Palestinian president sets May 4 as date for elections in West Bank and Gaza

VIENNA — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday set May 4 as the date for general elections meant to end a long-standing rift that has left his people divided between rival governments in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The Palestinians have been split since Hamas militants overran Gaza in 2007. Hamas controls Gaza, while Abbas’ Palestinian Authority governs in the West Bank.

Abbas, on a state visit to Austria, had mentioned May before as the likely month for the vote but Monday was the first time that he set a specific date.

“We are planning to hold the elections on May 4, God willing,” Abbas told a news conference.

Abbas’ Fatah faction and Hamas agreed last May to a reconciliation plan culminating in elections.

But implementation of that plan has been slow, with the sides at odds over the formation of an interim government of technocrats that could prepare the two territories for the vote. In particular, they have been unable to agree upon a prime minister.

Abbas is facing massive financial pressure ahead of that vote, with Israel monthly holding back some $100 million of funds it collects on behalf of the Palestinians each month.

The Israelis have threatened that the move could turn permanent if Abbas forms a unity government with Hamas — an Islamic militant group that has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings, rocket attacks and other violence.

The Israeli objections have put Abbas in a bind. Abbas hopes to establish an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, territories that lie on opposite sides of Israel. He can’t accomplish this goal without some agreement with Hamas. But if he works with Hamas, he risks Israeli sanctions.

Hamas officials have suggested that the two sides quietly agreed last week to drop the idea of an interim government and leave the rival governments in place until the May elections. That would allow Abbas to avoid a showdown with Israel.

On Monday. Abbas said he would continue to seek an interim government, arguing that the ministers would be independents not beholden to Hamas or his Fatah movement. “We’re talking about a government of technocrats … who recognize Israel’s legitimacy as a state and who recognize my political authority,” he told reporters.

Abbas came away from his visit with a symbolically significant concession by Austria, with Heinz Fischer, his Austrian counterpart, announcing an upgrade of the Palestinian diplomatic status.

Fischer said the present PLO mission will be transformed into a mission of the Palestine Authority, which members of the Palestinian delegation said fell just short of full embassy status.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has offered to resume peace negotiations, but Abbas insists Israel must first halt all construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, areas the Palestinians claim for their state. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005.

( / 28.11.2011)

Egypt imports 21 tons of tear gas from the US, port staff refuses to sign for it


Document of importation of tear gas.

CAIRO: The arrival of 7 and half tons of tear gas to Egypt’s Suez port created conflict after the responsible officials at the port refused to sign and accept it for fear it would be used to crackeddown on Egyptian protesters.

Local news sites published documents regarding the shipment that shows that the cargo, which arrived in 479 barrels from the United States and was scheduled to be delivered to the ministry of interior.

The reports also mentioned in the documents that a second shipment of 14 tons of tear gas was expected, making the total 21 tons, in one week.

The importing of tear gas comes after thousands of tear gas canisters were fired at Egyptian protesters last week as clashes raged in downtown Cairo, just off from the iconic Tahrir Square, where thousands of protesters had gathered.

The gas used has angered activists, who say the effects of exposure has yet to wear off, with a number of protesters telling that they have coughing fits, chest pains, blurred vision and their arms often shake. According to the Journal of Royal Medicine, the use of CS Gas – the most common choice of Egypt’s police last week – can have lasting symptoms for over one year.

One of the tear gas canisters(CS) used in Cairo, made in Jamestown, PA.

The al-Shorouk newspaper reported that upon the arrival of the shipment, massive disapproval broke out between employees, where five employees refused to sign for the shipment, one after the other.

The five, being dubbed by activists as the “brave five”, will be refereed to a investigative committee as to why they refused to perform their duties.

The news about the shipment’s arrival stirred the Twittersphere, after it was consumed all day with the country’s first post-revolution elections, and activists mocked the reinforcement of weapons that is being used against them.

Many commented, saying that “gas bombs are definably more important than importing wheat to make bread.”

