Before dawn on Monday 31 May, in international waters some 90 miles from Gaza’s coastline, Israeli commandos forcibly boarded a peaceful convoy of aid ships that was headed to Gaza city.
Exact numbers are still not known, but at least nine, and possibly as many as 20 volunteers aboard the main ship, the Mavi Marmara, were murdered by Israeli forces, who used live fire against the people on board. Dozens more were wounded and all passengers were then abducted to prisons in Israel.
The 800 volunteers trying to deliver 10,000 tonnes of vital aid to Gaza were from 40 countries and included parliamentarians, journalists, women, children and the elderly. Forty-two members of the flotilla were British.
The flotilla’s cargo of essential supplies denied to Palestinians under the illegal blockade included 2,100 tonnes of cement, 600 tonnes of iron bars and 150 tonnes of iron, all needed for reconstruction of houses and infrastructure that were destroyed by the brutal Israeli massacre of Dec 08-Jan 09, which left more than 1,417 Palestinians dead and 5,000 wounded, many of whom were maimed for life.
Also on board were 18 large and 80 small electricity generators, 50 large and 40 small prefab houses, 16 complete children’s playground kits, sports equipment including footballs and basketballs, $1m worth of medical equipment including a complete dental kit, construction and hardware supplies. The ships were carrying stationery including crayons, pens, 20 tonnes of paper for schools, textiles and food, including chocolate for Gaza’s children.
The youngest passenger on the Mavi Marmara was a one-year-old baby; the eldest was a Palestinian leader in his 80s, who vividly remembers the 1948 Nakba (‘catastrophe’), when Israel massacred thousands of innocent Palestinian civilians and drove hundreds of thousands into exile. Sixty years on, despite a plethora of UN resolutions condemning Israel and demanding the right of return for those Palestinian refugees, they and their descendants are still living in refugee camps.
The volunteers and peace activists of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla were unarmed. Their power lay not in weapons but in their determination to act where governments have refused. Standing in solidarity with their Palestinian brothers and sisters against Israel’s brutal, illegal occupation of Palestine and against the collective punishment of 1.7 million people (more than half of whom are children) living under siege, they raised money in their communities to bring life-saving supplies to the besieged people of Gaza.
The volunteers on the flotilla represent the vast mass of humanity. They were upholding international law, which Israel, the US and Britain flout with impunity in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan (to name but three). And they are part of a growing international movement to show Israel and its backers that the world will not stand by and allow the siege to succeed and the Palestinians to be starved into submission.
Before the flotilla sailed, John Ging, Director of Operations for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA), said, “We believe that Israel will not intercept these vessels because the sea is open, and human rights organisations have been successful in similar previous operations proving that breaking the siege of Gaza is possible.” Although his optimism proved misplaced, such open encouragement by an influential figure within the UN itself makes it clear just how isolated Israel has become.
George Galloway, reacting to news of the assault, called it “one of the most dastardly attacks on humanitarian aid workers in recent times” going on to state that “amidst the wreckage of the Freedom Flotilla is what remains of Israel’s reputation as a member of the international community”.
Caoimhe Butterly, an activist with the Free Gaza movement, stated in a video call for action: “It’s essential that it’s understood that this flotilla is legitimate, that we are attempting to uphold international law, that we have the conscience of the world on our side and that what we are doing is ... the sort of actions that our governments should be and are not.
"In the direct silence and complicity of our governments, the people lead and the leaders follow ... We’ve got to up the ante. We’ve got to understand that the urgency of the situation in Gaza demands our action, demands mobilisations, and we have to be willing to take some of the risks and sacrifices that our Palestinian brothers, sisters and comrades are forced to endure on a daily basis.
"It is an honour to be part of this struggle. It is an honour to join a people who continue to resist in conditions that would break most people. So please mobilise ... and show your solidarity with the Palestinian people in struggle. It’s time to act.”
The CPGB-ML sends its heartfelt condolences to the families of those brave volunteers who died and our sympathies to those who were wounded and their families. We share the anxiety of all those who have friends and family on board the ships whose current state and whereabouts is still unknown.
We join all freedom and justice-loving peoples of the world in demanding the immediate release of the remaining volunteers taken prisoner by the Israeli pirates.
Let the sacrifice of our comrades not be in vain. They pledged to keep coming back until the sea was open and the siege on Gaza finally broken. Let us take up their pledge. Let there be no peace for any Israeli official – or for their funders and backers in Washington and London – while any volunteers remain prisoner or while the siege remains in place on Gaza.
And let us take heart from the fact that by this latest act of barbarism, Israel has knocked yet another nail into its own coffin and taken another giant stride down the road of self-destruction.
We send a red salute to all the activists playing a role in the struggle against imperialist domination of the Middle East. In the immortal words of Joe Hill: “Don’t mourn – organise!”
Long live the martyrs of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla!
Hound the warmongers!
Long live Palestine!
(Leaflet issued 31 May 2010. Updated 7 June)