In the second half of May 2011 another flotilla is set to arrive in the eastern Mediterranean, deliberately timed to coincide with the one year anniversary of the violent events aboard the ‘Mavi Marmara’ which attempted to run Israel’s naval blockade – an incident which resulted in several Israeli injuries and the death of nine Turkish passengers who initiated the violence.
The 2010 flotilla caught Israel off-guard: despite the warning signs it was wrongly presumed that, as had been the case with previous and subsequent attempts to break the naval blockade of Gaza, the event would end peacefully. Untold damage was done to Israel’s reputation abroad and those seeking to undermine Israel’s legitimacy received vast media attention.
This document attempts to provide a ‘first-aid kit’ of information and useful links which can be used to publicise in advance the motivations and aims of the players behind the upcoming flotilla.
The May 2011 flotilla is a joint venture organised by three main bodies: the ‘Free Gaza’ campaign, The European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza and the IHH – Insani Yardim Vakti or Foundation for Human Rights and Freedom and Humanitarian Relief. However, in order to understand what lies behind and links these three organisations, it is necessary to look further afield.
The Federation of Islamic Organisations in Europe (FIOE) is a Brussels-based umbrella body set up in 1989 with strong ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, links to Hamas and largely funded by Gulf sources. One of the FIOE’s sub-organisations is the European Council for Fatwa and Research which is headed by Yussuf al Qaradawi, a prominent spiritual leader within the Muslim Brotherhood, who is renowned for the issuing of fatwas supporting suicide bombing in Israel.
Qaradawi also heads the Union of Good – an umbrella body of charities which support and finance Hamas – which was set up in October 2000 to support Hamas activity during the second Intifada. In 2002 the Union of Good was proscribed by Israel and in 2008 it was designated a terrorist supporting organisation by the United States. Since the 2007 Hamas-Fatah split, organisations coming under the Union of Good umbrella have been at work in Palestinian Authority controlled areas to strengthen Hamas’ influence there and prevent the replacement of armed conflict with negotiations aimed at reaching a peace agreement. The Palestinian Authority and its Prime Minister Salam Fayyad have taken steps to outlaw Union of Good affiliated bodies there.
What does all this have to do with the upcoming flotilla?
Well the Turkish organisation the IHH, which was also involved in the last flotilla and whose activists were those who initiated violence against Israeli soldiers, is a member of the Union of Good and as such was banned by Israel. In 2009 an IHH activist was deported from Israel after he tried to set up an office in Judea and Samaria and transferred money to an organisation known for making payments to the families of suicide bombers. The IHH has a permanent representative in the Gaza Strip – Mehmet (Mohammed) Kaya. The president of the IHH, Bulent Yildirim, took part in the 2010 flotilla and can be seen here speaking aboard the Mavi Marmara.
European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza:
In 2007 the Federation of Islamic Organisations in Europe set up the ‘European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza’. In theory, the ECESG is a Brussels-based organisation but in practice it operates out of the same north London offices as used by the Palestinian Return Centre and several of the personnel of the PRC – some with known Hamas links – are active in the ECESG. Arafat Madi Shukri was a co-founder of the ECESG, functions as its Chairman and is also operations director for the PRC. General Director of the PRC Majed al Zeer is also involved with the ECEG and the PRC spokesman, Zaher al Birawi also functions as spokesman for ‘Viva Palestina’. The PRC, founded in 1996 in rejection of the Oslo accords, was also outlawed by Israel due to its Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood links.
Another person involved with both the PRC and the ECESG is Gaza-born Sameh Habeeb, who also established and runs the ‘Palestine Telegraph’ which has been the subject of much controversy due to (amongst other things) its promotion of Holocaust deniers and the infamous Aftonbladet libel against Israel regarding alleged organ theft. Habeeb caused further controversy when he invited the far-Right Hungarian politician Krisztina Moravi of Jobbik to speak at the Palestinian Return Centre and then threatened objectors with legal action.
Current spokesman for the ECESG and the upcoming May 2011 flotilla is one Rami Abdu, a Gazan PhD student at Manchester Metropolitan University who until moving to the UK in 2009 acted as spokesman for the Gaza-based pro-Hamas ‘Popular Committee Against the Siege’. Here he is ‘not threatening’ Israelis.
Like the IHH, the ECESG was also involved in the organisation of the 2010 flotilla, among others. Despite its Hamas links and the fact that Hamas is proscribed by the European Union and Britain, supporters of the ECESG include Clare Short, Lord Ahmed, Baroness Jenny Tonge, Brian Iddon and Roger Godsiff.
The third organisation involved in the organisation of the 2011 flotilla is ‘Free Gaza’. At least three of its officials – Adam Shapiro, Huwaida Arraf and Greta Berlin – were also instrumental in the establishment of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) which is known for its Hamas ties. The two British suicide bombers who attacked a Tel Aviv bar in 2003 are known to have met with ISM members beforehand at a memorial event for another ISM activist, Rachel Corrie.
Established in 2008, ‘Free Gaza’ has representatives in Gaza itself and its endorsers include such well-known names on the anti-Israel activism scene as Noam Chomsky, Jeff Halper of ICHAD, Naomi Klein, John Pilger, Irish Sinn Feinn Parliament member Aengus O’Snodaigh and British peer Jenny Tonge – who also supports the ECESG and was formerly a patron of Sameh Habeeb’s ‘Palestine Telegraph’.