( / 28.11.2011)

US terror drones kill 39 more in Somalia

A US Predator drone firing a Hellfire missile (file photo)
At least 39 people have been killed after US assassination drones launch aerial attacks on southern Somalia near the Indian Ocean coast, Press TV has reported.

Dozens of others were also injured after the remotely-controlled aerial vehicles fired several missiles, Somali tribal elders told Press TV on Saturday evening.

The incident took place on the outskirts of Kismayo — a strategically important port city on the Somali coast located some 500 kilometers (310 miles) south of the country’s capital Mogadishu.

Somalia is the sixth country, where the United States has used assassination drones to launch missile strikes. The US military has also used drones in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Iraq, and Yemen.

On October 28, Washington admitted to flying the terror aircraft from a base in Ethiopia.

“The US has unarmed and unmanned aircraft at a facility there (Ethiopia) to be used only for surveillance as part of a broad, sustained integrated campaign to counter terrorism,” said the Pentagon spokesman Captain John Kirby.

The confirmation appeared a day after The Washington Post revealed in a report that the US flies ‘armed’ drones from an airfield in Ethiopia’s southern city of Arba Minch.

Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991, when warlords overthrew former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.

( / 28.11.2011)

Tunisia Islamists besiege university in veil protest

TUNIS Nov 28 (Reuters) – Islamists demanding segregated lessons and full-face veils for women students besieged a university building near the Tunisian capital on Monday and held students and professors hostage, the head of one of the university’s faculties said.

Since it ousted its leader in the first of the “Arab Spring” revolutions earlier this year, Tunisia has seen mounting tensions between secularists who have traditionally held power and Islamists whose influence has been growing.

“I am being held hostage in my office with some students and academic staff by certain students with beards,” said Habib Kasdeli, head of the Humanities and Literature Faculty at the Manouba university near Tunis.

“They are Salafists who want to impose enrollment for girls wearing the niqab (full-face veil), a prayer room on the campus and no gender mixing in lessons,” he told the Shems-FM private radio station.

“This group, which is made up more than 40 people, has forbidden us from leaving my office until we accept their demands,” he added.

Tunisian television broadcast footage of young, bearded Islamists, on mattresses in the faculty office.

Tunisia ousted its autocratic leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in January with a wave of protests that inspired revolts in Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen.

In the country’s first democratic election, Tunisians last month elected a coalition government led by the moderate Islamist Ennahda party. That party has promised not to impose strict Muslim rules on society and to respect women’s rights.

But a small contingent of Salafists, hardline Islamists not associated with Ennahda, have been seeking to implement their purist interpretation of Islam and overturn secularist laws.

That has alarmed Tunisian secularists. They have dominated the political landscape since independence from France half a century ago and now say they fear their freedoms will be undermined.

Early last month, Islamists stormed a university in the city of Sousse, about 150 km (93 miles) south of the capital, after it refused to enrol a woman wearing a niqab.

( / 28.11.2011)

Independent Palestinian state, Lanka’s wish – President

“On this solemn occasion to commemorate the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, I wish to reaffirm, on behalf of my government and the people of Sri Lanka, our sincere support for the just struggle of the Palestinian people to achieve their inalienable rights, including the right to statehood,” states President Mahinda Rajapaksa in a message to mark International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People which falls today.

The message adds: “Peace ensures security and that fundamental factor underscores the urgency of resolving the Middle-East conflict. This long standing unresolved conflict is a challenge to the values and aspirations of humanity.

“Having personally associated myself with the cause of Palestine for nearly forty years, I reiterate that the Palestinians have been denied their basic human rights for far too long and renew the consistent call of my government for the realization of a two-state solution.

“This year’s International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People comes at a fundamentally changed time with noteworthy developments.

