November 2, 2011 - Two boats carrying twenty-seven human rights activists from five countries, including the United States, have made it to international waters and are headed to Gaza. Today, the flotilla set sail unannounced from Turkey with the aim of ending the siege and isolation of Gaza. The boats are carrying letters from people in the United States to the people of Gaza, as well as medicine. This latest attempt comes less than six months after the “Stay Human Flotilla” was detained and sabotaged in Greece by local port authorities in response to mounting pressure from the United States and Israel.
In light of Israel’s attack on the May 2010 flotilla, which killed nine civilians including 18-year old U.S. citizen Furkan Doğan, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) calls on the international community to ensure the safe passage of the ships through international waters into Gaza and prevent a repetition of last year’s lethal assault by Israeli forces.
Said CCR senior staff sttorney Maria LaHood, “CCR applauds the persistence of civil society to break the siege on Gaza, where Palestinians remain imprisoned and isolated, without access to the supplies necessary to sustain and rebuild their lives.”
The Center for Constitutional Rights also denounced the introduction in early October of House Bill H.R. 3131, in which the sponsors “express gratitude to the government of Greece for preventing the [July 2011 Freedom Flotilla II-Stay Human] from setting sail” and “direct the Secretary of State to…report on whether any support organization that participated in the planning or execution of the [flotilla] should be designated as a foreign terrorist organization.” The Freedom Flotilla II was a July 2011 attempt by human rights activists to break the Israeli blockade and deliver aid to the Gaza Strip. As the International Committee of the Red Cross recently stated, “the easing of the closure in June 2010 has had little impact on the daily lives of the residents in Gaza,” and “Israel retains effective control over the Gaza strip, in particular the movement of persons and goods.”
CCR issued the following statement:
“The Center for Constitutional Rights denounces H.R. 3131 as another example of the increasing use of the word ‘terrorism’ to create fear and stoke irrational response to activism, including the growing use of ‘material support’ charges to punish people for humanitarian activity and expressions of international solidarity or dissent. The Center for Constitutional Rights has long called for the end of the siege of Gaza and has supported the flotilla efforts, which, at their core, seek to end the isolation of Palestinians living in Gaza. In May 2011, CCR filed a lawsuit against numerous government agencies, including the Defense, Justice, and State Departments, seeking the release of documents regarding the U.S. government’s knowledge of, and actions in relation to, the May 31, 2010 attack by Israel on a six-boat flotilla in international waters, resulting in the death of nine civilians, including a 18-year old U.S. citizen Furkan Doğan. It is Israel’s illegal blockade and the May 2010 killing of unarmed flotilla participants by Israeli commandos that should be condemned and for which accountability should be sought, rather than the victims’ attempts to break the siege on Gaza.”
“H.R. 3131 is a disgrace and an attempt at fear-mongering based on the libelous assertion that if you are against the illegal blockade of Gaza, you are a terrorist. This is yet another attempt to silence the voices of ordinary citizens acting in good conscience. We will continue to organize and send boats in order to show our support for the imprisoned population of Gaza. We will not be silenced,” said Jane Hirschmann, one of the organizers of a U.S. boat with the Stay Human flotilla to Gaza, The Audacity of Hope.
The July 2011 flotilla was not the first aid attempt to be stopped. On May, 31, 2010, more than 700 civilians from nearly 40 countries on the Freedom Flotilla I sought to bring aid and supplies to the Gaza Strip, but Israeli commandos intercepted the six-boat flotilla in international waters, killing nine passengers, including one U.S. citizen, Furkan Doğan. There had been five successful voyages to Gaza in 2008, and all four attempts to reach Gaza in 2010 were forcefully blocked.
Also, Monday, UNESCO voted to recognize Palestine as a full member of the organization, which Center for Constitutional Rights attorneys said demonstrates that the international community increasingly rejects the United States’ isolation of the Palestinian people, and is a small step toward their self-determination. Because of the vote, the United States is cutting funding to UNESCO.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is engaged in Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation seeking information about the U.S. knowledge of, and response to, the attack on last year’s flotilla. For more information, please see our case page. For a factsheet about the illegality of the blockade of Gaza and the attack on the Gaza flotilla, please click here.