While Israeli and US officials have worked to dissuade the Freedom Flotilla from setting sail to Gaza next week, the flotilla participants have vowed to go ahead with their plan to bring aid and support to the people of the Gaza Strip, who remain under an Israeli-imposed siege that began in 2007.At a recent press conference by an Israeli naval commander, the commander said he did not believe that the flotilla would contain weapons, and acknowledged that the passengers on the boats are known peace activists committed to non-violence. But the Israeli government continues to warn that it will attack the flotilla with military force, and has pre-emptively blamed the volunteer participants in the flotilla for any Israeli attack on the boats.
US delegation participant Robert Naiman responded, â€śIf you concede that we are peace activists who are not carrying weapons, what exactly is the urgency to confront us with force? Why not just let us proceed to Gaza unmolested? Does it pass a ‘straight face test’, as Speaker Boehner might say, to claim that it will set a horrible international legal precedent binding the Israeli government if you were to let us pass unmolested to Gaza, having conceded that we are peace activists who are not carrying weapons?â€ť
Last year, a similar Freedom Flotilla was attacked by Israeli forces and nine peace activists were killed by Israeli commandoes.
In a statement by the US State Department on Wednesday, the US government mentioned last year’s attack and warned US citizens against participating in the flotilla, stating, â€śU.S. citizens are advised against traveling to Gaza by any means, including via sea. Previous attempts to enter Gaza by sea have been stopped by Israeli naval vessels and resulted in the injury, death, arrest, and deportation of U.S. citizens. U.S. citizens participating in any effort to reach Gaza by sea should understand that they may face arrest, prosecution, and deportation by the Government of Israel.â€ť
An investigation by the Turkish government of last year’s Israeli attack released its results two weeks ago, showing that the nine men killed were hit by a total of 30 bullets fired at close range, with five of the men killed by shots to the head. The 19-year old American citizen who was killed, Fulkan Dorgan, was killed by five bullets fired at a distance of 45 cm to his face, the back of his head, his leg and his back.
The US government has never investigated the Israeli attack on last year’s flotilla, and has repeatedly voiced support for Israel’s actions. Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reiterated that the US is Israel’s â€śbest friendâ€ť, in his visit to the US two weeks ago. Last week, US President Barack Obama told a room full of campaign contributors from the US Jewish community, all of whom donated around $25,000 to participate in the event, that the US would remain a steadfast and uncompromising supporter of Israel.
In his statement, Flotilla participant Robert Naiman contradicted Israeli claims that their blockade on the Gaza Strip has been eased recently, saying, â€śExports from Gaza remain largely blocked; restrictions on Gazans’ travel to the West Bank and East Jerusalem for work, study, and medical care remain; imports of construction materials remain largely blocked; restrictions on Gaza’s farming and fishing remain. Unemployment in Gaza is among the highest in the world, the UN reports.â€ť