“The Palestinian Authority leadership has submitted an application for admission of the State of Palestine to full membership in the United Nations. Palestine has been successfully completing its state-building programme, which has been widely endorsed by the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the United Nations and others, as well as by the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee in Brussels in June, and in New York in September. There is emerging internal reconciliation between the relevant local political stakeholders.

“Therefore now is the time for collective resolve and action, to usher in an independent and viable Palestine State within secure borders, in peace and security. As I said in my address to the Sixty-Sixth United Nations General Assembly, it is a matter of profound disappointment that this has not yet happened.

We have a window of opportunity now and must make best use of it before it is too late.

It is time for decisive action rather than more desultory discussion. This will be in the interest of the security and the wellbeing of the entire region.

“It is the earnest hope and wish of Sri Lanka, to see the dawn of a Palestinian State flourishing in peace, harmony and prosperity in the near future,” the message adds.

( / 28.11.2011)

Egypt and Palestine…one people and one revolution

Samah Ahmed, Palestinian journalist from Gaza, and three other Italian citizens supporting Palestine were arrested by the Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces SCAF on 26th November, 2011 in Cairo. The Egyptian security forces claim that they burned some palm trees belonging to one of the luxury hotels in Egypt. The media immediately started dealing with the detainees as if they were convicted with charges of sabotage against Egypt.

This arrest incident is not the first of its kind against Palestinians of Gaza while in Egyptian territory, or during travel through Rafah crossing, Gaza’s only outlet to the world. We – Palestinian activists- see this incident as the embodiment of the repressive mentality of security apparatus that control the actions of the security of the Egyptian regime against the Palestinians of Gaza. These same authorities continue to close Rafah in the face of Palestinians, preventing their passage to Egypt with the exception of specific cases.

Despite the repeated statements issued by Egyptian authorities following the revolution of January 25 declaring their intention to fully open the crossing, their policy of collusion continues to comply with the Israeli interests that maintain a tight siege on more than a million and a half Palestinians in Gaza.

The Military Council and its security apparatus allegedly accuse the Egyptians of implementing American and Israeli agendas. Whereas their policy of political hypocrisy forgets the blood of five Egyptian soldiers killed on the hands of Israel, contentedly accepts an apology from their murderers, and continues pumping gas to Israel at the cheapest rate. On the day the repressive security apparatus was killing and eye-snipping Egyptian revolutionaries, the Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs welcomed back the Ambassador of Israel, who was expelled by the Egyptian people!

This Council contributes to the siege of Gaza to satisfy the Israel- U.S. alliance, and considers the mere entry of Palestinians of Gaza to Egypt a security threat and accordingly treats them at best as suspects. Not once did the security restrictions ever stop advancing on the Palestinians, noting that the Palestinian people did not, do not, and will not constitute a threat in any way to Egypt. The only real danger is the conditional aid from the vaunted democracy allies to militarizing the Egyptian regime.

In this light, we, the Palestinian activists, demand the following:

  1. The immediate lifting of the restrictions and forms of inhumane treatment of Palestinians in Egypt under the banner of “security”.
  2. The immediate end of the siege on the Gaza Strip and the full opening of Rafah crossing for Palestinians without any security restrictions and complications.
  3. The full support of the Egyptian revolution, respecting Egyptians’ demands and their right to self-determination and the governing regime they choose.

Down with the security system of repression and long live the Egyptian revolution!

مصر وفلسطين شعب واحد وثورة واحدة

تم اعتقال الصحافية  سماح احمد- سكان غزة، هي وثلاث من المواطنين الايطاليين المتضامنين مع الشعب الفلسطيني، من قبل أجهزة الأمن المصرية خلال تواجدهم بالقاهرة، بتاريخ 26 نوفمبر2011. وقد ادعت أجهزة الأمن المصرية بأنهم قاموا بإحراق أشجار نخيل حديقة أحد الفنادق. وفورا باشرت وسائل الإعلام بالتعامل مع المعتقلين كأنهم مدانين سلفا ملصقةً بهم اتهامات تخريبية ضد مصر.

