The Spirit of Rachel Corrie Mission to Gaza: Breaking the Illegal Siege

Global Research Editor’s
Note

The following text recounts how the Gaza siege was almost
broken by a lone humanitarian ship.

What the Spirit of Rachel Corrie
achieved, its crew and passengers, constitutes an outstanding act of courage and
determination, taking the Israeli Navy totally by surprise.

Global
Research’s Julie Lévesque participated in this mission to Gaza organized by the
Perdana Global Peace Foundation (PGPF). This is her vivid account of the Spirit
of Rachel Corrie mission, pertaining to the day by day life on the ship,
recounting in detail the actions of those who, acting in solidarity with
Palestine, put their life in danger with a view to breaking the illegal Israeli
siege of Gaza.

On May 16, 2011, when the Spirit of Rachel Corrie entered
Palestinian waters undetected and was attacked by patrol boats of the Israeli
Navy, the Western media in chorus decided not to cover this pathbreaking
event…

Michel Chossudovsky, August 7,
2011


 

“The Navy has prevented and
will continue to prevent the arrival of the ‘hate flotilla’ whose only
goals are to clash with IDF soldiers
, create media provocation and to
delegitimize the State of Israel,” –
Israel Navy commander Adm.
Eliezer Marom warning to the Gaza flotilla organizers (Anshel Pfeffer, Israel Navy commander: ‘Hate flotilla’ to Gaza must be
stopped
, Haaretz.com June 19, 2011)

The Simon Wiesenthal
Centre has published a list of people who are classified as anti-Semitic
in 2010. I am listed among the top 10. I suppose what I had said in 2010 is
regarded by the Jewish [Wiesenthal] Centre as slurs but I was merely exercising
my right to free speech to speak up against what I considered as injustice. I condemned Israel for breaking
international laws
, carrying out an illegal siege of Gaza, attacking
and seizing the Mavi Marmara and the Rachel Corrie in international
waters
, killing nine Turkish aid workers, and continuing to
deprive the suffering people of Gaza of medical supplies, construction
material and food
.” (Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, The Anti-Semitic, Former
Prime minister of Malaysia, December 24, 2010)

Click here for the first part of this article: The Blockade Runners Part I

The idea of sending flotillas
to Gaza originally came from former Malaysian Prime Minister and Perdana Global
Peace Foundation’s (PGPF) founder Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad. For decades now he
has been a very outspoken advocate of the rights of the Palestinians. Like most
people who take a firm a stand against the illegal actions of the state of
Israel, he was labelled “anti-Semitic”. This type of ad hominem attack is the
only stratagem left for those who wish to defend an illegal and immoral
occupation.

PGPF’s goal is to make war a crime. “We can not allow people
to kill and glorify killing. We need to change the mindset and reject war as a
means of settling  disputes. This is the beginning of a very long saga which
will take many years,” explained Tun Mahathir.


Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad’s keynote
address at the War Crimes
Conference and Exhibition in October
2009

In 2010, PGPF joined the Freedom Flotilla with the “Rachel
Corrie”. This year it decided to act alone and send its ship, the “Spirit of
Rachel Corrie” (SRC), ahead of the Freedom Flotilla II. The mission’s ultimate
goal was to “bring liberty in Gaza” and “prove to the world that Israel has no
right to impose this illegal siege”, Mahathir told the participants of the
mission about to set sail on the SRC.

In the light of the recent failed
attempt of the Freedom Flottilla II, the SRC mission can be considered a
success: it is the only ship this year to have entered Palestinan waters. Its
modus operandi should serve as an example for future attempts to break the
illegal siege of Gaza.

Humanitarian “False Flag
Operation”

May 11, 2011, a ship registered as the MV Finch flying the
Moldovan flag left the Greek port of Piraeus unnoticed. It was the Spirit of
Rachel Corrie Mission (SRC). On board were 12 crew members and passengers: 7
Malaysians, 2 Indians, 2 Irish and 1 Canadian.

Fearing that they would
be prevented to sail to their destination, the organizers of the mission opted
for a low profile rather than a big media campaign. They neither disclosed where
they were leaving  from, nor where they were going to.

It turned out to be a good idea. Unlike the
Freedom Flotilla II which was supposed to sail to Gaza, they were able to leave
the Greek port of Piraeus without any form of encroachment and sail towards
Palestine.

