The Freedom Flotilla, Civil Disobedience and Government Collusion

July 5, 2011

Greece has offered to deliver any humanitarian aid contained on Freedom Flotilla boats to Gaza through “existing channels”.  Israel as well as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon have accepted this idea – except one thing – Greece’s offer misses the point.

In addition to the continuing humanitarian concerns, even after Israel’s ‘easing’ of restrictions and the recent ‘opening’ of the Rafah crossing by Egypt, there is the blockade itself.

Although this video was produced one year after operation ‘Cast Lead’ ended, former AI researcher, Francesca Burke, speaks about the difficulties in getting in materials to rebuild and recover from the devastation of the military conflict as well as the blockade which still holds true and relevant today.

Even if all the humanitarian needs of the population were relieved, the Israeli-imposed Gaza blockade would still violate the Gazans’ basic human rights.

The blockade does not target specific individuals, but collectively punishes the entire population which contravenes the Fourth Geneva Convention.  It violates the Gazans’ right to health (including access to clean drinking water and sanitation), education, work, an adequate standard of living and freedom of movement.  It violates their basic dignity; their basic human rights.

The blockade is illegal and must end.  Period.  And Israel, as the occupying power (in effective control of area), is responsible for ending it.  Israel is a sophisticated, militarily advanced country that should be able to effectively meet their national security needs without unjustly punishing an entire population.

World leaders have called the blockade “unsustainable” and have urged the immediate, unconditional opening of the crossings.  A report written by the UN Human Rights Council-backed fact finding mission concluded that Israel’s raid on last summer’s flotilla was in violation of international law with investigators concluding that at least six of the killings amounted to extra-judicial executions, and the force used by the commandos was “unnecessary, disproportionate, excessive and inappropriate.”

If international consensus supports the immediate lifting of the blockade; international, independent NGO’s, including Amnesty and the International Committee of the Red Cross, consider the blockade illegal; and the Israeli raid last summer was deemed “illegal, excessive and inappropriate”, why are Ban Ki-Moon and U.S. leaders urging governments to discourage the Gaza-bound flotilla – calling the flotilla “provocative” and the participants dangerous?

Putting the onus of responsibility on the civil society activists is grossly misplaced. Leaders should be addressing calls of restraint from provocative, extreme actions to the party currently violating international law, likely to initiate excessive use of force (based on past actions) and legally bound to comply as a fellow nation-state.  U.S. elected officials should be seeking ways to protect U.S. citizens, not giving a green light to Israel to do what they want because the U.S. appears to have withdrawn its protection.

The Obama administration did not just voice disapproval of the flotilla, but made veiled threats against U.S. citizens on the ‘Audacity of Hope’, saying their efforts may be violating U.S. law (see ‘Holder vs. The Humanitarian Project) by supposedly “supporting a terrorist organization“. U.S. congressman have stumbled over themselves putting out public statements demonizing flotilla participants and actually putting the security of a foreign power over American lives.

Amnesty International, the organization, takes no position on the flotilla initiative as a tactic, but as a human rights activist myself, I feel the question begs to be asked:

If governments turn their backs on those who have no voice or power; have had their economy decimated, homes destroyed, and basic human rights violated at every turn, including the ability to escape such harsh conditions, then doesn’t civil society have the right, if not obligation, to intercede?

Henry David Thoreau’s ‘Resistance to Civil Government’ argues that when government produces injustice, even disguising injustice behind laws, then it is the duty of every conscientious citizen to resist, disobey, stop the “machine”.

Slavery was once legal and those participating in the Underground Railroad were breaking the law, but today we celebrate Harriet Tubman.  Only a few decades ago, thousands participated in acts of civil disobedience to challenge legalized segregation and Jim Crow laws in the south.  Those civil rights heroes are now our neighbors and elected officials.  These are not new concepts.  When did they become “irresponsible and provocative”?

An even scarier question?

If governments do nothing or even protect immoral, illegal policies perpetrated on a weak, vulnerable population  and civil society is not allowed to challenge these immoral, illegal policies – even through non-violent direct actions, then … what is there left to do?