UK, May 15, 2010 ( Pal Telegraph, by Peter Eyre) - Having spent some time with the Free Gaza Organisation I am amazed that they still plan on sailing soon to Gaza despite the fact that two conditions have changed since their last successful trip in 2008.
On all their prior trips the waters in the offshore Gaza zone were classified as a Military Restricted Zone but now that zone has become a full blockade zone (3/4th January 2009) and since this time no one has been allowed to enter Gazan waters and to date no one has.
In 2009 the Spirit of Humanity made an attempt to sail into Gaza….this vessel was surrounded by Israeli Naval Gunboats and was ordered to turn around and return to Larnaca in Cyprus. Under the blockade regulations the Israeli Navy can and does have the authority to stop any vessel attempting to enter Gazan Waters. The Spirit of Humanity Captain realized that the navy was serious and that harm could come to the crew and passengers and turned back to Cyprus. We should also cast our minds back to the accident with the Dignity which was extremely lucky to stay afloat after it was rammed by the Israeli Navy.
In June 2009 we again saw another failed attempt to get into Gaza when the Spirit of Humanity was apprehended at the Gazan limits and taken into custody to Israel. This time the entire cargo and the vessel were confiscated and the crew and passengers arrested and deported to their respective countries.
As an ex navy crewmember on such patrol vessels I feel that the Free Gaza Organisation are pushing the limits and in some cases with total disregard for safety of life at sea. One must understand that Israel is currently on a war footing with Iran and also may again be in conflict with Lebanon, Syria and possibly Gaza once more.
There is no way that these vessels will be allowed to enter the Gaza Strip and the Israeli Government and the Israeli Navy will stop any such attempt. The security of the offshore Gaza area was handed to the Israelis by the Palestinian Authority and thus makes any apprehension of such vessels perfectly legal. They Israeli Navy is currently carrying out exercises in the offshore Gaza area as to how to deal with this flotilla when they arrive at the outer limits.
When one thinks of the huge amounts of money involved to purchase, prepare, crew and load these vessels with cargo it is extremely sad to see such a waste of valuable donated money. If one counts the cost of the Dignity that eventually was a total loss, the arrest and confiscation of the Spirit of Humanity one can see this is simply a case of handing vessels and cargo over to Israel…….I am sure they are very happy to receive this donated aid.
On this next run the fleet consists of some larger vessels and combined with the cargo being carried this would be a very lucrative catch for the Israeli Navy. Because of the current situation one should seriously consider the benefits of these attempts to break the siege and the repeated lack of success of the three previous trips..
We have seen dramatic changes in both the land convoy attempts and certainly the passage by sea. Egypt has made it clear that no more Viva Palestina Convoys will be allowed via Egypt and now the Israeli Government and the Israeli Navy have made it totally clear that this flotilla will not be allowed to enter Gazan Waters.
One has to look at the amount of money being totally wasted, the amount of cargo that is left to perish on the Egyptian side of the border (thousands of kilograms are dumped on a regular basis) and the confiscation of the vessels and cargo that attempt to sail from Larnaca.
When one considers that these vast sums of money could be better used elsewhere it makes one feel sorry for all those kind people that donated their time and money thinking that it would get through to the target group.
At the end of the day a charity is a business and one has to look at the commercial loss aspects, set against the commercial success i.e. Aid that is actually delivered. I am convinced that the existing programme is a total failure. If on the other hand it is only to draw attention to a cause or the true situation in Gaza……then in that context it has been successful.
As I said I have grave concerns about the way this organization is run, the marine safety aspect and the quality and standards of the crew in regard to their certification. We are talking here about vessels carrying large amounts of passengers that are ill prepared for a genuine emergency i.e. the vessel being attacked and sunk etc
Having been assigned to one such vessel last year I must say I had some serious concerns as to the preparedness for sending such vessels on such a voyage and the lack of good quality maritime planning. The organization is run by a group of retired individuals which I will go into in my next article after their next mission.
Do not be surprised to find the entire fleet being escorted into Israel and the vessels and cargo confiscated. The crews and passengers will once again end up in jail for between a couple of days or a week before deportation.
It is not my intention to be critical of an organization that achieves success but it is my duty of care to be critical of the continues failings of a group that do not have the slightest idea of sailing vessels that are suitable for the task on hand, the safety equipment carried and the high level of seamanship required both in the preparation, planning and safety of its passengers and crew.
The huge amounts of money that are totally written off is in my opinion depriving those that could make better use of such money by simply delivering the aid where it is required.
No doubt this article will bring in a flurry of criticism and complaints but I rest my case……if I am wrong then I will be the first to apologise but if I am right I will further expose the structure of this organization and much more…..watch this space!
Peter Eyre – Middle East Consultant – 12/5/2010