By Yvonne Ridley*
NOT content with committing war crimes and human rights atrocities in full view of the world, Israel has now confirmed itself as a rogue state by launching into international piracy.
Dawn had not yet broken over the Mediterranean waters in which the SS Dignity was sailing when an Israeli naval gunboat appeared from the inky black and rammed the aid-bearing ship. The act of aggression on a peace mission was launched in international waters 90 miles off Gaza, without any warning to the captain of the Dignity or the crew.
Israel claimed the incident was an accident and that its naval officers had made numerous attempts to communicate with the Dignity. It was an accident that was to repeat itself three times.
Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told one press agency that the naval vessel tried to contact the aid boat by radio for identification and to inform it that it could not enter Gaza. "After the boat did not answer the radio, it sharply veered and the two vessels collided, causing only light damage," Palmor said.
I wonder how many traffic cops around the world have heard that line from a drunken or reckless driver in the wake of a crash.
The Israeli spokesman then went on to accuse the international activists of "seeking provocation more than ever." Isn't it amazing how Yigal and Co suddenly go belly up and adopt a victim mentality? I wonder how he will react to the news that onboard the ship, among the cargo of much-needed medical supplies and humanitarian aid were TV crew s from CNN and Al Jazeera as well as other media. For goodness sake, the Dignity was on a peace mission, armed with nothing more than humanitarian aid – hardly a match for the tooled up, hi-tech Israeli Navy and its deadly arsenal.
Sorry to be so direct, but Palmor is a purveyor of deceit, a liar – and a very unconvincing one at that. You see all sea-faring people know that there is a certain radio channel and frequency which remains open 24 hours a day. I know myself, because the Israeli Navy used that exact same frequency on one of the two Free Gaza boats as they set sail back in August 2008 to break the siege of Gaza by sea. That emergency frequency carried messages of threats and intimidation as clear as a bell.
Radio communications were used without any difficulty on the Israeli Navy several times by human rights activists from the Free Gaza Movement warning the gunboats to back off when they fired at Gazan fishermen. The westerners were on the tiny fishing ships to stop the naval bully boys terrorizing the unarmed fishermen.
And by the way, what the hell is Israel up to by banning or trying to prevent boats from entering waters not in its territory? This is the Mediterranean. Just when did Israel assume complete authority of the Med?
It is also worth pointing out that Dignity was clearly flying the flag of Gibraltar, and was piloted by an English captain with a passenger list including revered politician Cynthia McKinney from the US. The Israeli Government Press Office director was faxed the entire passenger list and press release shortly after Dignity set sail. Cynthia is a former Congresswoman from Georgia, and the 2008 Green Party US presidential candidate. She was traveling to Gaza to assess the ongoing conflict.
I know her and I can tell you she is one sassy lady. If the Israel Navy thinks this little incident is going to sink without trace then they truly are in for one rude awakening.
After reaching port safely in Lebanon, where thousands greeted the Dignity, Cynthia said: "Israeli patrol boats ... tracked us for about 30 minutes ... and then all of a sudden they rammed us approximately three times, twice in the front and once in the side ... the Israelis indicated that [they felt] we were involved in terrorist activities."
She was joined by another woman of substance, Dr Elena Theoharous MP, who is a surgeon and a Member of the Cypriot Parliament. She was going to Gaza to assess the ongoing conflict, assist with humanitarian relief efforts, and volunteer in hospitals.
Also on board is another good friend of mine, Caoimhe Butterly, an organizer with the Free Gaza Movement. She said: "The gunboats gave us no warning. They came up out of the darkness firing flares and flashing huge floodlights into our faces. We were so shocked that at first we didn't react. We knew we were well within international waters and supposedly safe from attack. They rammed us three times, hitting the side of the boat hard. We began taking on water and, for a few minutes, we all feared for our lives. After they rammed us, they started screaming at us as we were frantically getting the lifeboats ready and putting on our life jackets. They kept yelling that if we didn't turn back they would shoot us."
Furthermore, the attack was filmed by the journalists, and crew and passengers and no doubt we will see the full extent of that footage and the damage caused by Israel.
Of course Israel is always using the "Oops sorry it was an accident" routine. That's the excuse the Zionist State used when it hit the USS Liberty on June 8, 1967 with a flurry of bombs, murdering 34 American servicemen in cold blood. In the 40 year s since, those with the blood of those shipmates on their hands have gotten away with murder.
But try as they might to rewrite what happened onboard the Dignity and the Liberty, there are some memories which will not die. And what Israel has done to Gaza in the last few days will become an epitaph for the Zionist State. Israel's deplorable attack on the unarmed Dignity is a violation of both international maritime law and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which states, "the high seas should be reserved for peaceful purposes."
Delivering doctors and urgently needed medical supplies to civilians is just such a "peaceful purpose." Deliberately ramming a mercy ship and endangering its passengers is an act of terrorism and piracy.
As I write this a funeral is being planned for five Palestinian sisters who were slaughtered in their sleep when an airstrike hit the next-door mosque in .Gaza. One of the walls collapsed on to their small asbestos-roofed home and they were all killed in their beds in the densley populated Jabalya refugee camp. The eldest sister, Tahrir Balousha was 17 years old, the youngest, Jawaher, just four.
Some hours earlier Israel's Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told al Jazeera: "Hamas seeks to kill children; it fires at kindergartens, schools, civilians – because this corresponds with its extremist ideology. Our values are completely different," she said.
Her outrageous claim went unchallenged, like so many statements coming out of Tel Aviv do these days. In a way, Ms Livni is right – Israel's values are different. Hamas has killed no one's children but the Israeli cabinet members who have spent the last six months planning the Gaza massacre, have sent out their military on assaults which have killed children. The air and sea attacks, shells and missiles have killed lots of Palestinian children.
While today's continued military slaughter – and now piracy – underlines the fact that leaders in the international community seem unwilling or unable to halt the Zionist War Machine, there are international lawyers who think otherwise.
And that is why one by one, those responsible will one day be charged with war crimes ... the evidence is stacking up – Nuremberg would be quite a fitting arena to try the guilty but London, Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam or Madrid will do.
The Israelis might not acknowledge their guilt publicly, but Brigadier-General Aviv Kochavi has canceled a study sabbatical in London for fear of being indicted for "war crimes" and former IDF Southern Commander Doron Almog clung on to his passenger seat when someone from the israeli Embassy advised him not to put one foot on the ground at London's Heathrow Airport after a suit had been filed against him for "war crimes" during his stint as head of the IDF Gaza division from 1993-95 and head of the IDF Southern Command starting in 2000. IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon and former Shin Bent director Avi Dichter are two others who are advised not to leave outside Israel.
I understand fresh writs are being prepared for the next generation of Israeli war criminals and that includes all those involved in the Gaza massacres ... which could be anyone from a lowly reservist who has just been called up right through to the top ranks and beyond.
Like the Nazi and war crime hunters of the past, we must never forgive, never forget and never submit to the demands of morally bankrupt states and politicians.
* Yvonne Ridley and film-maker Aki Nawaz sailed to Gaza with the Free Gaza Movement on the first mission to break the siege. A documentary about the trip will be broadcast on Press TV in 2009. Yvonne is a co-founder of the newly-launched Stop Gaza Slaughter (SGS) coalition.