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Shut In, Shut Down, Shut Up: Three Years after Mavi Marmara

By Greta Berlin | Palestine Chronicle | May 20 2013 
Passengers on the Mavi Marmara were attacked by heavily armed Israeli commandos.
Passengers on the Mavi Marmara were attacked by heavily armed Israeli commandos.

Three years ago, the Free Gaza movement was wrapping up final preparations for a flotilla of eight ships to head out to Gaza, determined to break Israel’s illegal siege on 1.5 million Palestinians shut into an open-air prison. Most of us were already in Cyprus or Turkey or Greece, as we were the primary organizers, having already sent eight voyages, five of them successful in 2008.

Why a flotilla of boats?

During Israel’s horrific massacres against the people of Gaza (called Operation Cast Lead) in December 2008/January, 2009, our boat, the DIGNITY, had been rammed off the coast of Lebanon as we were taking medical personnel into Gaza. The boat later sank in a storm off the coast of Cyprus.

Then, in July 2009, Israel brutally attacked the “Spirit of Humanity,” even though Nobel Peace Laureate, Mairead Maguire, and former Congresswoman, Cynthia McKinney were on board. The Israeli government stole the boat, threw passengers into Israeli prison and, laughably, deported them eight days later, because “passengers had illegally entered Israel.” It was the first time the Israeli commandoes had actually boarded one of the boats as opposed to ramming them or trying to sink them.

We realized a new approach would have to be designed, one that would include more vessels, more passengers and more media exposure to the brutal closure of Gaza. Sailing one boat at a time was not going to get the message out to the world that Israel was blockading the people of Gaza and committing crimes against humanity.

It took Free Gaza a year to organize. We traveled to Sweden, Norway, France, Turkey, Greece, many Middle Eastern countries, Tunisia, Spain, Malaysia, the UK, the US and Germany. We helped Palestinian support groups raise money and send out the message that the next voyage would have to be organized with worldwide support. We succeeded beyond our wildest imagination, as organizations and individuals got on board the mission, raised money from people around the world, and bought the boats… eight in all, from the boats purchased by the Turkish charity, IHH, to the boats ready to go from Greece, Sweden, Ireland, Malaysia and the U.S.

Our own boats, Challenger 1 and Challenger 2 plus the cargo ship, the Rachel Corrie, were on their way to the meting place off the coast of Cyprus. The Rachel Corrie, bought with money from a charity in Malaysia had finally left Ireland, its propeller pin suspiciously dropping out just days before leaving, causing the ship to be delayed for days. Had the final inspection not caught the problem, the propeller would have flown off, damaging the boat and putting the passengers and cargo at risk. The Rachel Corrie would not make it in time to join the flotilla but would try to get into Gaza five days later, only to be boarded by Israeli commandos, the passengers brutalized and left in the sun, then thrown into prison.

The six of us in the media office in Cyprus were fielding calls, trying to keep track of passengers and where they were going to board…and also trying to pacify the Cypriot authorities, who were no longer willing to have our boats leaving their shores… too much Israeli money had come into Cypriot departments over the year, and the doors that had been so welcoming to us, were beginning to close.

As the boats headed out to the meeting place, our two yachts were suddenly dead in the water, clearly a result of sabotage, as the Israelis bragged about it.

After the pin had come out of the Rachel Corrie propeller, it was obvious that one way Israel was going to shut down the flotilla was to make sure boats never left port (during Freedom Flotilla II in 2011, that’s exactly what Israel accomplished, thanks to outsourcing the occupation to Greece and shutting down the entire flotilla of nine boats).

Now, both of our yachts had the same gasline problem at the same time in the middle of the Mediterranean. One was never able to join the flotilla (after taking months to repair, it finally became the Irish ship, Saoirese, that sailed with the Canadian boat, the Tahrir and was violently boarded in November, 2011 by Israeli commandos who tried to sink them with water canons).

