Israel Battles Gaza Flotilla on Two Fronts

By James M. Wall

A year ago, the Israeli Defense Forces handed Israel one of its worst media defeats in modern history.

Israeli commandos, filled with their government’s propaganda that Israel’s security was at stake, landed on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara, ready for battle and determined to keep the ship from breaking Israel’s control over Gaza’s shores.

Nine Turkish citizens were killed, one of whom was a Turkish-American.

This year Israel took the job of boarding flotilla ships away from the IDF and gave it to the Greek Coast Guard. On the fourth of July, as Americans celebrated their Independence Day, Israel expanded its Gaza blockade to the Aegean Sea.

What led to Greece’s decision to become Israel’s Aegean Sea outpost? Deep Throat could have told you this was coming: “Follow the money”, specifically the $17 billion which Israel and the US knew Greece needed to escape from a monumental economic collapse.

One way diplomacy works is through negotiations.  Another way, when one side is facing default, is to transfer money from the more powerful nation to the economically-strapped nation, which agrees to give up some of its freedom to let the powerful nation have control over segments of its domestic and foreign policy decisions.

The $17 billion guaranteed,  the Greek government issued a blanket order: No flotilla ships may sail for Gaza from any Greek port.

The optimistically American named ship, The Audacity of Hope, left its port anyway, determined to break the blockade of Gaza. Right on schedule, the Hellenistic Coast Guard boarded the Audacity. (Greek commandos are shown in action above.) The only gifts the Greek commandos brought on board were enough side arms to subdue unarmed European and American peace activists.

Phillip Weiss, the ever reliable Mondoweiss chief, passed along this report from the website, The US Boat to Gaza, which explains what happened:

Members of the U.S. Boat to Gaza have begun an open-ended fast calling on the U.S. government to defend our right to sail out of Greece. The fast has begun in front of the U.S. Embassy at 91 Vasilisis Sophias Avenue in Athens. Fasters delivered an urgent letter to the Embassy and plan to sleep overnight outside the Embassy gates.

Passengers and U.S. boat organizers participating in the fast are: Medea Benjamin, Ken Mayers, Paki Wieland, Kathy Kelly, Ray McGovern, Helaine Meisler, Nic Abramson, and Carol Murry.  .  .  .

The departure of the US Boat to Gaza – The Audacity of Hope – was first delayed by a complaint filed by the Israel Law Center and shown to be frivolous. Greek authorities then inspected the boat but, until the boat set sail five days later, the results of that inspection has not been shared with the captain and his crew.

The Greek Coast Guard stopped The Audacity of Hope some 20 minutes after it had left the dock on Friday, July 1. The Coast Guard ordered the captain to stop the ship, which he did. Commandos with drawn rifles ordered the ship to return. It is now impounded at a military dock in Athens and the captain has been arrested.

The captain of the Audacity, John Klusmire, an American citizen from California, was initially held in a Greek prison. There were reports he had been deprived of basic necessities. The website, USTOGAZA, carries frequent updates on the Flotilla. The site has a tweet report that Captain Klusmire was released from jail on July 5.  Charges against him were still pending. 

For a report on John Klusmire from a member of his family, see Comment Number Three below. 

The second front where Israel is fighting against the Gaza Flotilla is in its constant struggle to maintain control over the American corporate media. Timed to reach readers before the ships were set to sail, two pro-Zionist columns appeared in the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, written by two different academic experts in international law, both of whom concluded that Israel was within its international legal rights to block the flotilla from “invading” Gaza’s waters.

The two columns were standard Israeli hasbara (Hebrew for explanation or propaganda) declarations.  Think Fox News or the Tea Party in this use of a single perspective to push an ideology, and you realize just how far American journalism has fallen in recent decades.

The Los Angeles Times was once an honorable and respected newspaper, but as James O’Shea tells the story in his book, The Deal from Hell: How Moguls and Wall Street Plundered Great American Newspapers, when the Tribune Company bought the Los Angeles-based Times Mirror Company, it dragged the Times to the level of the Tribune, an arch conservative newspaper whose notion of public service relates entirely to its bottom line.

O’Shea, who has worked for both the Times and the Tribune, described the new media leadership of the two papers this way:

Instead of developing strategies to produce the kind of content that would protect their important asset—the public trust—they depreciated it like an aging Linotype.

Neither the Tribune nor the Times offered a Flotilla perspective along with the hasbara columns. Half the story is not the entire story, especially when the news columns fail to report what is happening to Americans attempting a peaceful protest abroad. A newspaper which is reduced to serving as a conduit for propaganda is no longer a newspaper.

It is also not a “free press”. Cynthia Boaz, writing in, describes what this form of so-called journalism has done to the profession:

There is nothing more sacred to the maintenance of democracy than a free press. Access to comprehensive, accurate and quality information is essential to the manifestation of Socratic citizenship – the society characterized by a civically engaged, well-informed and socially invested populace. Thus, to the degree that access to quality information is willfully or unintentionally obstructed, democracy itself is degraded.

