Freedom Flotilla 2 (Update, June 30, 2011)

The press conference in Athens held on June 27, when the organizers announced their intention to dispatch the flotilla

The press conference in Athens held on June 27, when the organizers announced their intention to dispatch the flotilla

Huwaida Arraf from the FGM

Huwaida Arraf from the FGM



The press conference in Athens held on June 27, when the organizers announced their intention to dispatch the flotilla
The press conference in Athens held on June 27, when the organizers announced their intention to dispatch the flotilla (Picture from the ustogaza website).

Overview

1. On June 27 the organizers of the flotilla held a press conference in Athens where they announced that the flotilla would sail for the Gaza Strip in the near future. They said 327 passengers were expected to sail, 37 of whom were media personnel,2 on ten ships, two of them cargo vessels. They added the ships would carry about 3,000 tons of supplies, including medicine and concrete. According to the announcement, the ships will sail from various Mediterranean ports, unite in international waters and sail to the Gaza Strip. In an attempt to deflect the accusations brought against them, the organizers claimed that the flotilla was bringing a message of peace and was not a "terrorist flotilla." For reasons of security the flotilla organizers are vague regarding the date of departure, ports of sailing, photographs of the ship and their locations of anchorage.

2. At the press conference and afterwards the organizers said that they were experiencing delays caused by technical difficulties and Israeli attempts to obstruct the departure. Among other things, they accused Israel of sabotaging the Greek and Irish ships. However, they said they were confident they would overcome the difficulties and set sail. The flotilla is supposed to be accompanied by supporting events in the United States, various European countries and (according to postings in Facebook) possibly near Israel’s borders with Arab states.

3. The various networks and spokesmen connected with the flotilla made the following statements:

1) On June 30 the organizers of the Irish Ship to Gaza claimed that Israel had sabotaged the M/V Saoirse and caused extensive damage. According to the media, the ship was anchored in Turkey (Ynet, June 30, 2011). Before that, the organizers of the Greek-Swedish ship (Greek Ship to Gaza) reported that on June 27 the propeller of the Juliano had been sabotaged. However, they said the damage could be repaired within a number of days (Websites of the Greek network and Haaretz, June 27, 2011). On the other hand, the organizers of the American ship (US Boat to Gaza) announced that preparations had been completed aboard the American ship and it was ready to sail.

2) Mazen Kakhil, ECESG spokesman, reported that all the necessary preparations had been completed and that the ships would reach the Gaza coast next week if nothing unexpected happened. He said that the flotilla would have more than 350 passengers from more than 20 countries (Al-Aqsa TV, June 29, 2011). In a different interview he said that the organizers had contacted the UN and the European Parliament, informing them they were responsible for the safety of the flotilla passengers (Radio Al-Quds, June 28, 2011).

3) According to the "Canada to Gaza" Twitter page on June 28, the Greek dockworkers’ union would take care of the cargo ships as an act of solidarity. Previously, an Israeli correspondent participating in the flotilla reported that the Greek general strike might influence the departure of the American ship.

4. The flotilla organizers are currently in Athens, where the senior activists of the Free Gaza Movement (the umbrella network which plays a central role in organizing the flotilla) have set up a kind of command center ("Contact Athens"). It is staffed by the senior FGM activists Huwaida Arraf, Adam Shapiro, Greta Berlins and Ewa Jasiewicz (FGM website). The FGM also established a media center in London called the FGM Media Office ("Contact London"). Senior ECESG activists Rami Abdo and Dr. Arafat Madi Shukri are also in Athens.

Huwaida Arraf from the FGM
Left, Huwaida Arraf from the FGM, one of the most prominent figures among
the flotilla organizers, at a press conference in Athens, June 27.
The tattoo on her right arm reads "Palestine" (Picture from the ustogaza website).

5. The United States continues to express reservations regarding the flotilla. At a press briefing, a spokesman for the state department expressed concern over the participation of American citizens in the flotilla, which was liable to be "provocative" and "dangerous" (words she later repeated): "We are concerned about any of our citizens involved in a situation that could be provocative, that could be dangerous…"She said that "…if people around the world want to help the people of Gaza, we believe that the mechanisms established by both Egypt and Israel are sufficient to achieve that objective…" (ITIC emphasis). She added that Israel had the right to defend itself from weapons smuggling, but that the United States called on all parties to show restraint (United States state department website, June 27, 2011).

6. The flotilla organizers are currently in Greece, although it is unclear which of them will sail. Among them are Huwaida Arraf and Adam Shapiro, heads of the Free Gaza Movement, one of the umbrella networks organizing the flotilla. Senior ECESG figures Rami Saleh and Dr. Arafat Madi Shukri are also there.

7. The Western media expressed reservations regarding the presence of extremists among the delegations. For example, on June 28, 2011, a Dutch English-language radio station (RNW) expressed disgust with the flotilla and its participants. It "influenced two Dutch correspondents who had been planning to sail with the flotilla to cancel the participation." (A continuation of previous cancellations by media personnel.) On June 29, 2011, one of the women who had planned to join posted the reasons for her cancellation on the leftist Dutch website Joop. One of them was the involvement of senior ECESG figure Amin Abu Rashad, who claimed he had ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. The woman added that Abu Rashad had been present at a training session in non-violent tactics held for the Dutch group in Corfu, but had kept a low profile. Allan Sørensen, a correspondent for the Danish newspaper Kristeligt Dagblad, wrote a column on June 29, 2011 entitled "Pacifists and Black Sheep," about activists who had participated in violent demonstrations and events ("whose names can easily be Goggled"). He wrote that most of the participants belonged to the first group, but that there was a hard core of "black sheep," and it included, among others, activists with ties to Hamas.

