In an announcement many will find stunning, the Obama administration has upped its threat level to Americans participating in the 2011 Gaza relief flotilla:
The U.S. State Department said Friday that attempts to break the blockade are “irresponsible and provocative” and that Israel has well-established means of delivering assistance to the Palestinian residents of Gaza. It noted that the territory is run by the militant Hamas group, a U.S. designated foreign terrorist organization, and that Americans providing support to it are subject to fines and jail.
The Americans “providing support” include:
Hedi Epstein, an 87-year-old Holocaust survivor
Alice Walker, beloved poet, writer and Pulitzer Prize winner
Ray McGovern, former CIA intelligence expert and staff member for seven presidents
Col. Ann Wright, 1997 recipient of the U.S. State Department’s Award for Heroism
Medea Benjamin, perhaps America’s most prominent peace activist
and over 30 other Americans.
Here’s a link to the U.S. State Department’s June 22nd warning in its entirety. Here is the pertinent part of the Wednesday announcement regarding flotilla participants:
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) strictly controls the crossing points between Israel and the Gaza Strip. The security environment within Gaza, including its border with Egypt and its seacoast, is dangerous and volatile. U.S. citizens are advised against traveling to Gaza by any means, including via sea. Previous attempts to enter Gaza by sea have been stopped by Israeli naval vessels and resulted in the injury, death, arrest, and deportation of U.S. citizens. U.S. citizens participating in any effort to reach Gaza by sea should understand that they may face arrest, prosecution, and deportation by the Government of Israel. The Government of Israel has announced its intention to seek ten-year travel bans to Israel for anyone participating in an attempt to enter Gaza by sea. On May 31, 2010, nine people were killed, including one U.S. citizen, in such an attempt. The U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv and the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem are not able to provide consular assistance in Gaza or on the high seas or coastal waters.
From December 27, 2008, through January 17, 2009, Israel conducted a military operation in Gaza. Israel and Hamas, a State Department-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization that violently seized power in Gaza in June 2007, declared separate truces to end the fighting. Small clashes continue to occur along the boundary of the Gaza Strip. Rockets and mortars are still fired into Israel from Gaza, and Israel continues to conduct military operations inside Gaza, including airstrikes. Israel has also declared an exclusion zone inside Gaza along its boundary with Israel and has taken lethal measures against individuals who enter it.
The State Department web site has no link to the Friday announcement yet. I’ll post it when it appears.
Updated – Saturday early morning:
On facebook, Max Blumenthal has linked to an article by his colleague Joseph Dana. Dana reports the Greeks are responding to safety complaints made against three of the 10 boats scheduled to leave Greek waters toward Gaza. The MV Audacity of Hope is one of the three:
Early this morning, I discovered that a ‘private compliant’ had been filed against the US boat to Gaza. The compliant, it is still unclear who filed it, stated that the US boat to Gaza is not ’sea worthy’ and requires a detailed inspection.The harbor master where the boat is in port has declared that until the compliant is resolved the boat is not permitted to leave. Currently, lawyers representing the US boat are looking into the origins of the compliant and weather it was filed as a result of Israeli economic or diplomatic pressure on the Greek government. The boat is US flagged and registered in the United States.
10 ships are expected to sail as part of the Gaza aid flotilla. Currently three ships, including the US boat, have had complaints levied against them. US boat organizers believe that Greece will attempt to delay the ships indefinitely by using a serious of bureaucratic measures such as endless safety checks and cargo inspections. Despite the setbacks, organizers are continuing with their nonviolence and safety training. They are hopeful that the Greek government will allow the ships to sail next week as initially planned.
Updated – Saturday Afternoon:
ATHENS – A group suspected of being linked with the Israeli foreign intelligence agency the Mossad was reported to have tried to thwart the sailing of a Greek ship slated to join the Gaza-bound Freedom Flotilla II due to set sail sometime next week.
The elements tried to sabotage the ship’s engine, but a crew discovered the men while checking the equipment, Quds Press said, quoting sources from the flotilla’s organizing body, on Saturday. The sources added that the men fled the scene.
Since the incident, participants have been taking turns watching guard in anticipation of another shot at foiling the mission to deliver much needed humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip.
The flotilla, which will include some 15 ships and hundreds of notable passengers, has insisted on heading for the Strip despite Israel’s open threats to use military force to stop the ships short before landing at the said destination.