Oldspeak: “You attract more bees with honey than vinegar.”
From Calev Ben-David and Jonathan Ferziger @ Bloomberg:
Israeli naval vessels intercepted an aid ship heading for the Gaza Strip and escorted it to the port of Ashdod after a similar attempt to breach a blockade left nine pro-Palestinian activists dead earlier this week.
The MV Rachel Corrie was boarded today by the Israeli navy in a peaceful takeover in international waters and the crew and passengers put up no resistance, army spokeswoman Avital Leibovich and the organizers of the boat said. It arrived in Ashdod at about 5:30 p.m. local time, the army said.
The seizure caps a week of heightened tensions after the deaths of nine Turks during the boarding of a Gaza supply ship in international waters on May 31. The European Union, Russia and Turkey have called on Israel to end its blockade of Gaza. Israel says the restrictions are needed to ensure weapons don’t enter the Hamas-controlled coastal enclave.
“We have seen today the difference between a ship of peace activists with whom we don’t agree but respect their right to a different opinion, and a flotilla of hate that was organized by violent extremists,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a text message from his office. Israel won’t “allow Gaza to become an Iranian port,” he said.
The Israeli government is now considering easing restrictions on the flow of aid into Gaza, Israel’s Channel Two television has reported.
Open to Suggestions
“We’re open to any suggestions,” Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S., said in an interview with Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend. “We, too, are not happy with the status quo.”
The Free Gaza movement, which organized the flotilla in the May 31 confrontation and the MV Rachel Corrie — named after an American activist killed by an Israeli bulldozer while protesting home demolitions in the Gaza Strip in 2003 — rejected Israel’s proposal that it off-load its cargo at Ashdod port for transport to Gaza after security checks. It said Israeli restrictions are causing a humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
“We’re back to square one,” Free Gaza Movement spokeswoman Eliza Ernshire said in a telephone interview from Cyprus. “I suppose our task now is to organize the next group of boats to break the blockade and capitalize politically on the broad international condemnation that Israel has received for the way it has dealt with us.”
Cement, Paper, Wheelchairs
The ship is carrying 19 people, including Mairead Maguire, an Irish Nobel Peace laureate, Denis Halliday, former United Nations assistant secretary general from Ireland, and Mohd Nizar bin Zakaria, a member of the Malaysian Parliament. Its cargo includes cement, tons of paper and wheelchairs, Ernshire said.
The passengers and crew will be deported to their countries of origin as soon as possible, Israel’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said.
Most will be put on buses and sent to Ben Gurion International airport “for the next flight home,” Palmor said in a telephone interview. The Malaysians will be sent by the bus across the Allenby Bridge in the West Bank to Jordan, which has agreed to repatriate them, he said. Anyone who doesn’t cooperate or requests a court hearing will be held at a detention center in Holon, south of Tel Aviv.
U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague welcomed the fact the interception “was resolved peacefully.” Britain wants a “full, credible, impartial and independent investigation” of the events involving the flotilla that includes international participation, he said in an e-mailed statement.
Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman issued a statement that “strongly demands” Israel ensures the safety of the activists aboard the ship, saying there were six Malysians on board. He said that Israel must let the ship carry its cargo to Gaza.
The Ireland Palestine Solidarity Committee, which has collected funds for the flotilla, issued a statement calling on the Irish Parliament to “take diplomatic action against the rogue state of Israel,” according to its website.
Top Israeli ministers met June 3 to review the blockade policy and explore ways of changing its implementation after this week’s deadly naval raid, an Israeli official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the press on the matter. One possibility is the use of international monitors at Ashdod, Channel Two news said without citing anyone.
Israel says it attempted to prevent clashes with the aid flotilla earlier this week by issuing numerous warnings beforehand to change course for Ashdod and unload there.
Israel has said in that confrontation its soldiers were attacked with knives and clubs after boarding the Mavi Marmara, one of the six vessels in the flotilla, and seven were wounded, including by gunfire after volunteers aboard the ship managed to grab Israeli firearms. Activists have said they threw the firearms into the sea. There was no violence on the other five ships.
A Turkish autopsy found that several of those killed were shot multiple times and from the back at close range, the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper reported today, citing Yalcin Buyuk, vice chairman of the council of forensic medicine.
Criticism within Israel on the flotilla operation has focused largely on the execution of the raid and not the blockade.
A survey of Israeli Jews published in the Maariv daily on June 2 showed 94.8 percent agreeing that it was necessary to stop the boats, with 62.7 percent saying it should have been handled in a different manner. Only 8.1 percent thought Netanyahu should resign. The newspaper didn’t say how many people were surveyed or give a margin of error.
Israel has faced global criticism over the raid and calls for an international investigation. The U.S. has declined to specifically criticize Israeli actions. It backed a United Nations Security Council resolution on June 1 that condemned the violence that led to the deaths of the aid activists, and called for an impartial inquiry.
Turkey, which along with South Africa withdrew its ambassador from Israel over the incident, says an Israeli investigation wouldn’t meet that criteria.
Israel has been blockading Gaza since Hamas ousted forces loyal to PresidentMahmoud Abbas’s Fatah group and seized full control in 2007 after winning Palestinian parliamentary elections the previous year. Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and the European Union.
Israel launched an operation in the Gaza Strip in December 2008 that it said was meant to stop the firing of rockets into its territory. More than 1,000 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed in the conflict. Since the end of the three-week operation, some 330 rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel, killing one foreign worker last March, the Israeli army said.
A rocket fired from the Gaza Strip struck an open area in southern Israel this morning and no injuries were reported, an Israeli Army spokesman said, speaking anonymously according to regulation.
Israel says its blockade of Gaza is legal because it is in “a state of armed conflict” with Hamas. Some countries, such as Turkey, dispute the legality of the blockade.
Hamas’s charter calls for the destruction of the Jewish state. Hamas leaders say they will renounce violence when Israel withdraws from territory occupied in 1967 and allows Palestinians to return to areas in Israel from which they fled in 1948.
Palestinians say the restrictions on food imports and construction materials have created a humanitarian crisis. Israel says it restricts imports because building materials and even some foods can be used to build rockets, bunkers or bombs.