حادثة الاعتقال هذه ليست الأولى من نوعها لمواطنين فلسطينيين من غزة إثناء تواجدهم في الأراضي المصرية، أو خلال سفرهم من معبر رفح ، منفذ غزة الوحيد إلى العالم.

إن هذا الحادث لا نرى فيه إلا  تجسيدا للعقلية الأمنية القمعية التي تحكم سلوك أجهزة امن النظام المصري تجاه الفلسطينيين من غزة، حيث تواصل هذه السلطات إغلاق معبر رفح في وجه الفلسطينيين، وتمنع عبورهم للأراضي المصرية  باستثناء حالات محددة.

رغم صدور تصريحات متكررة من السلطات المصرية بعد ثورة 25 يناير عن نيتها فتح المعبر بشكل كلي، تواصلت سياسة هذه السلطات في التواطؤ مع الرغبات الإسرائيلية  بإبقاء الحصار على أكثر من مليون ونصف  فلسطيني بغزة.

إن المجلس العسكري وأجهزته الأمنية يكيلون الاتهامات لثوار مصر بتنفيذ الأجندة الأمريكية والإسرائيلية، وتستمر سياسة النفاق حين يتناسى هذا المجلس دماء خمسة من جنود مصر الذين قتلتهم دولة الاحتلال ويقبل اعتذارا شكلياً من القتلة، ويواصل ضخ الغاز المصري إلى إسرائيل بأبخس الأثمان. وفي اليوم الذي كانت أجهزة الأمن والقمع تقتل وتقنص عيون ثوار مصر، كان وزير خارجية هذا النظام يستقبل سفير إسرائيل الذي طرده الشعب.

هذا المجلس يشارك في حصار غزة لإرضاء  التحالف الإسرائيلي الأمريكي، ويعتبر مجرد دخول أي فلسطيني من غزة للأراضي المصرية قضية أمنية ويتعامل معه  كمتهم أو مشتبه به على الأقل، ولم ينفك عن استحداث المزيد من القيود الأمنية على الفلسطينيين، علماً بأن الشعب الفلسطيني لم ولا ولن يشكل خطراً بأي شكل من الأشكال على مصر، بل ان من يشكل هذا الخطر هو الدعم المشروط من حلفاء هذا النظام, من أدعياء الديمقراطية .

في ضوء هذا، نطالب، نحن نشطاء فلسطينيين، بما يلي:

  1. نطالب برفع  القيود وأشكال التعامل الأمني غير الإنساني عن الفلسطينيين في مصر.
  2. نطالب برفع الحصار عن قطاع غزة فورا، وفتح معبر رفح بشكل كامل دون أي قيود أمنية.
  3. ندعو لدعم الثورة المصرية لتمكين الشعب المصري من تقرير مصيره بشان نظام الحكم الذي يرغب به

يسقط نظام القمع الأمني وعاشت الثورة المصرية

نشطاء فلسطينيون

( / 28.11.2011)

Egypt witnesses huge voter turnout


Egyptians at a polling station on Monday, November 28, 2011.
Egyptian officials say the country’s polling time has been extended by two hours due to the “stunning” voter turnout in parliamentary elections, Press TV reports.

As voters went to cast their ballots at polling stations on Monday, some peaceful protests were held amid tight security.

The vote is the country’s first since the ouster of former dictator Hosni Mubarak in February, which ended his 30-year rule.

According to recent reports, the Muslim Brotherhood which was banned under Mubarak’s rule as well as its allies are expected to do well in the general elections.

Egypt has about 40 million eligible voters. The vote is seen as the first step to push the military rulers to transfer power to a civilian government.

Egyptian police have harshly cracked down on protesters that persistently demand the ouster of the military rulers.

Some 47 people have reportedly been killed during the recent violent clashes between security forces and protesters leading up to the elections.

Egyptian protesters are now further enraged by the junta’s decision to elect Kamal el-Ganzouri to form a transitional government, and condemned the pick of a former Mubarak associate as “illegitimate.”

