Coalition of groups and individuals seeking to "break" Israel's "siege of Gaza"
Seeks to draw attention to Israel's alleged transgressions chiefly by publicizing the blockade that Israel imposed on the Gaza Strip as a result of a sustained campaign of terrorist attacks by Hamas, Gaza's ruling political entity
Demands that "Israel must withdraw its military presence from all territories occupied since June 5, 1967"
Founded in 2008, the Free Gaza Movement (FGM) is a coalition of groups and individuals seeking to “break the siege of Gaza” and “raise international awareness about the prison-like closure of the Gaza Strip.” At issue is the continuing naval blockade of Gaza that Israel -- in an effort to quell the Hamas-led terror campaign which was being conducted in the region -- put into effect in June 2007.
Israel's creation in 1948 was a "catastrophe" for the Arab world, causing "the overwhelming majority of Palestinians" to be "forcibly evicted from their ancestral homeland."
Israel continues, "[i]n contravention of International law, human rights, and basic principles of morality ... to deny these refugees and their descendants their right to return home."
The very existence of a Jewish state is the result of a grave "historic injustice."
The “illegal appropriation of Palestinian land, home and heritage is at the heart of the Middle East conflict."
Israel is guilty of "land theft" and an "ongoing ethnic cleansing that has squeezed Palestinians in the West Bank into ghettos and bantustans surrounded by 27-foot walls, sniper towers, and military guards."
Gaza is essentially an "open-air prison" with an "impoverished and overcrowded population."
“Israel has occupied Gaza since 1967, maintaining complete control over Gaza's air space and territorial waters, imports and exports, and travel into or out of the territory.”
“Since January 2006, Israel has subjected the Gaza Strip to an increasingly severe blockade, restricting Gaza's ability to import fuel, spare parts, and other necessary materials.... As a result, the economy has completely collapsed … causing steep increases in unemployment, poverty and childhood malnutrition rates.”
Among FGM’s foremost demands are the following:
“Israel must withdraw its military presence from all territories occupied since June 5, 1967 and revoke all legislation, regulations, directives and practices that apply differently to different populations living in those territories.”
“Israel must demolish all barriers built to restrict passage in all territories occupied by Israel since June 5, 1967.”
“[A]ll Palestinian refugees and exiles and their heirs [must be permitted] to return to their homes in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories; to recover their properties, and to receive compensation for damage, dispossession and unlawful use of such property.”
Tracing the Roots of the Israeli Blockade:
As of mid-2005, some 8,500 Jews were living in Israeli settlements located in the Gaza Strip. These Jews were law-abiding, productive citizens who had created a horticulture industry that employed approximately 12,000 Palestinians and accounted for 10% of Gaza's entire gross national product. But they were under nearly constant attack from Hamas, which, along with other terrorists who resented the Jews' presence in Gaza, had already launched thousands of rocket and mortar attacks against southern Israeli towns since 2001. In an effort to forge a peaceful coexistence with its Palestinian neighbors, Israel decided to try a “land-for-peace” approach -- dismantling all its Gaza settlements and forcibly relocating their inhabitants. This relocation process cost Israel nearly $900 million; it was begun in August 2005 and was completed on September 12.
Several days before the relocation process had even begun, however, the political leaders of Hamas publicly announced that their organization's attacks against Israeli targets would continue even after Israel's impending withdrawal from Gaza. Mahmoud al Zahar, the most senior Hamas member in Gaza, made the following remarks:
“We do not and will not recognize a state called Israel. Israel has no right to any inch of Palestinian land. This is an important issue. Our position stems from our religious convictions. This is a holy land. It is not the property of the Palestinians or the Arabs. This land is the property of all Muslims in all parts of the world.”
“Let Israel die.”
“We will enter the settlements and sully the dignity of Israel with our feet. We will stand on the ruins of the Israeli settlements and tell our people we have prevailed.”
These assertions were followed by a renewed wave of Arab violence and terrorism led by Hamas and Islamic Jihad. As the last Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) personnel left Gaza, the Palestinians began torching the synagogues Israel had abandoned. In addition, they blew up the Egypt-Gaza border wall and immediately brought massive quantities of heavy weaponry into Gaza.
Most significantly, Palestinian rocket and mortar attacks continued to rain down on southern Israeli villages, which the assailants vowed to transform into "ghost town[s]." Between August 15, 2005 and January 25, 2006, Gaza terrorists launched, on average, slightly more than 15 attacks per month.
Then, in elections that were held on January 25, 2006, Hamas took control of the Palestinian government when its party members won a majority of parliamentary seats. Formally assuming power on March 29, the newly installed prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, pledged to confront "Israeli aggression against the people." The new 24-member Hamas cabinet included 14 ministers who had previously served time in Israeli prisons.
