Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Free Gaza Movement's Objectives and Key Players


The Free Gaza Movement (FGM) consists of 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.” These are references to the continuing naval blockade of Gaza that Israel put into effect in June 2007, in the wake of a relentless barrage of terror attacks originating in Gaza and directed against towns in southern Israel. (Some of the rockets also originated from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.) Among FGM's more notable group members and supporters are the International Solidarity Movement, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedom and Humanitarian Relief (IHH), Viva Palestina, and the Israel Committee Against House Demolitions. FGM's individual activists hail from numerous countries and represent various religious backgrounds. They include, among many others:

* Cynthia McKinney, a former U.S. Congresswoman and Green Party presidential candidate
* Huwaida Arraf, founder of the International Solidarity Movement
* Yvonne Ridley, the British journalist who converted to Islam in 2003 and stood for election in the UK as a member of George Galloway's RESPECT Party

William Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn, founders of the Weather Underground

Jodie Evans, the founder and leader of Code Pink: Women for Peace

Sami al-Hajj, an Al Jazeera reporter and a former detainee at Guantanamo Bay, where he was held as an "enemy combatant." The U.S. government accused al-Hajj of having delivered $473,000 to Al-Haramain, a Saudi "charity" with ties to al Qaeda. Al-Hajj's lawyer admitted that his client had met with Osama bin Laden's "Deputy in Sudan," Mamdouh Mahmoud Salim, who was implicated in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

Renee Bowyer, an Australian writer who justified the kidnappings of two Israeli soldiers on grounds that they were acts "directed specifically against a … military regime which has caused so much bloodshed in Gaza and … in the West Bank as well"

Caoimhe Butterly, who opposed sanctions against the Taliban after 9/11, and who was one numerous foreign activists who showed solidarity with Yasser Arafat in the latter's besieged compound in April 2002. She also spent a year trying to disrupt Israeli counter-terrorism activities, and she worked with Zapatista anarchists in Mexico.

Darlene Wallach, a Jewish member of the International Solidarity Movement who once said: "I don't see how Israel is any different to [sic] Nazism during World War II ... There is nothing that the Palestinians do that in any regard I can condemn. I cannot condemn suicide bombings."

In FGM's reading of history:

* 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"; and
* Gaza is essentially an "open-air prison" with an "impoverished and overcrowded population."

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.”

First and foremost, FGM seeks to draw attention to Israel’s alleged human-rights transgressions by publicizing the blockade that Israel imposed on the Gaza Strip in June 2007.

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 had, along with other terrorists who resented the Jews' presence in Gaza, 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 founders and 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 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, which continued to deny Israel's right to exist.

In an effort to prevent Hamas from acquiring additional rockets or other explosives fom 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. 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's Efforts to "Break the Siege":

In August 2008, FGM initiated a "Free Gaza" campaign whereby it periodically dispatched flotillas of ships loaded with humanitarian supplies destined for Gaza. The first of these flotillas consisted of two Free Gaza ships that set sail from Cyprus to Gaza, where they docked and symbolically "broke" the Israeli “siege” when the passengers disembarked. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh welcomed the FGM visitors, meeting with most of the entourage and granting its prime organizer, Jeff Halper, honorary Palestinian citizenship. Afterwards, Halper acknowledged: "This trip wasn't humanitarian; it was political." For further information about this and subsequent FGM voyages, view the Free Gaza Movement profile.

A key affiliate of FGM is the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedom and Humanitarian Relief, a Turkish group bearing the acronym IHH. Ostensibly a peace and human-rights organization, IHH has longstanding ties to Hamas, al Qaeda, and the Muslim Brotherhood. In May 2010, IHH collaborated with FGM to organize a six-ship flotilla bound for Gaza. Over the next several days, Israel issued warnings that the ships would not be permitted to dock in Gaza without first submitting to an inspection of their cargoes. But when the crews of the vessels refused to comply, Israeli commandos intercepted the flotilla in the early morning hours of May 31. The IHH-affiliated activists on one of the ships (the Mavi Marmara) responded violently to the commandos when they rappelled onto the vessel's deck from a helicopter, attacking the commandos with knives, clubs, steel pipes, and stun grenades. In the melee that ensued, nine 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 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 Israeli Defense Force revealed that five of the Mavi Marmara's passengers were known to have terrorist ties:

* 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.
* 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.

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.

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.

Ahmad Umimon (born 1959), is a French citizen of Moroccan origin and a Hamas operative.

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