If you have been following Facebook, Twitter, or the news, you have probably heard of the flotilla that was captured by the Israel military sometime our Sunday night. Six boats filled with humanitarian aid deporting from several European countries were headed to Gaza. Organized by the umbrella organization Free Gaza, the ships were trying to break a blockade and bring much needed supplies.
The flotilla aimed to deliver aid to Gaza, to break an Israeli and Egyptian blockade on the territory. According to the UN, Gaza receives about one quarter of the supplies it used to receive in the years before the blockade was tightened in 2007. The ships were carrying 10,000 tonnes of goods, including school supplies, building materials and two large electricity generators. The activists also say they wanted to make the point that, in their view, the blockade is illegal under international law. (BBC).
I found this video rather helpful to explain who and what the mission was trying to do. But the flotilla had to abort the mission when the Israeli Defense Force boarded the ships in international waters, killing 10 people and wounding 30. The boats were captured and taken to Israel. Though there are two sides to the debate, the attack was brutal – no side can deny that. Upon boarding the ship (armed and w/ body protection), the military began shooting the civilians. The soldiers said they were being attacked, (though technically since the soldiers jumped on the boat in international waters, the soldiers were the attackers). The aid workers carried no ammunition on the boats; the video evidence (from the Israeli side) shows slingshots and sticks (link). Video evidence from Al Jazeera shows gunshots going off even after the boat raised the white flags.
There has been an international outcry about the attack and the disappearance of the 700 people on the boat. Yesterday, within 24 hours of the attacks, protests were happening all around the world. This interactive map shows just how many people hit the streets as soon as this happened. Here in Los Angeles, people rallied in front of the Israeli Consulate – I went to go see what it was all about and gather some interviews while at it.
Only just this afternoon has the Israeli government released information on the the well-being of the passengers. Though most of the people on the passenger list were European, there were also some Desis on board the ships.
“Islamabad has strongly condemned the attack on the humanitarian mission and it is seriously concerned over the well-being and whereabouts of Pakistani citizens and media personnel on board,” he said. Interior Minister Rehman Malik called upon Interpol to help recover TV anchor Talat Hussain and the other Pakistanis aboard Gaza aid ships. (Daily Times link)
Also see this:
The US and Interpol have assured Pakistan that three of its nationals on board a peace flotilla carrying aid for the Gaza Strip were safe and detained in Israel after the Israeli Navy attack. Interior Minister Rehman Malik separately said that the Interpol was making ‘personal efforts’ for the release of the three Pakistanis – journalists Talat Hussain and Raza Mehmood Agha of the Aaj TV channel and aid worker Nadeem Ahmed Khan of the Khubaib Foundation – who are currently detained in Israel. (Sify)
But that’s Pakistan some of you will say. What about the so-called Israel-India alliance? Well it seems the government India also has expressed outrage:
India joined several other governments around the world in condemning Israel for its use of disproportionate force leading to the death of 20 passengers on a flotilla carrying relief supplies to Gaza.
“India deplores the tragic loss of life and the reports of killings and injuries to the people on the boats carrying supplies for Gaza. There can be no justification for such indiscriminate use of force, which we condemn. We extend our sympathies to the families of the dead and wounded. It is our firm conviction that lasting peace and security in the region can be achieved only through peaceful dialogue and not through use of force,” said a Ministry of External Affairs statement. (The Hindu)
The discrepencies between stories on either side have been large. There were reporters on the boats reporting live, but their transmission was cut as soon as the boat was captured. The only news that the international community has been able to attain since the attack were those being spun from the IDF desks. And I do mean spin. All other accounts have been censored and media has not been able to get into the area to talk to activists. Arguments have been made from Israeli supporters to me, that we can’t jump to conclusions and respond hastily to what actually happened on the humanitarian boats. But to me, the fact that 1) the boats were attacked by IDF in international water 2) the activists on boats were without firearms 3) IDF detained all 700 passengers without allowing them contact with the outside world and 4) the outright media censorship of not allowing journalists in nor allowing journalists on the boats the right to report out clearly implies who the protagonists are in this situation. If IDF had nothing to hide, they clearly wouldn’t be hiding it and spinning it the way they have been.
It’s no surprise to people on what side I am on this. I’ve written about the Gaza protest in Los Angeles before and was one of the organizers of an Art for Peace event in L.A. in support of Gaza last year. What may surprise you is that I usually do hate going to protests, especially here in Los Angeles. I think they can be nonstrategic and ineffective, unless you are targeting your message at a location where the power holders will hear it (like D.C.). But I attended the protest yesterday for a few reasons. The first reason is because it was an immediate worldwide action. Within 24 hours of the attack, people around the world were coordinating protests stating their disapproval of the action. I really feel it was due to interactive web tools like twitter and google maps that this happened so quickly. The second was that we were protesting in front of the Israeli Consulate – an access ‘perk’ that people in the Muslim world do not have. In Dhaka, Bangladesh, for example, though there is a Palestinian Embassy they do not recognize Israel as a nation state and thus, they are not allowed to have a embassy in Dhaka.
The third reason is this. As I was talking to my mother yesterday about the situation, my mom said something that really struck me. She said, ” I do feel bad that they died. But they were taking boats into a dangerous area. They should have known what was going to happen.” It surprised me she would say something like that, given our family history.
Recently, I was traveling in South Asia. I was there initially to collect personal family stories on revolution, though as the trip continued it started to get bigger. There was the story that my grandfather told me of how he went to college in Calcutta, and whenever he crossed the Ganges river, Hindus would throw rocks at him because he was Muslim. But it was due to the generosity of a Bengali man that his family able to escape under the cover of celebration of Holi. There was the story of an uncle who was a police officer in Bangladesh in 1971. He left the force when the Pakistan army took over, but decided to go into the office seven months later when they called police officer back to the force. It was only when he went back to his office, that he realized it was a ruse. A non-Bengali saved him. There was the Sinhalese activist woman I met in Sri Lanka who dedicated her life to support the Tamil and Muslim people still stuck in the IDP camps. There was the Hindu cabbie that got out of the cab to give me salaams as I got out of the cab in Calcutta. Muslims had helped him escape out of Bangladesh in the 70s when he was a baby.
My point is – that as South Asians, our roots are deeply intertwined with struggle and revolution. And despite the many sides to the political arguments we always hear coming out od the Desh, buried underneath it all are stories of humanity, of people helping each other to survive. Caste, race, religion no-bar. Our history as being American is also deeply entwined w/ revolution intertwined with humanity. The situation with the flotilla’s to me personally was not about Hamas or IDF, it was about peace activists who were doing humanitarian good. They were bringing much needed supplies to blockaded people, people of a land who are being used as pawns in an international power game.
We have to take that personal risk to save other people. The power I find in the people that were on the boat is that they went to provide aid despite knowing they were going to put themselves in a risky situation. People have been doing that for me since before I was alive. I think I need to honor that by paying it forward, and supporting the people that put helping other people ahead of themselves.
No matter what side of the Gaza argument you are on, I hope that we can all at least agree on that.