We could not have imagined in the days running up to the murderous attacks on our passengers on May 31, 2010 that the Israeli government, in spite of ordering the ramming of the DIGNITY and the vicious boarding of the SPIRIT OF HUMANITY, they would actually send armed commandos onto all six boats, beating up many passengers, wounding over 50 of them, and murdering nine, all while the boats were in international waters.

Shutting Us Up

In an attempt since then to make the attackers look as though they are the victims, the Israeli PR machine has been working overtime to spin the story. Here are just three of the many lies told by PR shill, Mark Regev and top Israeli military men.

1. The flotilla was Turkish or was run by the IHH and was full of Turkish jihadists.

The flotilla was organized and run by the Free Gaza movement with help by every initiative that joined, from IHH to the Swedes to the Irish to the Malaysians. We were all members of civil society who were protesting at Israel’s brutal behavior regarding the Palestinians, and we took no money from governments. All money was raised through donations from average people outraged over Israel’s behavior.

In fact, we had an international passenger list of over 600. Turkey made up half of the passenger list. Australia 3; Azerbaijan 2; Italy 6; Indonesia 12; Ireland 9; Algeria 28; United States 12; Bulgaria 2; Bosnia 1; Bahrain 4; Belgium 5; Germany 11; South Africa 1; Holland 2; United Kingdom 31; Greece 38; Jordan 30; Kuwait 15; Lebanon 3; Mauritania 3; Malaysia 11; Egypt 3; Israel 6: Macedonia 3; Morocco 7; Norway 3; New Zealand 1; Syria 3; Serbia 1; Oman 1; Pakistan 3; Czech Republic 4; France 9; Kosovo 1; Canada 1; Sweden 11; Turkey 380; Yemen 4.

Every one of these passengers had filled out an extensive application. Although Free Gaza was not responsible for the Turkish passengers, they used our application process. Every person who boarded every boat was searched. Even one of the crewmembers on board the Mavi Marmara had to relinquish his Swiss army knife.

2. Passengers attacked heavily armed Israeli commandos, forcing them to shoot in self-defense.

Passengers on all six boats testified to being beaten, their bones broken, and most of them tied up on ships that were in the Mediterranean, a direct violation of maritime law and the treatment of civilians.

As the UNHCR report clearly states, of the nine passengers who were murdered on board the Mavi Marmara, six of them were assassinated, none of them had weapons. In fact, the only weapon in their hands was a camera.

Even the whitewashing Palmer report, a panel set up to counter what UNHRC had issued and co-chaired by that famous human rights abuser from Columbia, Uribe, reluctantly concluded that Israel overreacted. Their finding that the blockade was legal has no standing according to many maritime lawyers (there were none on the panel), since they were only tasked to mend relations with Turkey, something they failed abysmally to do.

3. Israel ‘kindly offered’ to take the supplies loaded on the boats and transfer them to Gaza.

First of all, our missions have never been about delivering supplies. They have always been about breaking Israel’s illegal siege on Gaza. We took in supplies, because we could, and because we often loaded the boats with medical equipment and construction equipment that Israel refused to allow into the besieged enclave.

Second, there is no method of transporting anything from Ashdod to Gaza. It is a seaport with no facilities for transporting 10,000 tons of supplies that were on board the boats. Free Gaza’s lawyers and representatives in Israel spent months working on getting the supplies from the Rachel Corrie into Gaza. When they finally were delivered, the battery operated wheelchairs were minus the batteries, as Israel determined they might be used to make rockets, the same reasoning they gave to us on the first trip about hearing aid batteries.

Third, every piece of cargo, every piece of equipment and every supply that was going to Gaza had already been inspected at the point of departure. That’s the way it’s supposed to be handled, not by some paranoid country that thinks it can break all the conventions of the sea and demand that cargo that was already inspected get hauled into its port. Imagine what a mess it would be if every country in the world decided they had the right to inspect cargo coming in from every other country. It’s what cargo manifests and inspectors are for.

