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“Free Gaza” – A Misnomer

This is a guest post by Ben Cohen, editor of Z Word

Back in August, I wrote extensively about an organization which bills itself as the “Free Gaza” movement (see here, here and here.) The aim of this organization is to break what it bills as the “Israeli siege” of Gaza. To this end, it has organized two boat trips of activists to the Strip. Each time, the activists have issued hysterical predictions about being blocked by the Israeli Navy. And each time, they have been permitted to dock without so much as a warning shot fired in their direction.

The second boat trip arrived in Gaza this morning. Again, the activists are misrepresenting themselves as humanitarian aid workers. In reality, they are a traveling crew of anti-Zionists bent on pointing out the illegitimacy of Israel to anyone who will listen.

You would have thought that anyone who wanted to free Gaza might be concerned about the reign of terror which Hamas has imposed there. As Human Rights Watch – hardly a friend of Israel – noted in July, “Hamas forces physically abused some of the people they apprehended and closed roughly 100 organizations they consider allied with Fatah.” But not a peep on this score from the “Free Gaza” movement.

Instead, they are busy pushing the “original sin” version of Israel’s creation. Israel, they say, has created the “largest ongoing refugee population in the world.” Pertinent but inconvenient facts – Palestinians can be citizens of other countries and retain their refugee status, and they can also, unlike other refugee populations, transfer their refugee status to their descendants – are conveniently ignored. Nothing shall be permitted to get in the way of the portrait of Israel as an apartheid state, the worst villain on the global stage.

Talk to representatives of UNRWA, the UN agency devoted to Palestinian refugees (the millions of other refugees in the world are all catered for by UNHCR), and they will tell you that the term “refugee camp” is misleading. I recently heard one UNRWA official say that so similar are the dwellings in Palestinian areas, it’s not always obvious that you’ve left the town and entered a camp. But that didn’t stop Lauren Booth, sister-in-law of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and a participant in the first “Free Gaza” mission, from disgracefully comparing Gaza to Darfur, a barefaced lie designed to conjure up images of fragile tents battered by desert winds and populated with starving, emaciated children.

With this second mission, it appears that the “Free Gaza” movement has avoided bringing along liabilities like Booth and Yvonne Ridley, a “journalist” with the Iranian Holocaust Denial outfit Press TV. Among their number was the more august figure of Mairead Corrigan Maguire, who won the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize for her work in Northern Ireland.

Drawing on her experience in Northern Ireland, in an interview with the Irish Times Corrigan said:

“The problem between Israel and Palestine will not be solved with militarism and can only be solved by all-inclusive unconditional dialogue between all parties involved. But since Israel is the occupier and the stronger party, it behoves it to move on peace initiatives…You cannot talk peace and at the same time be demolishing homes, carrying out extrajudicial killings, and imposing a siege on Gaza, perpetrating tremendous suffering . . . I think the Israeli government has a responsibility to change things on the ground [in the West Bank], end the siege of Gaza . . . and begin to release prisoners.”

I asked my co-blogger Eamonn McDonagh what he thought of her statement. “The analogy that Corrigan draws with the Northern Ireland conflict is false,” he told me, “because it fails to take into account that in Northern Ireland, negotiations worked when the IRA realised that its objectives were unachievable by force – and probably unachievable anyway. They therefore decided to abandon terrorism in return for a role administering what they tried, for thirty years, to destroy by violence. Hamas has a long way to go before it reachs the level of enlightenment and self-knowledge achieved by the Provos at the start of the 1990s. Fortunately, the Israelis are patient teachers.”

Hamas certainly won’t learn any valuable lessons from solidarity activists who see their role as cheerleaders, and who assiduously refrain from any criticism of the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.

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