A convey of ships, known as the “Freedom Flotilla 2 – Stay Human,” will attempt to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza with as many as 20 Norwegian participants, including parliamentarians, either at the end of May or June.
The Norwegian activists, calling themselves “Ship to Gaza Norway,” aim to break the blockade along with representatives from 10 other countries and deliver aid to local and international relief organizations, and have rejected claims that the aid will end up with Hamas. The latest attempt comes after the infamous “Mavi Marmara” incident, in which nine people were killed by the Israeli Navy aboard their ship, the “Mavi Marmara”, as they attempted to break the blockade last year. Three Norwegians – Espen Goffeng, Randi Kjøs and Nidal Hejazi – were involved in the original flotilla, and were arrested by Israel forces.
‘Insecure’ about Israeli inspections
Israeli media, including the Jerusalem Post, have quoted anonymous military sources that suggest that the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) will avoid a confrontation with the convoy this time, and may consider allowing the ship to sail to Gaza. The sources nonetheless suggest that Israeli authorities will, as a condition of its passage, inspect the flotilla before it reaches Gaza – something organizers and Norwegian participants say they will not accept.
The leader of the Norwegian ship, Georg Morland, told newspaper Aftenposten that participants would feel “insecure about what they can turn into a problem and that they might plant things during the inspection.” He pointed to the fact that the IDF “produced pictures of weapons that were never onboard” in the case of the “Mavi Marmara,” and also undertook an inspection before the ship set course for Gaza. Morlund would like to see a “neutral” party, such as the UN or NATO, inspect the vessel.
The activists will also not accept trying to bring their cargo in through Egypt. “To go via Egypt would not be a breaking, but a confirmation, of the blockade,” commented Espen Goffeng, who is also involved in the new flotilla project.
Politicians on board criticized
A number of politicians have expressed an interest in joining the convoy, something which participant Gerd von der Lippe told Aftenposten would make the Israeli soldiers “become less crazy” and give the flotilla “a large degree of legitimacy.” Jette F Christensen and Stine Renate Håheim of the Labour Party, and Akhtar Chaudhry of the Socialist Left Party, have all promised to attend if the eventual dates fit with their previous engagements. Two further Labour Party parliamentarians, Hadia Tajik and Anette Trettebergstuen, have yet to make up their minds on whether or not to go.
Critics of the mission include Norwegian foreign minister and Labour Party representative Jonas Gahr Støre. He particularly warned party colleagues, in newspaper VG, that they might be “exploited” by groups with ulterior motives, and expressed a fear that the aid could end up in the hands of Hamas. Nonetheless, one of the Labour Party figures planning to join the convoy, Stine Renate Hålheim, confirmed to Aftenposten that she is “not experiencing any pressure against taking part at all.” She stated that she acts within “international law, which says that collective punishment and blockades are not alright.” Her Labour Party colleague, Jette Christensen, believes that “the activists have learned a lot since the last time, and have very good control over who will join in.” She described how the participants had received security and crisis management training, adding that “it is an absolute demand from me that the action will not lead to violence.”
Other opponents of the action, including members of the Norwegian parliament’s “friends of Israel” group, have, according to Socialist Left Party politician Akhtar Chaudhry, blamed another participant in the convoy, the Turkish NGO IHH, for causing the violence of the “Mavi Marmara” incident. IHH have been accused of having links to radical Islamist groups, including Hamas. Participants in “Ship to Gaza Norway” reject this criticism, with Chaudhry telling Aftenposten that opponents “are busier describing us as errand boys for Hamas than looking at the suffering the Palestinians have been exposed to for the last 60 years.”