Public anger has risen over the inaction of the ruling generals to implement promised reforms. Protesters accuse the junta of foot dragging in order to stay in power.

( / 28.11.2011)

In Egypt’s Vote, Islamists Expect Strong Showing


Members of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood take part in a press conference in Cairo on April 30, to announce the formation of a new party, the Freedom and Justice Party, to contest up to half of parliament's seats in a September election.

Members of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood take part in a press conference in Cairo on April 30, to announce the formation of a new party, the Freedom and Justice Party, to contest up to half of parliament’s seats in a September election.

Sobhi Saleh, right, a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood and candidate for parliament, speaks to voters at a polling station in Alexandria, Egypt on Monday. The Brotherhood is expected to make a strong showing in the polls.

Sobhi Saleh, right, a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood and candidate for parliament, speaks to voters at a polling station in Alexandria, Egypt on Monday. The Brotherhood is expected to make a strong showing in the polls.

We will advocate what the Egyptian people want and they will feel like citizens of a free country.

– Sobhi Saleh, parliamentary candidate from the Muslim Brotherhood

Dozens of veiled women tried to squeeze past each other Monday and into a polling station in the working-class neighborhood of Raml in the northern Egyptian city of Alexandria.

They were eager to cast ballots for a clean-shaven man in a crisp blue suit and matching tie.

His name is Sobhi Saleh and he heads the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party ticket in three of Alexandria’s districts. The party is considered the best organized in Egypt and is expected to do well in the country’s first election since President Hosni Mubarak was toppled in February.

Many voters were thrilled to have such a choice of candidates. But that didn’t keep one voter from complaining about the long lines. Saleh joked that she ought to cut in front of the other women.

Saleh appeared more relaxed than a year ago. At that time, the Brotherhood boycotted parliamentary elections that were widely seen as fraudulent.

Back in the 2005 parliamentary elections, Brotherhood members captured 88 seats – or about 20 percent of the total. However, Brotherhood members were not officially with the Islamist group, and had to serve as independents because the group was banned under Mubarak.

Brotherhood Served As Opposition

Still, the Brotherhood and its supporters served as the core of a noisy opposition that drew people’s attention to the corruption and graft in Mubarak’s government.

During the 2010 election season, Saleh was harassed and beaten by Egyptian security forces. Today, he sings their praises.

They, in turn, treat him with respect. At one polling center, a police official bowed as he shook Saleh’s hand. Good luck and God bless you, the policeman told the candidate.

Saleh says his party’s goal is to make life easier for Egyptians.

“We will advocate what the Egyptian people want and they will feel like citizens of a free country,” he said.

Yet many Alexandria residents worry that Islamists vying for seats here and across Egypt will do the opposite.

Their fears are bolstered by candidates pledging to enforce a stricter observance of Islamic codes. In one recent incident in Alexandria, members of a fundamentalist movement covered up semi-nude mermaid statues with blankets.

Egyptian Christians like Mina Samir predict violent attacks against Coptic Christians like him will increase if the Muslim Brotherhood is in charge. The 22-year-old business major also fears Islamist legislators will eventually ban access to the Internet, television and even cars because they were invented by non-Muslims.

Fellow university student Alaa Ramadan shares his concerns. An Egyptian Muslim who was born in Switzerland, the 22-year-old says she will go back to Europe if the Brotherhood pursues a fundamentalist agenda.

“Their strategy is to go to the poor areas and talk to residents about Islam,” she said. “They tell them they have to vote for their candidates for Islam to win.”

Saleh dismisses these fears as nonsense. He says the party’s goals are to improve the Egyptian economy and government services and that most voters know that.

But party officials aren’t taking any chances.

They, like many other political parties, sent out scores of campaign workers to hand out glossy fliers and talk to voters standing in line at polling stations, even though it was against election rules.