After Hamas's electoral victory, Gaza terrorists stepped up their activity. From January 25, 2006 through June 14, 2007, they launched an average of 102 rocket and mortar attacks per month—an increase of nearly 700%. On May 21, 2007, Hamas official Nizhar Riyah declared that “Hamas is determined to wipe Israel off the map and replace it with the state of Palestine.” He vowed to persevere “until the last Jew is expelled” from "all of Palestine."
On June 14, 2007, Hamas forces consolidated their control over much of Gaza when its military men overpowered rival Fatah fighters, forcing them to abandon their posts. Hamas soon controlled almost all of Gaza City. This development left the Palestinian territories divided, with the West Bank run by Fatah, and Gaza run by Hamas; both organizations, however, continued to deny Israel's right to exist.
In an effort to prevent Hamas from acquiring additional rockets or other explosives from Iran and other allies abroad, Israel imposed a naval blockade designed to permit the import of humanitarian supplies and other basic necessities, but no weapons of war. Egypt, which controlled the only Gaza border crossing outside Israeli territory, at Rafah, also cooperated in enforcing the blockade.
Despite the blockade, Gaza's rocket and mortar attacks against Israel not only continued but actually increased in their frequency. Between June 14, 2007 and June 16, 2008, these attacks occurred at an average rate of 361 per month. All told, between January 2001 and December 2008, Hamas-affiliated terrorists in Gaza fired some 8,165 rockets and mortars at civilian communities in southern Israel.
FGM views such rocket attacks as understandable acts of resistance against a brutal oppressor nation. Thus, rather than condemn the attacks, the organization instead seeks to draw attention to what it characterizes as Israel’s human-rights transgressions -- chiefly by publicizing the blockade of the the Gaza Strip. To accomplish this, FGM's modus operandi is to dispatch, from various originating nations, naval vessels carrying “humanitarian aid” supplies to the people of Gaza. The objective of these ships is to “break” – both symbolically and literally – Israel's “siege” of the region and deliver their cargoes to the needy civilians.
The Palestinians' Deprivation: Fact vs. Fiction:
Contrary to FGM's claims, Israel maintains an ongoing humanitarian corridor for the transfer of perishable and staple food items to Gaza. This conduit is used by internationally recognized organizations including the United Nations and the Red Cross. For example, from early 2009 through mid-2010, more than a million tons of humanitarian supplies entered Gaza from Israel – nearly a ton of supplies for every person in Gaza. Moreover, in 2009, some 4,883 tons of medical equipment and medicine were delivered to Gaza, and 10,544 patients and their companions left the Gaza Strip for medical treatment in Israel. (The Hadassah Medical Organization in Jerusalem donates $3 million in annual aid to treat Palestinians in Israel.) Between 2005 and 2010, however, Palestinians exploited medical-care arrangements more than 20 times in order to carry out terror attacks.
For more complete details about Israeli-facilitated aid to Gaza, click here.
Hamas Invites FGM to Gaza:
On November 1, 2007, the Hamas Minister of Youth and Sport, Dr. Bassem Naim, wrote a letter -- on official Palestinian National Authority stationery -- inviting FGM leader Paul Larudee and his fellow activists “to help lift the siege of Gaza.”
FGM's First Voyage to Gaza:
Fulfilling Dr. Naim's wish, FGM in August 2008 initiated a "Free Gaza" campaign whereby it would periodically dispatch flotillas of ships carrying humanitarian supplies destined for Gaza. On August 23, 2008, two FGM boats – the Free Gaza and the Liberty – sailed from Cyprus to Gaza, where they docked and symbolically "broke" the Israeli “siege” when their 44 passengers disembarked. The Israeli navy, seeking not to ignite international disapproval, made no attempt to stop them. Greeted by crowds of thousands in Gaza, the FGM activists claimed to be the first people to have freely entered Gaza in 41 years (since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war). Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh personally welcomed most members of the entourage and granted honorary Palestinian citizenship to its chief organizer, Jeff Halper (founder and coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions).
Mustafa Barghouti, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, the Minister of Information in the Palestinian National Unity Government, and the cousin of Marwan Barghouti (who founded the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades)
Caoimhe Butterly: This Irish human-rights advocate had lived and worked in Palestinian refugee camps and South Lebanese villages, and opposed U.S. sanctions against the Taliban after 9/11. In April 2002 she was one of a group of foreign activists who showed solidarity with terrorist leader Yasser Arafat in the latter's besieged compound. Butterly also spent a year trying to disrupt Israeli counter-terrorism activities, and she worked with Zapatista anarchists in Mexico.