It should be noted that in December 2010, the
Jerusalem Post reported that a “[m]ulti-million deal [was] in the works to
sell weapons system for Hellenic Air Force
’s F-16 fleet”, and that given
Greece’s poor economy, “officials said they were seeking creative ways for
Greece to pay for the systems
”. (Yaakov Katz, Israeli defense industries in talks with Greek army,
The Jerusalem Post, December 12, 2010. Emphasis added)

The report further stated that the ties between
Greece and Israel have improved “since May’s navy raid on a Turkish flotilla”
following which, “Turkey cut off all military and political ties with Israel”.
(Ibid.)

Had the Greek authorities known of the Spirit of
Rachel Corrie’s (SRC) ultimate destination, they would have prevented it from
leaving Greek waters, as they did with this year’s “Freedom Flotilla”.

May 16, 6am. Sailing out of Egyptian waters five
days later, the SRC entered Palestinian waters undetected, to the great surprise
of Palestinian fishermen, dazed at the view of foreign passengers on a ship
waving and smiling at them.

Boats try to break the siege regularly. Not
ships.

“Palestine! Palestine!”, they yelled with
astonishment pointing at the water, probably thinking the captain was lost.

“We’re going to Gaza!” one of the passengers
yelled back. Gaza? And they started pointing in that direction, nodding, smiling
and yelling “Gaza! Gaza!”

They could not believe it.

Since everyone was soon expecting an encounter
with the Israeli Navy, that moment lightened the atmosphere on the ship. But not
for long. The ship continued its course until the passengers and crew saw two
speed boats from the Israeli Navy coming towards the ship.

“They’re coming”, said Jenny Graham, the Irish
activist. She started making a call with a satellite phone when the first
machine gun shots were fired.

Half of the passengers ran for cover in an
enclosed area on the deck. Other passengers and crew members went inside on the
bridge.

The Israeli navy contacted the captain, Abd Jalil
bin Mansor, who explained the ship was delivering humanitarian aid to Gaza and
that there were no weapons on board. He was asked to turn around. He refused.

“I’ve been instructed to go to Gaza.”

Captain Jalil Mansor explaining the route chosen to penetrate Palestinian
waters.

Meanwhile, three rounds of shots were fired.
“Welcome to my world”, said Jenny, stoic, to the people lying down beside her on
the deck.

From there, no one could see where the “warning
shots” were going or where they were coming from. Every once in a while we could
get a glimpse of the boats circling the ship.

One of the passengers was praying, the other one
had his hands up to show he had no weapons, although we were the only ones who
could see him.

Derek Graham had been through this before. He was
outside smoking a cigarette, looking straight at the man behind the machine gun
with his arms wide open, inviting him to shoot.

Seeing him, Alang Bendahara, reporter for the News
Straits Time stood up on the deck to get some footage of the boats shooting.

Then we heard the Israeli navy screaming to
the captain, “Turn around! Turn around now or we’ll shoot you!”

The captain obeyed. The ship changed its course.

Another round of shots was fired even though the
captain had followed the navy’s orders.

Then the Egyptian navy, which never noticed the
ship entering and leaving their waters, responded to repeated calls from the
Israeli navy and asked them to stop shooting. They did.

As the ship was escorted back in Egyptian waters,
the Israelis thanked the Egyptians for their cooperation on the siege and went
on firing at the tiny and vulnerable fishing boats.

As they usually do, as Jenny explained outraged.
“Our ship being shot at is going to make the news. Not the shooting of the
little fishermen boats. The sad thing is, this is their daily life!”

The SRC was kept in the waiting area of El-Arish
Port in Egypt for seven weeks. The ship tried to head back to Gaza through
Egyptian waters a week after its first attempt. As it was escorted out of
Egyptian waters by the Egyptian Navy, which had ordered the captain to head to
international waters, the ship experienced technical difficulties and was
escorted back in the waiting area in El-Arish.

During the first few days in the waiting area at the port of El-Arish,
Egyptian fishermen were
prohibited from approaching the ship. Since the
food  was running low, Derek and Satya, one
of the Indian crew
members, launched the zodiac to go buy some fish but came back empty

handed.

A few days later, fishermen were allowed to come near the MV Finch and
sell fresh fish.

Apart from the two Irish activists and Matthias
Chang, no one else on the ship had engaged in such an adventure before. Chief
engineer Zainuddin Mohamed’s reason for accepting to go on this mission was
simple: “I wanted to see for my own eyes what is going on there.” Captain Jalil
Mansor aknowledged: “I have come to a point in my career where I needed a
challenge.” Since he had military training in the past, the captain was not
intimidated by the Israeli navy’s gunfire and rather “enjoyed” his confrontation
with them.

