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Activists sailing for Gaza anticipate confrontation with Israeli Navy

More than 750 international activists were speeding along the Mediterranean Sea from Turkey to the Gaza Strip over the weekend, hoping to deliver aid to the beleaguered Palestinian population there. They have piled into eight cargo ships carrying about 10,000 tons of food, water and construction materials, and have proclaimed themselves the “International Freedom Flotilla.”

Israel, most likely, will stop them.

The aid effort, which has been organized by groups like the European Campaign Against the Siege of Gaza, may be an inherently aggressive act, designed to provoke Israel into embarrassing itself on the world stage. In addition to food, the activists are toting wheelchairs and playground sets, and have come prepared for a protracted stand-off with the Israeli Navy.

“Our point is to break the blockade, and to let the Palestinians have the same quality of life that you and I do,” Greta Berlin, co-founder of the Free Gaza movement, told Need to Know in a telephone interview from Cyprus, where she is organizing the flotilla. “We probably have enough supplies on board our boats for a couple of weeks.”

The Israeli Navy, meanwhile, has dispatched gun ships to Gaza’s coastal waters, and has promised to arrest the pro-Palestinian activists. Israeli officials say they will then transport the cargo to Gaza, but Berlin said she doubted the material would make it to residents of the territory.

Israel has maintained a crippling blockade of Gaza since 2006, when Hamas took control of the territory in local elections. Both Israel and the United States have labeled Hamas a terrorist organization, and Israel has attempted to prevent the group from staging attacks. But the cost of Israeli’s policy has been a decline in living conditions in Gaza, as a recent report by the United Nations mission there detailed.

The flotilla represents a delicate public relations problem for Israel. For one, the ships will be carrying as many as 20 members of parliament from countries like Ireland and Turkey. If Israel arrests them, or perhaps even sparks a protracted and potentially bloody stand-off, the move could earn Israeli leaders worldwide condemnation, just as indirect peace talks get under way.

On the other hand, if Israel allows the ships to pass, it would effectively signal a weakening of the blockade and, by extension, of Israel’s resolve to defeat the hardline government there. Past center-left governments under former Prime Minister Ehud Barak have allowed activists to deliver aid to Gaza.

But the current government, a center-right coalition headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has promised to turn the aid workers back — including by force, if necessary.

“We really have all determination and political will to prevent this provocation against us,” the Israeli foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said on Friday. “I think that we’re ready at any cost.”



  • Paul Stiga

    Why does the headline position this as a story about “activists” hoping to “provoke, embarass
    Israel”? Why is the possibility of its being a humanitarian act buried, with one reference to the “beleaguered” Palestinian population and a single throwaway sentence at the end of paragraph six? This is biased reporting at its absolute worst.

  • Sal Gentile

    Hi Paul,

    Thanks for reading.

    I’m only reporting what the activists themselves have said. Here’s another quote from my interview:

    “We’ve put them in a real heck of a bind, haven’t we? That’s exactly what we were hoping would happen. … We hope we’ve embarrassed them.”

    We’ve detailed the humanitarian conditions in Israeli-controlled territories with large Arab populations before (see here: but this article was about the political challenge posed by the flotilla, which its own organizers admit is designed to provoke the Israeli military into doing something embarrassing (such as arresting or detaining the passengers).

    Sal Gentile

  • ejh

    I’m really puzzled by this undertaking. If they have a confrontation with the Israelis, it’s likely that the West Bank Palestinians who are starting peace talks with the Israelis will refuse to continue. Though we know that Abbas and company have little friendship with Hamas, anything that looks as if Palestinians are under attack will force the West Bank group to show solidarity. I’m sure the flotilla folks know this. Why risk further delay in peace talks? What’s the gain? Israelis have said they’ll truck the flotilla’s aid into Gaza.

  • E. Rivers

    I am in agreement with Mr. Stiga. Mr. Gentile starts with a very opinionated title, focusing on only one aspect – that it’s an “attempt to provoke”. It’s no surprise that he’s indirectly condemning this flotilla. Did Sal interview any of the inhabitants of Gaza? He used the terms “beleaguered” and “decline in living conditions”. I imagine that’s his gentle term for “starving” or “dieing”. What’s it like in Gaza? Why would this flotilla want to have the world focus on this issue? Who has donated to this flotilla and why? Why would Israel not want cement & toys to be delivered?

    Let’s try to have the replacements for Moyers & NOW at least TRY to question authority, rather than be its puppet. As stated elsewhere, we’d be better off listening to Democracy Now and Aljazeera if we want “truth spoken to power”.