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Ship of Fools: Israel Gets It Right

After threatening to stop them, Israel has allowed the boatloads of tools and fools to reach Gaza.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on Saturday welcomed two boats that sailed from Cyprus to the Gaza Strip in efforts to break the Israeli-imposed blockade on the Palestinian territory, saying that the arrival of the boats signaled the end of the siege.

The 70-foot (21-meter) Free Gaza and 60-foot (18-meter) Liberty left the southern port of Larnaca about 10 a.m. Friday for the estimated 30-hour trip. The activists planned to deliver 200 hearing aids to a Palestinian charity for children and hand out 5,000 balloons.

The 46 activists from 14 countries belonging to the U.S.-based group Free Gaza include an 81-year-old Catholic nun and the sister-in-law of Mideast envoy and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The arrival of the boats is another “nail in the coffin of the blockade,” Haniyeh said in an interview with the Qatari-based television network Al Jazeera.

He urged the head of the Arab League Amr Moussa to come to Gaza and called on Egypt to open the Rafah border crossing, which the Egyptians closed in 2007 when Hamas violently seized control over the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also lauded the activists, who docked at Gaza City’s tiny port Saturday evening, receiving a warm welcome from thousands of jubilant Palestinians after a two-day journey marred by communications troubles and rough seas.

“We were all dizzy, nauseous. We were all tired. But in the last hour it was like we were recharged,” said Ayash Daraj, a journalist with al-Jazeera who sailed with the activists (those fine al-Jazeera journalism ethics at work again – ed.)

Since setting sail from Cyprus early Friday, the Free Gaza mission had been in question. Israel initially hinted it would prevent the vessels from reaching Gaza, and on Saturday, the group accused Israel of jamming its communications equipment.

But late Saturday, Israel said it would permit the boats to dock in Gaza after determining the activists did not pose a security threat. Foreign Ministry spokesman Arye Mekel said Israel wanted to avoid the media provocation that the activists were seeking. He said he had no knowledge of attempts to harm the boats’ communications.

He went on to say that the authorities in Greece and Cyprus inspected the vessels and their passengers before they set sail from the port of Larnaca in Cyprus Friday morning, and assured Israel that they carried no weapons.

Israel decided to permit the Free Gaza boats to sail into the Strip as a one-time measure and announced that similar missions in the future would be examined individually. It was further announced that the boats would be inspected upon their return to ensure they were not carrying wanted militants or weapons.

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Earlier Saturday, the Free Gaza activist group accused Israel of sabotaging the mission, saying that Israel had jammed the boats’ electronic communication systems.

“I can’t think of any other reason or any other party with an interest,” said Angela Godfrey-Goldstein, the group’s spokeswoman in Israel. She accused Israel of jeopardizing the activists’ safety, and appealed for international assistance.

Israel has denied interfering in the boats’ communications.

In a statement, the activists said their communications systems had been jammed and scrambled and said they were victims of electronic piracy.

“We are not experienced sailors. As a results, there is concern about the health and safety of the people on board,” the statement said.

“We are following the development and if they are looking for a provocation, we will know how to avoid it,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Arye Merkel said Saturday.

Another spokesman for the ministry, Aviv Shiron, said Friday that all options were being considered when asked whether Israel intended to use force to turn the boats away.

In Gaza City, meanwhile, a small boat zoomed off the coast waving a Palestinian flag as a crowd of activists and journalists gathered in the tiny fishing port hoping to glimpse the vessels.

“I brought the kids so if they [the activists] arrive, I can tell them welcome – and thank you for not forgetting us,” said Jamila Hassan, a 42-year-old Gaza resident who brought along her 14-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter to the port.

Hamas policemen controlled traffic in and out of the Gaza City port in anticipation of the boats’ arrival. Youths leaped off high rocks into deep water nearby. Two large tents were set up for people to watch the scene.

“Nobody thinks that these boats will break the siege in a practical way, but this is a moral message – what is happening [in Gaza] is illegal and inhumane, and must be halted,” said Raji Sourani, a prominent human rights activist.

I think this was a smart move on Israel’s part. I am willing to bet that the peace activists terror enablers on board were hoping for a confrontation, and trying to draw Israel into a move that could be perceived as aggressive. The organizer seemed to be almost daring Israel to do something in his statements to the press.

On Friday, organizer Paul Larudee said the group expected Israeli authorities to intercept the boats and arrest those on board. He said it was highly unlikely the Israeli navy would fire on them.

And Hamas continued the propaganda effort.

Earlier, Hamas Spokesman Sammy Abu Zuhri said that Israel’s initial insistence on torpedoing the arrival of boats carrying international activists headed to Gaza “attests to the Israeli distress caused by this international peace initiative.”

And once it became obvious that Israel was not going to play ball, the terror enablers had to resort to plan B. Hence the accusation that Israel was jamming their communications equipment.

Israel also got it right with its statement on the stunt.

The Foreign Ministry slammed the leftists and said that they did not deserve to be referred to as “peace activists,” branding them as a “handful of provocateurs seeking a public relations stunt who initiated a political protest aimed at boosting Hamas’ regime of horrors in Gaza.”

“How does such delusional journey promote peace?” the Foreign Ministry added. “What kind of contribution does this journey make to the promotion of ideas of reconciliation and compromise? None.”

Israeli officials noted that genuine humanitarian groups can provide humanitarian aid to the Palestinian population through existing land crossings, branding the leftist activists as “propagandists.”

Bullseye. And don’t think at least some palestinians did not notice this.

A Gaza activist told Ynet Saturday that local residents were disappointed by the small quantities of food brought in by two boats carrying international leftist activists.

“Many people thought these boats will make a significant contribution to break the siege, not only politically but also in terms of brining in goods, equipment, food, and medicine,” he said. “However, once it turned out these boats contain too little food and mostly activists…some people left the beach disappointed.”

So well done Israel. You actually got it right this time.

Update: Obviously perturbed by the absence of real drama, some palestinians are not content with accusing Israel of merely jamming communications.

Rami Abdo, Spokesperson of the People’s Committee to Address the Siege on the Gaza Strip told PNN this afternoon that Israeli gunboats opened fire on the Palestinians who had sailed boats into the sea to receive the two “Break the Siege” boats, which had almost reached Palestinian territorial waters. They were forced to change course due to the presence of Israeli warships.

Meanwhile, is this just poor English or are they actually accusing Israel of planting mines to stop the boats?

About the author

Picture of David Lange

David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
Picture of David Lange

David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
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