Wednesday, 29 June 2011

US Boat to Gaza invites Greek and international media to inspect Audacity of Hope


Audacity Invites Media to Inspect  
Boat and Passengers
"We're Sulfur-Free and Ready to Sail"

Passengers on the U.S. Boat to Gaza, The Audacity of Hope, invite Greek and international media to inspect The Audacity of Hope at 3 pm Athens time on Thursday, June 30, in the town of Perama (next to Piraeus), 42 Democratis.
The entire boat will be open for view, photography, and video. The captain, crew, and passengers on the boat will be available for interviews and inspection. The cargo of the ship - 3,000 letters from Americans to the people of Gaza - will also be available for view, photographs, and video. Everything that will be on the boat when it sets sail, including food and passengers' personal medications for use during their voyage, will be available for inspection.
The Audacity of Hope was inspected by Greek officials on Monday, June 27 after a complaint was lodged by an Israeli group that the vessel was not seaworthy. We have not yet received notification of their findings nor a copy of their report, but we are certain that our boat is up to code. Meanwhile, Israeli officials have made outrageous allegations that passengers on the flotilla will be bringing "sacks of sulfur" to pour on Israeli soldiers. Even Members of Israel's own security cabinet have dismissed these charges as "media spin" and "public relations hysteria."* We invite the media onto our boat to conduct a thorough inspection. We are confident that such an inspection will show that our boat is "sulfur-free" and ready to sail.
"On behalf of the 36 passengers and 4 crew on The Audacity of Hope, I invite the media to ask us anything, inspect anything, taste our food, look inside our bags" said Gale Courey Toensing, a passenger on the American boat. "Our voyage is totally transparent and we have nothing to hide. All we want to do is sail to Gaza with our cargo of letters from Americans to the people of Gaza."
* "Israel ministers slam flotilla threat as 'spin'", Agence France Presse 6/29/11 
For regular updates follow the US Boat to Gaza on Twitter: and visit the US Boat to Gaza website.

Sabotage suspected on second flotilla vessel - Irish boat's propellor damaged

(pic: Demo in Dublin to support of Irish Ship to Gaza)

ATHENS — Pro-Palestinian activists hoping to draw international attention to Gaza's plight faced further setbacks Wednesday, as reports a second boat had been "sabotaged" pushed the departure back to the weekend at the earliest.

Frustrated volunteers for the Gaza-bound flotilla milled helplessly around in Athens as organisers also admitted they were making little headway with the Greek government over getting the necessary permission to set sail.

"The Irish boat has a problem with its propeller, we don't know yet how serious it is, but we believe it may have been sabotaged," said flotilla coordinator Claude Leostic.

The problem with the "Saoirse" (Gaelic for freedom) -- one of 10 vessels trying to leaving the Greek port of Piraeus -- followed Monday's news that the propeller on the "Juliano" boat, belonging to Swedish activists, had been cut. more

Read a report on the Dublin protest here

Gaza's children aim for new Kite flying world record at UNRWA summer games

GAZA (Ma'an) -- More than three thousand students from the UN's agency for Palestinian refugees are expected to break the first of four Guinness world records Thursday as part of a summer games program organized by UNRWA.

The games, a six week recreational program now in its fifth year, are organized by the UN agency at the behest of the Gazan population and over a quarter of a million children participate, a statement by UNRWA said.

The world records being attempted include the largest amount of people flying large parachutes from the ground, which was set last year at 1,547. The event will be held at the Khan Younis stadium.

“We intend to double the previous record”, said UNRWA spokesman, Chris Gunness.

“If kids in Gaza are given half the chance, free from the constraints of this counter-productive blockade, they would show their full potential and be number one in the world. These records will put the spotlight on the world’s only community of hundreds of thousands of fenced in and locked up children.

"The message is simple: Give Gaza kids their freedom to be children. We need to end this blockade, which has become a blockade against childhood itself.” more

Israeli cabinet ministers break ranks, accusing army and Netanyahu of 'spin' over flotilla threat

Maan highlights a report in the hebrew-language daily Maariv that some cabinet ministers are accusing the army and Netanyahu of 'spin' over the threat posed by the flotilla.

From Maan
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- Several Israeli ministers have accused the army of "spin" over its claims that activists on board a Gaza-bound flotilla plan to harm Israeli soldiers, Maariv newspaper reported on Wednesday.

The paper quoted several unnamed members of Israel's security cabinet as saying the claims were "media spin" and "public relations hysteria."

On Monday, Israeli military spokeswoman Lieutenant Colonel Avital Leibovitz said there were "radical elements" among the activists participating in the sea convoy, including some carrying "dangerous incendiary chemicals."

But security cabinet ministers told Maariv they were given no such information when they were briefed on the flotilla this week, and even accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office of being behind the disinformation.

"Netanyahu decided to change the version about the nature of the flotilla for two reasons that are connected to the international community," one of the ministers, who were not named, told the newspaper. more

Washington Post takes apart Israel's dishonest and desperate efforts to stop Freedom Flotilla II

From the Washington Post
Participants in the flotilla — expected to be made up of 10 ships with pro-Palestinian activists from various nations, including a group from the United States with the prominent American author Alice Walker — have insisted that they will react nonviolently to any Israeli attempt to intercept them.

Israel has said that it will not allow the ships to reach Gaza and that it will use force if necessary. Israeli officials say the naval blockade of Gaza is meant to prevent the smuggling of weapons into the territory, which is controlled by the militant Islamic group Hamas.

Dror Feiler, an Israeli-born activist from Sweden and an organizer of the flotilla, dismissed the reports of violent intent in an interview Tuesday on Israeli army radio.

“We have no intention of confronting anyone,” he said. “All our passengers sign a declaration of nonviolence. We are training for nonviolence, to avoid a repetition of what happened last time.

“The state of Israel, with all its army, security services and everything it has, is going against a bunch of 20 nongovernmental organizations,” Feiler added. “Really, it’s ridiculous.”

In Athens, Scandinavian organizers said Tuesday that one of their ships had been sabotaged by divers who cut its propeller shaft. The ship, the Juliano, was docking in the port of Piraeus and is expected to carry Swedish, Norwegian and Greek activists.

The organizers said that the damage can be repaired and that the ship, named for Juliano Mer-Khamis, an Israeli Arab actor and activist who was shot to death in the West Bank, was expected to sail for Gaza toward the end of the week.

An Israeli army spokeswoman declined to comment on the incident.

Efforts to discredit the flotilla have also been made through social media. But a YouTube video promoted by Israeli government offices and purporting to show a gay rights activist whose offer of help was spurned by flotilla planners has turned out to be a hoax.

In the video, a man identifying himself as Marc claims that his offer on behalf of a network of gay rights activists to bring supplies to the flotilla was rejected. He warns that the flotilla organizers were embracing Hamas, one of whose leaders had denounced gays as “a minority of perverts.”

“Be careful who you get in bed with,” Marc says. “You might wake up next to Hamas.”

The video was posted on the private Twitter account of an intern working in the office of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and later cited in Twitter feeds from the Israeli government press office and the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

After the Electronic Intifada, a pro-Palestinian Web site, identified the man in the video as Omer Gershon, an Israeli actor from Tel Aviv, the press office apologized on Twitter for promoting a hoax and the Foreign Ministry removed a link to the video on its Twitter feed. A spokesman for Netanyahu said the intern had acted without authorization. more

Israeli parliament passes draft of law to force Palestinians to pay cost of demolition of their own homes

A Committee of the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) passed a first draft of a law that will require that Palestinians whose homes are destroyed by Israeli forces pay the Israeli government for the demolition costs.

The law will now be passed to the full Knesset for a final reading, where it is expected to pass due to the current makeup of the Knesset.

Since 1967, Israeli forces have demolished 24,813 Palestinian homes. 90% of these homes were destroyed for 'administrative' reasons – because they either lacked a permit or were in an area designated for expansion by the Israeli military. No permits have been issued by Israeli authorities for Palestinian construction in the Occupied Territories since 1967. The remaining 10% of the demolitions have been 'punitive' demolitions of the homes of Palestinians accused of attacking Israel, or of their families' homes.

In the first five months of 2011, Israeli forces demolished more Palestinian homes than in the entire year of 2010, rendering homeless 706 Palestinians, including 341 minors. This is according to the most recent numbers released by the Israeli Civil Administration. more

Video: footage of the sabotaged propeller axel of the Juliano which is now undergoing repairs

A passenger boat [the Swedish/Norwegian/Greek boat called the Juliano - iGaza] aiming to participate in the Freedom Flotilla II - Stay Human mission, was sabotaged on Monday, June 27. In this video, Captain Thodoris Boukas explains about the discovery of the sabotage, and also footage from the examination by diver Yorgos Vardakas can be seen.

Leader of main Palestinian civic organisation in Israel detained in UK after overnight raid

The UK government appears to confuse anything with 'Islamic' in the name to be connected to terrorism. He must be freed now.

From the Guardian
Sheikh Raed Salah, a leading Palestinian activist, has been detained in London amid reports that he is banned from the UK

Salah, the leader of the Islamic Movement in Israel, was detained on Tuesday night by police.

The home secretary, Theresa May, said officials from the UK Border Agency were taking steps to remove Salah from the country. She said an investigation had been launched into how he managed to get into the UK.

Sarah Colborne, director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), insisted that Salah was the leader of a legitimate political organisation. He rejected all forms of racism, including anti-semitism, she said. more

His solicitor, Farooq Bajwa, said Salah had "no knowledge" of a travel ban and had made "no attempt" to conceal his identity when he entered Britain.

"Sheikh Raed Salah is the leader of the Islamic Movement in Israel, the largest movement for Palestinians in Israel," Colborne said.

"This is a legitimate organisation which Israel has never moved to ban.
From the Palestine Solidarity Campaign

Sarah Colborne, Director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said "I am appalled that Sheikh Raed Salah was detained late last night by the police.