Those three constant lies have been trotted out at every opportunity to shut up the activists and prevent additional voyages. It has not stopped us, as evidenced by the most recent initiative, sailing a boat out of Gaza (www.gazaark.org), nor will it stop us from continuing to hold Israel accountable for the wellbeing of the people it occupies.

The best news on this, the third anniversary of the murders of eight Turks and one American, is that the ICC is going to consider the complaint from the Cormoros Island, the country where the Mavi Marmara was flagged.

In an attempt to shut in the people of Gaza, shut down the voyages and shut up the people who advocate for freedom of movement for the 1.5 million people imprisoned there, the Israelis have failed…. Miserably.

– Greta Berlin is one of the five co-founders of the Free Gaza movement (www.freegazamovement.com) and was on one of the first two boats to arrive in Gaza in August, 2008. She was the primary spokesperson for Freedom Flotilla 1 in May 2010, appearing on international media in Europe, the Middle East and the United States when the flotilla was attacked by Israeli commandos. She is the co-author of Freedom Sailors, a book about that first trip and how activists made it to Gaza in spite of huge obstacles.

May 20, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation, Solidarity and Activism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Greta Berlin in Salem, MA

By Ariadna Theokopoulos  | Deliberation | October 7th, 2012

A lucky few had front row seats at Great Berlin’s Oyer and Terminer cybertrial.
The hall was packed and it was standing room only for most attendees.
Hushed whispers, excited twitters, and face-to-face exchanges in the back seats created an ominous droning sound.

“What did she do exactly?”
“You don’t know?! She posted a video.”
“So?”
“No, I mean one of those.”
“No friggingfreespeech way! She didn’t clear it with anyone?”
“No, she claimed it was not supposed to be widely disseminated; she probably knew it might create a furore, but it somehow got sent out of the Freegaza account.”
“But someone said it was just one of those stupid videos that bark up the wrong tree, chewing the old cud about the Jews’ role in the holocaust.”
“No, it is a lot worse. It is one of those provocative videos, like David Duke’s. You know the BDS saying: “You post, you’re toast.”
“That’s an incredibly dumb video though. Like there isn’t enough current stuff to talk about regarding the role of the Jews in the banking collapse, for one thing.”
“That would not be an approved video either. One of these days I swear I’ll see you up there in Greta’s box. Don’t you get it? It can’t be about the Jews, it is only about Israelis, and not all of them, only the bad ones, like Netanyahu.”
“Did she say that she liked the video and approved of its content?”
“That’s another silly question. What’s wrong with you today? It does not matter that she did not say that. It is bad enough that she watched it and/or sent it on. If we all did stupid things like that where would we be? We’d all be watching and reading anything and discussing it!”
We cannot afford to… wait, how did he put it?
“Who?”
“Can’t remember his name exactly Steve Damsel or Hamsel from Jerusalem, formerly from the US. In his blog called Desert Peace he called her “a witch” and said “we can’t afford to alienate anybody.”
“Smart guy. He is right: what kind of protest movement would we be if we upset people?”
“I read Emily Hauser in the Daily Beast. She explained that Greta harms the Palestinian cause and Emily knows her onions. Her Palestinian onions, as it were, because she said she was talking “as a Jew, a Zionist, and an Israeli.” She even added “as a pro-Palestinians activist I’m pretty pissed off.”

