Tag Archives: Freedom Waves for Gaza

Freedom Waves Activists Abused and Imprisoned; ‘Anonymous’ Hackers Strike Back

copied from my MondoWeiss article here

In the immediate aftermath of the illegal capture of the Freedom Waves flotillas, Israel’s public image has been tarnished, as reports of violence at sea surface to counteract its claims of a peaceful takeover, and as human rights cyber-resistance group Anonymous retaliates by shutting down Israeli government web sites.

As Israeli naval soldiers boarded the Tahrir and Saoirse Friday afternoon, the IDF released a statement saying that the ships were intercepted peacefully, and that no activists were harmed in the takeover. In addition, in an attempt to portray its own reasonable benevolence, the IDF released a video of soldiers contacting the ship and offering to reroute its humanitarian aid by land or through Ashdod, shortly before releasing another video which seemed to show Israeli soldiers peacefully and non-threateningly boarding one of the flotillas.

When Egyptian journalist Lina Attalah, an activist aboard the Tahrir, wrote an account of Israel’s seizure of the boats after her release on Saturday, however, the world began to see a different picture.  “Towards the early afternoon,” she said, “we saw three Israeli warships in the horizon… Soon after, the Israeli presence in the waters around us intensified. We counted at least 15 ships, four of which were warships, and the rest a mix of smaller boats and water cannons. From inside the smaller boats, dozens of Israeli soldiers pointed their machines guns at us. This is when our communications system was jammed and we lost contact with the world…the Israelis sent radio messages to our boat, asking us to stop sailing because they would board the boat and take us to the Israeli port of Ashdod. When our boat refused to surrender, they aimed their canons at us, showering us with salty water. The boat had become highly unstable and panic was in the air… Israeli ships hit our boat and soldiers started boarding. Dozens of masked soldiers screamed “on your knees,” and “hands up.””

The violent nature of Israel’s takeover of the Tahrir and Saoirse became more apparent with a statement released mid-Sunday by Fintan Lane, the National Coordinator of the Irish Ship Saoirse, in a hurried phone call made from an Israeli prison. “The whole takeover [of the Saoirse by Israeli naval authorities] took about three hours”, claims Lane. “It began with Israeli forces hosing down the boats with high pressure hoses and pointing guns at the passengers through the windows. I was hosed down the stairs of the boat. Windows were smashed and the bridge of the boat nearly caught fire. The boats were corralled to such an extent that the two boats, the Saoirse and the Tahrir, collided with each other and were damaged, with most of the damage happening to the MV Saoirse.  The boats nearly sank. The method used in the takeover was dangerous to human life.”

The same day, Saoirse activist Paul Murphy, Socialist Party and United Left Alliance MEP for Dublin, related in a 3-minute phone call, monitored by Israeli prison authorities, that “our boat was almost sunk by the manner in which it was approached and boarded by the Israeli navy. People were shackled and deprived of all personal belongings. In Givon  prison the authorities tried to disorientate us through sleep deprivation and the removal of our watches and the prison clock recording the wrong time. We have been given no time frame as to how long we will be kept here before the deportation trial. We were denied our right by Israeli law to contact our families within 24 hours of our arrest.”

Also on Sunday, Greek captain of the Tahrir Giorgos Klontzas, after his release from jail, told Greek Omnia TV that during interrogation, Israeli forces handcuffed him tightly and stuck fingers in his eyes.

The clearest testament to the abuse suffered by the activists at the hands of the Israeli military has come from British activist David Heap, in a letter smuggled out of his prison cell.  “I write to you from cell 9, block 59 Givon Prison near Ramla in Occupied Palestine”, the letter stated. “Although I was tasered during the assault on the Tahrir, and bruised during forcible removal dockside (I am limping slightly as a result) I am basically ok… [we] were transported in handcuffs and leg shackles…[we have created] a political prisoners’ committee in order to press our collective demands- association in the block, i.e. open cells; adequate writing and reading material; free communication with outside world- i.e. regular phone calls; [and] information about shipmate women held at same prison”. In response to the shortage of information regarding the female activists currently behind bars, the Women’s Organisation for Political Prisoners (WOFPP) offered Sunday night to send a lawyer free of charge to visit the female prisoners.

