Politicians from both the left and right of the political spectrum Sunday condemned an Israeli-Arab Knesset lawmaker after he announced he would sail in a Gaza-bound flotilla that will challenge Israel’s naval blockade and seek to deliver cargoes of humanitarian supplies to the Hamas-run Strip.
MK Basel Ghattas of the Joint (Arab) List earlier Sunday sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon telling them of his plan to be on one of the vessels. He urged them to let the boats reach the Palestinian coastal enclave — or face international backlash.
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) criticized Ghattas for abusing the immunity he enjoys as a member of the Israeli parliament.
“It indicates he is serving the enemy under parliamentary immunity,” she said. “In contrast to the picture that the Palestinians are trying to paint, Israel allows goods, food, and construction materials into Gaza. The flotilla is the fruit of the efforts of provocateurs who only want to blacken Israel’s name.”
The Zionist Union party slammed Ghattas for disguising a political statement as a relief effort.
“Just as the flotilla to Gaza isn’t humanitarian, but a political act that gives legitimacy to Hamas rule and will increase the terror against Israel, so too MK Basel Ghattas’s joining it is unfortunate, and not humanitarian but political.”
Ghattas was already in Greece, where he planned to join the three-vessel convoy that is expected to sail for Gaza in the coming days.
“There is no reason to prevent us from reaching Gaza and delivering the assistance that we are bringing with us,” Ghattas wrote in the letter to Netanyahu and Ya’alon. “I call on you to instruct the Israel security forces to stay away from the flotilla and to let it continue on its way.”
Yisrael Beytenu party leader Member of Knesset Avigdor Liberman, who is with the opposition, responded to Ghattas’s plans by declaring that “the Joint (Arab) List is just one big terror flotilla,” the Ynet news website reported.
“The whole point of the Joint (Arab) List is to damage Israel and use Israeli democracy in an attempt to destroy it,” claimed Liberman, a former foreign minister. “Israeli society as a whole should stop this hypocritical game, and condemn and expel from our midst this group of supporters of terrorism.”
MK Haim Jelin (Yesh Atid) similarly called out Ghattas for abandoning his duties as a democratically elected representative of Israel’s Arab minority.
“I regret that MK Ghattas chose to take advantage of his position for provocations, instead of fighting for equality for Israel’s Arab citizens,” he said. “In the areas that he is traveling to, including the Gaza Strip, they would hang him on the gallows in the city square for what he is doing.
“When you get back from the flotilla, take an objective look at what you are doing. Put your hand on your heart and take a deep breath of Israeli democracy,” Jelin added.
The Marianne of Gothenburg, a Scandinavian fishing boat, traveled from Sweden through the waters of Norway, Germany, France, Spain and Portugal before reaching Messina, Italy, last week.
The boat was making its way to Crete, Greece, on Sunday, before attempting to breach the blockade and reach Gaza. Along the way it was to meet up with at least two other boats that make up the flotilla.
The activists say the vessels are carrying a cargo of solar panels and medical supplies for Gaza residents, who are still recovering from last summer’s conflict, and expect to reach the Strip by the end of the month, unless they are intercepted.
Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on Gaza in 2007 when the Islamist Hamas group took control of the Strip in a bloody coup, ousting the Palestinian Authority leadership.
Both countries say the security blockade is meant to prevent Hamas, a terror group avowedly committed to the destruction of Israel, from importing weaponry into Gaza to use against Israel.
The Israel Defense Forces has intercepted a number of civilian ships carrying weapons headed for Gaza in recent years. It has also turned away attempts by activists to break the blockade.