In the early hours of May 31, a Turkish so-called humanitarian aid organization, IHH, which financially and morally supports terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, organized a flotilla of six ships to Gaza. This supposed “aid” flotilla was actually a “hate” flotilla. Due to the fact that Hamas controls Gaza, smuggles weapons and ammunition aimed against Israeli civilians, and because there is NO lack of humanitarian aid coming into Gaza (Israel provides ample electricity, food, medical supply, water), we didn’t know the nature of what the flotillas carried; therefore, Israel advised the organizers to show us the humanitarian aid for inspection. We offered to have the flotilla dock in the port of Ashdod so the supplies could be properly checked for dangerous materials. After the verification we would have been happy to deliver the supplies to Gaza via land, through existing crossings, on behalf of the flotilla’s organizers. We emphasized that we would not let the flotilla enter Gaza because of the risks mentioned above.
The flotilla was also not allowed to enter due to maritime entrance restrictions that have been imposed by both Israel and Egypt in order to prevent rearming Hamas. Israeli navy forces reached the six ships in order to prevent them from entering Gaza. On five out of the six ships there were peaceful engagements between our Navy forces and the people on the ships. The individuals on these ships were led to the port of Ashdod for further examination. When Israeli forces entered the sixth ship with paint guns they anticipated, based on the experience with the five previous flotillas, that there would be a peaceful engagement. However, this time our Navy forces were met with people who were waiting with knives, sharp metal objects and other weapons. Six of our soldiers were wounded, two of them by gunfire.
Some of the soldiers were thrown by the flotilla occupants onto the lower deck and into the sea. After a minute of reevaluation and in order to avoid Israeli casualties, the soldiers received permission to defend their lives.
Israel deeply regrets the loss of lives and the casualties that occurred as a result of our efforts to stop the flotilla from illegal entrance. This situation could have been avoided if the organizers of the flotilla would have taken us up on our offer to dock the flotilla in Ashdod, examine the goods and peacefully transfer them to the people of Gaza. That was not the plan of the flotilla. Theirs was a premeditated provocation to ambush and to test the limits of how far they can push our forces, thereby igniting the Muslim world.
I assert that the timing of the flotilla is no coincidence. The timing was strategic in order to sabotage the proximity talks, which recently began between Israel and the Palestinians after much anticipation. Trying to delay the proximity talks is no way to achieve peace and is not a means of delivering aid to the Palestinian people.
It is preposterous to accuse Israel of preventing aid from reaching the people of Gaza. Since January 2009, more than 1 million tons of humanitarian aid have been delivered by Israel to the people of Gaza. That is approximately one ton of aid for each man, woman and child in Gaza.
During the first quarter of 2010 alone, almost 100,000 tons of supplies have been provided, including: 48,000 tons of food products; approximately 550 tons of milk powder and baby food; 2,700 tons of rice; 40,000 tons of wheat; 185 tons of aggregates; 2,000 tons of clothing and footwear; 20 tons of iron; 25 tons of cement; and more than 1,000 tons of medicine and medical equipment.
In a typical week, 15,000 tons of supplies enter Gaza including truckloads of meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, fish, vegetables, milk powder, baby food, wheat and other essential goods.
Additionally, fuel and electricity needs are being met, and hundreds of Gazans receive medical treatment in Israel. More detailed information, broken down by weekly aid delivery, can we found on the consulate Web site (www.israella.org).
Unfortunately, the Palestinian people in Gaza are hostages of their own radical regime. This is a regime that has chosen to smuggle weapons and fire rockets instead of providing necessary amenities for its people. The international community has offered Hamas an opportunity to come out of the blockade by acknowledging the right of the State of Israel to exist. But instead, in Article 7 of their charter they call for the worldwide murder of the Jewish people. The world should stand united against Hamas.
Israel wants nothing more than to see the Gazan people thrive and not live under the oppression of Hamas. I urge the world to organize a flotilla of hope. A flotilla that will put pressure on the catapult behind the Islamic fundamentalist hate campaign, the consequences of which are thousands of casualties around the world, most of whom are, ironically, of Muslim descent. We need to assemble a flotilla of hope against the hate, violence and radicalism that is being spread by Islamic fundamentalists, spearheaded by Iran. l
Jacob Dayan is Consul General of the State of Israel in Los Angeles.