As reports of Israeli military violence leaked throughout the weekend, an international group of hackers named Anonymous released a video threatening retaliation against “a clear sign of piracy on the high seas.” The ‘Open Letter from Anonymous to the Government of Israel’ was pointed in its critique- “your actions”, it claimed, “are illegal, against democracy, human rights, international and maritime laws”, and an example of “justifying war, murder, illegal interception and pirate-like activities under an illegal cover of defense” which “will not go unnoticed by us or the people of the world”. Anonymous, which has temporarily disabled many web sites in past publicized acts of moral retribution, further threatened that “if you continue blocking humanitarian vessels to Gaza or repeat the dreadful actions of May 31st 2010 against any Gaza Freedom Flotillas, you will leave us no choice but to strike back, again and again, until you stop….we do not forget, we do not forgive. Expect us.”

A day later, Haaretz reported that “the websites of the IDF, Mossad and the Shin Bet security services were down”, likely due to an Anonymous cyber-attack. Hours later, however, the Israeli government released a statement on Facebook claiming that the websites were down “due to a systematic malfunction of the servers”, denying that Anonymous was behind the crash1. It is highly unlikely, however, for this shutdown to follow so soon after Anonymous’s threat as a matter of pure coincidence.

As the international community rises in condemnation of Israel’s illegal takeover of a ship in international waters, 21 of the 27 activists captured by Israel remain in prison awaiting deportation, and the whereabouts of one, PressTV journalist Hassan Ghani, remains unknown. The Irish activists have refused representation by a lawyer in the Israeli court system, on the grounds that they do not acknowledge the legitimacy of Israel’s legal system. In addition, they refuse to sign a waiver which would forfeit their claim to legal representation before a judge and allow for their immediate deportation, because the offered waiver claims that they came to Israel voluntarily and entered illegally, statements which are patently untrue in light of the fact that Israeli naval boats seized the activists from the Tahrir and Saoirse, and forcibly transported them to Ashdod. They will therefore, according to Israeli law, be detained for 72 hours and then brought to court, where they will almost certainly be deported- though, because they refused to sign the waiver, the deportation will occur without their consent.

As Israel unsuccessfully attempts to save face in the aftermath of its illegal and violent seizure of innocent civilians on a humanitarian aid mission in international waters, the international community once again bears witness to the fact that, in the words of a Saturday press release by the Canada Boat to Gaza team, “there is no legal justification for stopping or in any way impeding the passage of the totally peaceful Freedom Waves boats from the international solidarity movement with Palestinian people”. What is clear to all, in spite of Israeli repression, is that the recent aid mission is only the first of many Freedom Waves bound for Gaza’s shore. “Whatever the Israeli Occupation Forces do to us,” said David Heap and Ehab Lotayef, steering committee members of the Tahrir, from behind Israeli prison bars, “this flotilla marks the launching of the Freedom Waves. It is the continuation of many efforts over the years to bring the plight of Gaza and Palestine to the world’s attention. We will keep coming again and again, until the closure of Gaza is ended and Palestinians have been able to achieve liberation and justice… Expect us. Again and again. The Freedom Waves are just beginning.”

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Flotilla controversy within Occupy Wall Street shows Palestine continues to be a fault line

copied from my MondoWeiss article here

 

At about midnight Palestinian time, all was quiet on the Mediterranean Sea. All reports coming from the Tahrir and Saoirse indicated that the two unidentified (possibly Israeli) ships and planes, which had been trailing the humanitarian vessels an hour before, had receded into the distance, and posed no immediate threat. The international activists aboard the Canadian and Irish vessels announced they were heading off to sleep, as journalist Hassan Ghani, aboard the Canadian Tahrir, tweeted that “I remember these feelings a year ago onboard the Mavi Marmara; the tension but also the hope of reaching Gaza the next morning”. Folks eyeing the Twitter-sphere found themselves “praying that this is not the calm before the storm”, and encouraging the 27 crew members to “stay steady in your tracks and strong in your minds”.

In the midst of this calm, the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement posted a surprising and exhilarating tweet:

“We support and would like to express #solidarity to #FreedomWaves  #Palestine #ows”.

Moments later, the Twitter representative of the Canada Boat to Gaza posted an appreciative response, “We are thrilled to receive the support of  #OccupyWallStreet  Looks like only the 1% support the Israeli blockade of Gaza.” The Twitter-sphere flared up with expressions of praise and affirmation, proving that the 99% naturally link the struggle for the Occupation of Wall Street with the struggle against the Occupation of Palestine as two facets of a single universal liberation struggle.

