Israeli-Arab lawmaker to join Gaza-bound flotilla

MK Basel Ghattas warns Netanyahu and defense minister that IDF interference could result in international crisis

Arab Israeli parliament member MK Basel Ghattas of the Joint (Arab) List in the Knesset, February 12, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Arab Israeli parliament member MK Basel Ghattas of the Joint (Arab) List in the Knesset, February 12, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

An Israeli-Arab Knesset member on Sunday announced that he intends to sail in a flotilla that will challenge Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip by delivering cargoes of humanitarian supplies.

MK Basel Ghattas of the Joint (Arab) List sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon urging them to let the boats reach the Palestinian coastal enclave or face an international backlash.

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. “I call on you to instruct the Israel security forces to stay away from the flotilla and to let it continue on its way.”

Ghattas warned Netanyahu and Ya’alon of the consequences of another diplomatic crisis similar to the aftermath of the 2010 Mavi Marmara interception by the Israeli navy that led to the deaths of nine Turkish citizens, drawing international condemnation and rupturing Israel’s ties with Turkey.

“Taking over the ships and preventing them from arriving at their destination will entangle Israel in another difficult international crisis, the outcome of which will be the responsibility of you and your government,” he wrote.

Speaking to Hebrew-language Ynet website, Ghattas said the goal of the flotilla was to draw global attention to what he called “the crisis in Gaza” and to apply international pressure on Israel to change its policies.

The Mavi Marmara protest ship is escorted to Ashdod port on May 31, 2010 (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash90)
The Mavi Marmara protest ship is escorted to Ashdod port on May 31, 2010 (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

“The flotilla includes people who are there to bring aid — in particular, medical aid,” Ghattas said. “It is a peace flotilla and not of violence. To those who will criticize me I say, Why don’t you joint as well? Why is that Israelis who are so concerned that there shouldn’t be another round of violence aren’t joining me in order to end the harsh closure on Gaza?”

If Israel sticks to the status quo, he cautioned, the next round of fighting is just a matter of time.

Yisrael Beytenu party leader MK Avigdor Liberman responded to Ghattas’s plans by declaring that “the Joint (Arab) List is just one big terror ship,” Ynet reported.

“The whole point of the Joint (Arab) List is to damage Israel and use Israeli democracy in an attempt to destroy it,” Liberman, a former foreign minister, said. “Israeli society as a whole should stop this hypocritical game, and condemn and expel from our midst this group of supporters of terrorism.”

In 2014, the IDF battled for fifty days against Hamas in Gaza in what was dubbed Operation Protective Edge. At the time Hamas called for Israel to lift its blockade on Gaza as a condition for agreeing to a ceasefire. Although fighting ended and negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians were said to continue via Egyptian mediation for a more robust agreement, the blockade has remained in place.

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 IDF 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.

In 2010, Israeli commandos intercepted the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara, the largest ship in a flotilla dispatched to Gaza by the Turkish relief agency Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), and were violently attacked by those on board, with several soldiers seriously injured. Nine Turks died when the commandos opened fire in what Israel said was self-defense, and one more died in hospital last year. MK Hanin Zoabi of the Joint (Arab) List was on the Mavi Marmara at the time.

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