FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Jailed for Sailing to Gaza

by MEDEA BENJAMIN and ROBERT NAIMAN

Two boats full of courageous passengers were on their way to Gaza when they were intercepted on Friday, November 4, by the Israeli military in international waters. We call the passengers courageous because they sailed from Turkey on November 2 with the knowledge that at any moment they might be boarded by Israeli commandos intent on stopping them—perhaps violently, as the Israeli military did in 2010 when they killed nine humanitarian aid workers on the Turkish boat named Mavi Marmara.

The boats—one from Canada and one from Ireland—were carrying 27 passengers, including press and peace activists from Ireland, Canada, the United States, Australia and Palestine. They were unarmed, and the Israeli military knew that. They were simply peace activists wanting to connect with civilians in Gaza, and the Israeli military knew that. Yet naked aggression was used against them in international waters—something that is normally considered an act of piracy.

The passengers on the boats were sailing to Gaza to challenge the U.S. – supported Israeli blockade that is crippling the lives of 1.6 million Palestinian civilians in Gaza. They were sailing to stand up against unaccountable power—the power of the Israeli government—that has been violating the basic rights of the 5.5 million Palestinians that live inside Israel’s pre-1967 borders or in the Occupied Territories.  They were sailing for us, civil society, who believe in human rights and the rule of law.

The Arab Spring – which has now spread to cities across the United States in the form of the “#occupy” movement, and has been echoed in protests against economic injustice in Europe and Israel as well – has fundamentally been a challenge to unaccountable power. Some countries experiencing this protest wave are dictatorships under military rule or ruled by monarchies; others are generally considered “democracies.” But in all instances the majority feel that they have been shut out of decision-making and have been harmed by policies benefiting a narrow elite with disproportionate power.

The blockade of Gaza’s civilians is an extreme example of unaccountable power. Palestinians in Gaza aren’t allowed to vote for Israeli or American politicians. But due to political decisions taken in Israel and the United States, Palestinians in Gaza are prevented from exporting their goods, traveling freely, farming their land, fishing their waters or importing construction materials to build their homes and factories.

We have been to Gaza before, where we have seen the devastation firsthand.  We have also been to Israel and the West Bank, where we have seen how the Israeli government is detaining Palestinians at checkpoints, building walls that cut them off from their lands, demolishing their houses, arbitrarily imprisoning their relatives and imposing economic restrictions that prevent them from earning a living. We have seen how Palestinians, like people everywhere, are desperate to live normal and dignified lives.

A UN Report released in September found that “Israel’s oppressive policies [in Gaza] constitute a form of collective punishment of civilians”, that these policies violate both international humanitarian and human rights law, and that the illegal siege of Gaza should be lifted.  The International Committee of the Red Cross also called the blockade of Gaza a violation of international law because it constitutes “collective punishment” of a civilian population for actions for which the civilians are not responsible. The Red Cross is a neutral humanitarian organization. It doesn’t usually go around making pronouncements on matters of public policy. The fact that it has done so in this case should be a strong signal to the international community that the blockade of Gaza is extreme and must fall.

History has shown us again and again that when political leaders decide it’s in their interest, then peace, diplomacy, negotiations are possible. Recently, Israel and Hamas – with the help of the new Egyptian government – successfully negotiated a prisoner exchange that had eluded them for five years. In speeches, the Israeli government “opposes negotiations with Hamas,” and in speeches, Hamas “opposes negotiations with Israel.” But when they decided it was in their interest, they had no problem sitting down at the table and hammering out an agreement.

If Israel and Hamas can negotiate an agreement to release prisoners, then surely Israel and Hamas can negotiate an agreement to lift the blockade on Gaza’s civilians.

But the people of Gaza can’t wait for political leaders to decide it’s in their interest to negotiate, so it’s up to us—as civil society—to step up the pressure. That’s what these waves of boats are doing. That’s what the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement is doing.

More than a year ago, President Obama called the blockade unsustainable. “It seems to us that there should be ways of focusing narrowly on arms shipments, rather than focusing in a blanket way on stopping everything and then, in a piecemeal way, allowing things into Gaza,” he said. That hasn’t happened. Why not? Why shouldn’t it happen now? What does blocking Palestinian exports from Gaza to Europe or keeping people from getting medical treatment abroad have to do with arms shipments?

