World Condemns Israel’s Massacre; U.S. Reaction Muted; Activists Send New Ship to Challenge Israel
by Michael Leon
News is activists are sending a new ship to challenge the Gaza blockade by Israel as the U.N. Security Council calls for a probe amid global outrage over the deadly attack on the Gaza-bound aid convoy of human rights activists, as Israel still holds 100s seized during the murder at sea.
Updates below include a communique from the Free Gaza Movement, Juan Cole’s analysis of the world community coalescing against Israel, and a piece on Nobel-winning Elders condeming the Gaza flotilla attack. Also below is a piece in the British Guardian on eyewitness accounts of the raid contradicting the version put out by Israeli officials.
Official U.S. government reaction has been muted.
From the U.S. State Department, Alejandro Wolff, Deputy U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, said, “We are convinced and support an Israeli investigation as I called for in my statement earlier, and have every confidence that Israel can conduct a credible and impartial and transparent, prompt investigation internally.”
Juan Cole notes the Historic U.N. SC Condemnation of Israel, and of the Gaza Blockade; World Body Demands release of Aid Activists, Ships.
In a rare public denunciation of Israel, the United Nations Security Council on Monday condemned the Israeli raid on the Gaza aid flotilla and deplored the loss of innocent life that attended it. The world body insisted that Israel immediately release the 480 humanitarians it had taken captive, and demanded that it also let their ships go. The U.N. SC also instructed Israel to lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip, calling the siege “not sustainable.” Although the statement was weaker than the text urged by Turkey and the Arab world, it was brutal compared to the anodyne language usually insisted upon by Washington when it comes to Israel.
This development is head-spinning in its implications. The United States almost never allows UNSC resolutions condemning Israel to go forward. But here it is clear that President Barack Obama instructed his ambassador to the UN to join in the condemnation of the Israeli “acts.” Since Turkey is currently a non-permanent member of the UNSC and led the charge on the condemnation of Israel, it is possible that the US felt it had to trade horses with Ankara if it has any chance of still getting a UNSC resolution tightening sanctions on Iran (a step that Turkey opposes, as does Brazil, though neither has a veto). It is also possible that Israel’s rash attack has sabotaged the Obama administration’s push for increased UN sanctions on Iran, hardening opposition to an Israel-driven policy toward Tehran.
The Elders group of past and present world leaders, including former South African president Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, on Monday condemned as “completely inexcusable” the deadly Israeli attack on a flotilla carrying aid for Gaza.
At least 10 people are reported to have been killed when Israeli commandos raided the boats on Monday in an operation that has drawn international condemnation.
“The Elders have condemned the reported killing by Israeli forces of more than a dozen people who were attempting to deliver relief supplies to the Gaza Strip by sea,” the 12—member group said in a statement issued in Johannesburg, where it met over the weekend.
The group, which was launched by Mr. Mandela on his birthday in 2007 to try to solve some of the world’s most intractable conflicts, called for a “full investigation” of the incident and urged the UN Security Council “to debate the situation with a view to mandating action to end the closure of the Gaza Strip.” “This tragic incident should draw the world’s attention to the terrible suffering of Gaza’s 1.5 million people, half of whom are children under the age of 18,” the group said.
Israel’s three—year blockade of Gaza was not only “one of the world’s greatest human rights violations” and “illegal” under international law, it was also “counterproductive” because it empowered extremists in the Palestinian territory, they said.
The Elders includes six Nobel peace prize winners — former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, former US president Jimmy Carter, detained Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi and Mr. Mandela and Tutu.
Norway’s first female Prime Minister Gro Brundtland; former Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardoso; former Irish president and ex—UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson; Mozambican social activist Graca Machel; Indian women’s rights activist Ela Bhatt; and Algerian veteran UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi are the other members
From the Free Gaza Movement comes the message that Israel’s murder of human rights activists will be met with renewed determination.
Cyprus – 1 June, 2010–The UN Security Council Calls for Impartial, Credible Investigation of Israeli Boat Raid. The raid in international waters, on the aid convoy headed to Gaza left at least 16 civilians dead. After an emergency session wrapped up in the early hours this morning, the council agreed to language condemning the acts that resulted in the deaths and injuries aboard the Turkish vessel Mavi Marmara and the European Campaign’s vessel Spendoni.
