Special to HT By Julie Webb
HAVANA TIMES, June 12 — A year after Israel’s massacre of nine humanitarian volunteers aboard the mavi Marmara who were delivering aid to the blockaded Gaza Strip, I interviewed Dr Ahmed Yousef (Secretary General, The House of Wisdom Institution for Conflict Resolution and Governance, and past-President of the Committee for Breaking the Siege) in Gaza about the upcoming Freedom Flotilla II. Here is what he said – and to Cubans, it is all too familiar – the same tune, with slightly different words…
“There are two fundamental issues here that should be of concern to people of conscience everywhere. The first is the impunity enjoyed by the rogue state of Israel, and the second is the immense suffering caused by its illegal siege of Gaza.
“The question the international community must ask itself is how many times it will permit Israel to escape international law. Israel’s attack on the Mavi Marmara was an act of piracy – they are doing the same as the Somali pirates, but here it is a state doing it, it is state terrorism.
“Although Israel has been protected by the US power of veto in the United Nations, the people of the world are not dumb. These things are cumulative – even if the United Nations is crippled by the power of veto, you cannot keep violating international and humanitarian law without eventually becoming an international pariah.
“The flotilla is a civil society initiative, because people of conscience feel they must do something when they see such behavior. Morally, it is a very important challenge to Israel, and one which the whole world will be watching.
“Even the Israeli propaganda machine cannot counter the voices of people carrying nothing but humanitarian cargo. All of the mainstream media will be invited on board, the international press will be filming exactly who and what is aboard, and it will be clear to the world that this is a peaceful mission. A picture is worth a thousand words – the footage of the Mavi Marmara attack showed exactly what the Israelis did, and the media will again show exactly what this flotilla is – a symbolic breaking of the blockade, and a message of solidarity from the people of the world to the people of Gaza.
“I don’t think Israel will make the same grave error again. For one thing, Turkey will not accept another act of piracy, another humiliation. Remember, Turkey was a safe haven for Jews during the Spanish Inquisition, and throughout both World War I and World War II. If there is another act of humiliation, diplomatic sanctions, recalling an ambassador, will not be enough.
The effects of the blockade*
“It is not a normal life. It is not just a few things missing off the shelves of the supermarket, but affects every area of life – fishing, farming, housing, employment, education, health.
“There is 50-60% unemployment. Fishermen are limited to a 3-mile zone by Israel, and shot at even when they stay within it, sometimes as a warning, sometimes they shoot to kill. Ninety percent of our export industry has been destroyed.
“Two-thirds of our population is under 30 years old, and have few employment prospects. Over 150 of our young people have been killed while building the tunnels, people are also killed bringing things through them. They are risking their lives every day.
“You can’t develop an economy based on tunnels. Everything is triple-priced, and there are many materials needed, construction materials to rebuild houses and infrastructure destroyed by Israeli attacks, educational supplies, medical equipment and medicines. We have such a critical medical supply shortage that this week the Minister of Health had to announce a 5% pay-cut for health employees to pay for essential medicines.
“For these reasons, the flotilla is not only morally important, but also logistically important – so they can see the facts on the ground. It is the only way to show the people of the world what Israel is doing to us.
“As the UN and other international law experts have said repeatedly, there is no justification, no excuse for the blockade of Gaza.”
*Israel has maintained a land and sea blockade on the Gaza Strip since 2007, when the democratically-elected Hamas government thwarted an attempted coup, and maintained control of the strip. Since 2008 the UN has described the blockade as illegal, and demanded it be lifted, to no avail. http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=28983&Cr=palestin&Cr1 In order to survive the blockade, tunnels were dug between Egypt and Gaza to bring essential materials into the territory. Although the Rafah border crossing with Egypt was recently – and sporadically – re-opened, goods are still prohibited, only designated people may cross.