Saturday, June 19, 2010

Gaza Freedom Flotilla: The New Freedom Riders

Gaza Freedom Flotilla — the new Freedom Riders

By Joyce Chediac
Published Jun 16, 2010 4:37 PM

The heroes and heroines of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, so brutally attacked by Israeli commandos on May 31, have transformed the struggle to break the siege of Gaza and raised it to a higher level. They are the new Freedom Riders.

Freedom Riders were Civil Rights activists who rode interstate buses into the southern United States 50 years ago to defy racist segregation practices. Like the Palestinians, the African-American population of the South lived under a separate, apartheid system, called “Jim Crow.”

Merely because these Black and white activists traveled together, ate together and shared facilities together where it was forbidden, they were attacked, beaten and even murdered by racists. Their vehicles were firebombed while the local police looked away. Their willingness to risk their lives exposed the brutality of Jim Crow racism and inspired others, who were appalled by the violence against them.

Freedom Riders transformed the Civil Rights Movement and marked a turning point in that struggle, which then grew throughout the South.

When nine courageous Gaza Freedom Flotilla activists were killed and scores wounded by Israeli commandos on May 31 for merely trying to bring food, medicine and housing materials to the besieged people of Gaza, the world was horrified and outraged. The illusion that Israel had any legitimate case against the people or government of Gaza was shattered and Israeli brutality exposed before the world.

More Freedom Flotillas are now on their way to Gaza, and the worldwide boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel is growing by leaps and bounds.

Israeli investigation called ‘farce’

Rejecting a United Nations call for an international inquiry into its murderous commando raid, on June 14 Israel’s cabinet approved an Israeli government-appointed commission to investigate its own attack on the aid ship. This “independent public commission” doesn’t seem very independent. Led by retired Israeli Supreme Court Justice Jacob Turkel, it will have two foreign observers, but only as non-voting members.

Israel claims its commission would “examine the legality of Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza and whether the raid on the flotilla conformed with the rules of international law.” (New York Times, June 14)

But Israel’s newspaper of record says that the Israeli government really seeks to investigate its victims. “The truth that Netanyahu wishes to bring out involves the identity of the flotilla’s organizers, its sources of funding and the knives and rods that were brought aboard,” the paper wrote. “He does not intend to probe the decision-making process that preceded the takeover of the ship and the shortcomings that were uncovered.” (Haaretz, June 13)

Even Haaretz calls this investigation a “farce.”

U.S. — A silent partner in Israeli commando raid

Washington, it seems, is a participant in the farce. Just hours after Israel announced its “independent” investigation, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs “welcomed” it as “an important step forward.”

Washington has criticized neither Israel’s commando attack nor its 36-month blockade of Gaza. U.S. officials have said as little as possible about the commando raid, while continuing to funnel funds to Tel Aviv. In fact, Washington’s huge economic and military support for Israel and its political cover for Tel Aviv make it accountable for Israeli actions and a silent partner in the deadly commando raid.

While Washington may disagree with Israeli tactics, the Pentagon has its hands full with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Israel remains the Pentagon’s most reliable ally to keep the oppressed Palestinians and other peoples in line in that oil-rich and strategic area. There are no splits on this in U.S. ruling circles.

Recently Congress added $205 million to the $3 billion the U.S. already gives the Israeli military each year for a missile system. The additional sum was approved by a bipartisan vote of 401 legislators.

Flotilla forces Egypt, Arab League response

In addition to changing the character of struggle, the Freedom Flotilla is responsible for a chain of political events. On June 7, an Egyptian security official declared the blockade on Gaza a “failure” and opened Egypt’s border with Gaza “indefinitely.”

Egypt is one of the most repressive regimes in the area and a colluder with Israel in the siege of Gaza. Egypt had previously placed every obstacle in the way of Viva Palestina delegations attempting to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza via Egypt’s border. This included physically attacking the delegations, threatening to strand them in the Sinai Desert, confiscating their material aid and deporting their leaders.

Egypt has now opened the Gaza border out of fear of its own population, which has been inspired by the solidarity of the Freedom Flotilla and angered by the Israeli attack.

And on June 13 Secretary General Amr Moussa of the Arab League toured Gaza for the first time since Hamas took control there. Moussa, the highest-ranking Arab diplomat to visit in three years, entered Gaza from Egypt through the newly opened border and immediately called for lifting the blockade.

Where was the Arab League for the last three years? Until the Freedom Flotilla, the 22-member group did not speak out seriously against the siege.

Surely the Arab countries, where the people feel so deeply the 60 years of Palestinian repression and the siege of Gaza, would be the logical place to organize flotillas to break the blockade. However, most Arab regimes are in the vest pocket of Wall Street and fear that any show of mass sentiment in their countries could result in their own overthrow. Flotillas from their countries would not be tolerated.

Turkey’s contradictions

Meanwhile, Turkey’s popularity among the peoples of the Middle East has skyrocketed following its denunciations of Israel’s tactics and because it let the flotilla organize from its shores and provided political support. Turkish flags and posters of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan have been prominent in demonstrations around the world protesting the Israeli commando attack.

When Israel attacked a Turkish ship in the flotilla, eight of the flotilla participants killed by Israeli commandos were Turks and the ninth was a Turkish American. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who called for an international investigation, dismissed Israel’s proposed panel. He said “We have no trust at all that Israel ... will conduct an impartial investigation.”

There are contradictions here. Turkey, a key U.S. client, was one of the earliest regimes to recognize the Israeli state after it displaced Palestine. However, the Turkish government is strongly against the siege of Gaza and often speaks out against it.

While this view reflects the strong feelings of the Turkish people and plays well for Turkey’s domestic audience, the Erdogan government is also seeking some international autonomy.

U.S. wars in the Middle East have hurt the Turkish economy. Turkey has not been admitted to the European Union. So Turkey is striking out more on its own, politically and economically, wanting trade and better relations with Middle Eastern neighbors such as Iran and Syria, which Washington has branded “terrorist.”
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