Amir Mohammed Sidig (a reporter) and Ali Al-Jaber (a cameraman), both employed by Al Jazeera
FGM's Third Voyage to Gaza:
FGM made a third trip to Gaza during November 8-11, 2008, when its members, reportedly delivering a ton of medical supplies, accused Israel of conducting “chemical warfare on Palestinian fishermen.” One of the 27FGM participants was Clare Short, the former UK Secretary of State for International Development. Short warned that Israeli aggression might eventually cause the "end of the human race"; she called for a boycott of Israel as long as its "apartheid wall" continued to stand; she affirmed that "the Palestinian people are entitled to resist occupation"; and she declared that "U.S. backing for Israeli policies of expansion ... and oppression of the Palestinian people is the major cause of bitter division and violence in the world."
During December 8-11, 2008, FGM made its fourth trip to Gaza with a coterie of 16 passengers, including a “students” delegation that “toured schools and universities in Gaza to assess the impact of the siege on education.”
During December 29-30, 2008, FGM made its sixth trip to Gaza. At the time, a major Israeli military offensive known as Operation Cast Lead was underway in Gaza, in retribution for Hamas's relentless rocket attacks against southern Israeli cities. Claiming that Israel's retaliatory strikes constituted war crimes and human-rights atrocities, FGM characterized its trip as “an emergency mission of mercy” designed to deliver “over 3 tons of medical supplies” to the Palestinian victims of Israel's “blitzkrieg” and “massacres.” Because of this tense political backdrop, IDF forces divertedthe Dignity before it could arrive in Gaza, prompting FGM to complain that Israel had “attack[ed]” its ship “without any warning, or any provocation.”
On January 12, 2009, 36 activists took part in FGM's seventh trip to Gaza – aboard a new boat, the Spirit of Humanity, which was carrying medical supplies. With Operation Cast Lead still raging, however, the Israeli navy forced the FGM vessel to turn back before reaching Gaza.
FGM Dispatches a Lebanese Cargo Ship to Gaza:
On February 3, 2009, FGM and a Lebanese group, the Palestinian National Committee Against the Siege, jointly dispatched the Tali, a Togo-registered cargo vessel “carrying more than 60 tons of humanitarian aid,” to the Gaza Strip. Two days later, after the Tali had repeatedly ignored IDF instructions that it submit to a cargo search before docking, IDF forces diverted the ship to the Israeli port of Ashdod, where they examined its payload – and found that it was carrying very few humanitarian supplies.
In 2010, FGM collaborated with the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedom and Humanitarian Relief, a Turkish group bearing the acronym IHH, to organize a six-ship flotilla bound for Gaza. (Ostensibly a peace and human-rights organization, IHH has longstanding ties to Hamas, al Qaeda, and the Muslim Brotherhood.) As the flotilla, which began its journey on May 30, headed toward Gaza, Israel issued numerous notifications indicating that the ships would not be permitted to dock without first submitting to an inspection of their cargoes. But in the early morning hours of May 31, after the boat crews had repeatedly refused to comply, Israeli commandos rappelled from helicopters onto the decks of the vessels and intercepted the flotilla. The IHH-affiliated activists on one of the ships (the Mavi Marmara) responded violently, attacking the commandos with knives, clubs, steel pipes, and stun grenades. Some of the activists were armed with guns. In the melee that ensued, nine FGM/IHH activists were killed and seven Israeli soldiers were wounded.
Soon after the foregoing incident, the Israeli government revealed that among the 600-plus people aboard the Mavi Marmara were senior members of the Muslim Brotherhood and some 40 Turkish jihadis who had instigated the violence. For example, three of the four Turks who were killed in the confrontation had previously declared their readiness to become martyrs:
"I am going to be a martyr. I dreamed about it," 39-year-old Ali Haider Banjinin (from Kurdistan) told his family just before joining the flotilla.
Another casualty was 61-year-old Ibrahim Bilgen, whose brother-in-law subsequently stated that "martyrdom suited him very much. Allah gave him a death he desired."
A third Turkish casualty, Ali Akbar Yertilmis, had "dreamt of becoming a martyr," according to a friend.
On June 6, 2010, the IDF revealed that five of the Mavi Marmara passengers were known to have terrorist ties:
Hassan Iynasi (born 1982) is a Turkish citizen and an activist with a Turkish charity that is known for providing financial support to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist organization.
Ken O’Keefe (born 1969), an American and British citizen, is a radical anti-Israel activist and operative of Hamas. He attempted to enter Gaza in order to form and train a commando unit for that organization.