Approximately four hours later, however, Occupy Wall Street’s tweet mysteriously disappeared from its home page on Twitter. The Twitter-sphere was instantly taken aback- “didn’t realize #OWS is non-political!!” remarked one tweeter, while another insisted that “If #OWS can not support #FreedomWaves and #Gaza then they should not compare themselves to #ArabSpring or #Tahrir.” The Canada Boat to Gaza, who earlier had nodded in satisfaction, now, shook its head in disappointment, offering, in the face of Occupy Wall Street’s fear of involving itself in the Israel-Palestine conflict, a few words by Desmond Tutu: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

Many tweeps asked “Why did @OccupyWallSt delete a tweet showing solidarity with #FreedomWaves?” or “@OccupyWallSt Did you seriously delete the tweet supporting #FreedomWaves WHY?” The closest official answer came from Daniel Sieradski, a new media activist who has been central to the OccupyJudaism activities. Sieradski explained, the “#FreedomWaves tweet was unauthorized, did not have reflect #OWS community consensus and was subsequently deleted.” He added, “#OWS does not have a position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” and “#OWS is a consensus based movement. The GA has never discussed the I/P issue & even if it did, it would never reach consensus.” Sieradski acknowledged he was not speaking as a spokesperson from Occupy Wall Street but he had “heard what happened from people close to it.” I was not able to receive an official explanation from the Occupy Wall Street movement about why the tweet was deleted.

As the controversy blazed across Twitter, it opened a space for the 99% to express the obvious connections between the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the global dominance of the 1%- “#OWS is inseparable from #Palestine. 1% funding Israeli settlements and extremist settlers? Priceless.”; “#OWS is inseparable from#Gaza. The 1% diverts resources from the 99% by Israel’s blockading and shelling 100% of Gaza”;  “The Tear Gas used in #Oakland is the same tear gas used in#Palestine, when protesters demonstrate non violently”, to cite a few among the myriad examples. Not everyone on twitter was upset however. The tweeter ‘Fatima600’, who had been using this racist name to fire verbal attacks at the flotilla throughout the night, responded, “They are tired of having their movement hijacked!!!!! I love you #OWS!!!!”

Hours later, @OccupyFortWorth expressed its support for Freedom Waves for Gaza- “Our support for #Gaza and #Freedomwaves is limitless. It emanates and echoes from the deepest purest regions of our heart. Love. Solidarity”, asserting, in contrast to #OccupyWallSt’s hesitancy, that “we don’t mind losing followers who are uncritical or unwilling to engage the issues (Or who are reflexively pro-Zionist.)”.

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‘Freedom Waves to Gaza’ flotilla leaves Turkey headed to Gaza

copied from my MondoWeiss article here

On Wednesday, November 2, two international ships left the Turkish harbor to carry humanitarian aid through the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

The event, called ‘Freedom Waves for Gaza’,  unites 27 activists from 9 countries, including America, Canada, Denmark, Belgium, Germany and Australia, alongside Palestinians from Bethlehem and Haifa, in a broad-based international movement to break Israel’s illegal and immoral suffocation of the 1.6 million inhabitants of the Gaza Strip. The Irish yacht Saoirse (Freedom), which carries 15 activists, and the Canadian boat Tahrir (Liberation), which holds 12, will attempt to carry $30,000 in medical supplies beyond the Israeli blockade later this week. ‘Freedom Waves for Gaza’ is the 11th attempt by international activists to deliver humanitarian aid through the Israeli blockade of Gaza since 2008.

For more Democracy Now reporting on the Freedom Waves flotilla see here.

As the boats navigate international waters, Palestinian youth activists will parade a large wooden effigy of the aid boats through the streets of Ramallah, while distributing white armbands and ribbons emblazoned ‘Freedom Waves for Gaza’. In addition, they will hold a demonstration outside of the UN office in Ramallah on Thursday, demanding that the UN end its compliance with the Israeli blockade and protect the humanitarian mission.