8. In response to the media reports about the possible reception of the flotilla in the port of El Arish, "informed sources" in the northern Sinai Peninsula said that they did not know of any agreement for receiving the ships in El Arish should Israel prevent them from reaching the Gaza Strip. The sources said that there was no objection to their landing in El Arish, but they had to go through the proper channels in line with Egyptian procedure and receive authorization from the authorities. Chairman of the board of directors of the Red Crescent in El Arish added that the organization was willing to accept the humanitarian assistance carried by the ships and transfer it to the Gaza Strip (Masrawi, June 28, 2011).

The Significance of the Current Situation

9. The significance of the current situation is the following:

1) Despite the technical and logistic problems, and the bureaucratic and political difficulties, so far the flotilla organizers are apparently still determined to dispatch the ships in the upcoming days. They have repeated their intention to dispatch ten ships, but it is obvious that the number of ships (and participants) will eventually be smaller.

2) Before the ships’ departure the organizers were forced to deal with a number of issues, the most pressing of which are: the withdrawal of the Turkish Mavi Marmara and cargo vessel, and to a great extent the retraction of Turkish patronage; bureaucratic difficulties in receiving permits from the Greek authorities to depart from Greek ports; Greece’s precarious internal situation, expressed by the demonstrations and strikes against the government over the country’s economic situation; political difficulties expressed by international reservations over the flotilla which undermine its logic and benefits (the UN, the United States, the European Union and various Western countries); technical difficulties aboard the Greek and Irish boats, responsibility for which the organizers accuse Israel.

3) The aforementioned difficulties may cause the flotilla to be smaller than originally planned, accentuating the discrepancy between their declarations and the situation on the ground. Its organizers aspired to dispatch 15 ships, later declaring there would be ten, two of them large passenger ships, with the participation of 1,500 activists from 100 countries. Originally planned, it was supposed to overshadow the Mavi Marmara flotilla, bring the campaign to new heights, and make it difficult for Israel to respond to the challenge. In reality, the number of ships will probably be far smaller than planned, there will be no large passenger ships similar to the Mavi Marmara (which became the symbol of the previous flotilla), and the number of participants is expected to be reduced to a few hundred (for expectations compared to the actual situation, see Appendix II).

4) In addition, in the fight for legitimacy, the flotilla planners are losing ground due to the reservations voiced by the international community and the denial of the necessity for a flotilla. Moreover, in the media arena the planners have been forced to take a defensive stance in view of Israeli accusations of the flotilla’s potential for violence and the intention of activists to employ extreme violence. In response to the Israeli accusations, spokesmen have stressed that the flotilla is bringing a message of peace, its activists are peace activists, and it is not a "terrorist flotilla." However, despite the media spin, there is evidence of a hard core of activists ("the black sheep") who intend to violence against the IDF (in the previous flotilla as well, there was a distinct discrepancy between the public statements regarding the nonviolent nature of the flotilla and the extreme violence employed during it.) In addition, in view of both the many difficulties and the gap between the expectations of the planners and the final diluted form of the flotilla, some of the activists aboard the ships are liable to employ provocations to embarrass Israel and return the flotilla to the awareness of the international community.

5) The organizers grant great importance to the flotilla’s media campaign, and there are a large number of media representatives (more than 10% of the total number of passengers, according to the organizers’ expectations). During the briefings the activists received they were instructed to transmit information from the boats to the outside world until the last minute (some of the correspondents have made provisions for satellite communications). They were also instructed to hide their electronic media devices if detained for documentation and for use after release, in our assessment for propaganda and legal purposes.

Arab-Muslim and Israeli Arab Participation

10. So far the participation of an Arab ship or Arab-Muslim groups is not clear:

1) The list of boats issued by the organizers did not include an Arab ship. Moreover, ECESG spokesman Rami Abdo said that so far no Arab-Islamic ship would participate (Al-Aqsa TV, June 27, 2011).

2) On the other hand, Wa’el al-Saqa, chairman of the Jordanian LifeLine Committee, said that an agreement had been signed in Greece for the purchase of a boat which would carry 70 Arabs from five Arab countries, half of them from Jordan (Amonnews.net website, June 9, 2011). Several media, principally Arab, reported Arab participation in the flotilla. According to one source, there will be Tunisian representatives aboard the French ship (Moheet.com website, June 1, 2011).

11. Israeli-Arab participation: In an article published on June 10 in the organ of the northern faction of the Islamic Move (Sawt al-Haq wal-Hurriyeh), Ra’ed Saleh said that the monitoring committee of Israeli Arabs received an invitation to participate in the Israeli-Arab delegation. Muhammad Zaydan, chairman of the committee, told Al-Jazeera TV on June 15, 2011, that ten Israeli Arabs, heads of the committee, would participate (Aljazeera.net website). In addition, on June 10, 2011, Israeli Knesset member Hanin Zouabi, who also participated in the previous flotilla, said that she was determined to participate in this one as well (Moheet.com website). At this point it is not clear how many Arab representatives will participate and on which ships they will sail.

12. Appendices

1) Appendix I: The ships participating in the flotilla

2) Appendix II: Flotilla planning and declarations vs. flotilla reality

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1Supplement to the June 23, 2001 ITIC bulletin "The Upcoming Flotilla to the Gaza Strip Update (June 22, 2011)," at http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/malam_multimedia/English/eng_n/pdf/ipc_e204.pdf.

2 According to the organizers, representatives of the major media, including The New York Times, CBS News and CNN had already arrived in Athens.