The council called for a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards. The council statement also reemphasized the importance of implementing U.N. resolution 1860, which calls for the unimpeded provision and distribution of humanitarian assistance to Gaza’s 1.5 million residents. The flow of aid has been severely hampered by Israel’s three-year blockade on the Gaza Strip.
Yesterday, Israeli-licensed attorneys filed two habeas briefs: one is asking for to release the passengers and the boats, so we can continue on our way to Gaza, since it was illegal to stop us in international waters. The other one is asking for information on all of the passengers, because there has been a total blackout on where the passengers are, who was wounded and who was murdered.
Lawyers are only being allowed access for three hours every day from 13:00-16:30. They have the names of three Palestinians still in detention: Sheik Salah, Mohammad Zeidan and Lubna Marsawa.
Haneen Zuabi, a member of the Israeli Knesset, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/03/31/haneen-zuabi-new-arab-isr_n_181164.htmlhas been released, because she has immunity as a member of the Knesset. She held a press conference this morning in Nazareth to talk about the attack. She was on board the Mavi Marmara.
From the Guardian: Israelis Opened Fire Before Boarding Gaza Flotilla, say Released Activists
First eyewitness accounts of raid contradict version put out by Israeli officials
by Dorian Jones in Istanbul and Helena Smith
Arriving at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport with her one-year-old baby, Turkish activist Nilufer Cetin said Israeli troops opened fire before boarding the Turkish-flagged ferry Mavi Marmara, which was the scene of the worst clashes and all the fatalities. Israeli officials have said that the use of armed force began when its boarding party was attacked.
“It was extremely bad and very tough clashes took place. The Mavi Marmara is filled with blood,” said Cetin, whose husband is the Mavi Marmara’s chief engineer.
She told reporters that she and her child hid in the bathroom of their cabin during the confrontation. “The operation started immediately with firing. First it was warning shots, but when the Mavi Marmara wouldn’t stop these warnings turned into an attack,” she said.
“There were sound and smoke bombs and later they used gas bombs. Following the bombings they started to come on board from helicopters.”
Cetin is among a handful of Turkish activists to be released; more than 300 remain in Israeli custody. She said she agreed to extradition from Israel  after she was warned that conditions in jail would be too harsh for her child.
“I am one of the first passengers to be sent home, just because I have baby. When we arrived at the Israeli port of Ashdod we were met by the Israeli interior and foreign ministry officials and police; there were no soldiers. They asked me only a few questions. But they took everything – cameras, laptops, cellphones, personal belongings including our clothes,” she said.
Kutlu Tiryaki was a captain of another vessel in the flotilla. “We continuously told them we did not have weapons, we came here to bring humanitarian help and not to fight,” he said.
“The attack on the Mavi Marmara came in an instant: they attacked it with 12 or 13 attack boats and also with commandos from helicopters. We heard the gunshots over our portable radio handsets, which we used to communicate with the Mavi Marmara, because our ship communication system was disrupted. There were three or four helicopters also used in the attack. We were told by Mavi Marmara their crew and civilians were being shot at and windows and doors were being broken by Israelis.”
Six Greek activists who returned to Athens accused Israeli commandos of using electric shocks during the raid.
Dimitris Gielalis, who had been aboard the Sfendoni, told reporters: “Suddenly from everywhere we saw inflatables coming at us, and within seconds fully equipped commandos came up on the boat. They came up and used plastic bullets, we had beatings, we had electric shocks, any method we can think of, they used.”
Michalis Grigoropoulos, who was at the wheel of the Free Mediterranean, said: “We were in international waters. The Israelis acted like pirates, completely out of the normal way that they conduct nautical exercises, and seized our ship. They took us hostage, pointing guns at our heads; they descended from helicopters and fired tear gas and bullets. There was absolutely nothing we could do … Those who tried to resist forming a human ring on the bridge were given electric shocks.”
Grigoropoulos, who insisted the ship was full of humanitarian aid bound for Gaza “and nothing more”, said that, once detained, the human rights activists were not allowed to contact a lawyer or the Greek embassy in Tel Aviv. “They didn’t let us go to the toilet, eat or drink water and throughout they videoed us. They confiscated everything, mobile phones, laptops, cameras and personal effects. They only allowed us to keep our papers.”
Turkey said it was sending three ambulance planes to Israel to pick up 20 more Turkish activists injured in the operation.
Three Turkish Airlines planes were on standby, waiting to fly back other activists, the prime minister’s office said.