Saleh spent much of the day inside key polling stations in Muslim Brotherhood strongholds. He wanted to make sure that voting was going smoothly, though his presence was also a violation of the election rules.

( /28.11.2011)

Moslim Broederschap: Westerse wereld is ‘niet gelukkig

“Het westen heeft vooral materialistische vooruitgang geboekt, maar het heeft zich niet spiritueel en moreel ontwikkeld. Dat heeft de mensen niet gelukkig gemaakt.” Het staat letterlijk in de samenvatting (.pdf) en de uitleg (.pdf) van het partijprogramma van de Partij voor Vrijheid en Gerechtigheid. Onder die naam doet de Moslim Broederschap mee aan de verkiezingen in Egypte. Het wordt waarschijnlijk de grootste partij.  Ik las het partijprogramma en interviewde een voorlichter. Hieronder citaten van de opmerkelijkste standpunten en video’s met een toelichting daarop.

“Strandtoerisme moet de moraal en tradities van onze samenleving in acht nemen. We moeten beperkingen opleggen en die duidelijk kenbaar maken aan iedereen die als toerist Egypte wil bezoeken. Egypte is een conservatief land. We onderzoeken alternatieven zoals privéstranden waar privacy geldt en die niet onder toezicht komen te staan. Wat betreft publieke stranden: die moeten door de staat gereguleerd worden”. Dat schrijft de Moslim Broederschap. De partijvoorlichter denkt dat zelfs een alcoholverbod Nederlanders niet zal weerhouden om in Egypte vakantie te vieren.

Woordvoerder Moslim Broederschap: Alcoholverbod schrikt Nederlanders niet af (video)

“We willen een civiele staat, geen militaire- en ook geen religieuze (theocratische) staat. De Sharia (islamitische regels) vormen het uitgangspunt voor de wetten”. De partijvoorlichter legt uit dat Islam allesomvattend is. In Nederland belijden we het geloof vooral in de kerk, maar Islam kent geen scheiding van kerk en staat. Islam is overal in het dagelijkse leven. Dat de Sharia ook voorschrijft dat overspelige vrouwen gedood mogen worden, wuift de voorlichter weg als iets dat nauwelijks gebeurt.

Woordvoerder Moslim Broederschap: Overspelige vrouwen zelden gedood (video)

Economische Islam
“We willen een staat die de regionale en internationale rol van Egypte herstelt. Vergeleken met onze relatie met de Europese Unie, willen we sterkere banden met landen waarmee we een diepere connectie voelen, zoals de Arabische, Islamitische en Afrikaanse landen”. Volgens de partijvoorlichter biedt Islam ook de oplossing voor de financiële crisis.

Woordvoerder Moslim Broederschap: Islamtische rente is nul procent (video)

Koptische christenen vs. moslims
“…openbare orde en moraal worden gehandhaafd door Islamitische wetten die voorschrijven dat moslims en niet-moslims gelijk zijn in rechten en verantwoordelijkheden. Onze relatie met onze Koptische broeders was lange tijd aangenaam want ze zijn een belangrijk onderdeel van de Egyptische samenleving.” Ik vroeg de partijvoorlichter waarom veel Kopten bang zijn en zelfs Egypte willen ontvluchten.

Woordvoerder Moslim Broederschap: Christenen hebben niets te vrezen (video)

De macht van de Moslim Broederschap
“Vanaf het begin van de revolutie heeft de Broederschap besloten om de deelname aan de verkiezingen te begrenzen om de basis te leggen voor samenwerking en dus niet overheersen. Dat betekent dat we wel meer zetels in het parlement nastreven dan andere partijen, maar we willen geen algehele meerderheid”. De partijvoorzitter legt uit dat uiteindelijk een meerderheid in het parlement beslist of de islamitische regels en wetten van de Moslim Broederschap worden ingevoerd.

Woordvoerder Moslim Broederschap: Wij willen alleen maar democratie (video)

( / 28.11.2011)

Attempts to break Gaza blockade won’t stop, vows Freedom Waves activist

Michael Coleman aboard the Tahrir.