"Sheikh Raed Salah is the leader of the Islamic Movement in Israel, the largest movement for Palestinians in Israel. This is a legitimate organisation which Israel has never moved to ban. Raed Saleh regularly speaks at venues across Israel where he has considerable support amongst the Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up a fifth of the population.

"Sheikh Raed has been elected as mayor of his hometown Um al-Fahm three times. He has never been convicted of anti-Semitism in Israel.

"Before coming to Britain, he faced horrific allegations of anti-Semitism, which he completely refuted. He has clarified his position of being opposed to all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and racism against his own people, the Palestinians. He has asked his legal team to take legal action against those spreading these false allegations.

"The attempt to remove Sheikh Raed Salah from this country whilst he is taking legal action against those who have been defaming him is an obstruction of the course of justice.

"We have been organising a meeting on peace and justice in Jerusalem for weeks – with publicity widely available – to which Sheikh Raed Salah was one of the speakers. PSC also invited MPs to speak at the same meeting. At no stage did anyone contact us from the government or the police. Following rumours in the papers, Sheikh Raed Salah’s legal team tried to verify if it was true that a travel ban had indeed been issued, and had no confirmation nor denial from any official source. I am appalled that decisions on whether or not significant political figures can be detained in this country appear to be made on the basis of defamatory rumours, rather than facts. This shocking move by the British government will deeply damage British relations in the Middle East."

Shaikh Salah has recently released a statement refuting the alleagations made against him

The meeting in Parliament at which Shaikh Salah was due to speak at, will still take place as scheduled tonight (Wednesday).

For further details: Sarah Colborne (PSC), 020 7700 6192

Video: Gaza activists reject IDF's ludicrous claims of preparation for 'chemical attack'

Russia Today - Israel says an international aid flotilla is carrying chemical weapons which could be used on soldiers attempting to stop it reaching Gaza. The Israeli Defence Force has been ordered to prevent the 10 ships from making it to the Palestinian territories. For more on this I'm joined by Itamar Shapira from Jerusalem, who was on a similar aid flotilla last year.

Press release below from US Boat to Gaza:

Athens: Passengers on the U.S. Boat to Gaza rejected as ludicrous and provocative an unsubstantiated accusation by the Israeli Army that passengers in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla plan to kill IDF soldiers with chemical weapons. The Jerusalem Post reported on Tuesday an Israeli Defense Forces allegation that some passengers on the flotilla had prepared sacks of sulfur which they planned to pour on Israeli soldiers.

"Passengers on the U.S. boat have long histories of responding to injustice nonviolently and peacefully. Every participant in the flotilla has signed a pledge of nonviolence," said Melissa Lane, a passenger on the U.S. boat. "We have been engaged in nonviolence training for the last several days. We have no weapons, and we have repeatedly offered to have our boats inspected by neutral authorities. We are absolutely not seeking any confrontation with the Israeli military. We just want to sail to Gaza."

"These spurious claims are merely an attempt to establish a justification to attack us," said Brad Taylor, another passenger on the U.S. boat. "Instead of fabricating horror stories about the hundreds of unarmed civilians in the flotilla, Israel should come clean about what it is they have in store for us. It is safe to conclude that the only chemical weapons, including tear gas and smoke bombs, that will ever be brought on board our ships to Gaza are those that the Israeli military apparently intends to fire at us."

"This is truly a shameful and desperate tactic on the part of the Israeli government. They know full well that the passengers have no intention of being anything but peaceful," said passenger Paki Wieland.

For regular updates follow the US Boat to Gaza on Twitter: and visit the U.S. Boat to Gaza website.

French and Irish ships set sail for rendevous point in international waters near Crete

(pic: Irish ship to Gaza - MV Saoirse [Freedom])

If all goes to plan the flotilla is expected to arrive on the Gaza coast on Sunday.

From Haaretz
Two ships participating in the flotilla to Gaza have already set sail toward the flotilla's scheduled meeting place in international waters.

The French ship "Dignity" and the Irish ship "Freedom" do not intend on anchoring before reaching the meeting point at sea, but it is still unclear how long they will be waiting for the rest of the ships, some of which were said to be sabotaged.
Gaza flotilla ship - Ship Gaza Sweden - June 28 2011

On Monday, the propeller of the Greek-Swedish ship "Juliano" was found broken, and Gaza flotilla organizers said they believed it was deliberate sabotage by Israel. It is still unclear how long it will take to fix the problem to allow the ship to set sail.

Moreover, two Port Authority inspectors appeared at the Greek port of Piraeus on Monday and asked to conduct a surprise inspection of the Canadian ship "Tahrir", after it had already underwent a thorough inspection by the International Naval Surveys Bureau and was said to be ready to sail.

It was found Tuesday that the additional inspection came following a complaint by a private citizen to the Port Authority. The complaint said the Canadian ship was "sea unworthy." A similar complaint was filed against the American ship last week.

According to Greek seamen and lawmakers, it is extremely rare for private citizens to file complaints against private ships. more