How long before Israel's illegal and barbaric siege of Gaza is broken?

Four years after ten humanitarian activists were killed on the ship Mavi Marmara, as it travelled to Gaza bringing essential goods, the work to break the siege continues.

Four years ago, on May 31 2010, the ship I was sailing in, the Mavi Marmara, came under sustained and lethal attack by Israeli commandos while in international waters.

The Mavi Marmara, along with six other ships, was sailing to break the siege on Gaza with humanitarian aid for the 1.6 million Palestinians living trapped under a blockade.

Over 700 people from 40 different countries were on board the flotilla. Nine passengers were killed that day and over 50 injured. A tenth victim, Ugur Suleyman Soylemez, died only days ago on May 24 2014, after being in a coma since the attack.

Four years on, the Mavi Marmara continues to make waves. On Monday May 27 arrest warrants were issued by an Istanbul court for four Israeli commanders in relation to the attack on the ship.

The court also requested an Interpol Red Notice for the arrest of the four — former Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) chief of general staff General Rau Gavriel Ashkenazi, Naval Forces commander Eliezer Alfred Maron, chief of Israeli intelligence Amos Yadlin and Air Forces intelligence director Avishay Levi.

The International Criminal Court has also opened a preliminary investigation into the attack. This is a significant development with the defendants already feeling the long arm of the law.

Amos Yadlin is reported to have said in a text message to Reuters: “I won’t be visiting Turkey, just like I won’t be visiting Syria, Iran or North Korea.”

His attempt to ridicule the court’s decision is unwise, given that he is already subject to an arrest warrant in one country and a request lodged with Interpol.

With hundreds of witnesses to Israel’s military assault, there is a staggeringly large amount of evidence of the crimes committed on the Mavi Marmara. A UN Human Rights Council fact-finding mission investigated the attack shortly afterwards and spoke to many of the survivors. It found that the attack was “clearly unlawful” and described the conduct of the Israeli military as “not only disproportionate to the occasion but demonstrated levels of totally unnecessary and incredible violence.”

The mission’s 56-page report detailed the events leading up to the interception of each of the six ships that made up the flotilla as well as a seventh ship intercepted on June 6, the deaths of nine passengers and wounding of many others and the detention of passengers in Israel and their subsequent deportation.

The report’s authors said that the attack “betrayed an unacceptable level of brutality. Such conduct cannot be justified or condoned on security or any other grounds. It constituted grave violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law.”

The families of those killed on the Mavi Marmara have repeatedly stated that compensation is not sufficient, and that those responsible must be brought to justice. They are also insistent that the siege on Gaza be lifted. After all, this is why their relatives sailed four years ago, alongside hundreds of others from around the word — to focus the world’s attention on the humanitarian crisis created by Israel’s blockade on Gaza.

We were bringing with us construction materials to repair some of the damage caused by Israel’s bombings on Gaza. Also medicines, blankets, electrical wheelchairs and mobility scooters and materials to build children’s playgrounds.

Four years on, the siege continues to plague Palestinian lives in Gaza. Tunnels that had been used to partially alleviate the siege by smuggling in essential goods through the border with Egypt have been destroyed.

The UN reported that the volume of goods entering Gaza last month was the lowest since 2011, causing shortages of essential items including dairy products and fruits.
Fuel reserves are dangerously low, with only about 40 per cent of the amount required entering Gaza.

Families are struggling to cope with power shortages and blackouts of up to 12-16 hours a day. Two-thirds of Gaza’s population currently receives clean water only once every three to four days. Water contamination in Gaza stands at 90 per cent and essential medicines are unavailable.

Aid agencies are repeatedly warning that life will become impossible for Palestinians in Gaza if the infrastructure is not repaired, the aquifer is not replenished and the siege not lifted. World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics show that 30 per cent of medicines and 50 per cent of medical disposables are out of stock at the Central Drug Store in Gaza.

Increasing numbers of patients are being referred for treatment abroad — due to the lack of essential equipment and supplies in Gaza — but many of these patients are refused permits to leave Gaza. Amna al-Jazzar, a six-month-old baby, became yet another victim of the siege when she died on April 28 while her family waited for Israeli approval of her treatment in Israel.

The family submitted a total of four applications between February and April for a permit to cross Erez to meet the hospital appointments. Three of those applications were never replied to and one was denied.

Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that “No persons may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed.” Yet 1.7 million Palestinians are being collectively punished, and despite international condemnation, Israel has not been forced to lift the blockade.

This is why, four years ago, we set sail to Gaza. And this is why we are continuing to work to break the siege.

Source: Morning Star

Sarah Colborne is director of Palestine Solidarity Campaign (www.palestinecampaign.org). On 5 June2014, she will be speaking at Remembering Tony Benn: An Evening to Celebrate his Life

In 2009 as Israel's barbaric bombing of Gaza was killing hundreds of women and children, Tony Benn ignored the BBC's attempt to shut him up as he read out where people could donate to the Gaza Emergency Donation Fund.

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