Image-making – at a deadly price
Thursday, June 3, 2010
WELL AT LEAST GAZA IS NOW on the front-burner again. That was the conflicted reaction, simultaneously excited and horrified, of quite a few case-hardened Middle East observers I know.
Israeli Defense Force naval commandos rappelling onto the biggest of the six boats intent on publicly “busting” Israel’s blockade against the Gaza Strip certainly changed the international attention level for these periodic and symbolic maritime adventures – nine of them, in fact, since August 2008. None had excited that much media interest, and some even successfully reached their destination (though Israelis have not lately chosen to recall that fact).
Now, albeit at the cost of nine international protesters’ lives, snuffed out by the IDF, a dramatic return to the headlines has inescapably resulted. At the cost, too (to audit more fully) of seven wounded Israeli Navy personnel, which Israel’s government and press ceaselessly emphasized – as well as of several dozen injured activists.
Turkey, it’s now well-known, is home to the charity IHH (an acronym transliterated from the Turkish meaning roughly International Humanitarian Foundation) who for all their Islamic outlook – highly stressed, of course, by Israel – have taken their aid efforts to Haiti and several African nations as well as Moslem countries in dire need. But much of the flotilla organizing took place elsewhere, in my long-time stamping-ground of Cyprus – which has been noted before in this column as a pivotal stepping-stone to the Middle East for journalists, spies and activists alike.
That eastern Mediterranean island (sadly split by its own ethno-religious divide, between Turks and Greeks) has been the operational base for IHH’s international partner in the flotilla exercise, the Free Gaza Movement. It comprises some determinedly media-minded Palestine-supporters drawn from over a dozen different countries, putting out its press releases in Arabic, Spanish, Italian, French, German, Swedish, Portuguese, Turkish and Malaysian, and energetically garnering quotable endorsements in the past couple of years from the likes of South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nicaragua’s priest and freedom-fighter Miguel D’Escoto and the American radical academic Naom Chomsky).
Through their well-tended website http://www.freegaza.org (above left, some of their updated graphic work) as well as through good political and media contacts around the globe, they recruited as passengers the substantial cast-list of well-known human rights figures with whom we’ve become more familiar since their mass arrests and brief detention. Using PayPal Free Gaza raised funds worldwide, too, notably having web-visitors click on an icon depicting a bag of cement, which would pay for just that, in whatever quantity of bags chosen, to add to the cargo being loadred.
Free Gaza’s offices are to be found in Nicosia, the Greek Cyprus capital and – like many slightly nebulous organizations there – it was helped in its set-up by a typically Cypriot firm (meaning internationalist, smart and chameleon-like) that specializes in “global financial services”, the Centaur Trust. It was from here that it pulled together three boats from IHH, a sizeable cargo ship paid for by Malaysian contributions, a Greek-registered boat and two passenger craft flagged in the US.
Another boat came from Ireland – MV Rachel Corrie, named for the young pro-Palestinian woman from Washington State who was killed in Gaza in 2003 by a home-demolishing IDF bulldozer. As I write, the Rachel Corrie (pictured right, at a launching ceremony in Dundalk, Ireland) is still steaming ahead to take the same course as the now-impounded ships, and the Israeli authorities have made it clear that the same commando units will be “ready” for more hopeful blockade-busters. More headlines will be generated, for sure.