Gazans admit aid flotillas are unnecessary

Friday, July 01, 2011 |  Ryan Jones

Israel has maintained that the international aid flotillas that keep trying to break the Israeli maritime blockade and reach the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip are unnecessary, since no one is starving in the narrow coastal strip.

Now local Gazans are saying the same thing.

In a series of conversations with Gaza businessmen, Israel's Ynet news portal revealed that the Palestinians living there are unimpressed with the latest aid flotilla, the first ship of which set sail from Greece on Friday.

"The flotilla isn't bringing things that reach the man on the street," said one Gazan, hinting at the fact that not only does Gaza have plenty of supplies thanks to daily transfers via the Gaza-Israel border crossings, but also that much of what does come in is siezed by Hamas and resold at exorbitant prices.

The Gazans said that their main problem is not being able to export most of their goods, thanks to the embargoes at both the Israel-Gaza border and the Egypt-Gaza border that are the result of a decade of arms smuggling.

The latest flotilla docked in Greece earlier this week, only to have a number of its ships mysteriously disabled in port. The flotilla organizers claimed Israeli special forces were behind the alleged sabotage.

But the first ship, the American "Audacity of Hope," managed to set off for Gaza on Friday afternoon.

The Audacity of Hope is carrying several dozen Americans supportive of the "Palestinian cause" and opposed to Israel's security measures against Gaza. The organizers of that particular ship admitted last month that their only goal was to confront the Israeli blockade, and they didn't even bother to pack any humanitarian aid on the vessel.

Because of the acknowledged political and nationalist nature of the stunt, Israeli officials fear at least some of the flotilla participants are determined to harm or even kill Israeli soldiers sent to board their ship.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week ordered the Israeli military to do whatever it takes to stop the flotilla from reaching Gaza, but to also take every measure to avoid casualities on either side.

But by press time it appeared Israel would not yet have to deal with the problem directly. The Greek coast guard halted the Audacity of Hope shortly after it left port, and ordered the ship to return. The American vessel and the others in the flotilla had been forbidden by Greece from disembarking until further notice.

The flotilla organizers have accused Israel of exerting political and economic pressure on Greece to stop the ships, but the truth is that the bulk of the international community is against the sailing of the ships.

Israel first imposed the Gaza blockade in order to apply pressure on the Palestinian leadership following the abduction of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006. The blockade was intensified when Hamas violently seized control of Gaza a year later.

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