The Gaza Strip is populated by nearly two million people and is often referred to as a “prison”, as it has been subjected to a brutal Israeli blockade for 12 years. The blockade is in contravention of international law.
The humanitarian situation for the inhabitants of Gaza is nothing if not desperate. I know of no source that can better convey a picture of it than Al Jazeera. After all, their journalists are there on a day-to-day basis, risking their lives to cover the news there and elsewhere in Middle Eastern infernos. The rest of us – including American evangelists, Prins Salman and US presidents past and present – are not.
Moreover, NATO states (not least my own country) are so pusillanimous versus USA, that there is total impunity for Israeli crimes against humanity in Palestine which, in my view, include the crime of genocide.
So every once in a while, people from various countries (including my own) try to express their deep-felt concern and sympathy for the long-suffering people of Palestine. Recently a Norwegian fishing vessel, manned by sympathisers and carrying medical supplies, sailed to Gaza, or attempted to do so. The vessel was intercepted by the Israeli authorities 54 nautical miles off the coast and its crew and passengers were subsequently brutally arrested and incarcerated. True, they have since been released.
In today’s Klassekampen , the ship’s engineer writes that what the Israeli Embassy in Oslo has told the press about the incident has prompted a sense of outrage “in those of us who were on-board”. The following is my translation:
First of all, our purpose was to bring medical equipment to Gaza. The [Israelis] hijacked the ship 40 nautical miles off the coast of Egypt, in international waters. Hijacking a civilian ship engaged in a civilian mission in international waters is obviously in flagrant contravention of anything that has to do with maritime law. If Israeli authorities maintain they have a right to do so, they should provide documentation to the effect.
Furthermore, Israel maintains that unnecessary violence was not exerted. Briefly narrated, the incident occurred in the following manner: When the vessel was boarded by soldiers, an attempt was made to stand between them and the wheel house. Using their electroshock weapons, beating and kicking, they broke through into the wheel house, so the captain stopped the machine. At the time, I was down in the engine room. When I clambered up, I was forced into the wheel house by two gun-toting soldiers. One of them demanded my wrist watch and put it into his pocket.
Several soldiers were with the captain in the wheel house. The atmosphere was charged. They were ordering the captain to start the engine again, but that was something he could not do from there. One of the soldiers struck me in the face (I’m 70 years old) and told me to go down and restart the engine. However, I only take orders from my captain. Then one of the soldiers shouted (verbatim) “If you do not start that fucking engine your captain will suffer a lot.” So I got the engine going. Nonetheless, the captain was subjected to considerable violence. They also threatened they could “turn him into a martyr as they did with Palestinians”. A soldier went to the mast, tore down the Norwegian flag (vessels are, as we all know, required to carry the national flag – it was not hanging there for decorative purposes), hurled it onto the deck and stamped on it.
When we were ordered to go ashore, we were told that our luggage would be returned to us when we left. It turned out that the watch episode was not an isolated one: When we were released, we received basically empty pieces of luggage. Mobile phones, cameras, tablets, wallets, money, satellite phones, clothes, watches … everything, worth hundreds of thousands of NOK, was gone. Obviously we were incensed, but the guards just laughed at us. One of them sniggered, dangling one of my two remaining (soiled) underpants in front of me.
What is the ambassador’s view on this? I also direct this question to my government. They have asked for an “explanation” from the Israeli authorities. Our Foreign Ministry should invite us who were on board to thoroughly walk through the entire incident with them, but we have not heard from them.”
So much for Israeli observance of international codes of conduct. As for my own government… I say no more.