Further UK Islamist involvement:
Delegations to the May 2011 flotilla are being organised in around twelve countries including Ireland, the United States – where the ISM is recruiting ‘experienced non-violent resistance volunteers’ – and Britain. In the UK the organisation is under the banner ‘Britain 2 Gaza’ and is a coordinated effort of several bodies. These include the British Muslim Initiative (BMI) – an offshoot of the FIOE affiliated Muslim Association of Britain which was founded in 2007 with many of the same functionaries as MAB.
The president of the BMI is Muhammad Sawalha (also a member of MAB). Sawalha is a Hamas activist who has been living and operating in the UK since the early 1990s and one of the signatories of the ‘Istanbul Declaration’, along with Daoud Abdullah of MEMO and the PRC. Sawalha also has links with the IHH – according to their website he is the organisation’s co-ordinator in Europe – and was involved in the organisation of the previous flotilla as well as having been involved with ‘Viva Palestina’ road convoys. In December 2010 he spoke at an IHH rally in Turkey along with representatives from ‘Free Gaza’ and the ECESG.
Also involved in the British campaign are ‘Friends of Al Aqsa’ – the leader of which, Ismail Patel, is a member of the BMI and sailed aboard the Mavi Marmara in 2010 – the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC – Jenny Tonge is also one of their patrons), the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) and an organisation known as the Palestinian Forum of Britain which has as it spokesman the same Zaheer al Birawi as also works for the Palestinian Return Centre and ‘Viva Palestina’, and is a member of the Muslim Association of Britain. Both the PSC and StWC are supporters of the annual ‘Al Quds Day’ pro-Iranian regime rally, along with ‘Friends of Al Aqsa’ and the MAB.
Obviously, the link between all the above organisations is their support for Hamas and their rejection of a negotiated two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in favour of a ‘one-state solution’ – either explicitly, or implicitly via the influx of millions of descendents of Palestinian refugees to Israel, effectively meaning the end of Jewish self-determination .
Whilst some of the individual people taking part in this and previous flotillas may indeed consider themselves pro-Palestinian ‘peace activists’, it is amply apparent that the organisers of the campaign have clear links to Islamist and terrorist groups which are anything but peaceful. In an announcement dated 31/3/2011 the Free Gaza movement stated on its website that:
“We sail to confront and challenge an entire apartheid regime that must be dismantled through citizen action.”
The fact that the motives behind the flotilla are political and ideological rather than humanitarian has been made even clearer by the head of the IHH, who recently stated that:
“We are getting ready… There will be a ship from every country… in Europe. Our own Mavi Marmara will also set sail from Europe… Vessels will come from everywhere in the world…
“Israel will learn this: The Mediterranean does not belong to Israel… Just because we have had shahids, we are not fearful… We will not step back…
“Let all know this: Until the blockade on Gaza is lifted… and until our march to al-Aqsa is completed, this sea intifada and land intifada will continue!
“Also, it will not be only by sea. We are preparing for land convoys as well. And with Allah’s permission, our project for the purchase of an airplane will soon be realized. This way we will reach Gaza by air too.”
“What do we say to the world leaders? Do not expect us to live in peace, when people in Gaza are dying… And do not expect us to remain silent when al Aqsa mosque is a prisoner…
“We are saying this: We don’t have a problem with the Christians or Jews. Some of them were with us in our ships… But we do have a problem with one place! And we declare it with courage… without fear… We say this with no hesitation: Our problem is Zionism – which, like a virus, has infected all humanity!”
It is also very obvious that the ‘Freedom Flotilla 2’, like the previous one, has little to do with the transportation of humanitarian aid to Gaza, but is an elaborate exercise in public relations designed solely to provoke another conflict in hopes of further undermining Israel’s legitimacy.
Not only was the previous flotilla not carrying any significant aid of value, but its organisers refused to accept Israeli offers of transportation of goods to Gaza through the conventional channels, as accepted by the United Nations. Representatives of the ECESG (along with Hamas) also expressed opposition to Israel’s easing of the restrictions on goods transported daily into Gaza in June 2010. Details of all goods transported into and exported from Gaza via Israel are readily available and constantly updated here.
As recently as March 15th 2011, the IDF intercepted the latest ship smuggling weapons into Gaza, highlighting the need for the continuation of the naval blockade on Gaza for as long as the Hamas regime remains at war with Israel. According to the Laws of Armed Conflict, Israel’s blockade on Gaza is entirely legitimate and the legal aspects of it can be found here and here.
One of the legal conditions of the enforcement of a blockade is that it must be effective, impartial and enforced. In other words, allowing some ships to pass the blockade whilst stopping others like the arms-smuggling ‘Victoria’ would render the blockade illegal. Israel has therefore already requested that the UN block attempts by the upcoming May 2011 flotilla to break the blockade in order to avoid confrontation and has approached the governments of flotilla participants, asking them to warn their citizens not to travel. Predictably, this has been rejected by the organisers of the flotilla, who seem to be determined to ensure yet another well-publicised clash between so-called ‘peace activists’ and the Israeli navy.
Supporters of Israel may not be able to prevent that, but hopefully the information provided here will assist in making it clear exactly who is behind the next flotilla and what their real motives are.