Human Rights Council launched an independent fact-finding mission headed by three prominent international jurists to investigate violations of international law that may have occurred during the flotilla raid. Israel refused to allow the panel to interview Israeli witnesses, citing worries of bias. In its first report, submitted in September 2010, the UN fact-finding mission found that the IDF broke international law, and that there was evidence sufficient to initiate prosecutions for breaches of the Geneva Convention. The report stated that: “The conduct of the Israeli military and other personnel towards the flotilla passengers was not only disproportionate to the occasion but demonstrated levels of totally unnecessary and incredible violence”, accusing Israeli commandos of summarily executing six passengers aboard the MV Mavi Marmara, citing forensic analysis indicating that Furgan Dogan was shot five times, including once in the face while he was lying on his back. “All of the entry wounds were on the back of his body except for the face wound, which entered the right of his nose,” the report concluded. “According to forensic analysis, tattooing around the wound in his face indicates that the shot was delivered at point-blank range.”
- 2) The report stated: “There is clear evidence to support prosecutions of the following crimes within the terms of article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention: wilful killing; torture or inhuman treatment; wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health”. The report also stated that it found no medical evidence of IDF commandos being shot. The report recommended that Israel pay reparations, and also described Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip as “totally intolerable and unacceptable in the 21st century”. The United States expressed concern about the tone, content and conclusions of the report, while the European Union said that it should be transferred to the UN Secretary-General’s investigation. On 29 September 2010 the UN Human Rights Council voted to endorse the report, with 30 of the 47 countries voting in favor, the United States voting against, and 15 countries, including EU members, abstaining.
Claim: Last year, Gaza opened its first luxury mall.
- Response: Gaza did in fact open a new air-conditioned shopping centre in 2010, offering 10 shops and a grocery store. Whether the mall is “luxurious” or not is irrelevant. What is relevant is that the mall has become a source of pride for many Gazans, even though its limited offerings are a testament to an economy stifled by an Israeli embargo. And can you imagine the nerve of Gazans building their first shopping mall. How dare they! And a water park, too? Who do they think they are — Israelis?
Claim — The United Nations has declared that no humanitarian crisis exists. Israel permits tons of goods by land into Gaza every day and has offered to transport the goods on the flotilla to Gaza overland.
- Inconvenient facts – 1) According to a June 15, 2011 UNWRA report, Gaza siege enters 5th year: “Our research indicates that since 2007, Hamas has been able to increase public employment by at least one-fifth,” said Gunness. “Even more striking, in what should have been a relatively good year for the Gaza private sector with the supposed easing of the blockade, the public sector generated 70 per cent of all net job growth as between second-half 2009 and second-half 2010. If the aim of the blockade policy was to weaken the Hamas administration, the public employment numbers suggest this has failed.
- 2) But it has certainly been highly successful in punishing some of the poorest of the poor in the Middle East region. Amid this economic gloom, UNRWA will continue with its human development work in health and education, running schools for some 213,000 children in Gaza, helping them towards a belief in an educated, dignified and peaceful future,” said Gunness. “But the number of people coming to us, the abject poor living on just over 1 dollar a day, has tripled to 300,000 since the blockade was imposed and with many reconstruction projects still awaiting approval, the future looks bleak.”
- Re Israel’s offer to transport flotilla goods overland to Gaza, Guttman obviously still doesn’t get the primary goal of Freedom Flotilla 2 — It’s to break Israel’s illegal blockade of Gaza.
Claim: Their only requirement is simply to permit inspection of those goods. Does anyone have issue with U.S. customs authorities when we cross the bridge from Windsor? If not, why is the same right not permitted Israel, a country under constant attack?
- Inconvenient fact: In June, 4 Nobel women laureates wrote to Ban Ki-moon urging him to use his good offices in support of the humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza. They wrote: “In our view, you can support the people of Gaza with two key actions. First, by appointing a representative to inspect and seal the cargo of the boats of the Freedom Flotilla II—thus assuring the Israeli government that the boats are carrying humanitarian supplies such as toys, medical supplies, cement and educational materials. Equally important, we strongly urge you to use your authority to call on all governments to support the safe passage of the Freedom Flotilla II. We are disappointed to learn of your recent efforts to persuade member governments from stopping the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza on the Freedom Flotilla II. We urge you to reconsider and instead encourage member states to lend support and ask Israel not to use force against legitimate humanitarian initiatives undertaken by civil society to help ease the suffering of the people of Gaza who are facing a humanitarian crisis of devastating scale.” Sadly, these two requests fell on deaf ears.
Claim –There are many humanitarian crises in the world today. Ms. Breeze could have chosen to aid the Syrian civilians who are fleeing into Lebanon and Turkey in the face of Assad’s onslaught.
- Response — This is a non-sequiter, a distraction, and has nothing to do with Israel’s blockade of Gaza.
Claim — Gaza is importing arms to kill vulnerable Israeli citizens
- Inconvenient facts: 1) On July 2, 2009, human rights organization Amnesty International (AI) released a report entitled Israel/Gaza: Operation ‘Cast Lead’: 22 days of death and destruction. The report accuses the Israeli army of having killed hundreds of unarmed Palestinian civilians, and of having destroyed thousands of homes in Gaza in attacks which seriously infringed on the provisions of international humanitarian law. Amnesty also accused, although to a lesser extent, Hamas and other Palestinian groups of having engaged in acts amounting to war crimes. The report demanded thorough, independent and impartial investigations on the conduct of all parties involved in the conflict.
- 2) Apparently only Israel is allowed to have arms to defend itself.
In conclusion, as the US Civil Rights Movement so vividly illustrated, it sometimes takes courageous citizens to do what their governments won’t do — stand up for the oppressed by doing the morally right thing. And the Freedom Flotilla 2 riders are doing what their governments won’t do — challenging Israel’s illegal blockade of an oppressed people.
FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog, Citizen Action Monitor, may contain copyrighted material that may not have been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Such material, published without profit, is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues. It is published in accordance with the provisions of the 2004 Supreme Court of Canada ruling and its six principle criteria for evaluating fair dealing