Gareth Smith responds to the Byron Echo on Israel’s attacks on the Gaza flotilla 3Jun10 June 4, 2010

The humanitarian aid flotilla was violently attacked at night in international waters by Israel commandos.  I have been deeply shocked by the increasing amplification of crude propaganda when reporting this incident by both Australian and international media. SBS, ABC, Fairfax and News Ltd media outlets have repeatedly allowed peace and human rights activists to be associated with terrorism. This is false. All participants involved in the Free Gaza movement adhere to a strict policy of non-violence. I took part in the Gaza Freedom March (GFM) based in Egypt last December/January. The 1400 GFM activists representing over 40 countries share the aims of the Free Gaza Flotilla: showing solidarity with the people of Gaza, delivering aid and highlighting to the international community the great suffering on the people of Gaza the blockade was imposing. Many of the organisers and participants of the GFM are also part of the Free Gaza Flotilla.

Our commitment to non-violence was borne out in extraordinary and difficult circumstances in Cairo. The GFM had wide diversity of political and religious affiliation and of people, many angry and outraged at being prevented from travelling to Gaza but there were no, I repeat NO reported incidences  of violence toward others, or violent response to the Eygptian army, police and internal security who attended and broke up our protests. Many of us were injured including myself, who was hospitalised both in Cairo and Byron.

Neither Egypt nor Israel permits aid to be delivered to Gaza across shared borders with the ease with which it has been suggested in the media. We were not allowed to enter Gaza as a group or individually. We were advised that we would be deported if we entered Egypt for the purpose of going to Gaza. The Egyptian regime banned ALL gatherings and meetings in Cairo and during our time, banned foreign nationals from travelling to the port at El Arish or to the border at Rafah. The Egypt Government finally permitted 90 out of 1400 gathered for the GFM to deliver aid via Rafah and then issued a press release saying those foreign nationals remaining in Cairo were hooligans and troublemakers. Sound familiar?

There are endless examples of the prevention of aid delivery to Gaza.  In December 2009 the Viva Palestina aid convoy of 250 vehicles containing medical equipment was turned back from the Red Sea port of Nuweiba by the Egyptian government which forced them to ship the cargo to the port of Al Arish.  The humanitarian aid activists were met by Egyptian riot police and many were beaten savagely in an unprovoked attack. Despite the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs warning that Israel’s 23-day January 2009 war on Gaza had pushed its sewage system to the brink of collapse, with increased risk of groundwater contamination, Israel blocked the importation of a French government water purification plant. The French Foreign Ministry said that Tel Aviv had forced its repatriation and no reason appears to have been given for the Israeli decision.

Israel’s claims that its commandos were armed only with children’s paint guns is laughable and should be viewed through its appallingly violent record against Palestinians and Israeli and foreign peace activists. For example, International Solidarity Movement activists like Rachel Corrie, Brian Avery and Thomas Hurndall have been deliberately killed and wounded. In 2004 UN observers were bombed despite repeatedly sending the IDF their GPS coordinates and ambulances were strafed. So far no explanation has been given by Israel. Operation Cast Lead deliberately targetted the UNWRA warehouse with phosphorous bombs. It was full of food, medical supplies,170,000 litres of petrol AND 700 refugees who had been told by the IDF to shelter there.

To conclude with Ofer Shelah of the right-wing Ma’ariv, “These kinds of actions are carried out by states that long ago ceased to have a foreign policy. They are carried out by states that sense that anything, even letting pasta into Gaza, is an existential threat. They are carried out by states which instead of a leadership have a gang of populists who understand that their public is addicted to the notion of “the whole world is against us” and military force.”

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