On Friday the Israeli Navy intercepted two activist boats in international
waters, violently arresting those on board and transferring them to an
Israeli jail. The boats, according to the activists, were badly damaged
during the operation that was meant to challenge Israel’s blockade of the
Gaza Strip. The Real News’ Lia Tarachansky spoke with Sari Bashi, the
Executive Director of Gisha, an Israeli organization that works with
Gazans on the freedom of movement about how the siege and blockade
evolved since implemented in 2007. Tarachansky also speaks with Gaza-
based journalist Safa Joudah.
LIA TARACHANSKY, TRNN: On Friday, the Israeli Navy intercepted two boats of North American and Irish activists bound for Gaza. The boats were the latest in an ongoing attempt by the Gaza Freedom movement to challenge the naval blockade on the strip.
ISRAELI NAVY SEAMAN: This is the Israeli Navy. The Gaza area and coastal region are closed to all maritime traffic as part of a maritime blockade imposed for security purposes on the Gaza Strip. Your attempt to enter the Gaza Strip by sea is a violation of international law.
TARACHANSKY: In 2010, during the ninth attempt to set sail for Gaza, six ships were intercepted by the Israeli Navy when commandos boarded them, leading to nine activists getting killed. The incident stirred such international pressure that Israel eased many of its restrictions on the Gaza strip, allowing, for example, most imports. This summer, just days before the last flotilla was to set sail, the Israeli government held a press conference with Yuli Edelstein, the minister of public diplomacy and diaspora affairs. When asked about the effectiveness of the flotilla in pressuring Israel, the minister denied it.
REPORTER: Some would say that the improved conditions in Gaza, the 16 percent growth, is a result of the flotilla [incompr.]
YULI EDELSTEIN, INFORMATION AND DIASPORA MINISTER OF ISRAEL: Well, I even don’t know how to answer that seriously. But the only serious answer I can give you is that in a couple of minutes we’ll hear from Major General Dangot, who will inform us about all the steps that Israel has taken during the last year in order to really improve the conditions and improve the supplies going in the Gaza Strip.
TARACHANSKY: The legality of the blockade has been in dispute among both international and Israeli legal experts. While a UN Human Rights Council report found it to be illegal, a more recent UN report, commissioned by the secretary-general, separated the naval blockade from the general siege on Gaza, and found that component to be legal. Human rights organizations and the organizers of the boats reject this conclusion, calling it political, on the ground that its writers, among them former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe, did not constitute a fact-finding mission. The aim of the document, known as the Palmer Report, which was generally critical of Israel, was to establish whether the Israeli army used excessive force in its attack on the 2010 Freedom Flotilla, where eight Turkish and one American activist were killed. It did not use witness testimonies, but instead relied on the internal investigations of the Israeli and Turkish governments, and itself noted that it was not acting as a court and was not asked to adjudicate on legal liability.
ISRAELI NAVY SEAMAN: What is your port of origin?
FLOTILLA ACTIVIST: Turkey.
ISRAELI NAVY SEAMAN: What is your cargo?
FLOTILLA ACTIVIST: We have no cargo.
ISRAELI NAVY SEAMAN: How many passengers do you carry?
FLOTILLA ACTIVIST: We are 12 in total. We have no cargo.
TARACHANSKY: While one boat carried no cargo, the other carried medicines that were supposed to be delivered in the last attempt to set sail in the summer. But in June, Israeli diplomatic pressure prevented the boats from even leaving the Greek ports. This time, the boats left secretly from a Turkish port and did not notify the authorities of their destination. The boats’ organizers state their aim is to challenge the siege on Gaza as part of Israel’s overall occupation of the Palestinian territories. But the siege has changed since it was implemented in 2007. Originally, this land, sea, and air blockade was put in place when in the last elections Gazans voted for Hamas, a party listed by many countries as a terrorist organization. When implemented, the siege halted the movement of goods and people in and out of Gaza, effectively sealing the Strip. The Real News spoke with Sari Bashi, the executive director of Gisha, an Israeli organization that works with Gazans on the freedom of movement.
SARI BASHI, EXEC. DIRECTOR, GISHA: Now, in 2010, following the last flotilla, Israel canceled its ban on consumer products entering Gaza and on raw materials entering Gaza, which was very helpful. But what they did not do was cancel the ban on export, on construction materials entering, and on people traveling back and forth between Gaza and the West Bank. So, for example, because of the ban on export, while the biscuit factory in Gaza can now bring in chocolate and other raw materials, they can’t sell their goods outside of Gaza, especially in the West Bank, so economic recovery is very limited. The Israeli government claims that it does not occupy Gaza and that it has no obligations whatsoever toward the civilian population, except for those minimal obligations under the law of armed conflict. So then they were stuck: why are they then controlling the coastline if they’re not an occupying power?
TARACHANSKY: Earlier, The Real News also spoke with Safa Joudah, a Gaza-based journalist, about the economic progress since Israel began easing its ban on imports a year ago.
SAFA JOUDAH, JOURNALIST BASED IN GAZA: Gazans have been under siege for a number of years now, and they are very, very resourceful people. If they want to renovate a building, it’s not something that they can do on a wide scale, obviously, but they will gather old bricks, and they will recycle them, and they will make cement, and they will renovate some kind of–like, a public building or something that really needs to be renovated. They will build houses out of mud. They will [incompr.] recycled rubble. They will use the iron and the steel left over from the bombings, from the Israeli bombings of buildings, and they will put it to use. They have managed to make their cars run on cooking oil.
TARACHANSKY: Edelstein claimed that as a result of most imports now getting in, the Gazan economy is booming, with 15 percent economic growth last year.
EDELSTEIN: Now the necessity of humanitarian aid itself. Well, it’s always good to help. I’m sure that there are all kinds of international bodies that are trying to help the population of Gaza Strip. But we also have to keep in mind that there is 16 percent economic growth in the Gaza Strip.
JOUDAH: Things are just pretty much the same way as they were a year ago, except that you have a couple more different brands of Israeli [incompr.] cookies [incompr.] cookies or chocolate in the market. You–you know, you have a wider selection of cereal and chips. But that’s not really what people need. That’s not making a difference to the economy.
TARACHANSKY: But while the minister of public affairs was questioning the need for humanitarian aid, the Israeli army’s coordinator for the body that administers and controls the Gaza Strip spoke of dozens of humanitarian assistance projects underway coordinated by Israel, administered by the Palestinians, and funded by the US, Japan, and the European Union.
MAJ. GEN. EITAN DANGOT, COORDINATOR, GOV’T ACTIVITIES IN THE TERRITORIES: Only [incompr.] of the projects, I think this is one of the main symbol, that we are talking today of 150 projects that were approved.
BASHI: The restrictions were deliberately aimed to dismantle the economy. That’s why, for example, you couldn’t bring in raw materials, although you could bring in finished food items. Now some of that policy has been changed, and Israel is also now allowing about 1,000 merchants to leave Gaza per month for business in the West Bank and in Israel, which is helpful. But there are aspects of the policy that continue to deliberately dismantle the economy–for example, the ban on export. There is no security justification. Nobody is challenging Israel’s authority to inspect the goods as they leave Gaza. But where they are purely civilian goods–and they are; we’re talking about furniture and clothing and ice cream–Israel has to let it go through, and that’s not what’s happening.
TARACHANSKY: The Gaza Flotilla boats were towed to the Israeli port of Ashdod and the activists held in detention. [incompr.] their spokesperson, estimates they will be questioned and deported back to their home countries within days. For The Real News, I’m Lia Tarachansky in Tel Aviv.
End of Transcript
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