The Tribune column was written by Robert P. Barnidge Jr., a lecturer in the School of Law at the University of Reading in England. Barnidge has previously written for the conservative Washington DC paper, the Washington Times and frequently contributes to the web site of the American Association of Middle East Studies. Barnidge concludes that Israel may, under international law, intercept ships attempting to enter Gaza waters.

A clue to the perspective of the AAMES is found in the views of its board chair, Bernard Lewis, a strong proponent of the now largely debunked Clash of Civilizations worldview. This way of viewing the relationship between Islam and Western powers gained popularity during the buildup to the US invasion of Iraq.

The Los Angeles Times op-ed column, by Amos Guiora, ran July 2, the same day Robert P. Barnidge’s column ran in the Chicago Tribune. Ira Glunts knew this was just not right.  He explained in Mondoweiss:

Amos Guiora had an op-ed in the LA Times yesterday which seeks to justify the Israeli blockade of Gaza and its plans to stop the Freedom Flotilla. The arguments Professor Guiora employs are standard Israeli hasbara which makes you wonder why the paper chose to print this uninspired and hackneyed piece.

Guiora, who is an Israeli citizen, was born and educated in the US, is identified only as a law professor at the University of Utah and the author of Freedom from Religion: Rights and National Security.

What the newspaper does not reveal is that Guiora spent 18 years in command positions in the Israeli Defense Forces, having risen to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Judge Advocate General Corps. This omission has been brought to the attention of the editors, but there has not been any correction made.

In addition to these two op-ed columns, there were the usual Zionist-friendly stories from the New York Times‘ Jerusalem-based correspondent, Ethan Bronner. In one story he reported that Gaza’s economy was rising from the ashes, which to Gaza residents sounds more like they are living in a Soviet-style Potemkin Village than the reality that actually exists in a walled-in Gaza surrounded by armed guards.

A week later, Bronner was back with a column which pretends a balance.  Its distortions are blatant. He claims the Gaza Flotilla sees itself as a modern-day version of the Exodus, the ship which tried to bring Jewish European refugees into British-controlled Palestine at the end of World War II.  The Leon Uris novel and the film that followed were early examples of hasbara, propaganda designed to convince the world of the righteousness of Israel’s creation as a state.

The Exodus spin is without merit because the purpose of the Audacity of Hope is to bring hope to Gaza, not refugees. Bronner shamelessly recalls the Exodus because it is iconic to the Israeli public and to its American supporters.

In the cargo of the Audacity of Hope is a collection of letters from Americans and Europeans reminding Gazans that they must not give up  hope because they are not alone. A threat to Israel’s security?  Depends on how you define security.

Prior to their attempted departure from Athens, passengers aboard the Audacity of Hope came together to produce a short video, To Gaza with Love. Many familiar names and faces are involved in this journey designed “to challenge oppression” in Gaza.

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years. James M Wall died March 22, 2021 at age 92. His family appreciates all of his readers, even those who may have disagreed with his well-informed writings.
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10 Responses to Israel Battles Gaza Flotilla on Two Fronts

  1. Paul Parker says:

    Excellent article. You are bringing all of the right information to light and combating Israeli hasbara and international complicity with the best of ‘weapons’–the truth.
    From the Beit Sahur, West Bank of Palestine,

  2. Gracie says:

    The newest strong-arm tactics of coercion to force nations or states into compliancy growing to be more economic than military. Governments have learned them from international corporations, the ones threatening to take business elsewhere, or flex military muscle to quell indigenous noncooperation and dissent .Individuals, like the captain of the Audacity of Hope, are threatened with an untenable financial burden in legal fees, not to mention forever loosing their means of gainful employment. The same ploy has been used against anyone challenging the labor practices of multinational corporations guilty of wage slavery inside and outside the United States. Corporations have the status of people and they also have unlimited economic resources. Countries and economic institutions seem to be replicating the format.

  3. wallwritings says:

    Wall Writings received this comment Tuesday, July 5, from Steve Greaves:

    “Audacity Captain John Klusmire is my brother-in-law. His sister, Katherine Sheetz, organized the medical team for the U.S. boat. Klusmire is a professional who actually did this for his sister. He wasn’t involved in any of the planning, had little knowledge of the issue, in fact, but once Kathy had explained some of the nature of Israeli regime’s oppressive occupation and illegal blockade, he decided to offer his services to the cause.

    A kinder, more courteous gentleman you won’t find. He did not deserve any of the disrespect and inhumane treatment the Greeks have imposed on him.
    But he would say, i am sure, that being left hungry and thirsty without a bed for a day and a night in jail are nothing compared with what the Palestinians have to endure every day.