“Shhhhhh@! He is coming!”
“Who?”
“Ali Abounimah. Don’t you recognize him by his limp?”
“What happened to him?”
“Atzmon caught his you know what in a revolving door.”
“What ‘you know what’?”
“I don’t know if the word is on the approved list. In Yiddish it’s beitsam. I guess I can say it in Spanish: cojones.
And since you still look clueless I’ll tell you the revolving door was the business with Ali saying culture does not matter.
Well, Atzmon turned the revolving door back on him with Goldhagen or something and Ali has been limping ever since.”
“Oh, no, he’s coming closer to Greta and sniffing her. He can sniff Atzmon on anybody from a mile away. He looks ready to pounce on her.”
“How can he pounce while limping and wrapped in that djellaba?”
“It’s a judge’s robe but he had it cut like a djellaba: makes him look more Palestinian.
“I hear Naomi Klein resigned from the FG advisory board. A way of saying she can’t be associated with an organization that watches videos. Those videos.“
“Who will speak for the accused? Will someone say anything about her contribution, or that doesn’t count? She founded FG, didn’t she?”
“Maybe, but only in the introduction prior to reading her charges. Makes them, you know, balanced.
“But the Palestinians? I mean the Palestinians in Palestine, especially Gaza?”
“What about them? What do they have to do with this? Leave them out of this discussion. This is far more important. It’s all about racism, that is, its worst form ever, anti-Semitism.
Which is why Ali monitors discussions of a group of 1,000 members or more. You can’t have people flapping their jaws on their own.”
“You’re right. Greta was on probation anyhow. She went off the reservation by saying Atzmon had been ‘demonized.’ I swear that’s the word she used. I think Ali will tear her flesh off the bone, just watch.”
“How do you know?”
“Haven’t you read Harry’s Place? They’re challenging Ali to prove he is not an anti-Semite, and giving him a list of the next candidates for Oyer and Terminer.
Here, read this copy:

“I’m not sure he really believes what he’s saying.
The thing is, Ali Abunimah’s website isn’t much better at all. Abunimah encourages antisemites of similar stock to Greta Berlin, to write for the Electronic Intifada.
Electronic Intifada still lists Sonja Karkar as an author.

Electronic Intifada recently published Stephen Salaita.
Stephen Salaita is a fan of the antisemite Gilad Atzmon.

Ali Abunimah himself has condemned Atzmon for years for antisemitism. Whilst dismissing Atzmon, Abunimah claimed “We must protect the integrity of our movement”. But he still lets one of Atzmon’s admirers write on his blog.
Abunimah also publishes the antisemite Ben White.”

“Some say this is guilt by association and they say it like there’s anything wrong with it as an accusation. Harry’s Place called Ali a “weird and creepy guy.” Next stop: anti-semitesville. So Ali has to, you know, put out.”
“But why isn’t it starting?”
“They’re waiting for Avi Mayer, you know who he is, the head honcho of the Jewish Agency for Israel.”
“But what is he doing here? He is not FG. In fact he says the Free Gaza Movement endorses violence against Israel.”
“No, in this he is with us. In a manner of speaking. It’s complicated.
At any rate, this is the kind of video that should not be circulated at all, so when the FG deleted it from their tweet account, Avi Mayer used a screenshot he had taken of it and posted it.”
“Why?!?”
“Obvious: so everyone can see what they better not watch and pass around.“
“I am beginning to pity her, if he cross examines her.”
“I know, he is merciless.”
“No, worse: I am told he has a killer halitosis.”
“Quiet now, they’re ready to begin.”

October 7, 2012 Posted by | Full Spectrum Dominance, Wars for Israel | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Israel losing the PR battle

By Yousef M. Aljamal | Centre for Political and Development Studies | 30 January 2012
Huwaida at the Port before departure

Huwaida Arraf - image via Wikipedia

For the third week in a row, the Centre for Political and Development Studies (CPDS), a Gaza-based think tank, held a video link to explore issues related to the Palestinian cause, with the presence of Palestinian and international activists. Huwaida Arraf, the co-founder of  the International Solidarity Movement, chair of the Free Gaza Movement, and a prominent Palestinian-American activist, talked to Gaza activists about “The Palestine solidarity movement: Countering Zionist propaganda globally.”

