As a group of non-violent activists and journalists from Israel, the U.S., Europe and around the world set sail from Cyprus to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza by boat, Israeli officials have told Israeli media sources that they will not hesitate to use force against the boats. Tom Nelson, a lawyers from Portland, Oregon, USA, and one of the participants in the 'Free Gaza' movement, told the IMEMC that the group is simply trying to bring much-needed medical and food supplies into the besieged Gaza Strip. Nelson added that the participants in the boat action are all veterans of the non-violent movement in Palestine, and most have had the experience of being shot at by Israeli forces while engaging in non-violent action in the past.
According to the Israeli media, Israeli military officials stated that the Israeli Navy would be 'within its rights' to use force against the boats. The Foreign Ministry has issued a position paper stating that under the Oslo Accords, Israel has the right to use force against the demonstrators, as the Oslo Accords (of 1993) name Israel as responsible for the territorial waters of Gaza. But Palestinians contend that subsequent signed agreements, such as the Camp David Accord (2000) and the Gaza disengagement plan (2005) give the Palestinians the right to the use of their shoreline. Palestinian fishermen who fish off the coast of Gaza face constant harassment from Israeli warships stationed just off the coast, and are often fired upon with shells and missiles.
Israel has held the entire population of 1.4 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip under complete siege for over a year, preventing food, fuel, medical supplies and other necessities from entering the Strip. UN Agencies have warned of a fast-increasing humanitarian crisis due to the lack of needed goods, malnutrition rates among children are soaring, and over 150 patients have died from lack of medical care, and from being denied exit from Gaza to receive the medical care they are unable to get in the Strip.
Israeli officials claim that the siege is for 'security reasons', but human rights groups in Palestine, Israel and around the world call this type of siege warfare a form of 'collective punishment' – punishing an entire population for the actions of a few – which is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, the International Declaration of Human Rights, and other international human rights conventions.
The 'Free Gaza' movement is attempting to break the siege with a shipment of several tons of food and medicine. There are 60 participants travelling on several boats through the Mediterranean to try to reach the shore of the Gaza Strip, where they plan to give the humanitarian aid to the Palestinian civilian population.
Israeli officials have said that they fear the shipment would be used by the democratically-elected Hamas government in Gaza to garner support for its party. But 'Free Gaza' participants have stated on multiple occasions, openly and publicly, that tey are completely unaffiliated with any political party, and their only aim is to bring aid to a suffering civilian population.