Gaza flotilla update from the ECAJ and ZFA

June 2, 2010 by J-Wire Staff
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The Executive Council of Australian Jewry and the Zionist Federation of Australia have issued a joint statement on the Gaza flotilla incident.

ECAJ President Robert Goot

The two presidents, Robert Goot and Philip Chester have said:

“We are profoundly saddened by the loss of life in this incident.  Our hearts and prayers go out to the families of the dead and the wounded.

News is still filtering out as to what occurred on one of the six ships the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) boarded that were running the maritime blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.  With growing evidence, it appears that there is much more to this incident than was initially reported.

It is significant that the violence occurred on only one of the six ships.  This was the ship under the control of the so-called Foundation for Human Rights, Liberties, and Humanitarian Relief organization (IHH), which has known links to al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.  There are many serious unanswered questions about the role of the IHH in pre-planning and initiating the violence and about its links to members of the Government of Turkey.

We urge the media and the public to await the facts and not rush to judgment.   Nevertheless there is abundant evidence from video clips that when Israeli soldiers began to board the lead ship, one by one as they rappelled down a rope onto the deck, they were attacked with knives, clubs, bars, concussion grenades and firearms.  In the videos, Israeli soldiers are seen being clubbed, stabbed, and in one instance thrown off the deck.  There is no evidence of any use of live ammunition by any Israelis until after they were attacked and their lives were at stake.  Israeli soldiers suffered serious wounds, including gunshot and stab wounds and at least one soldier, who was flung from an upper deck some 30 feet to a lower deck, suffered a severe concussion.  At least one soldier jumped overboard to save his life. Those attacking the Israeli soldiers were not “non-violent peace activists” and should not be permitted to hide behind that description.

Israel and Hamas are in a state of armed conflict in the course of which Hamas a radical Islamist terrorist group that openly seeks the destruction of Israel, makes no secret of its desire to smuggle weapons and munitions into the Gaza Strip for use against Israeli civilians.  Under international law, Israel is entitled to defend its citizens and to impose a blockade against Gaza to hinder the smuggling of weapons by Hamas and other groups.

ZFA President Philip Chester

The San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea, 12 June 1994 (para 67(a))  entitles Israel to intercept ships which it reasonably believes are seeking to break the blockade, even in international waters.  Gaza flotilla spokesperson Greta Berlin acknowledged that the primary goal of the flotilla organizers was political, not humanitarian, telling AFP on May 27, “This mission is not about delivering humanitarian supplies, it’s about breaking Israel’s siege” of Gaza.  Israel had warned the flotilla repeatedly not to try to land in Gaza, but the flotilla leaders chose to ignore the warnings.  Both Israel and Egypt offered to offload any humanitarian cargo at their ports and transfer it to Gaza, but that offer was rejected as was a request from the family of Gilad Shalit to take a package to him in captivity in Gaza.

Whilst there is poverty and privation in parts of Gaza, nobody is starving, and there are also significant areas of prosperity.  During the week before last 637 truckloads, consisting of 14,069 tons of food, medical supplies and humanitarian aid arrived in Gaza via Israel.  The Egyptians, who control Gaza’s Sinai border, severely restrict traffic movements into and out of Gaza.

Among the goods delivered to Gazan civilians just last week were 810,209 litres of heavy duty diesel fuel; 21 truckloads of milk powder and baby food; 897 tons of cooking gas; 66 truckloads of fruits and vegetables; 51 truckloads of wheat; 27 truckloads of meat, chicken and fish products; 40 truckloads of dairy products; 117 truckloads of animal feed; 36 truckloads of hygiene products; 38 trucks of clothing; 22 trucks of sugar and 4 trucks of medicine and medical equipment. This was a typical week.

In addition to that, 781 medical patients and accompanying individuals from the Gaza Strip crossed into Israel to receive treatment in various hospitals and 191 staff members of international organizations crossed into the Gaza Strip, and 202 crossed back from Gaza.  There is no “siege”.

There are restrictions on building materials going into Gaza because Hamas rejects any mechanism to ensure that these supplies reach Palestinian civilians and are not diverted for Hamas’ military purposes.  Hamas has form in that regard.  After Operation Cast Lead, Hamas stole blankets from UNRWA that the Israelis had allowed in.  The blankets were only returned because UNRWA protested and the media, unusually, gave the story some coverage.

If Hamas wanted to help the ordinary people of Gaza, it would accept a monitoring system by the Quartet to ensure that all supplies allowed in to Gaza directly benefit civilians and that none are “appropriated” by Hamas.  It would be the height of irresponsibility to call for the end of the blockade without the adoption of a credible system of monitoring, as this would simply lead to the rearmament of Hamas and other groups dedicated to the pursuit of Israel’s violent destruction, a renewal of rocket attacks against civilian population centres in Israel and another round of blood-shed.

There is much more to be learned about the tragedy on Monday, and in the coming days more information will be forthcoming.  We hope and expect that the Israeli government will undertake a full investigation of this episode and the procedures its military employed and determine how best to exercise its right and duty to protect its population in similar situations in the future while minimising the risk of loss of life.  This tragedy emphasizes again the need for new momentum in the peace process leading to an end of the conflict.

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