As the 400 international activists wait to set sail from Greece to Gaza on the Freedom Flotilla, Israeli media has been full of reports speculating about the activists’ character and motivations for participating in the humanitarian aid mission. Israeli newspapers have charged that the flotilla is carrying sacks of chemicals on board because passengers plan to kill IDF soldiers. The reports come after Foreign Ministry officials informed Israeli cabinet ministers that there was no information about members of "terrorist groups" planning to take part in the flotilla. "Israel is trying to present the flotilla as a military threat, whereas nobody in the world believes that," says our guest, Ali Abunimah, co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, "not even Israeli cabinet ministers." [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZALEZ: As the 400 international activists wait to set sail from Greece to Gaza, Israeli media has been full of reports speculating about the activists’ character and motivations for participating in the voyage. Israeli newspapers have charged that the flotilla is carrying sacks of chemicals on board because passengers plan to kill IDF soldiers. Yesterday, the Israeli military claimed that it had uncovered financial links between the Gaza-bound flotilla and the Palestinian movement Hamas.
Our next guest has closely examined these allegations, and he says they’re unsubstantiated. We’re joined now from Chicago, Illinois, by Ali Abunimah. He is the co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and the author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse.
Ali Abunimah, welcome to Democracy Now!
ALI ABUNIMAH: Good morning, Juan.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, you’ve been listening to the interview with the Consul General. Your response?
ALI ABUNIMAH: Yes, I did listen carefully to the representative of the government that has killed more than 2,200 people in Gaza since January 1st, 2008, the vast majority of them women and children, claiming that Israel is under a grave security threat from a flotilla of civilian ships carrying people such as the great Alice Walker, Hedy Epstein, many other Americans who are committed to the cause of justice and peace, and people from all around the world.
And what doesn’t add up about his claims, there’s two things. One is that Israel is trying to present the flotilla as a military threat, whereas nobody in the world believes that, including, as Amy pointed out in her question, not even Israeli cabinet ministers. Amy pointed out the very significant report in Maariv of members of Israel’s security cabinet saying they had been given absolutely no information of any threat or any links to terrorist organizations from the flotilla. And that matched a report that was reported in Ha’aretz on Sunday, that Israel’s security cabinet had been given a briefing by Foreign Ministry and by security and defense officials, and they had been told that Israel knew of no connections whatsoever between the flotilla, the flotilla organizers and any terrorist organization. So, the problem here is that Israelis say one thing in Hebrew, and then they come on Democracy Now! and they say a completely opposite thing in English. So, that’s really a crucial point.
The second point is that the Israeli propaganda spin is trying to present this as a humanitarian aid issue, and they’re saying, "Well, why do you need to send a flotilla to Gaza, when we are transferring humanitarian aid to Gaza?" And this is a complete distortion and a complete non sequitur. Gaza has been reduced to dependence on humanitarian aid because of Israel’s blockade. Much more important than bringing humanitarian aid in is allowing the Gaza economy to breathe and to function, to allow producers and manufacturers in Gaza to manufacture and export, something that Israel has not allowed. So, Gaza would not be dependent on humanitarian aid if there were no blockade. That’s one thing.
The other thing is, take, for example, the U.S. boat to Gaza. It’s not carrying humanitarian aid. It’s carrying letters of goodwill and solidarity from Americans. And this is to make the point that this is not about, you know, treating Palestinians in Gaza as animals in a cage, where if you shove enough food through the bars, then you need not worry about them. The blockade is collective punishment, which is illegal under international law. And you don’t have to take my word for it. You don’t even have to take the word of the International Committee of the Red Cross that has said so. You can refer to the words of Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who has said openly that the blockade is a form of political pressure.
JUAN GONZALEZ: OK, Ali, Ali, we’re going to have to wrap it there. I want to thank you very much, Ali Abunimah, for being with us, co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and the author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse.