Conflict & Justice

Gaza aid flotilla sputters and stalls


A protester holds up as sign outside the European Union offices in Beirut, Lebanon on July 11, 2011.



At its height, this year's flotilla of boats organized to break through the Israeli blockade of Gaza and deliver aid included dozens of ships and thousands of activists from countries all over Europe and the United States.

By the time it arrived off the coast of Gaza, however, it had been reduced to a single French ship carrying 16 people. It was easily intercepted by the Israeli Navy and towed back out to sea.

It was an anticlimatic end to say the least. The first year the flotilla sailed, it ended in a shootout between Israeli commandos and passengers of the now fabled Mavi Marmara that left nine Turkish activists dead and sparked a diplomatic scuttlebutt between Turkey and Israel that has only just begun to repair itself.

Israel, determined to avoid the international public relations nightmare the first debacle caused, enlisted the help of the United States and its other allies to put a stop to this year's flotilla before it even began. The United States pressured Turkey, where the lead organizer of the flotilla is based, to do its part, while Greece grounded activists trying to depart from its ports.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly thanked the Greek prime minister shortly after.

The failed flotilla represented a clear victory by Israeli over the increasingly well-organized pro-Palestinian movement. The Mavi Marmara, in fact, never even set sail. It's operater, IHH, the prominent Turkish charity that organized the first Gaza flotilla, said the ship was grounded due to mechanical problems. But the charity had been under pressure for months from the Turkish government and had endured a series of attacks against it for perceived affiliations with Islamist groups.

Dimitris Plionis, a member of the flotilla steering committee, told the U.K.'s Telegraph that the flotilla was not a security threat, that it was simply trying to deliver supplies to people in need.

"Just look at the passengers on board this boat. They are professors, former MPs, they pose no security threat to Israel. We are not challenging Israel's security, we are challenging the blockade that is trapping 1.5 million people."

Diplomatic maneuvering has been frenetic among Israel and it allies in recent months as Palestinian leaders prepare to ask for statehood at the United Nations in September.