Approximately 1,000 boats will gather in Turkey on Wednesday before heading toward Gaza in an attempt to break the Israeli blockade and disrupt maritime trade coming into Israel during the war with Hamas, in an apparent repeat of similar attempts from over a decade ago.
In an interview with Turkish news website Haber7, Volkan Okçu, one of the organizers of the protest, indicated the boats will carry 4,500 people from 40 countries, “including anti-Zionist Jews.”
Among the 1,000 vessels would be 313 boats filled with Russian activists, and 104 filled with Spanish activists, he said. Only 12 Turkish vessels will join the flotilla, he told Haber7.
However, Okçu said in a later tweet that he expected the number of Turkish vessels to be much higher, at least 1,000, and insisted that the initiative is not associated with the Turkish government. He did not explain the discrepancy in numbers.
The activist indicated to Haber7 that the flotilla is scheduled to leave Turkish coasts on Thursday. The maritime convoy is set to make a first stop in Cyprus before continuing toward the Israeli port of Ashdod. Some participants in the flotilla will also reportedly take their spouses and children on board.
Okçu said that the main objective of the operation would be to cause disruption in international waters off the Israeli coast to the maritime trade heading for the port of Ashdod, in order to interrupt the supply of goods to Israel for a week or even up to 10 days.
Bodrum'a geldim, akşam 8'e kadar yat ve yelken klüpleri ile görüşeceğim, uluslararası kulüplerden de ciddi bir katılım söz konusu birlikte hareket etmek en doğrusu gibi görünüyor…
— Volkan Okçu (@VolkanOkcuoglu) November 17, 2023
The protest action is reminiscent of the attempt by the so-called “Gaza Freedom Flotilla” in May 2010, which tried to breach the maritime blockade on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, but was intercepted by the Israeli Navy.
After the convoy refused Israeli Navy orders to reroute to Ashdod, Israeli commandos boarded one of the ships, the Mavi Marmara, which was carrying over 600 passengers. After being met with violent resistance the commandos opened fire, killing 10 Turkish activists. Ten Israeli soldiers were wounded during the attack.
Following the Mavi Marmara incident, several other flotillas to Gaza were attempted, but largely foiled by Israeli military and diplomatic activities.
“The Zionist regime seems to have no chance to repeat the Mavi Marmara incident,” the Turkish activist said. “The vessels sail under flags of the US, the UK, Luxembourg, Russian, Germany, Spain, Poland, and many other countries.” The activist noted that luxury boats will also join the flotilla and that participants from Europe and the USA will spend an average of $14,000 to join.
Okçu vowed that protesters would “strictly follow international rules” and would not carry any weapons, “not even a pocket knife,” so as not to give Israel any “excuse” to intervene.
“The moment we enter Gaza’s territorial waters, [Israeli forces] can only search us,” the activist said, “or tow us to their ports, and impose fines,” but will not be allowed by international law to raid the convoy in international waters, the way they assaulted the Mavi Marmara in 2010. “[Israel] would pay a heavy price for attempting any crazy action against such a large international peace fleet.”
The diplomatic crisis between Israel and Turkey that ensued after the Mavi Marmara incident was only solved in 2016, when Jerusalem agreed to pay $20 million in compensation to the families of the victims and to allow Turkish aid into Gaza – and in return, Istanbul agreed not to hold any individual Israeli nationals criminally or financially liable for the incident.
The blockade on Gaza was imposed by Israel in 2007, shortly after Hamas took control of the coastal enclave, and enforced in cooperation with neighboring Egypt to prevent the terror group from rearming and becoming an even greater menace, after it repeatedly declared its intention to destroy Israel. The blockade involved a ban on specific goods, and a limitation of the delivery into Gaza of dual-use materials that could be utilized for both civilian and military purposes by Hamas.
Despite the blockade, Hamas since 2007 managed to acquire weaponry and funding, thanks mainly to Iranian and Qatari support, and to fire rockets at Israeli towns and cities on a regular basis, causing skirmishes which on repeated occasions escalated into protracted conflict.
Hamas’s attacks on Israel culminated in its October 7 onslaught on southern Israel, when 3,000 Hamas-led terrorists burst through the border and slaughtered 1,200 people, most of them civilians, rampaging through communities in southern Israel and mowing down partygoers at a music festival. The terrorists also abducted some 240 people to Gaza, where they are still held hostage.
The Mavi Marmara incident from 2010 carries particular significance for the Hamas regime in Gaza, as a symbol of international support to ending the blockade. A monument erected in the Gaza port commemorated the event; it was demolished by the IDF on Thursday in the course of Israel’s ongoing war, launched after the October 7 massacres, aimed at destroying Hamas.
2010 yılında işgal güçlerinin Mavi Marmara’ya yaptığı saldırı sonrasında Gazzeliler, Mavi Marmara’yı bekledikleri limana bir anıt inşa etmişlerdi.
2. Mavi Marmara seferinin yola çıkacağı açıklaması yapıldıktan sonra işgal güçleri, Gazze’deki Mavi Marmara Anıtı’nı hedef alarak… pic.twitter.com/EQoVOcpfBj
— Mavi Marmara (@mavimarmaratr) November 16, 2023
The so-called “Freedom Flotilla Coalition,” which organized the 2010 blockade breach, recently announced that it intends to sail again to Gaza in the near future to put pressure on the Israeli and US governments to allow “inspected humanitarian goods” to be delivered into Gaza, and invited other organization to join its boats. It is unclear whether the convoy that is set to depart from Turkey on Thursday is organized by the Freedom Flotilla Coalition or is a separate initiative.
Various attempts were made by international activists after 2010 to bust the blockade, including one by a boat carrying only women in 2016, and another by a Swedish-flagged boat in 2018. In both cases, the vessels were intercepted by the Israeli navy and towed to the port of Ashdod.