Choosing discourse to communicate with others is one of the basic requirements to get one’s voice heard. Zionists have mastered this, while Palestinians have been misrepresented in the West. Ironically, Palestine’s just story isn’t getting out. “Through the years we have not done a very good job of conveying our plight, and that’s largely because telling our story was left to our ‘official spokespeople’ who didn’t know how to communicate well with the western media”, said Arraf. “On the other side, Israel depends largely on PR, a fundamental part of its strategy. One of the biggest propaganda projects is The Israel Project. Its annual budget for last year alone was eleven million dollars. This is not counting the official support of the Israeli government, companies, and AIPAC”.

“Israel is losing the PR battle for various reasons: law and justice are on our side, there is an increasing awareness among Palestinians, the growth of alternative media like Facebook and Twitter, and, I believe, the effect of the International Solidarity Movement”, Arraf continued.

The second Palestinian Intifada, which was characterized by Israel’s aggression against Palestinian civilians and the role of the media in covering it, pushed Arraf, with the help of other colleagues, to found ISM. It grew to include 8,000 activists, who have worked hard to expose Israel’s grievous and vivid violations of human rights in Occupied Palestine.

“One of the reasons we founded ISM was because we noticed what was happening in terms of Israel’s massive use of violence”, said Arraf. “The media was not portraying the truth of what was happening. We realised that the Palestinian civil society, and Palestinians as a whole, especially after Oslo, needed a resource to be able to stand up and confront what Israel is doing”.

ISM turned out to be something practical, not merely a plan on paper. Its first campaign included 50 people. Since then, over 8,000 activists have actively worked on the ground to help the Palestinian people.

“The first campaign started in August, 2001”, said Arraf. “Fifty people came. We started another campaign. We tried to say the conflict is not about a religion against another. It’s about freedom versus occupation. It’s not Muslims against Jews. We wanted the mass media to know this. ISM aimed at forming advocacy groups and helping the Palestinian people sustain their struggle and get their stories heard”.

Palestinians share values with all other nations, based on tolerance, understanding, and working together for the good of humankind.

“Once, I organised a meeting between a Palestinian farmer from Bodrous village in the West Bank, named Ayed Murra, and a Vermont senator on Capitol Hill”, said Arraf. “We talked about how the wall affects farmers in the West Bank. We spent an hour talking to the senator, who lives in an area full of farmers”.

Israel tries to tell the world that the entire Palestinian movement is Hamas. They play on an anti-Islamic atmosphere in the West. This clearly distorts history and the facts on the grounds.

“Hamas was founded in 1987” said Arraf. “What about the ethnic cleansing in 1948 and 1967? Op-eds and articles were written on Hamas accepting a truce with Israel.  In 2003, the late Palestinian president, Yasser Arrafat, arranged a ceasefire included all Palestinian factions. In the first two-and-a-half months, Israel killed 74 Palestinians and destroyed 480 Palestinian homes”.

Absence of leadership is one of the things Palestinians are discussing today. “The current leadership does not represent the Palestinian people, particularly who live in the Diaspora”, said Arraf. Elections should be held to represent the Palestinian people as a whole. This will help them win representation for their aspirations and dreams.

“The Palestinian leadership is gone, of course”, said Arraf. “Direct elections to Palestinian National Council should be held. After years of not having a strong Palestinian official voice to be able to refer to in terms of what to do abroad, there came the unification of the Palestinian civil society in the form of BDS”.

“CPDS is looking forward to work hand-in-hand with ISM to help the Palestinian people get heard”, said Dr. Mahmoud Alhirthani, CPDS chairman. “It would be a good idea to organize lectures and courses with your help to make this idea a success”.

Next Sunday, the General Union of Palestinian Students (GUPS) in the United Kingdom will talk with Gaza activists at CPDS on how to be a good ambassador of Palestine when in the U.K. This link is part of a programme named “For you, Palestine”, aiming at drawing Palestinian people’s attention to global issues that can help them represent their cause.

January 30, 2012 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Solidarity and Activism | , , , | 2 Comments