While IDF attacks Gaza, Israeli Diplomats Furiously Attempting to Halt the Gaza Freedom Flotilla
By Ann Wright
Israeli Diplomats Urged Countries to Stop the Gaza Flotilla
While the Israeli military pounded Gaza in the past month killing 14 Palestinians and wounding 52 including 19 children, Israeli diplomats embarked on a massive political campaign to stop the next international flotilla to Gaza that will challenge Israel’s naval blockade of the 1.5 million Palestinians who live in Gaza. In extensive meetings around the world, Israeli diplomats urged diplomats of European countries, Turkey, the United States and the United Nations to use their authority to stop the ships in the next flotilla to Gaza.
The second Gaza Freedom Flotilla is scheduled to sail in late May with more ships and more passengers than the May, 2010 Gaza Freedom Flotilla that the Israelis attacked killing 9 passengers and wounding 50. 22 countries have national campaigns to join the second flotilla.
Israel approaches the United Nations
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on April 4 that “Among other officials, senior Israeli diplomats have initiated discussions with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, to persuade him to take steps to prevent the departure of the flotilla.” Netanyahu said that organizers of the flotilla include "extremist Islamic elements whose aim is to create a provocation and bring about a conflagration." (http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/israel-pressing-un-to-halt-new... )
In response to Netanyahu’s allegations, "Nothing could be further from the truth," said Jane Hirschmann and Richard Levy in a joint statement for the U.S. boat, named "The Audacity of Hope." "We are appalled by this flagrant misrepresentation. The organizers and passengers of the U.S. boat--a committed, nonviolent, human rights mission sailing as part of the International Flotilla--are people from all walks of life, among them lawyers, social workers, artists, firefighters, midwives, writers, doctors, filmmakers, retired U.S. army personnel, veterans, women's rights organizers, teachers and nurses." The flotilla is not the problem, said Hirschmann and Levy in their statement. "Israel's conduct in Palestine is the problem. Israel's occupation of the West Bank, siege of Gaza, expansion of settlements, destruction of homes, usurpation of water and air rights, walls of confinement, brutal military presence, and daily sniper attacks on innocent civilians constitute the paramount violence and terrorism in the Mideast--conduct that we all abhor."
The U.S.-flagged "The Audacity of Hope" will be among many boats in the second International Freedom Flotilla, which its organizers said "will sail in peace and with a single nonviolent message, i.e., that the people of Gaza are entitled to the same life, liberty and pursuit of happiness that are the rights of every human being." http://ustogaza.org/latest/netanyahus-blatant-lies-answered-by-the-audac... 
Netanyahu talks with European Union Ambassadors
On April 11, 2011 at a luncheon he hosted in Jerusalem for European Union Ambassadors, Netanyahu told ambassadors from European countries “This flotilla must be stopped,” and urged Europe governments to prevent its citizens from taking part in the flotilla. http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/israel-urges-europe-to-sto... 
Netanyahu told the ambassadors that stopping the flotilla was a "common interest" for Israel and Europe. "We are aware that there is an attempted provocation in May, possibly early June of another so-called flotilla, not a peace flotilla but a provocation, a deliberate provocation to seek to ignite this part of the Middle East.”
During Netanyahu's meeting, EU ambassador to Israel Andrew Standley expressed the bloc's concern "at the lack of progress in the Middle East peace process." (http://www.eubusiness.com/news-eu/israel-palestinians.9ij )
Organizers from the Free Gaza movement said on their website, "If Israeli authorities thought that their attack on Freedom Flotilla 1 last year would break our momentum and scare us away from sailing to Gaza again, they were wrong, We are now organizing Freedom Flotilla 2, scheduled to set sail in late May 2011, with twice as many vessels as we had last year." http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/israel-urges-europe-to-sto... 
Special Israeli Appeal to Turkey to “Thwart the Gaza Flotilla”
On April 14, in an article titled “Israel to Turkey: Help us thwart upcoming Gaza flotilla,” Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that “Israel's ambassador to Turkey reiterated Jerusalem's opposition to the naval 'provocation,' and said that Israel would allow the passing of humanitarian aid to Gaza through other channels.”
