Choose Peace – End the Siege of Gaza and the Occupation of Palestine


Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Laureate – TRANSCEND Media Service

On Saturday 5th June, 2010, thirty five heavily armed Israeli navy seals commandeered our boat, MV Rachel Corrie, one of the Freedom Flotilla, in international waters (30 miles off the coast of Gaza).  As they did so we, nineteen humanitarian activists and crew, were on the deck.  We were quietly anxious, aware of the solitary figure in the wheelhouse with his hands held high against the window, in full view of the three Israeli warships, four approaching zodiacs and two commando carriers, whose guns were pointing in his direction.  I personally wondered if the courageous Derek Graham would live to tell the tale, conscious of what happened on the Turkish ship, Mavi Marmara, earlier in the week.

On Monday 3lst May, 2010, we heard via satellite phone that the Israeli commandoes had boarded in international waters, from helicopter and zodiacs, the Turkish ship, MV Mavi Marmara, killing and injuring many people.  It was later confirmed that eight Turkish and one Turkish-American unarmed civilians had been shot (two in the head and several in the back). All six boats on the Freedom Flotilla had been commandeered by Israeli navy and taken to Israel. During this attack over forty people were injured.

These killings of unarmed civilians were devastating news to us all and something we never expected to happen.  All Freedom Flotilla participants did so because they were moved by the suffering of the people of Gaza.  They were not terrorists; they were human beings who cared for other human beings in their suffering.  Gaza is cut off by land and sea crossing (its port had been closed for over forty years, since the beginning of the Israeli occupation, and had the Free Gaza Rachel Corrie cargo boat been able to enter Gaza, it would have been the first Cargo boat ever to do so).

Gaza has rightly been described as the largest open air prison in the world, with Israel holding all the keys for its 1.5 million inhabitants living under a policy of collective punishment.  Under siege for over three years now, with a shortage of medicine and basic materials to rebuild their homes, and after the twenty two bombardments by the Israelis in Dec/Jan 2009, Gaza is a place of suffering and isolation for its people.  The flotilla was not only to bring humanitarian aid, books for children, toys, writing material, but to help break the siege of Gaza, which is slowly strangling its people.

The violations of international law committed by Israel are well documented by the UN and many independent human rights bodies.  All of these violations of international laws and norms are committed under the guise of ‘national security’ and a policy to isolate Gaza and weaken Hamas. It is a policy that is clearly not working.  As we have learned in Northern Ireland, violence never works. So, why not try talking to Hamas, as the British government did with representatives of the IRA-Irish Revolutionary Army and loyalist paramilitaries, in order to move to peace?

The brutal and illegal attack of aid ships in international waters on May 3lst and the subsequent boarding of the MV Rachel Corrie, also in international waters, is a symptom of the culture of impunity under which Israel operates.

The Israeli government was quick to blame the activists on board the MV Mavi Marmara, claiming that they attacked first and were members of terrorist groups. They also claimed that the HLL, the Turkish humanitarian group that organized the Mavi Marmara had terrorist links. The HLL is not a banned organization in Turkey and has no links to terrorist organizations.  It was disappointing to see how many international governments and media outlets immediately accepted Israel’s version of events without further investigation.

Sure, there have been calls for a ‘prompt, impartial, credible and transparent’ investigation into the events of May 3lst by the United Nations Security Council. Yet the United States and others seem to think that Israel can conduct such an investigation on its own.  In the words of my colleague, Nobel laureate Jody Williams, this is like “the fox accounting for the number of chickens left in the henhouse.” Such a response cannot stand, and nothing less than an independent investigation will be acceptable to the international community.

This attack on the Freedom Flotilla is a tipping point.  It is time for the international community to finally stop allowing Israel to act with blatant disregard for human life, human rights and international law.  The partial lifting of the siege shows what international pressure can achieve, but it is not enough and only a full lifting of the siege can bring the freedom to the people of Gaza.

It is time for Israel to choose peace.  It is time for world leaders and the international community to join together and call on Israel to lift the siege of Gaza completely, end the occupation of Palestine and allow the Palestinian people their right to self-determination.

We can all do something to help bring closer that day.  Not everyone can go with the Free Gaza boat people, but all can support the BDS-Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions campaign calling for an end to EU special trading status with Israel, and insist that the USA end its economic and military assistance to Israel until it upholds its international commitments.

Palestine is a key to peace in the Middle East, so by us all refusing to be ‘silent’ in the face of Israel’s continued apartheid policies we can all bring closer an end to all violence in the Middle East.

Join the BDS-Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions campaign to protest the Israeli barbaric siege of Gaza, illegal occupation of the Palestine nation, the apartheid wall, and its inhuman and degrading treatment of the Palestinian people: DON’T BUY products whose BARCODE starts with 729, which indicates that it is produced in Israel. DO YOUR PART! MAKE A DIFFERENCE!

7 2 9: BOYCOTT!


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 28 Jun 2010.

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