Anti-Semite. Holocaust-denier. Terrorist-supporter. The government of Israel as well as its lobbyists and supporters commonly use these labels to describe Palestine solidarity activists and to discourage criticism of illegal Israeli practices. In this polarizing context, the United States, the European Union and Australia have escalated efforts to discourage activism in support of Palestine, creating financial, legal and physical barriers to expressing solidarity.

A longtime activist and Sydney-based youth worker, Michael Coleman has become accustomed to the challenges. As the Australian delegate on the Tahrir boat with the recentFreedom Waves initiative, he recently confronted all of the barriers that the government of Israel could muster.

Coleman first visited the West Bank city of Nablus in 2008 as a volunteer, teaching English and computer-based music production with the humanitarian organization Project Hope. Coleman recalled that “once the excitement of experiencing a new culture wore off, the realization hit me that what I was witnessing in the West Bank was the systematic and methodical ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from Palestine. I resolved at that point to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people until their human rights were upheld.”

After returning to Australia, he was eager to learn more and began participating in the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign. Then, “following the massacre on the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish humanitarian aid ship with the May 2010 Gaza Freedom Flotilla, a friend Rihab Charida made an impassioned speech that ended with ‘There will be an Australian delegation on the next flotilla, who’s with me?’ and six of us put our hands up, and Free Gaza Australia was formed.”

This group successfully participated in Freedom Flotilla Two – Stay Human, which faced severe obstruction from the Greek authorities. Coleman was also involved in that trip, taking to the sea in a kayak to obstruct the Greek coast guard while boats from the flotilla attempted to launch.

In the context of both the violence inflicted on the Mavi Marmara and the international cooperation to prevent July’s Freedom Flotilla from leaving Greece, planning for the most recent flotilla required far greater secrecy. According to Coleman, the obstacles were primarily financial because “due to the covert nature of this new strategy we had to secure a loan for our share of the budget, as fundraising and promotion were not an option,” meaning that Coleman, now safely in Sydney, must retroactively seek funds.

Organizing such a large solidarity action would pose numerous challenges under normal circumstances, but he said that “there were also some issues around forming an executive to keep information sharing to a minimum.” Yet Coleman remains positive about the experience, joking that “personally, I just got sick of resetting the time and date on my phone, as every time sensitive information was discussed we had to remove the batteries from our phones.”

Piracy and kidnapping on the high seas

Moving from planning to implementation, Coleman joined his colleagues on the Tahrir in Turkey. While all aboard were in high spirits, they were also realistic in their preparation, especially when Israeli warships following the flotilla in international waters made it clear that boarding was imminent. “We did discuss how we would handle the boarding process as a group, we formed buddy pairs and nominated where we wanted to be during the boarding.” Coleman confirmed.

Agreeing in advance that they would not resist arrest, the group prepared for boarding in international waters. At this point, according to interviews with the other activists and journalists on board, Coleman was the most defiant. He clarified that “I did not resist the boarding in anyway, but I also did not cooperate in anyway.” Coleman went on to describe the boarding process, which involved the use of a water canon to ensure the compliance of crew and passengers.

In his own powerful account, Coleman said, “I was supposed to be at the port side door to the wheel house; however I was cleared out of there by the water canon, as that’s where theIOF [Israeli occupation forces] boarded the boat. I moved around to the starboard side with my buddy Majd, who was manning the other door to the wheel house. Because of the water canon by the time the IOF boarded all the delegates except [fellow activists] David and Ehab, who were in the wheel house, were together sheltering from the water canon on the starboard side of the Tahrir. So the boarding process really only involved the IOF clearing out the wheel house and bringing David, Ehab and George, our captain, to where the rest of us were on the starboard of the boat — which they did with the use of tasers. This was the point where I began to become more defiant seeing David [Heap] being pushed from the wheel house with blood dripping down his forehead, as he had banged his head after being tasered.”