Fatimah Mahmadi (born 1979) is a U.S. resident of Iranian origin and an active member of the organization Viva Palestina, which is believed to be a funder of Hamas; she attempted to smuggle forbidden electronic components into the Gaza Strip.
Ahmad Umimon (born 1959) is a French citizen of Moroccan origin and a Hamas operative.
Hussein Urosh, a Turkish citizen and IHH activist, was headed to Gaza in order to assist in smuggling al Qaeda operatives via Turkey into the Strip.
Other passengers aboard the Mavi Marmara included:
Mahdi al-Harati: This Libyan would later (in 2011) serve as a commander of the so-called Tripoli Brigades, which played a decisive role in the rebel conquest of Libya's capital and the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi. After the seizure of Tripoli, al-Harati was named second-in-command to Abdul-Hakim Belhadj, head of the newly formed Tripoli Military Council. Belhadj was also the leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, an affiliate of al-Qaeda.
Abd Alrahman Brizat (a.k.a. Muhamad Hasan): This radical Islamic militant from Jordan was a member of an al Qaeda-affiliated terror cell in the Gaza Strip.
Easing of the Blockade:
Following harsh international condemnation of the deadly confrontation aboard the Mavi Marmara, Israel and Egypt jointly signaled that they would temporarily ease the Gaza blockade. Egypt pledged to open its border with Gaza for the first time in more than a year to allow humanitarian aid to pass through, while an Israeli official announced an "ongoing dialogue" with the international community on how to expand the quantity of goods entering the area. At the same time, Israel began to expel some of the nearly 700 activists it had rounded up in the naval raid, and claimed that some of the arrestees were carrying weapons and large quantities of cash, raising questions about whether they may have been mercenaries. Ultimately, Israel announced that it would continue to inspect all goods bound for Gaza by sea at the port of Ashdod – a decision that evoked additional international criticism.
Legal Justification for Israel's Blockade and the Interception of the FGM Flotilla:
Israel scholar David Meir-Levi explains the basis for the legality of Israel’s interception of the FGM flotilla before it reached Gaza:
"... Hamas, the ruling force in the Gaza Strip and an organization condemned as an illegal enemy terrorist entity by the U.S. Department of State and the European Union, was in an active state of war with Israel. In wartime, blockades are legal according to international law.
"Hamas officials have repeatedly declared publicly that the goal of their terrorism is the obliteration of Israel. Hamas’ charter calls for the destruction of Israel, and since its very inception, Hamas has declared war on Israel and has mercilessly attacked Israeli soldiers and civilians. When Israel unilaterally and unconditionally evacuated the Gaza Strip in 2005, Hamas declared a victory for terrorism and a commitment to maintaining the terror war against Israel. Hamas matched its words with suicide bombers, sniper attacks, RPG attacks, kidnappings and thousands of Qassam rockets. Given Hamas’ commitment to Israel’s destruction, and its relentless terrorist attacks, one must conclude that Hamas is at war with Israel.
"Some have argued that neither Hamas nor the Palestinian Authority are yet 'state actors' and [that] the maritime laws of war apply only to 'state actors.' Thus, Israel’s blockade, being against non-state actors, is in violation of maritime laws of war. But this is a deeply flawed argument, comparable to declaring that since terrorists do not wear uniforms, they must be treated as civilians rather than [as] combatants.
"In response to Hamas’ endless and relentless terrorist war, Israel’s blockade is a legitimate restrained and defensive military action; and thus Israel’s interdiction of the Mavi Marmara in May, 2010, was rational, legal, and moral. International law acknowledges that all sovereign nations have the right to defend against aggressors, and Israel has a moral duty to protect its citizens."
Lawsuit Against FGM:
In early June 2011, Cherna Rosenberg, a citizen of both Canada and Israel and a resident of the southern Israeli town of Sderot, filed a lawsuit in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice against Canadian Boat to Gaza and Alternatives International, two supporters of the FGM flotilla movement. The complaint charged that these organizations, by providing funding and material support to Hamas -- the terrorist group in political control of Gaza -- had caused extreme psychological trauma for Ms. Rosenberg and her neighbors in Sderot, which had been subjected to persistent, indiscriminate shelling by Hamas. Under Canadian law, it is illegal to provide assistance to a designated terror group.
FGM Leader Reveals the True Purpose of the Movement:
In June 2011, FGM activist Adam Shapiro stated that the Free Gaza Movement "is not about aid," but rather "about raising awareness of the ongoing occupation in Gaza and the freedom of the Palestinians." "The aid has always been secondary to the message of challenging the [Israeli] policy," he added.