The article noted that in an interview with the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet on April 12, Israeli ambassador to Turkey Gabby Levy said that the Israeli government had conducted talks with the Turkish government in an attempt to thwart the planned flotilla, saying that Israel had passed on the message that the flotilla was a "provocation" and must be stopped.” The Israeli ambassador also met the general director of the Turkish Foreign Ministry, where he repeated the same message in person.
Levy said that the diplomatic note Israel sent to Turkey did not state whether the flotilla would be stopped by force, "Our position in this matter is known and international law allows us to intervene if the ships pose a security threat." He also revealed that Israel had already appealed to several other countries, including Greece, the United States and France.
Levy said that the Israeli government “did not see any problem with the legal passing of humanitarian aid to the Hamas-ruled Strip, something that the Turkish Red Crescent was already doing.”
According to the Haaretz article, in an Israeli government briefing on April 12, officials said that Israel's policy concerning the event has not changed, saying that “ships would be stopped by force if they sailed to Gaza.” (http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/israel-to-turkey-help-us-t... )
Turkey continues military relationship with Israel despite Israeli murder of Turkish citizens
The government of Turkey has continued a military to military relationship with Israel despite its strong condemnation of the Israeli attack on the first Gaza Flotilla in May, 2010 in which Israeli commandos killed eight Turkish and one American citizen and the wounding of 50 more Turkish citizens. Five of those killed on the 600 passenger Turkish ship, the Mavi Marmara, were executed with shots to the head. 35 bullets were shot into the nine who were killed. The 19 year old American citizen Furkan Dogan was shot five times, including two shots in the head.
The Israeli government returned the Mavi Marmara to Turkey in December, 2010. The ship’s equipment had been severely damaged by the Israeli commandos and government, but the decks and bulkheads that had been stained by the blood of those injured and killed by the Israeli commandos had been repainted.
Tens of thousands of Turkish citizens watched the return of the Mavi Marmara and participated in a welcome back ceremony in Istanbul on December 26, 2010. Since her return to Turkey, over 300,000 have visited the ship. (http://www.freedomflotillafacts.com/en )
Turkish national elections are scheduled for June 12, 2011. Support for the flotilla is seen as a vote getter for politicians.
United States Diplomats have not made public their discussions with Israel
Neither Israeli nor United States diplomats have made public their discussions on the participation of the US Boat to Gaza, “The Audacity of Hope” in the next flotilla.
Two European Leaders Respond Negatively to the Flotilla
Israeli radio reported that Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said on April 13 that he would work to prevent a flotilla bound for Gaza to sail, stating that he believed that the flotilla was not working to support peace in “our region.” Berlusconi also said that Israel is the only Middle Eastern country that the West can trust, and that Israel should join the European Union. He added that a peaceful Middle East is farther from reality now than it ever has been before, and that Israel has no viable peace partner. He offered to organize a peace conference in Sicily saying that the only way to achieve peace would be through negotiations. (http://www.jpost.com/Headlines/Article.aspx?id=216425 )
On April 11, Norway’s Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre told the newspaper VG Nett that “everyone should be aware that” goods carried aboard the ship are already available in Gaza and will likely wind up in the hands of Hamas leadership. He said those interested in participating in the May flotilla are “in risk of being exploited by groups with different interests.” Several Norwegian Parliamentarians are passengers on the next flotilla. (http://www.themedialine.org/news/news_mideast_daily.asp?Date=04/11/2011&... )
Food shortages as Israeli border crossing into Gaza is Closed for Seven Days
The Israeli government statement that it “did not see any problem with the legal passing of humanitarian aid to the Hamas-ruled Strip, something that the Turkish Red Crescent was already doing,” is contradicted by its actions.
Israel closes the border crossing with Gaza as a retaliatory measure with no concern for the needs of the people in Gaza. The commercial crossing with Gaza is now shut for a seventh day as of April 12 even though a truce had stopped cross-border fighting.