    Kathy called me the morning of July 4th to tell me a very fine Parliamentarian of Greece, who was with the first Free Gaza voyage in August 2008 came to the prison and made sure John got a cot or sleeping pad, some food, water, toileting, and he affirmed the right of a fellow Free Gaza activist to give John, who was captain of that first Free Gaza boat also, some real food.

    Tuesday morning in Athens, Greece, there is to be a hearing, at which let us pray the judge has the good sense and legal understanding to dismiss all charges against John, and the dignity to apologize for his unjust ill treatment.
    Perhaps some of your readers saw the huge sign on the U.S. boat that was quickly put up after the Greek officials chose to be lackeys of Israel: “Poseidon or Netanyahu?” — meaning, i believe, Who is the god of the sea for the people of Greece now?….

    I highly recommend people examine the UN report, UNRWA Appeal 2011, which details some of the devastating consequences of Israel’s illegal collective punishment of Palestinians.”

    Steve Greaves

  4. Sam Jones says:

    Every resolution, event, or movement in which the U.S. flies in the face of international opinion (or international law) is one step closer to our growing irrelevance in the Middle East. The nationalistic calls of those on the right and the Tea Party in the run-up to elections not to apologize “for being American” will only hasten this decline. The change that was promised has not only not been delivered, it is in freefall.

  5. Richard says:

    Thanks, Mssrs. Wall & Greaves: That UNWRA report should be forwarded to each of our Congressmen & their staffs. Richard Quaintance

  6. UmerSultan says:

    Another good article James, thanks for adding me to your e-mail alerts.

    I was just reading Wall Street Journal this morning, and I encountered another Hasbara column by George Gilder “The Economic Case for Supporting Israel” morphing Islamophobia, Economics and the security of US with that of Israel.

    Just about everyday, WSJ has a column of this type. Thanks to the Blogosphere, there are people like you who keep the sanity alive.

  7. Bill Gepford says:

    You have shared the truth with the world! Due to the Hasbara of Israeli (and Christian) Zionism, too many people are ignorant of what damage telling lies is doing, not only to our image abroad, but also, more importantly, to our American values upon which this country was founded. The problem with telling lies is that one has to keep telling sucessive lies to cover the previous ones. And the hole keeps getting dug deeper. In a different context, but for a different purpose, were we not witnessing a similar behavior in the Orlando jury trial? God have merecy upon us.

  8. alan haber says:

    it would be useful for this, or some article or commentator to state the israeli position justifying its blockade/siege under international law, and then international law refutation of this position.

  9. k says:

    why are my tax $$$ being used to block human aid? It further re-defines the Law of the Sea, held sacred for centuries, if one nation can now rule the Mediteranean.

  10. wallwritings says:

    A reader has brought to my attention Amy Goodman’s broadcast of Democracy Now, aired on July 6. According to this broadcast, the commandos did not actually board the ship, as earlier reports cited in my posting, indicated.

    The Greek Coast Guard ship blocked the Audacity of Hope with fully armed commandos who were ready to board the Audacity.. The Coast Guard told the US captain he had to turn around and return to port.

    Ann Wright, the group’s leader, says in the quote below, “if we did not comply with what he said, they would forcefully board us.” When I sent out my piece Goodman’s broadcast had not aired.

    What follows is an excerpt from the Democracy broadcast:

    “ANN WRIGHT: These fellows are not about to let us go any further. And with the arrival of the commandos, the heavily armed commandos, we can see that the intent was we were not going any further. And if we did not comply with what we said, they would forcefully board us. Our captain has been a very brave captain to bring us out. That next level of going up there, where we’ll be forcefully boarded, is something that we, as an organization, was not going to do.

    AARON MATÉ: And so, after a tense standoff that saw Greek forces confront The Audacity of Hope, briefly pointing automatic rifles at the Captain and his passengers, we are now following a Greek Coast Guard ship back to shore.

    The Captain has agreed to take the ship to a different port. He refused to go to the initial port where The Audacity of Hope was moored. He cited the fears of sabotage in the aftermath of two other ships in the flotilla suffering damage; one ship being totally disabled, of course, passengers here have blamed the Israelis. So for now, we return to land. The fate of The Audacity of Hope in its journey to Gaza unclear.

    AARON MATÉ: Alice Walker we’re close to docking, can you share with us your thoughts?

    ALICE WALKER: Well, I feel very happy. I feel that we moved closer to Gaza. We didn’t get to Gaza of course, but the people will know that we made every effort to get there. And so, I feel that we succeeded. I feel that we have won whatever victory there was, it was in our doing this together, peacefully and more or less happily, and now we’re going back to port.”

    My thanks to the reader who alerted me to the fact that my initial report was in error. The commandos did not actually board the ship. They threatened to do so and Ann Wright chose not to go to the “next level” and provoke the Greek ship’s captain. She added, that was something “we, as an organization, was not going to do.”

    The full transcript of the Democracy Now transfer is here:

    Jim Wall

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