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Why the Gaza Flotilla Is Losing Steam

As expected, the news that the Turkish group IHH — the guiding light behind the second annual “humanitarian” flotilla to Gaza — will not participate has cast the whole enterprise into doubt.

An unspecified source told Haaretz that “problems have arisen on other boats that are supposed to take part in the flotilla.” There were originally supposed to be thirty boats involved, but that had already been scaled back to about ten when the IHH news broke. Now the number of boats expected to participate is five to eight. The number of activists, too, has fallen precipitously, from 1,000 to an expected 300.

Why the gloom? What happened to the flotilla?

It’s a fair bet that the IHH was leaned on by the Turkish government, which is horrified by what’s going on next door in Syria. The wheels are starting to come off their look-eastward strategy. This is a time to shore up the relationship with Israel and make nice to the Americans, not throw the government’s weight behind a Hamas-supporting NGO with ties to Al Qaeda.

As far as the wider disenchantment with the flotilla is concerned, there are several factors at work. One is simply that the absence of the IHH strips the stunt of much of its glamour. Another might be a sense among some activists that jumping up and down about Israel’s legal blockade of Gaza, particularly when the Egyptian blockade has been lifted and there is in fact no humanitarian crisis in the Strip, is a little unseemly when there is a genuine humanitarian crisis rapidly reaching epic proportions up in Syria.

A critical piece of the puzzle is supplied by the Israel Law Center (Shurat HaDin), led by Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, which is working to stop the ships ahead of time by legal means. James Poulos interviewed her on Pajamas Media TV and she explained the prongs of their strategy thus:

  1. Lawsuits on behalf of victims of Palestinian terrorism designed to seize “any property, including boats, utilized by any party to attempt to run the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza.” The plaintiff of the first suit, Dr. Alan Bauer of Chicago, was severely injured along with his son in a terrorist attack by a Palestinian suicide bomber in Jerusalem in 2002. “The Free Gaza Movement and other American-based anti-Israel organizations have raised funds in the United States to outfit the Gaza flotilla ships. The lawsuit contends that furnishing and outfitting the ships, which are being used for hostilities against a US ally, violates American law. The plaintiff rests his claim upon the rarely used 18th-century “informant” statute (18 USC Section 962) that allows a plaintiff (called an “informer”) to privately seize ships outfitted in the United States for use against a US ally” (Jerusalem Post).
  2. Letters to thirty maritime insurance companies “placing [them] on notice concerning the Gaza Flotilla, and warning them that if they provide insurance…that they themselves will be legally liable for any future terrorist attacks perpetrated by Hamas” (Darshan-Lerner in the Jerusalem Post).
  3. A warning letter to the communications giant Inmarsat, “stating that it may be liable for massive damages and criminal prosecution if it provides communication services to ships used by suspected terror organizations in the Gaza flotilla.” “We informed them that if they do so, they will be in violation of the American Neutrality Act, which prohibits aiding a group in their struggle against the military of an ally country,” said Darshan-Leitner. “Since Imarsat has offices in the US, the law binds them.”

These tactics are bearing fruit. Darshan-Leitner told Poulos that Lloyds has responded to Shurat HaDin’s letter by saying it will not insure any boats participating in the flotilla. A French insurance company didn’t respond to the group directly, but announced that it will not insure a boat destined for the flotilla that is coming out of Marseille. Inmarsat has said that as the boats are not owned by Hamas, they are under no obligation to withhold satellite communications services; but Darshan-Leitner counters that the US Attorney General recently indicted a group that provided legal advice to the Tamil Tigers, which is a terrorist organization. If Inmarsat goes ahead, it opens itself up to the possibility of huge liability.

In related news, the Israeli Arab Higher Monitoring Committee, a political action group made up of Arab MKs and Arab local council heads, had been invited by the IHH to participate in the flotilla. The group held a meeting yesterday at which it was supposed to decide who would constitute its delegation. It decided instead to remove the flotilla from the agenda.