Choose Peace – End the Siege of Gaza and the
Occupation of Palestine

On Saturday June 5, 2010, thirty-five heavily armed Israeli Navy Seals
commandeered our boat, the MV Rachel Corrie, one of the Freedom Flotilla, in international
waters (30 miles off the coast of Gaza). 
As they did so, we eighteen humanitarian activists and crew, sat on the
deck.  We were quietly anxious, aware of the solitary figure in the
wheelhouse with his hands held high against the window. He was in full view of
the three Israeli warships, four approaching zodiacs and two commando carriers,
whose guns were pointing in his direction.  I personally wondered if the
courageous Derek Graham would live to tell the tale, conscious of what happened
on the Turkish ship, Mavi Marmara, earlier in the week.

On Monday May 31, 2010, we heard via satellite phone that the Israeli
Commandoes had boarded the Turkish Ship, MV Mavi Marmara, in international
waters from a helicopter and Zodiacs killing and injuring many people.  It
was later confirmed that eight unarmed Turkish civilians and one Turkish-American
civilian were shot (two were shot in the head and several were shot in the back).
During Israel’s attack, which
injured over forty people, all six boats on the Freedom Flotilla were commandeered
by the Israeli Navy and were taken to back Israel.  

The killing of unarmed civilians was unexpected and devastating news to us all. Everyone
participating in the Freedom Flotilla was there because they were moved by the people
of Gaza
suffering.  The people aboard the Freedom Flotilla were not terrorists;
they were human beings who cared for others who were suffering.  Gaza is land locked and
sea locked as its port has been closed since the Israeli occupation. If the
Free Gaza Rachel Corrie cargo boat had been able to enter Gaza, it would have been the first cargo boat
ever to do so. Gaza has rightly been described
as the largest open air prison in the world, with Israel holding all the keys for its
one and a half million people living under a policy of collective
punishment.  Under siege for over three years now with a shortage of
medicine and basic building materials, the twenty-two day bombardment by Israel in December 2009 and January 2010 left Gaza and its people in a
place of suffering and isolation. The Flotilla’s purpose was to not only to
bring humanitarian aid, books for children, toys, and writing materials, but also
to help break the siege of Gaza
which is slowly strangling its people.

violated international law and the incident is well documented by the UN and
many independent human rights bodies. These violations of international
law were committed under the guise of ‘national security’ and a policy of isolating
Gaza to weaken
Hamas.  It is a policy that is clearly not working.  As we have
learned in Northern Ireland,
violence never works. So why not try talking to Hamas just as the British
Government had to talk to representatives of IRA and Loyalist paramilitaries in
order to move toward peace.  

The brutal and illegal attack of aid ships in international waters on May
3lst and the subsequent boarding of the MV Rachel Corrie, also in international
waters, is a symptom of the culture of impunity under which Israel
operates. The Israeli government was quick to blame the activists on board the
MV Mavi Marmara, claiming they attacked the Israeli Navy first and that they
were members of terrorist groups. They also claimed that the HLL, the Turkish humanitarian
group who organized the Mavi Marmara, had terrorist links.  The HLL is not
a banned organization in Turkey
and has no links to terrorist organizations.  It was disappointing to see
how many international governments and media outlets immediately accepted Israel’s
version of the story without further investigation.  While there have been
calls for a ‘prompt, impartial, credible and transparent’ investigation into
the events of May 3lst by the United Nations Security Council, the United
States and others still seem to think that Israel can conduct such an investigation
on its own.  In the words of my colleague, Nobel Laureate Jody Williams,
this is like “the fox accounting for the number of chickens left in the
henhouse”.  Such a response cannot stand, and nothing less than an independent
investigation will be acceptable to the international community.

The attack on the Freedom Flotilla is a tipping point.  It is time for
the international community to finally stop allowing Israel to act with blatant
disregard for human life, human rights, and international law.  The
partial lifting of the siege shows what international pressure can achieve, but
it is not enough. Only a full lifting of the siege can bring real freedom to
the people of Gaza.
It is time for Israel
to choose peace.  It is time for world leaders and the international community
to join together and call on Israel
to lift the siege of Gaza completely, end the
occupation of Palestine,
and allow the Palestinian people their right to self-determination. We can all
do something to help bring the day of reconciliation closer to reality. Supporting
the BDS campaign, calling for an end to EU special trading status with Israel, and insisting that the USA end its economic and military assistance to Israel
until it upholds its international commitments, are important initiatives in
the steps toward peace. Palestine is a key to
peace in the Middle East. If everyone refuses
to be ‘silent’ in the face of Israel’s
continued apartheid policies, we can move closer to ending all violence in the Middle East.

Mairead Maguire (Nobel Peace Laureate)

19th June, 2010