“Honestly, I wish we had been taken by the Israelis”,
admitted one of the Malaysians who whished to remain anonymous. “Malaysia has no
diplomatic relations with Israel so it is the only way I can enter the country,
if they arrest me and take me there. I’m a little disappointed.”

Malaysian journalists Alang Bendahara from the News Straits Time and Mohd Faizal Hassan
from
Bernama.

Although they were not taken to jail, people on board the Finch
were, in a sense, imprisoned on the ship. They were not told why they were being
prevented from leaving the ship and were promised countless times that they
would be allowed to dock the next day. The Canadian embassy in Egypt confirmed
that the matter was in the hands of military intelligence and that the
Egyptian Ministery of Foreign Affairs was not the one handling the
issue.

The people on board showed tremendous solidarity for several days
by refusing to leave in small groups: it was all or nothing.

From the first day in El-Arish, the Egyptian port authorities
promised
that the ship would be allowed to dock and that the passengers
would
be allowed to disembark the next day. Leader Matthias Chang and

Chief engineer Zainuddin Mohamed after one of many broken
promises,
almost two weeks after entering Palestinian waters.

Since the ship was not allowed to dock in El-Arish, the only way to get
fresh water was to
have it delivered by tug boat in the wating area.
The heavy containers had to be carried
and emptied one by one by the people
on board. All the seafarers on board said they
had never experienced that
before.

The
original crew members and passengers were finally all allowed to leave the ship
on June 3, 18 days after they entered Palsetinian waters. Three of the
Malaysians had decided to leave on May 31. The new crew was kept in Egyptian
waters for another month. On July 6, the cargo was unloaded and delivered to
Gaza shortly after, on July 12. The cargo, however, was not delivered to Gaza
through the Rafah crossing. The cargo was brought through Karem Shalom, into
Israel.

Egyptian Promises

Since May 28, the Rafah
crossing was supposed to have been opened for people and humanitarian aid,
according to statements of the Egyptian government.

This did not happen.
The Egyptian authorities refused to let the PGPF’s humanitarian cargo go
through Rafah, even though it was humanitarian aid: UPVC pipes to restore the
sewage system in Gaza, where a water crisis is raging and which affects not only
Gazans, but neighbouring countries including Israel and Egypt.

The
destruction of the sewage system in Gaza by the Israeli army has led to 50 to 80
million liters of raw sewage being released in the
Mediterranean daily.

The SRC cargo was instead delivered through Karem
Shalom, in Israel. The cargo was considered as reconstruction material, which
Israel requires to be delivered through its illegal checkpoints. While they were
on the ship, the original 12 passengers and crew members were given that option
and had refused categorically that the cargo be transferred through Karem
Shalom, or any other Israeli checkpoint.

All crew members and passengers with a makeshift banner rejecting any
compromise to their
goal: breaking the siege. From left to right: Alang
Bendahara, Satya Prakash, Chandan Sharma,
Faizal Hassan, Jenny Graham,
Matthias Chang, Julie Lévesque, Jafri Arifin, Zainuddin Mohamed,
Jalil
Mansor, Derek Graham, Radzillah Abdulla.

The refusal of the Egyptian authorities to
allow for the shipment of the humanitarian cargo through Rafah suggests that the
interim military government is taking its orders from Tel Aviv and Washington.
While the SRC was stranded in Egyptian waters, the crew and passengers on board
were told that the ship would not allowed to dock for “security reasons”. The
matter was in the hands of Military Intelligence.

Military Intelligence is attached to the Ministry
of Defense headed by Mohamed Hussein Tantawi Soliman who is the
commander-in-chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces and de facto head of State.

In turn, Hussein Tantawi is a permanent liaison
with his counterpart in Tel Aviv, Ehud Barak, as well as with Defense Secretary
Robert Gates in Washington. (Michel Chossudovsky, BREAKING NEWS: Humanitarian Ship to Gaza is a Floating Prison:
Cairo is Obeying Orders from Tel Aviv
, May 5, 2011)

In March 2011, shortly after Mubarak was ousted
from office, a political analyst for the Egyptian Al-Ahram Center for Political
and Strategic Studies stated:

“Egypt will […] take a stronger stance against
Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and will play a more positive role
supporting the Palestinian cause”. (Heba Fahmy, No drastic, immediate change in Egypt’s foreign relations, say
analysts
, Daily News Egypt, March 29, 2011

The outcome of the SRC mission indicates that the
post-Mubarak Egyptian government, rather than taking a “strong stance against
Israel”, is still working hand in glove with Israel and the US. The Egyptian
people however, from navy personnel to fishermen, have demonstrated strong
support for the Malaysian mission to Gaza.

