Aboard the Freedom Flotilla II to Gaza
Socialist Party MEP for Dublin, Paul Murphy on his reasons for taking part in the Freedom Flotilla II to Gaza.
On Monday, I will set sail from a port in the Mediterranean to Gaza on the MV Saoirse. Onboard will be 20 other passengers (pictured), including former Irish rugby player Trevor Hogan, internationally renowned artist Feilim Egan, a number of Sinn Fein Councillors and People Before Profit and United Left Alliance Councillor, Hugh Lewis. On Wednesday, we will rendezvous with a dozen other boats carrying hundreds of passengers from all over the world. Together we will then head towards Gaza, bringing vital medicines and reconstruction material that are desperately need by the people living there.
This Freedom Flotilla II has come in for threats and harsh criticism. After last year's assault by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) on the Freedom Flotilla I, where they killed nine Turkish activists, they have again threatened to attack the boat. They have warned that "we will do anything we have to do to prevent a boat from breaking the blockade". They have been given a green light for this aggression by the US administration, with Hillary Clinton declaring that by "entering into Israeli waters" [sic!], we are "creating a situation in which the Israelis have the right to defend themselves." Catherine Ashton, the High Representative of the EU, has said that the flotilla is the "wrong response" to the humanitarian situation in Gaza. Meanwhile, Eamon Gilmore, Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, who last year condemned the Israeli assault on the Flotilla has this year simply meekly requested that the Israelis act with restraint!
Why then, to the backdrop of a threat of violence from the Israeli military and condemnation or criticism from many western powers, are we persisting with our trip to Gaza? Fundamentally, in my opinion, it's because it's the right thing to do. The conditions that people live in in Gaza are horrific as a result of Israel's illegal blockade. It has not allowed goods or people in or out for four years now and living standards have plummeted. Eighty per cent of the population is dependent on international aid to survive. The number of people who survive on less than $1 a day tripled since the start of the blockade to some 300,000 people out of a total population of 1.6 million. Unemployment stands at over 40%. UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) said that wages have dropped by one third during the blockade. Many basic medicines and equipment for hospitals like dialysis machines are unavailable or in extremely short supply with the result that the Palestinian Ministry for Health calculated that 265 people died between June 2007 and December 2008 as a result of the blockade. People have been unable to rebuild many buildings destroyed in "Operation Cast Lead" when the IDF mercilessly bombed and then invaded this densely populated small strip of land in late 2008 and early 2009.
This devastating blockade amounts to collective punishnament of the people of Gaza for their decision to elect Hamas. While I have very fundamental disagreements with both the aims and tactics of Hamas, it is a fact that they were democratically elected by the Palestinian people and the people of Gaza should not have to suffer horribly for that decision.
In sailing to Gaza loaded with medicines and reconstruction materials, we aim to achieve two key things. Firstly, if such pressure can be built that Israel feels unable to intervene and we are able to deliver our cargo of aid, it will make a real difference to the lives of tens of thousands of people. Secondly, and this will apply even if the IDF do intervene, to raise the conditions in Gaza and the ongoing oppression of the Palestinians in public consciousness internationally.
In response to this, some commentators have engaged in a hypocritical geographical what-aboutery. What about Syria, what about Libya, what about Saudia Arabia? Why isn't there a Freedom Flotilla to these places? This argument is a red herring. The Socialist Party and the Left generally has been to the fore in opposing oppression in North Africa and the Middle East and in supporting revolutionary movements there. A Flotilla is clearly not the required response because there is no ongoing blockade, but while the leaders of western capitalism like Sarkozy were feting the likes of Ben Ali in Tunisia, and the US continues to back up brutal dictatorships like Saudi Arabia, the Left has been consistent in its opposition to dictatorships and oppression around the world. Two of those who originally planned to come on the Irish ship to Gaza are unable to do so, because they are in their native Libya fighting against Gadaffi.
Our flotilla and the movement in Palestine have to be placed in the context of the tremendous revolutionary upsurge and movements across North Africa and the Middle East. These revolutions have graphically demonstrated that mass resistance, collective action by the oppressed against their oppressors, can bring about fundamental change. I witnessed that power first hand when I visited Tunisia about a month ago. It is these developments and that power that makes me confident that fundamental change can be brought to Israel/Palestine and our flotilla can play a small part in raising confidence amongst the Palestinian masses.
These developments are now having a big impact, with major protests (see video below) across the region to mark Nakba Day (meaning "the catastrophe" in Arabic –the establishment of the state of Israel on May 15 1948 with the expulsion of an estimated 700,000 Palestinians). The movements have inspired acts of solidarity with the Palestinians by the Arab masses, but have also given confidence to the Palestinian people who have seen how the corrupt dictators in Egypt and Tunisia could be overthrown. There have been major protests in the last months in the Occupied Territories primarily made up of a new generation of Palestinian youth.
These movements point towards the possibility of the development of a mass uprising against the oppression of the Israeli state. The first Intifida in 1987 had that character and forced the Israeli regime into peace negotiations. These unfortunately, however, led down the road to the fraudulent Oslo agreement. That experience underlines the fact that as long as the right-wing establishment rule in Israel, they will not allow a viable sustainable Palestinian state to be created. The current Israeli regime needs to be overthrown.
The force that can overthrow it is a mass revolutionary movement of the Palestinian masses, the risen masses of the Arab world as well as the working class and poor in Israel itself. A sister party of the Socialist Party exists in Israel/Palestine, the Socialist Struggle Movement. They argue for these ideas there and are playing an important role in organsing the struggle within Israel against the occupation and the oppression of the Palestinians. A courageous demonstration took place in Tel Aviv at the beginning of June against the occupation. They work to unite Jewish and Arab workers generally in a struggle against the Israeli capitalist class. Such a mass revolutionary movement could complete the overthrow of corrupt elites in the Arab world, kick out the right-wing Israeli establishment and fight to create a socialist Palestine, alongside a socialist Israel, as part of a socialist confederation of the Middle East.
For me, participating in this flotilla is a small but important way of contributing to building this mass movement that can end the oppression of the Palestinian people. However, precisely because this is all about the building of a mass movement, the actions of all of those who oppose the oppression are just as important as our direct participation in the flotilla. It is vital that those who support what we are doing get involved in building a major movement in Ireland while the flotilla is sailing. I would encourage everybody to join the protests that are organised to demand an end to the blockade. A major movement in Ireland and across the world can give further confidence to the Palestinian people and demonstrate clearly to the Israeli state and those complicit in their occupation, like the US and the EU, the strength of opposition to their actions.
Paul Murphy is the Socialist Party and United Left Alliance MEP for Dublin, having replaced Joe Higgins when Joe was elected to the Dail. Paul is writing a daily blog and updating pictures from the Irish Ship to Gaza at www.paulmurphymep.eu.