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Of Pirates, Provocateurs and Peaceful Pests - Breaking the Siege of Gaza
: Of Pirates, Provocateurs and Peaceful Pests - Breaking the Siege of GazaBy
: Ed Gaffney Published in
: CounterPunchDate of issue
13 September 2008People/entities mentioned in this item:
Timeline event(s) mentioned in this item:Commentary Abstract
On August 22, two small boats left the port of Larnaca in Cyprus bound for Gaza, with 44 peace activists from around the world on board. The captains and crew were seasoned sailors. Few of the activists had sea legs prior to this voyage.
The names of the two boats that carried the activists to Gaza identify the movement’s purposes. The SS Free Gaza expresses the central purpose of the action: “to break the siege that Israel has imposed on the civilian population of Gaza…, to express our solidarity with the suffering people of Gaza, and to create a free and regular channel between Gaza and the outside world.” The SS Liberty honors the memory of 34 American sailors killed and over 170 sailors severely injured on the USS Liberty, which came under attack by Israeli fighter planes and torpedo boats in the Mediterranean on June 8, 1967.
None on board the SS Free Gaza or SS Liberty could be certain that the State of Israel would regard their action as a benign humanitarian gesture. Indeed, if history is prologue, the voyagers had cause to wonder whether their own safety was in jeopardy.
In January of 1988 Israel deported hundreds of Palestinians it deemed responsible for the outbreak of the First Intifada. The UN Security Council unanimously – with the full support of the Reagan Administration State Department – denounced the deportations as a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Within weeks the PLO chartered a Greek ferry boat called the SS Sol Phryne, and announced that they would sail the boat – renamed the SS Al-Awda (“The Return”) – to Haifa with 135 Palestinian exiles and hundreds of journalists on board.
It was a bold move for Palestinians to evoke the memory of the ill-fated journey of the SS Exodus 1947 that had carried thousands of Holocaust survivors to Haifa only to have the British authorities expel these “illegal immigrants” to Cyprus. Perhaps too bold. Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir branded the PLO announcement a “declaration of war.” Foreign Minister Shimon Peres called the PLO effort “propagandistic.” Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin ordered military opposition “in whatever ways we find.” Trade Minister Ariel Sharon was certain that the Navy would insure that Al Awda never entered Israeli territorial waters.