A UN official said he was "extremely worried" essential supplies in Gaza may run out. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) which provides aid to more than two thirds of Gaza's population of 1.5 million said 172 truckloads of oil, sugar and flour were waiting to cross into the impoverished coastal territory. Christopher Gunness, an UNRWA spokesman, said he was "extremely worried" the commercial crossing at Kerem Shalom might not reopen before the Jewish Passover holiday begins on Monday evening, a time when Israel often shuts its crossings with Palestinian territories, citing security concerns. http://www.trust.org/alertnet/news/israel-keeps-gaza-goods-crossing-shut... 
According to the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), 150 types of basic medicines are unavailable in Gaza. A cooking gas shortage also is approaching because all gas must be brought from Israel and the Israelis have closed the border for seven days.
Israeli authorities said there were no shortages of any basic items in Gaza. Commercial goods for Gaza are brought in only through a monitored Israeli terminal. However, Palestinians bring in goods through tunnels dug beneath the border with Egypt.
Israel shut the crossings a week ago during violence when resistance fighters fired an anti-tank rocket at a school bus, wounding an Israeli teenager. Israel responded with air raids that killed 19 Palestinians.
Israeli Military Offensive in Gaza
For the past two months, the Israeli military has attacked houses and facilities in Gaza almost daily, either by US F16s, Apache helicopters air or from tank shelling, mortars or sniper fire from fortified concrete bunkers overlooking the Gaza border. From March 16-29, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) killed 14 Palestinians, including six civilians, and injured 52 Palestinians, including at least 40 civilians (19 children), between 16-29 March, according to the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA (http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_protection_of_civilians_weekly... ).
According to the OCHA report, “all the civilian fatalities and 19 of the Palestinian injuries occurred as a result of Israeli tank shelling and mortar fire. The deaths occurred in two incidents: in the evening of 20 March, two children, both 14‐year‐old UNRWA students, were shot and killed by Israeli fire while walking in the vicinity of the perimeter fence (within approximately 400 meters), north east of Al Bureij Camp. Two days later, four civilians, including two children, were killed, and 11 others were injured (seven from one family), when a number of Israeli mortar shells fell in a residential area east of Gaza City, located approximately 1.5 kilometres from the fence. According to the Israeli media, an IDF spokesman said that the Israeli shelling and mortar fire was in response to mortar rounds fired by armed groups in the area.
Numerous Israeli airstrikes conducted during this period resulted in the deaths of eight armed militants and the injury of 32 Palestinians, including at least nine children. These air strikes targeted military training bases, commercial structures, tunnels, and warehouses—one of which contained equipment and supplies for the Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU). In addition, two
schools in Gaza City sustained minor damage.”
The OCHA report continues, “On at least seven occasions, Israeli forces penetrated into Palestinian areas in the Gaza Strip to conduct search and land leveling operations. On 17 March, Israeli airplanes dropped flyers reiterating the prohibition on accessing areas closer than 300 meters from the perimeter fence. Incidents of ‘warning shots’ as well as leveling operations have been regularly recorded over the past two years in areas up to 1.5 kilometres from the fence. In addition, Israeli naval forces opened fire at Palestinian fishing boats on six separate occasions during the reporting period, forcing them ashore; one Palestinian fisherman was injured as a result.”
The OCHA report states “During the period, Palestinian armed groups fired six Grad rockets as well as more than one hundred rudimentary rockets and mortar shells at numerous civilian and military locations alongside the fence and in southern Israel. As a result, two Israelis civilians were injured on 19 March in communities near the Israeli‐Gaza border, and another one on 23 March in the city of Be’er Sheva. In three separate incidents this period (24, 26 and 29 March), Palestinian projectiles dropped short and hit factories and homes in residential areas in the Gaza Strip, resulting in the injury of six Palestinians, including an infant, and causing damage to the buildings.”
About the Author: Ann Wright is a retired US Army Reserve Colonel and a former US diplomat who resigned in 2003 in opposition to the Iraq war. As a U.S. diplomat, she served in U.S. Embassies in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia, serving a Deputy Ambassador in the last four Embassies. She travelled to Gaza three times in 2009 after the Israeli attack on Gaza that killed 1440 Palestinians and wounded over 5,000 and left 50,000 homeless. She was a passenger on the May, 2010 Gaza flotilla and is an organizer for the U.S. Boat to Gaza, “The Audacity of Hope,” that will sail in the second flotilla.