MK Basel Ghattas (Joint Arab List) announced on Sunday that he will be joining a new flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip, as part of a campaign to lift the naval blockade on the coastal enclave and mark the fifth anniversary of the Mavi Marmara affair.
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Nine activists died when Israel Defense Forces troops boarded the Turkish ship back in May 2010.
Ghattas said he would be joining the flotilla in Athens, together with other parliamentarians and public figures from around the world, including Swedish-Israeli composer and activist Dror Feiler and Spanish European Parliament member Ana Maria Miranda Paza.
In a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Ghattas beseeched the Israeli leadership to allow the Palestinian activists to enter the Gaza Strip by sea.
“The civilian flotilla aimed at breaking the siege is peaceful,” Ghattas wrote. “Its goal is drawing international public attention to the state of the 1.8 million Palestinians living in jail-like conditions as a result of the blockade imposed by Israel – which is a form of collective punishment and constitutes an infringement on humanitarian law,” Ghattas added.
He warned that should Israel try to stop and board the flotilla, it could “entangle Israel in additional international crises that would be the full responsibility of the Netanyahu government.”
Criticism of Ghattas’ move came from a key activist in Balad, one of the parties that makes up the joint Arab faction within the Knesset. The activist said the issue of the Gaza siege was an international matter and the fact that international figures were joining the flotilla made it unnecessary for an Arab MK to be there. Doing so could provide an excuse for the right-wing to continue inciting against the Arab community, the activist added. “There is no doubt that as Palestinian citizens of Israel we identify with our brethren in the Gaza Strip and call for the lifting of the siege. But from that point to an Arab MK joining the flotilla is a long road. Arab society in Israel has quite a few challenges that require the presence of the MKs in Israel and not on the flotilla,” the activist added.
MK Haneen Zoabi (Joint Arab List) previously attracted a raft of criticism for her participation in the 2010 Gaza flotilla.
In response to Ghattas’ announcement, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said the flotilla was an attempt to tarnish Israel’s image, and accused Ghattas of “joining those who wish to fight Israel,” and of acting in the service of the enemy under the cover of parliamentary immunity.
She added that the Foreign Ministry is acting to prevent the flotilla from reaching Israel’s territorial waters.
Zionist Union said that “as the Gaza flotilla isn’t a humanitarian act but a political act that will legitimize the Hamas regime and increase terrorism against Israel, MK Basel Ghattas joining it is unfortunate, political and not humanitarian, and will increase strife inside Israel.”
Zionist Union MK Zouheir Bahloul said that although the blockade of Gaza must end immediately, he didn’t think another flotilla would solve the problem. “In light of the results of the last flotilla, which tore the Arab and Jewish communities in Israel apart, I’m not sure another extravagant flotilla will solve the severe humanitarian problem in Gaza, but will simply divert the discussion again to other realms.”
Yisrael Beiteinu chairman MK Avigdor Lieberman said, “The planned participation of MK Basel Ghattas in the flotilla to Gaza is more proof that the Joint Arab List is one big terror list, whose entire essence is harming the State of Israel and using Israeli democracy to destroy it.”
Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett also blasted the news of the flotilla, saying that it was proof that Israel’s 2005 disengagement from Gaza was a mistake. “A decade after the disengagement from Gush Katif [Israeli settlements in Gaza], rockets are fired on our children, tunnels are being burrowed into our communities, and terror flotillas are being launched at our shores We evacuated Jews and got flotillas in return,” he said.
The deputy chairman of the European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza, Ziad Aloul, said the flotilla was almost ready to leave, and that all participants had been briefed on how to respond to any possible scenario.
Organizers are not saying when the flotilla will reach Gaza. However, it is expected to arrive during the next two weeks if there are no mishaps or pressure from Israel on European governments.