Indeed, in a letter given to the UN on Wednesday, Palestinian youth insisted that “it is incumbent upon the UN to take urgent steps to protect the boats en route to Gaza and all of the humanitarian volunteers aboard, as well as to declare its support for nonviolent, humanitarian action, designed to do what the UN and its members states have thus far failed to do.”

tahrir boat for web
The tahrir docked in Turkey. (Photo: Lina Attalah)

Organizers of the flotilla mission withheld the news from the world until the boats reached international waters, to prevent Israeli or international sabotage that plagued previous aid attempts. Though the humanitarian vessels departed from Fethiye, Turkey, organizers insist that the Turkish government is not involved with Freedom Waves for Gaza. Says Huwaida Arraf, “because Freedom Flotilla 1 was mostly an international effort, and because with the Mavi Marmara Turkish people were killed, it became mainly a Turkish thing…which detracted from the fact that it really was an international effort. So this time we want to show that it’s not just Turkey, its an international effort.” In fact, no Turkish citizens are aboard either of the two ships.

Freedom Waves for Gaza comes at a time when minor improvements to the situation- such as the opening of the Rafah land crossing from Egypt to Gaza in May- or minor concessions by Israel- such as its allowance of minor consumer goods into Gaza in the wake of the Mavi Marmara massacre in 2010, touted internationally as an ‘easing of the blockade’ (though it led led 10-year-old Gaza schoolchild Abed Rahmen Jadee to lament ‘I don’t want any more snacks or coke. I want a new school’)- have done little to meaningfully alleviate the humanitarian crisis that plagues the 1.6 million inhabitants of Gaza, half of whom are under the age of 16.

Organizer Huwaida Arraf, chair of the Free Gaza movement, stresses that “by reaching Palestinians through their own port, the flotilla defies the dehumanization of a whole population and supports the continuing efforts of the people of Gaza to assert their dignity. The Palestinians will accept nothing less than a total end to the illegal Israeli blockade of Gaza and all forms of violence and discrimination against them.”

The most recent figures published by the UN and international humanitarian and human rights organizations confirm that roughly 75 – 80% of the population rely on international aid in order to survive; 65% live below the poverty line; 52% are food insecure; approximately 40% are unemployed; there are no building materials for much-needed schools and hospitals; 90 – 95% of the drinking water is contaminated and unfit for consumption; seriously ill patients cannot get access to the specialist treatment that would potentially save their lives; and children are suffering untreated post-traumatic stress as a result of the white phosphorous shells used illegally in Israel’s invasion in January 2009.

In its declaration to the UN, the Palestinian youth stated that “in our schools, universities and through our organizations, we are taught about human rights and international law, and yet it seems like Palestinians fall into a class of people upon whom these rights don’t apply. Like the blacks in America a half a century ago, or in South Africa two decades ago, we are victims of an exclusivist ideology and those who tolerate and enable it.”

The declaration continues- “Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit has been returned to his family, removing one of Israel’s main pretexts, albeit not a justification, for its Draconian closure policy.  And while 1027 Palestinian prisoners have been exchanged for Shalit (although 550 have yet to be released), over 1.5 million Palestinians remain caged in the prison that is Gaza.”

During the campaign, Witness Gaza (witnessgaza.com) will be a central information hub, in contact with representative organizations from activists’ home countries. Palestinian youth representatives will be updating the world via Twitter at #PALWaves, as will international activists aboard the ships- unless Israel jams the communications signal, as has occurred in previous flotilla aid attempts.

In Wednesday’s press release, Majd Kayyal, a Palestinian activist from Haifa aboard the Tahrir, insisted that “Israel has caged Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, prohibiting physical contact between us. We want to break the siege Israel has imposed on our people. The fact that we’re in international waters is already a victory for the movement.”

As new Israeli airstrikes are claiming lives in Gaza, and as Benjamin Netanyahu threatens to intensify the bombardments, it is due time to once again bring to the world’s attention what the UN in 2009 called the ‘protracted human dignity crisis’ caused by Israel’s closure of Gaza. Says Huwaida Arraf, “the people of Gaza have called on the peoples and governments of the world to challenge an illegal, immoral, and irrational Israeli naval blockade that has caused, and continues to cause, incalculable human suffering. We are responding to that call. Our primary aim is to overcome the continuing blockade of Gaza through civil resistance and non-violent direct action, and to establish a permanent sea lane between Gaza and the rest of the world.”

For up to the minute information on the Freedom Waves flotilla:  http://witnessgaza.com/

On Twitter: @PalWaves #FreedomWaves

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