A Shameless Secretary General versus Freedom Flotilla 2

2 Jun

             It is expected that at the end of June, Freedom Flotilla 2 will set sail for Gaza carrying various forms of humanitarian aid, including medical, educaional, and construction materials. This second flotilla will consist of 15 ships, including the Mavi Marmara sailing from Istanbul, but also vessels departing from several European countries, and carrying as many as 1500 humanitarian activists as passengers. If these plans are carried out, as seems likely, it means that the second flotilla will be about double the size of the first that was so violently and unlawfully intercepted by Israeli commandos in international waters on May 31, 2010, resulting in nine deaths on the Turkish lead ship.


            Since that shocking incident of a year ago the Arab Spring is transforming the regional atmosphere, but it has not ended the blockade of Gaza, or the suffering inflicted on the Gazan population over the four-year period of coerced confinement. Such imprisonment of an occupied people has been punctuated by periodic violence, including the sustained all out Israeli attack for three weeks at the end of 2008 during which even women, children, and the disabled were not allowed to leave the deadly killing fields of Gaza. It is an extraordinary narrative of Israeli cruelty and deafening international silence, a silence broken only by the brave civil society initiatives in recent years that brought both invaluable symbolic relief in the form of empathy and human solidarity, as well as token amounts of substantive assistance in the form of much needed food and medicine. It is true that the new Egypt has opened the Rafah crossing a few days ago (but not fully or unconditionally), allowing several hundred Gazans to leave or return to Gaza on a daily basis. At best, this opening even if sustained provides only partial relief. Rafah is not currently equipped to handle goods, and is available only to people and so the blockade of imports and exports continues in force, and may even be intensified as Israel vents its anger over the Fatah/Hamas unity agreement.


            As the Greek coordinator of Freedom Flotilla 2, Vangelis Pisias, has expressed the motivation of this new effort to break the blockade: “We will not allow Israel to set up open prisons and concentration camps.”  Connecting  this Gazan ordeal to the wider regional struggles,” Pisias added, “Palestine is in our heart and could be the symbol of a new era in the region.” Such sentiments reinforce the renewal of Palestinian militancy as exhibited in the recent Nabka and Naksa demonstrations.


            A highly credible assessment of the Israeli 2010 attack on Freedom Flotilla 1 by a fact finding mission appointed by the UN Human Rights Council concluded that the Israelis had violated international law in several respects: by using excessive force, by wrongfully attacking humanitarian vessels in international waters, and by an unacceptable claim to be enforcing a blockade that was itself unlawful. Such views have been widely endorsed by a variety of respected sources throughout the international community, although the panel appointed by the UN Secretary General to evaluate the same incident has not yet made public its report, and apparently its conclusions will be unacceptably muted by the need to accommodate its Israeli member.


            In light of these surrounding circumstances, including the failure of Israel to live up to its announced promise after the attack in 2010 to lift the blockade, it shocks our moral and legal sensibilities that the UN Secretary General should be using the authority of his office to urge member governments to prevent ships from joining Freedom Flotilla 2. Ban Ki-moon shamelessly does not even balance such a call, purportedly to avoid the recurrence of violence, by at least sending an equivalent message to Israel insisting that the blockade end and demanding that no force be used by Israel in response to humanitarian initiatives of the sort being planned. Instead of protecting those who would act on behalf of unlawful Palestinian victimization, the UN Secretary General disgraces the office, by taking a one-sided stand in support of one of the most flagrant and long lasting instances of injustice that has been allowed to persist in the world. True, his spokesperson tries to soften the impact of such a message by vacuously stating that “the situation in the Gaza Strip must be changed, and Israel must conduct real measures to end the siege.” We must ask why were these thoughts not expressed by the Secretary General himself and directly to Israel? Public relations is part of his job, but it is not a cover for crassly taking the wrong side in the controversy over whether or not Freedom Flotilla 2 is a legitimate humanitarian initiative courageously undertaken by civil society without the slightest credible threat to Israeli security and in the face of Israeli warnings of dire consequences.


            Appropriately, and not unexpectedly, the Turkish Government refuses to bow to such abusive pressures even when backed by the UN at its highest level. Ahmet Davutoglu, the widely respected Turkish Foreign Minister, has said repeatedly in recent weeks when asked about Freedom Flotilla 2, that no democratic government should ever claim the authority to exercise control over the peaceful initiatives of civil society, as represented by NGOs. Davutoglu has been quoted as saying “[N]obody should expect from Turkey…to forget that nine civilians were killed last year..Therefore we are sending a clear message to all those concerned. The same tragedy should not be repeated again.” Underscoring the unresolved essential issue he asked rhetorically, “[D]o we think that one member state is beyond international law?” Noting that Israel has still not offered an apology to Turkey or compensation to the families of those killed, Davutoglu makes clear that until such reasonable preconditions for diplomatic normalization are met, Israel should not be accepted “to be a partner in the region.”


             In the background of this sordid effort to interfere with Freedom Flotilla 2 is the geopolitical muscle of the United States that blindly (and dumbly) backs Israel no matter how outrageous or criminal its behavior. And undoubtedly, this geopolitical pressure helps explain this attempted interference by the UN with a brave and needed humanitarian initiative that deserves to be strongly supported by the UN rather than condemned. Despite the near universal verbal objections of world leaders, including even Ban Ki-moon, to the Israeli blockade, no meaningful action has been yet taken by either governments or the UN. Israel’s undisguised defiance of the requirements of belligerent occupation of Gaza as set forth in the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, and the First Additional Protocol appended thereto in 1977, is an unacknowledged scandal of gigantic proportions.


            Liberating Palestine from oppressive occupation and refugee regimes should become a unifying priority for peoples and leaders during this second stage of the Arab Spring. Nothing could do more to manifest the external as well as the internal turn to democracy, constitutional governance, and human rights than displays of solidarity by new and newly reformist governments in Arab countries with this unendurably long Palestinian struggle for justice and sustainable peace. It would also offer the world a contrast with the subservience to Israel recently on display in Washington, highlighted by inviting Benjamin Netanyahu to address an adoring U.S. Congress, a rarity in the country’s treatment of foreign leaders. Its impact was heightened by the pandering speech given by President Obama to AIPAC, the notorious Israeli lobbying organization, at about the same time. It is unprecedented in the history of diplomacy that a leading sovereign state would so jeopardize its own global reputation and sacrifice its values to avoid offending a small allied partner. It is in the American interest, as well as in the interest of the peoples of the Arab world, particularly the Palestinians, to end the conflict.


             The United States Government has long discredited itself as an intermediary in the conflict. Its partisanship, driven mainly by domestic politics, represents a costly sacrifice of its own interests, but is also objectionable as lending support to intolerable Israeli policies of apartheid occupation and colonialist expansionism. It is time to shift the locus of diplomatic responsibility for resolving the conflict from Washington to the far more geopolitically trustworthy auspices of Brazil, Turkey, Nordic countries, even possibly Russia or China, and to encourage a more active regional role. If the encouraging recent Fatah/Hamas unity arrangements hold up and move forward, Palestinian representation will be regarded as increasingly credible, and hopefully will actively incorporate elements of the refugee communities in the bordering countries into their diplomacy. It is time for the world to realize, and the Palestinians to highlight, that the conflict is not just about territory (‘land for peace’), or even to ensure an adequate Palestinian presence in Jerusalem, it is most fundamentally about people. Insisting on respect for the moral, legal, and political rights of Palestinian refugees is the litmus test of a people-centered approach to the conflict, and our concern for the future of these long entrapped refugees should not be allowed to drift off into peripheral space, as has happened in the past.

23 Responses to “A Shameless Secretary General versus Freedom Flotilla 2”

  1. Kate P. Katzenstein-Leiterer June 2, 2011 at 2:56 pm #

    Hallo Mr. Falk,
    I lieve in Germany and was in charge of media correspondence as the Jewish Boat to Gaza wnt on September 26-28 from Cyprus and was saught on its way by Isreal. Now I will inform the media on the new event – July 8 – 16 Internationals visit there friends in Palestine. Would you like to receive informations from me, then answer me by mail.
    Thank you for this wonderfull analysis of the situation!
    Yours sincerely Kate Katzenstein-Leiterer

    • Richard Falk June 2, 2011 at 3:36 pm #

      Thanks, Kate, for your message, and please keep me informed about developments pertaining to Freedom Flotilla 2. Wishing you the best, Richard

  2. Paul Wapner June 2, 2011 at 7:15 pm #

    Once again, you shed penetrating light on Israel’s injustices with force and clarity. Thank you for your courage to see and speak out. Paul

    • Richard Falk June 2, 2011 at 9:58 pm #

      Thanks, Paul. Your support is particularly valued!! Richard

  3. norm depalma June 2, 2011 at 9:30 pm #

    While we all welcome and appreciate your message and candor, aren’t you worried that calling Ban-Ki Moon a disgrace jeopardizes your position within the UN?!!

    While I understand your anger, don’t you think that your responsibility to the Palestinian people outweighs your need to make honest critiques?!

    thanks so much.

    • Richard Falk June 2, 2011 at 9:56 pm #

      You may be right, but I would rather lose the position than suppress my true feelings.
      The Palestinians have been so long abused, their suffering so widely ignored.

      • norm depalma June 3, 2011 at 6:15 am #

        While I agree that speaking out is honorable, what would happen to the Palestinian people if you were to lose your position? How do you know that the person replacing you would do the job with the proper level of advocacy and fervor?!
        Isn’t this a chance too big to take?

  4. david HICKS June 2, 2011 at 10:28 pm #

    Dear Richard Falk ,Your courage & your humanity shine forth whenever you write in support of the far too long suffering people of Palestine. Thank you from all the many people seeking justice & peace in the world.
    I am curious to know – to hear your opinion – what stops Ban Ki-moon from exerting a far far greater moral authority with respect to Gaza . After all he is not a US senator , he must be widely read , he must have a heart . What stops him saying to Israel, loudly , clearly & unambiguously : ‘ Enough is Enough.’ What stops him ?

    • Richard Falk June 3, 2011 at 6:43 am #

      Dear David Hicks: It is hard to say as, of course, motivations are rarely admitted. My guess is subscribing to the idea
      that the UN depends for whatever effectiveness it achieves on pleasing its principal member, and his own second term as
      Secretary General depends on gaining U.S. support.

      Thanks for your supportive words, which are much appreciated.

    • deepaktripathi June 7, 2011 at 6:44 am #

      Hardly surprising that within days of making his disgraceful comments which are so eloquently discussed in the above article, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has just thrown his hat (again) in the ring for a second term. It was expected, but his vocal statement declaring his candidacy said so much more on television. He used the word “hunger” for doing the job for one more term and said that he was “proud.”

      Ban Ki-moon’s hunger matches Israel’s hunger for Palestinian land and lives. He is “proud” for what I do not know. One or two previous bad UN Secretary Generals come to mind, but Ban must surely be the worst. The prospect that the world will have to endure him further is not pleasant, except for a few warmongers.

      • Richard Falk June 7, 2011 at 7:52 am #

        Thanks for these perceptive words..

  5. Hiam Odds June 3, 2011 at 8:14 am #

    Professor Falk,

    I am honoured to be introduced to your blog and to your writing. Your blog deals with issues of great interest and concern to me and I shall be reading it over several days.

    With regard this article, I am overwhelmed by the clarity of your writing and the depth of your knowledge. Your courgage, your humanity and sense of justice are palpable through words.

    I am sure I shall find your posts absorbing. Thank you for letting me into your world.


    • Richard Falk June 3, 2011 at 9:44 am #

      Thanks, Hiam, for these supportive and encouraging words, which are much appreciated!


  6. Aiman June 3, 2011 at 6:11 pm #

    Dear Richard,
    It is a great article which comprehensively examines the issue, but also with great depth and insight.

    Just few comments which I would appreciate your feedback on:

    1- By examining Israel’s policy towards the Palestinian in general and its reaction towards the 1st flotilla, how do you expect its response to the 2nd flotilla when it approaches Gaza’s coast will be?

    2- You talk about the responsibilites of Israel under the 4th Geneva convention as an occupying power. I have read legal opinions claiming that Israel doesn’t recognise Palestine as a high contracting party because it was occupied by Jordan and Egypt. Thereofre, it wasn’t sovereign and this is why Israel doesn’t give any regard to such convention of belligerent occupation.

    3- In justification for attacking the 1st flotilla Israel relied on anti-terrorism claims by describing activists as terrorists and affiliated to Al Qaeda, especially the Turkish NGO. Do you think Israel propaganda will raise this issue again and try to make connection between these activists and terrorism. Do you think this pretext will gain credibility at this time especially that Arab dictators are using the same pretext to cling to office. It is all targeted against civil society activists, eventually.

    Sorry for this lengthy post.

  7. walmart gift card giveaway June 4, 2011 at 10:10 am #

    Great review! You actually covered some curious news in this post. I came across it by using Google and I’ve got to admit that I already subscribed to the RSS, it’s very great 🙂

  8. wadingacross June 11, 2011 at 8:35 am #

    Considering that the prior “flotilla” had quite a number of individuals on board which greatly concerned Israel, not to mention weapons, I wouldn’t be at all surprised and would be glad to hear if Israel had to attack this new one.

    And, if Israel had any sense this time, if they have to stop the flotilla, they’ll just torpedo it instead of dropping commandos on it.

    There are no Palestinians. Palestinians were created by Yasser Arafat as a term of Arab nationalism and cohesion against Israel in 1964. Most “Palestinians” immigrated to Israel and the surrounding territories because the Jews who had immigrated there before them created jobs and made the region worth living in. Prior to the Zionist movement, the Holy Land was a rural, impoverished backwater region. Jews made the region prosper and Arabs from Egypt and surrounding areas flocked to the Holy Land because of it.

    As for the Gaza Strip, maybe the international community needs to focus more scrutiny on the likes of Hamas instead of Israel. There is a disease in the “Palestinian” community and Israel is not the cause of it. Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism is.

    Furthermore, some areas of the Gaza Strip are said to be quite well off… but that doesn’t make the international news… doesn’t fit the narrative that Hamas or the Palestinians or liberal westerners and anti-Israelis like yourself want to see concerning the Gaza Strip or Judea and Samaria.


    • Aiman June 12, 2011 at 11:27 am #

      is this the photo of Hitler you have for your profile??

  9. muslim_hater June 11, 2011 at 8:41 am #

    you people are living in a dream world… what exactly was “peaceful” about the previous flotilla ?
    terrorists extremist was on that ship and good they got killed, too bad more dint.
    Muslims destroy the world with their views, no respect for human life, do some searching around and open your eyes.

  10. david HICKS June 12, 2011 at 2:42 am #

    How depressing to read the comments of wadingacross . I never thought I would to see in print the famous words of Ms. Golda Meir: ” there are no Palestinians.”
    How sad to learn that her mean spirit lives even unto 2011 !

  11. BabaGanush June 15, 2011 at 12:43 am #

    I am Jewish, and Israeli. I am here to tell you this. Wake up, there is no “blockade” of Gaza. There is no “humanitarian crisis” which you are trying to solve. All lies and deceit intended to inflame persons who are unaware and uneducated about the facts. Now that Egypt so graciously opened the Rafah border, nothing is stopping flow of humans and good in and out of Gaza. Even through the border to Israel, though many (like myself I do say) oppose it, goods and people flow daily. The fact is that the murderous Hamas “government” wants nothing short of the utter obliteration of the state of Israel. They shower rockets on our cities and incite hate and violence. Check out their school text books and you will see. Israel is justified in that it will not allow the “flotilla” (another name for “terrorist ships”) to pass to Gaza and THIS FLOTILLA WILL NOT PASS AND WE WILL INTERCEPT YOU AND STOP YOU!! If you do not heed this warning, anything that happens WILL BE ON YOUR HEAD.


  1. Chomsky vs The Whorestralian « KADAITCHA - June 3, 2011

    […] A Shameless Secretary General versus Freedom Flotilla 2 Richard Falk takes well-deserved aim at imperial puppet, Ban Ki Moon: ‘In light of these surrounding circumstances, including the failure of Israel to live up to its announced promise after the attack in 2010 to lift the blockade, it shocks our moral and legal sensibilities that the UN Secretary General should be using the authority of his office to urge member governments to prevent ships from joining Freedom Flotilla 2.’ […]

  2. TRANSCEND MEDIA SERVICE » A Shameless Secretary General versus Freedom Flotilla 2 - June 6, 2011

    […] Go to Original – richardfalk.com […]

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