Having just witnessed these aggressive actions, Coleman detailed his efforts to avoid cooperation. “I then challenged every direction that was made of me and stated at every opportunity ‘you have the responsibility as an occupying force to allow free access of humanitarian goods to the occupied territories’ and ‘that Israel has no authority to board a Comoros Islands-flagged ship in international waters — this is an act of kidnapping and piracy.’”

Illegal detention

After the ships had been boarded, the Tahrir as well as the Irish-led Saoirse and their passengers were forced to enter the port of Ashdod in Israel. All of those on board were subject to full body searches and then taken to Givon prison, where they were held after refusing to sign a document stating that they had entered Israel illegally. Despite the actions of the government of Israel, morale among the Freedom Waves detainees remained high even at Givon where they were quick to organize themselves.

“We were lucky to have the Irish boys with us, I think we had only been in the prison under ten hours and they had already formed a prisoner committee and where making demands on the prison authorities for free association, provision of reading and writing materials, knowledge of our sisters being held in another wing of the prison and access to the outside world, via phone calls,” Coleman recounted.

Indeed, even within the walls of an Israeli prison, the activists’ group solidarity remained strong. Coleman described these collective victories as “hugely uplifting” because they saw that they “could still affect our own conditions in the prison.”

During this time, much of the work to free all of those involved with Freedom Waves happened behind the scenes. Coleman stressed the importance of Free Gaza Australia during his detention at Givon.

“They ran a very effective media campaign for my release, pressuring the Australian government to stop being so apologetic for Israel violations of international law,” he said. On 11 November, Coleman landed safely in Sydney but his story and those of other solidarity activists continues to unfold as they consider how they can continue their involvement.

International and domestic push to repress solidarity movements

In the current environment of international hostility, the burden for the illegality of the government of Israel’s actions continues to be placed on activists. Countries such as the United States, Canada and Australia would much rather tell their own citizens to refrain from displays of solidarity than condemn the government of Israel for its continuous and flagrant violations of basic human rights and international law. This is not a reaction unique to the international efforts to break the illegal blockade on Gaza but applies equally to participation in protests and the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign as well as the public criticism of Israeli apartheid practices.

The US, for instance, has repeatedly told its own citizens that participation in the flotilla to Gaza was tantamount to aiding Hamas, and threatened activists with criminal proceedings on their return stateside (“US warns against new Gaza flotilla plans,” Reuters, 24 June 2011). Furthermore, the US government has never criticized the Israeli use of high-velocity projectiles or live-ammunition at peaceful protests attended by Palestinians, internationals, and Israelis; and has even gone so far as to launch a grand jury federal investigation against 23 US-based solidarity activists (“Criminalizing Palestinian solidarity, Al Jazeera English,” 27 June 2011).

Domestically, the government of Israel has also acted to muzzle internal resistance to its policies. The Knesset (Israeli parliament) recently passed two controversial laws that madeparticipation in BDS campaigns illegal and placed a cap on foreign donations to domestic nongovernmental organizations. These latest steps mean that solidarity activists with Israeli citizenship can now be prosecuted for boycotting and organizations that are critical of government policies, the military and settler violence on Palestinians face severe limitations on their operational capacity.

A movement undeterred

In Coleman’s own experience, the repressive responses of the international community and the government of Israel have only served to make many activists more committed to Palestine solidarity — far from acting as a deterrent. “I like others in the international solidarity movement took the massacre on the Mavi Marmara as a challenge, a challenge we have answered and will continue to answer until the blockade of Gaza and the collective punishment it enforces ends,” he told The Electronic Intifada.

When asked about how people could become involved, Coleman urged those interested in learning more to visitthe website for the global BDS movement ( and emphasized that even after his unlawful detention, his own participation would continue unabated, stating “as I told the guards at Givon, ‘see you next year.’”

( / 28.11.2011)