Tensions have once again heated up in the Middle East. Israel, in its ongoing efforts to prevent the smuggling of arms and the materials to assemble rockets in Gaza, was forced to intercept six ships illegally attempting to break the maritime blockade off the coast of Gaza.
United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ is saddened about the violence, injuries, and deaths among both Israeli naval personnel and passengers that occurred aboard one of the six ships. The Free Gaza Flotilla, organized by an extremist Islamic organization in Turkey, refused to enter the safe harbor in Israel for customary cargo inspection procedures, compelling Israel to intercept the ships, which resulted in the lamentable outcome.
Much media and world attention has been focused on this situation and we want to provide some information to clarify the facts behind the incident.
Early in the morning on May 31, IDF naval forces intercepted six ships attempting to break the blockade of the Gaza Strip. Both Israel and Egypt do not permit uninspected and unpermitted shipments into the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
The intercept took place after numerous warnings from Israel and the Israeli Navy. The Israeli Navy requested the ships to redirect toward Ashdod, where they would be able to unload their cargo, which would then be transferred to Gaza over land after undergoing security inspections. The IDF stressed that the passengers could then return to their point of departure on the same vessels.
The activists were reportedly carrying 10,000 tons of aid to Gaza. Israel had pledged to deliver the humanitarian goods after the ships were inspected. Obviously, materials to facilitate Hamas’ efforts to fortify their bomb-making facilities would not be permitted. Israel regularly provides 15,000 tons of food and medical supplies overland to Gaza each week.
During the interception of the ships, demonstrators on one of the ships attacked the IDF naval personnel with lethal weapons, including knives, crowbars, metal clubs, and sledgehammers. Several attempts were made to take the Israelis hostage. Another soldier was stripped of his weapon and thrown to a deck 30 feet below. The weapon (or others the demonstrators had) was then used to fire upon the Israelis. The demonstrators had clearly prepared these weapons in advance for this specific purpose. Five of the six ships agreed to allow the IDF to search their ships for weapons.
As a result of this life-threatening activity and when they determined that their lives were in immediate danger, the naval forces employed riot dispersal methods, including live fire. According to initial reports, these events resulted in over 10 deaths and numerous injuries among the demonstrators.
A number of Israeli naval personnel were injured, some from gunfire, others from attacks with knives and crowbars. Two of the soldiers were moderately wounded and the rest sustained light injuries.
All the injured Israelis and foreigners were evacuated by a fleet of IDF helicopters to hospitals in Israel.
The IDF naval operation was carried out under orders from the political leadership to halt the flotilla from reaching the Gaza Strip and breaching the naval blockade.
Hamas, an Iranian surrogate, controls Gaza and has launched thousands of missiles into Israel since it took over four years ago — a situation not recognized by Israel or the Palestinian Authority. Hamas is a terrorist organization committed to Israel’s destruction.
The coming days will be difficult ones for Israel — particularly as many in the international community have already begun to respond with criticism and to use this incident as an excuse to delegitimize Israel. Israel, within its rights to prevent delivery of materials that put Israeli citizens in harm’s way, was placed in an extraordinarily difficult position. All evidence to date suggests that Israel acted in a manner designed to avoid violence. As evidenced by the lack of violence on five of the six vessels, it was clear that the participants on one of the ships sought a violent confrontation in an effort to create an international incident and to discredit Israel.
For video footage of the Gaza flotilla incident that shows an attack on the Israelis attempting a peaceful interception of the ship, go to www.ujcnj.org/flotilla.