The Israeli military stopped these two small ships carrying peace activists to Gaza, but they won’t stop the Palestinians who are demanding freedom, and they won’t stop the solidarity movement. We won’t stop challenging the blockade on Gaza’s civilians—by land and by sea– until the blockade falls. And we won’t stop challenging the denial of Palestinian democratic aspirations until those aspirations are realized.

Medea Benjamin is the cofounder of CODEPINK and Global Exchange.

Robert Naiman is the Director of Just Foreign Policy.

July 26, 2016
Andrew Levine
Pillory Hillary Now
Kshama Sawant
A Call to Action: Walk Out from the Democratic National Convention!
Russell Mokhiber
The Rabble Rise Together Against Bernie, Barney, Elizabeth and Hillary
Jeffrey St. Clair
Don’t Cry For Me, DNC: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Ellen Brown
Japan’s “Helicopter Money” Play: Road to Hyperinflation or Cure for Debt Deflation?
Angie Beeman
Why Doesn’t Middle America Trust Hillary? She Thinks She’s Better Than Us and We Know It
Paul Street
An Update on the Hate…
Fran Shor
Beyond Trump vs Clinton
Richard W. Behan
The Banana Republic of America: Democracy Be Damned
Binoy Kampmark
Undermining Bernie Sanders: the DNC Campaign, WikiLeaks and Russia
Arun Gupta
Trickledown Revenge: the Racial Politics of Donald Trump
Sen. Bernard Sanders
What This Election is About: Speech to DNC Convention
David Swanson
DNC Now Less Popular Than Atheism
Linn Washington Jr.
‘Clintonville’ Reflects True Horror of Poverty in US
Deepak Tripathi
Britain in the Doldrums After the Brexit Vote
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Threats: Arbitrary Lines on Political Maps
Robert J. Gould
Proactive Philanthropy: Don’t Wait, Reach Out!
Victor Grossman
Horror and Sorrow in Germany
Nyla Ali Khan
Regionalism, Ethnicity, and Trifurcation: All in the Name of National Integration
Andrew Feinberg
The Good TPP
400 US Academics
Letter to US Government Officials Concerning Recent Events in Turkey
July 25, 2016
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
As the Election Turns: Trump the Anti-Neocon, Hillary the New Darling of the Neocons
Ted Rall
Hillary’s Strategy: Snub Liberal Democrats, Move Right to Nab Anti-Trump Republicans
William K. Black
Doubling Down on Wall Street: Hillary and Tim Kaine
Russell Mokhiber
Bernie Delegates Take on Bernie Sanders
Quincy Saul
Resurgent Mexico
Andy Thayer
Letter to a Bernie Activist
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan is Strengthened by the Failed Coup, But Turkey is the Loser
Robert Fisk
The Hypocrisies of Terror Talk
Lee Hall
Purloined Platitudes and Bipartisan Bunk: An Adjunct’s View
Binoy Kampmark
The Futility of Collective Punishment: Russia, Doping and WADA
Nozomi Hayase
Cryptography as Democratic Weapon Against Demagoguery
Cesar Chelala
The Real Donald Trump
Julian Vigo
The UK’s Propaganda Machinery and State Surveillance of Muslim Children
Denis Conroy
Australia: Election Time Blues for Clones
Marjorie Cohn
Killing With Robots Increases Militarization of Police
David Swanson
RNC War Party, DNC War Makers
Eugene Schulman
The US Role in the Israeli-Palestine Conflict
Nauman Sadiq
Imran Khan’s Faustian Bargain
Peter Breschard
Kaine the Weepy Executioner
Weekend Edition
July 22, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Good as Goldman: Hillary and Wall Street
Joseph E. Lowndes
From Silent Majority to White-Hot Rage: Observations from Cleveland
Paul Street
Political Correctness: Handle with Care
Richard Moser
Actions Express Priorities: 40 Years of Failed Lesser Evil Voting
Eric Draitser
Hillary and Tim Kaine: a Match Made on Wall Street
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail