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A flotilla to break Israel’s illegal blockade on Gaza
Arafat Shoukri: “Conditions are ripe to make this flotilla the ‘tipping point’“
A coalition bringing together a number of organizations is preparing to send in May 2010 a relief flotilla of more than ten ships and cargo-boats to Gaza. Dr. Arafat Shoukri, president of the European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza (ECESG) will participate in this spectacular convoy with his Campaign, which is an NGO. He has spared no effort for three years to lead delegations of European parliamentarians to allow them to see on the ground the untenable situation in Gaza and to encourage them to call on the Member States of the European Union to exert pressure on Israel with a view to ending its suffocation of the people of Gaza. Dr. Arafat Shoukri responds here to the questions of Silvia Cattori.
23 April 2010 | Subjects (S.Cattori) : Gaza Israel Jewish State European Union Palestine

Silvia Cattori: When was the European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza created and what is its mission [1]?

Arafat Shoukri [2]: The European Campaign to End the Siege of Gaza was launched in late 2007 to mobilize the greater European community in opposition to the siege on Gaza. Even then, more than three years ago, the siege was strangling the productivity and culture of the people, and it has only gotten worse since then with the 2008/2009 Israeli attack. It is our mission to work through the 30 NGOs that make up our coalition, as well as individual supporters, to break the siege by lobbying European lawmakers, educating the media and delivering humanitarian aid.

Silvia Cattori: On April 4, 2010, people around the world who are concerned about the siege which asphyxiates Gaza learned with relief that after months of preparation your NGO, the European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza, will sail soon as part of a new campaign to try to force the passage [3]. Why did you make your statement from Istanbul?

Arafat Shoukri: We chose Istanbul as the venue for the announcement of our latest – and largest – break-the-siege flotilla, both because it is the home of one of our major partners, IHH (Insani Yardim Vakfi) – which brought one of the last convoys into Gaza (December 2009), and because Turkey’s Prime Minister, Recep Tayeb Erdogan, has so courageously spoken out against the Israeli blockade of Gaza. Despite Turkey’s close relationship with Israel – even conducting joint military exercises in the past – it has bravely and without apology called the attack on Gaza the war crime that it was. The West could learn from Turkey’s example.

Silvia Cattori: This is not the first ECESG participation. Didn’t you already support the boats sent by Free Gaza in 2008? What’s new that this convoy will bring to Gaza?

Arafat Shoukri: Yes, the campaign participated in two previous flotillas. However, this will be the largest yet, and one of the co-sponsors, as we just discussed, is an influential organization from an Israeli ally. We also hope to have on board a number of notables, including MPs and MEPs. In light of that, and the recent criticism of Israel for its aggressive behavior – both in Gaza and in the West Bank, where it is rapidly expanding its settlements – I believe this flotilla is poised to be a real battering ram against the wall of Israel’s blockade.

Silvia Cattori: War crimes committed by Israel during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza have been a shock to many people. It seems to me that, since then, there has been a growing synergy in Western countries between two circles that had previously not worked much together: on the one hand, European citizens who support the Palestinian cause; and on the other, Arab and Muslim immigrants having European citizenship. Can you confirm this analysis? If yes, do you not think that this is a milestone in the movement to support the Palestinians’ struggle for their rights?

Arafat Shoukri: Yes, absolutely. Attacking Gaza at all, but particularly as viciously as it did, was a big mistake, in more ways than one. Groups and individuals who did not see Israel for the oppressor it is, and who were thus not engaged in the anti-apartheid movement, are now fully on board. It also has brought together disparate groups that had not united before. It could very well prove to be Israel’s ultimate undoing.

Silvia Cattori: Can you give us the names of some personalities who will participate in this bold odyssey in May?

Arafat Shoukri: Regarding the personalities who will be joining us we prefer to wait for the time being and will announce their names later.

Silvia Cattori: Everyone knows that Israel is at war against Gaza and that its plan is to liquidate Hamas and then to bury the Palestinian cause. Your project can be something very disturbing for this regime that strangles Gaza and tolerates no opposition. Mossad agents have probably already infiltrated this project to try to destabilize it, and propaganda agencies of the Israeli army are probably preparing to counter you. Since the announcement of this project, have you already noticed acts of sabotage?

Arafat Shoukri: We have not seen acts of sabotage yet, but our partners have certainly been subjected to threats and accusations from various individuals within the Israeli government and affiliated right-wing movements. And I am sure it will only get worse. But we will not change our plans.

Silvia Cattori: So far nothing, neither the firm condemnations of Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, nor the requests of Barak Obama, have succeeded in forcing Israel to lift the siege. Do you really think that this flotilla, as imposing as it is, will have a chance to succeed where the great powers have failed? And will it finally succeed in putting in focus the intolerable reality imposed by Israel on Palestinians?

Arafat Shoukri: As I said before, one action or event will likely not be enough to force Israel to realize that the siege is unsustainable. But conditions are ripe to make this flotilla the “tipping point.” With each flotilla we sponsor, it becomes more and more impossible for Israel to pretend it is legitimate in its oppression of the Palestinians in Gaza.

Silvia Cattori: During his recent visit to France, Mr. Recep Tayeb Erdogan gave a great lesson in humanity to the alleged “humanitarian” French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner in denouncing the crimes of the Israeli State [4]. He helped break the shameful silence of Western democracies by saying that Israel - not Iran - is the biggest threat in the Middle East. This new attitude of Turkey is without doubt a major shift in the geopolitical balance in the region. Does it have an impact on the organization of your project? Do you think it can help to place other States in front of their responsibilities?

Arafat Shoukri: Turkey, which straddles both the Middle East and Europe, has been Israel’s only Muslim ally – which means the relationship gave Israel a modicum of seeming credibility. However, as Recep Tayeb Erdogan is increasingly critical of Israeli policy and practice, that relationship is crumbling. And yes, it is very significant. The Turkish government’s refusal to back down or retract, along with the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (Insani Yardim Vakfi - IHH) [5] participation in the flotilla, could very well give “cover” for some other states in the region to follow suit.

Silvia Cattori: How do you judge the benevolent attitude of Egypt, and also Jordan with regard to Israel? Is it not intolerable that they participate, through their support to the occupier, in crushing the Palestinian people?

Arafat Shoukri: These countries are both major recipients of Western, particularly U.S., aid. Yes, we would like to see more tangible support for Palestinians from the Arab world, but we also have to acknowledge the power of the U.S. and Europe. Until we stop requiring the privileging of Israel, their “satellite” countries will feel constrained from acting as they should.

Silvia Cattori: Your NGO has made sustained efforts to get parliamentarians to react and to break the silence surrounding the situation in Gaza. Did these parliamentarians encounter difficulties in entering Gaza via Egypt or through Israel?

Arafat Shoukri: Entering through Israel has not been allowed due to the ECESG’s strong, outspoken stance against Israel’s apartheid policies and practices. As for Egypt, we have encountered some difficulties, but ultimately we have always been allowed into Gaza, and have been granted meetings with top governmental officials as well.

Silvia Cattori: Did the delegations which have visited Gaza agree to meet with Hamas authorities? [6]

Arafat Shoukri: Yes, ECESG delegations have met with Hamas representatives during our visits to Gaza. Regardless of how much we agree or disagree with them, Hamas is the elected government, and that must be recognized and respected. The other thing is that Hamas is a power on the ground and whether we like it or not, no peace is possible for the region until they are at the negotiating table as well. However, we also meet with civil society representatives.

Silvia Cattori: Baroness Jenny Tonge [7] - we met last year after her visit to Gaza - never got tired of denouncing the complicity of our Western States, and reminding that there is a generation of children who are undergoing irreparable damage. Yet despite her efforts nothing happens; the diplomacy of the European Union does virtually nothing to end the siege of Gaza. Is it not incredible?

Arafat Shoukri: Yes, it is very hard to try to explain to Palestinians, especially those living in Gaza, why it is taking so long to end the siege and why the international community has allowed Israel to so consistently break international law. The power of the blindly pro-Israel lobby is very strong in both the United States and Europe, and especially in countries like Germany, where the guilt over the crimes committed against Jews during World War II still lingers and makes them afraid to speak out against Israel. But our movement is growing stronger as Israel spins more out of control, and we will prevail in the end, I have no doubt.

Silvia Cattori: It must be admitted that the Palestinians were unfortunately badly served by the very people who in the solidarity movement in the West claimed to support them. Is it not your mission to restore some truths? Should we not stop to protect the gains achieved by the Israeli theft of Palestinian land since 1948? Should we not stop arguing about the fundamental rights of Palestinians? Should we not cease to associate with those Palestinians who, since their compromise in the Oslo Accords in 1993, are helping Israel to liquidate the resistance movements against the occupier?

Arafat Shoukri: Yes, it is high time to stop arguing, as if we don’t know what a true, just peace requires. We’ve known the necessary parameters for a long time, and there have been some Palestinian leaders who have not acted in the best interests of their people. But at the same time, we will always be willing to talk to organizations, especially influential ones, who say they are interested in dialogue. Although it is often fruitless, we must stay open to the possibility of change.

Silvia Cattori: The Palestinian civil society, that launched, since 2005, the boycott campaign against Israel (BDS Movement) requests not to accept in solidarity projects individuals and organizations that have positions contrary to human rights of Palestinians, which seems to be the least of things to do. Any action or solidarity project which does not affirm its adherence to these principles is not credible. Do you require any person or association involved in your projects to be in favour of the fundamental rights of Palestinians? Has your NGO taken a clear position on these questions [8]?

Arafat Shoukri: The ECESG is very much in favor of BDS and anyone who works with or for us must share in that support for this form of non-violent resistance.

Silvia Cattori: In Jerusalem, Israel is engaged in new “faits” accomplish. What are Muslims worldwide doing to protest against Netanyahu’s statements that Jerusalem is not a colony, but the eternal capital of the State of Israel?

Arafat Shoukri: Muslims must continually improve their ability to unite with each other, despite their other differences, and forcefully – but non-violently – protest against the further colonization of Jerusalem by Jewish settlers. But even more important is the need to reach out to other races and faiths and encourage them to join us. Our movement must be a “big tent.”

Silvia Cattori: Israel has applied to be admitted into the club of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) nations. The Palestinian Boycott National Committee (BDS) [9] has called on OECD to freeze this application, arguing that Israel is ineligible for membership as long as it behaves as a rogue state. If Israel is accepted that will be another defeat for justice and a new proof that our democracies act like lawless States. Have you expressed your opposition to this Israeli application?

Arafat Shoukri: The ECESG is lobbying very hard against the acceptance of Israel by the OECD [10], and has both issued a news release and distributed a “dear colleague” letter to affiliated MPs and MEPs, encouraging them to contact their country representatives, urging them to vote “no.”

Silvia Cattori: Thank you very much.

Silvia Cattori



[1] http://savegaza.eu/eng/

[2] Dr Arafat Shoukri, a British citizen of Palestinian origin, was born in Palestine. He lives in the United Kingdom and is Executive Director of the Palestinian Return Centre (PRC). He also chairs the European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza. Father of three children, he has a PhD in international refugee law from the University of London.

[3] In addition to the European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza, the coalition also includes the Turkey-based Human rights NGO Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH), the Greek Ship to Gaza campaign, the Swedish Ship to Gaza campaign, the Free Gaza Movement and the California-based Free Palestine Movement.

Party support in Turkey, see: “Felicity Party Supports Flotilla Campaign

[4] Mr. Erdogan paid an official visit to Paris on 6 and 7 April 2010, where he described Israel as "the principal threat to peace" in the Middle East.

[5] See: http://www.ihh.org.tr/anasayfa/en/
In December 2009, the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH) led a land convoy to Gaza that brought tons of humanitarian aid and other supplies.

[6] See: “Gaza: Eyewitness Report – ECESG Delegation – January 2010

[7] See: http://uprootedpalestinians.blogspot.com/2010/02/rise-and-fall-of-baroness-jenny-tonge.html

[8] See :
- http://www.bdsmovement.net/
- http://www.pacbi.org/

[9] See: http://www.bdsmovement.net/?q=node/126

[10] See; “Say ’no’ to Israel joining OECD“, savegaza.eu.