In recent developments, however, Egypt allowed a
British aid convoy called Miles of Smiles 4 reach Gaza through the Rafah crossing in late
July. Meanwhile, the UN Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices in
the Occupied Territories was allowed to enter Gaza for the first time in July,
43 years after its creation. (IPS, End blockade now, says UN group in rare Gaza visit, August 1,
2011)

The committee
condemned “the
horrible living conditions in the West Bank and Gaza and the devastating impact
of the Israeli economic blockade”, as well as the “continuing disregard of its
obligations under international law”. “The economic, educational, psychological,
health and social conditions are affected by the blockade,” stated the Sri
Lankan ambassador to the UN, adding that “Israel’s continuing blockade of Gaza
contravened the human rights of the people of Gaza and international
humanitarian law and standards”. (Ibid)

Once again, a UN committee denounces Israel’s
illegal actions. Over the years though, these accusations have proven to be
useless because only the Security Council can impose sanctions on Israel and it
never has. In fact quite the opposite: Israel’s illegal actions have been
protected on numerous occasions by a US veto on UN Security Council Resolutions
critical of Israel.

Even though they are labelled by Western governments
and the UN as “useless”, humanitarian aid convoys, flotillas and lone attempts
to break the siege have had a tangible impact on the lives of Gazans.

The sewage pipes brought by the Spirit of Rachel Corrie are now in Gaza,
which is facing a major water crisis.

Physicians for Human Rights Israel issued a report
in 2010 entitled: “Humanitarian
Minimum: Israel’s Role in Creating Food and Water Insecurity in
Gaza
”. It addresses the impact of the Israeli blockade on public
health in the Gaza Strip.

It states that “watery diarrhea and acute bloody
diarrhea […] are the major causes of morbidity among the population”, and that
those disease, “according to the World Health Organization (WHO), are caused by
an unsafe water supply, inadequate sanitation, and poor hygiene” (Physicians for
Human Rights Israel, Humanitarian Minimum: Israel’s Role in Creating Food and Water
Insecurity in Gaza
, December 2010, p.69)

PGPF employees Farlina Said and Maizatul Akmar Mohd Naim in Kuala Lumpur,
Malaysia.

Radzillah Abdulla from FELDA (Federal Land Development
Authority), a Malaysian governmental
organization, and Jenny Graham shortly
after leaving Greece.

Lessons from a “Humanitarian False Flag
Operation”

So far this year, the lone ship Spirit of Rachel Corrie
was the only ship to enter Palestinian waters and “put a hole” in the blockade.
Although it did not break the siege, it should be considered as a small victory
against the illegal occupant, and its strategy should be taken into account by
those who wish to break the siege in the future.

1- Favor a
media blackout
: To avoid being foiled, any attempt to break the siege should
be concealed. The media should be alerted only when the goal has been reached or
when the vessel has been prevented from reaching it. Big media campaigns may
have the advantage of shedding the light on the illegal siege, they also reveal
information which hampers the endeavor and serves the illegal occupant. The
ultimate goal of such undertakings should remain to break the siege, not
publicize it.

2- Conceal the departure location: The country of
departure should be disclosed only to those who need to know for logistic
purposes.

3- Conceal the destination: The authorities of the
country of departure should be given an alternative destination.

4-
Use deception
: The Malaysian SRC mission, or MV Finch, was flying the
Moldovan flag. The Israelis must have been aware that PGPF was sending a ship to
Gaza since it was announced by the Malaysian organization a few weeks before the
mission was launched. Only the dates were kept secret. The Israelis were
probably expecting a vessel flying the Malaysian flag.

5- Get
a fast boat or ship
: The MV Finch could not go faster than 6 nautical miles
an hour. Had it been faster, it could have reached the port
of Gaza.

Satya Prakash and Chandan Sharma, the two Indian crew members.

June 3,
2011 The last “ship prisoners” are released and join the land
team in El-Arish.

External links:

Perdana Global Peace
Foundation

Derek and Jenny Graham’s blog: Irish in Gaza
Rachel Corrie Foundation
for Peace and Justice

Julie Lévesque is a
researcher and journalist at the Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG). She
can be reached at
crgjulie@yahoo.ca

(www.globalresearch.ca / 12.08.2011)

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