Jewish Support for FGM:
In June 2011, Israel National Newsreported that American Jews comprised "more than 25 percent of the pro-Hamas flotilla that aims to challenge the IDF on the high seas and reach Hamas-backed Gaza, throwing cold water on the allegation of a unified pro-Israel 'Jewish lobby' in the United States."
A number of the groups participating in the flotilla were linked directly with the Union of Good (UoG), a coalition of Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated European charities that was formed in 2000 by Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi.
As the flotilla's scheduled launch date approached, Israel warned that it would intercept the ships and that its IDF soldiers would defend themselves if attacked.
FGM's Tenth Voyage to Gaza Is Delayed, Then Cancelled:
The FGM flotilla's scheduled June 2011 departure date was delayed as a result of various legal challenges which were brought against the flotilla's participants and their supporters. For example, two Israeli reserve soldiers sought to bring a private prosecution -- for the crimes of assault and soliciting aid for an attack -- against those activists who had taken part in the ill-fated May 2010 flotilla. In addition, the U.S. Attorney General threatened the 36 Americans slated to sail with the 2011 flotilla that they would be liable for criminal prosecution if they took part in the mission. And most significantly, the Israeli activist law firm Shurat Hadin -- which seeks to bankrupt terrorist networks through a creative use of existing legal channels -- took the following measures, as outlined by journalist Melanie Phillips:
It sent letters to all the maritime insurance companies in Europe and Turkey, warning them that if they provided the flotilla boats with insurance (a necessary component in the effort to smuggle contraband to the terrorists), they themselves would be legally liable for any future terrorist attacks perpetrated by Hamas.
It filed -- on behalf of an American terror victim injured by a Palestinian suicide bomber -- an unprecedented lawsuit to seize the flotilla boats.
It sent warning letters to a French insurance company warning it not to insure a boat that was to be launched from Marseilles. The company accordingly decided not to provide the French boat with insurance. (In a related matter, the Mavi Marmara, the Turkish boat which had been involved in the violent confrontation with Israeli commandos in May 2010, pulled out of the 2011 flotilla because it was unable to obtain maritime insurance.)
It sent warning letters to the UK- and US-based global satellite company INMARSAT, stating that the company might be liable for massive damages and criminal prosecution if it were to provide communication services to ships used by suspected terror organizations in the flotilla. (Soon thereafter, a resident of the southern Israeli town of Sderot filed a suit asserting that, under U.S. law, INMARSAT was aiding and abetting terrorism by providing satellite services to the flotilla vessels.)
It complained to the Greek Coast Guard suggesting that some of the flotilla ships might be lacking insurance or proper registration documents; this caused Greek authorities to detain two of the ships which were docked in Greece.
In addition to the foregoing legal challenges, the flotilla was also hampered by Greece's refusal to allow the participating ships to embark from its ports. With the Gaza flotilla's launch date delayed by all of these circumstances, the Greek government on July 3 offered to deliver to Gaza, on FGM's behalf, whatever humanitarian cargo the organization had already collected for the region's Palestinian residents. FGM responded with the following statement:
"The offer ... is insufficient as it shows collusion with Israel’s blockade as well as a complete disregard for Palestinian human rights, reducing the issue of Gaza and Palestine as a whole to one of humanitarian aid. However, we are willing to discuss a counter proposal with the Greek government along the lines of earlier suggestions by the Greek and Cypriot governments for a direct sea route to Gaza from one of these countries."
On July 16, 2011, the Dignite al Karama, the last remnant of what was supposed to have been a ten-ship flotilla to Gaza, attempted to defy the Greek government's prohibition against flotilla participants using any of its ports as launch points. After leaving the Greek island of Kastellorizo ostensibly for Alexandria, the Dignite suddenly shifted course toward Gaza. At that point, the Israeli navy informed the Dignite's crew that whatever humanitarian supplies were aboard the vessel could be delivered legally to Gaza by land. The Digniteturned down the offer and also refused to change course when that, too, was suggested. Finally, on July 19, Israeli naval commandos boarded the ship without incident. The captain subsequently claimed that the passengers (among whom were at least 15 radical leftists) had forced him to change course to Gaza; the passengers were brought to Ashdod Port in Israel, from where they faced deportation.
Israel Apologizes for the Mavi Marmara Incident
In March 2013, the Israeli government, under pressure from U.S. President Barack Obama, apologized to Turkey for the 2010 Mavi Marmara raid and agreed to pay compensation to the families of
the nine Turks who had died in the incident. One recipient of this compensation, activist Mehmet Tunç said he would donate his share of the money entirely to Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
FGM's Supporters and Endorsers:
For a list of many individuals and organizations that support and endorse FGM, click here.