Two members of Congress said U.S. citizens who join a flotilla planning to break Israel’s embargo of the Gaza Strip should face prosecution.
“Israel’s blockade of terrorist territory is absolutely legal,” Congressman Gary Ackerman said during a visit to Jerusalem today with a fellow Democratic representative from New York, Nita Lowey. “And the people who would run an international legal blockade are subject to the legal ramifications of all countries, including the United States.”
Ten ships sailing from European ports this week are expected to reach the waters off Gaza in the coming days. Israel said it will not allow the vessels to reach the Hamas-controlled Palestinian enclave. The State Department has warned that Americans who join the fleet may be breaking U.S. law.
A previous attempt to reach Gaza by sea ended in violence on May 31 last year when Israeli naval commandos dropped from helicopters onto the deck of the Mavi Marmara, part of a six-boat convoy, and opened fire after the ship refused to stop. Israel says people on board shot first and attacked with iron bars, an allegation they denied. Nine Turks were killed.
Americans taking part in the flotilla may “violate U.S. civil and criminal statues” against “conspiring to deliver material support” to terrorist organizations, the State Department said last week. Hamas is classified as a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and the European Union.
“It’s very clear to us is that what is illegal under international law, and immoral as well, is the Israeli blockade of Gaza,” said Akram Bader, Jerusalem-based spokesman for US2Gaza, a group trying to bring about 30 Americans with the flotilla. They include novelist Alice Walker, author of “The Color Purple,” Bader said in a phone interview.
While Israel will aim for minimal friction with flotilla participants, it is concerned that organizers are bringing on board chemicals they intend to use to attack soldiers, said an Israeli official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Among the passengers may be Hamas members and others who mean Israelis harm, he said.
“The flotilla participants have been very clear that they are non-violent activists, and all the boats will be searched at their points of departure to make sure that their cargo consists only of humanitarian aid,” spokesman Bader said.
Israel says it needs the blockade to prevent arms smuggling to Hamas, which seized control of Gaza in 2007 after winning parliamentary elections the previous year, ending a unity government with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.