Anti-Israel activists are launching a fresh high-seas publicity stunt. The ships of Freedom Flotilla II will set sail sometime this week to commemorate the May 2010 Gaza blockade run, which ended in violence. Nine passengers on the Turkish-flagged ship Mavi Marmara were killed resisting a boarding by Israeli naval commandos. Israeli officials don't expect violence this year, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu informed his Cabinet that no ships will be permitted to breach the Gaza security perimeter. This type of confrontation is exactly what flotilla organizers want.
The Freedom Flotilla is a public-relations exploit in the guise of a humanitarian relief effort. Conditions in Gaza are far from the crisis activists would have the world believe. There are no refugee flows out of the area, people aren't starving, and they don't want for basic medical care. Two luxury hotels reportedly will open soon in Gaza, along with a new multilevel shopping mall. Last week, the United Nations and Israeli officials agreed to a $100 million project to build new homes and schools in the strip.
Socioeconomic data also fail to paint a portrait of misery. Life expectancy in Gaza is 74, seven years above the world average and higher than in Egypt, India or Russia. Infant mortality, a reliable indicator of problem-state status, is less than half the world average. The inflation rate in 2010 was 3.5 percent, compared to an annualized U.S. rate of 3.6 percent in May this year. Unemployment, though high at 25 percent, has dropped in recent months. If Hamas weren't using Gaza as a launching pad for rockets and mortars against Israel, there wouldn't be much of a problem.
Among the ships in the 2011 flotilla is an American-flagged vessel, the perhaps ironically named Audacity of Hope. The Obama administration is taking a dim view of this tribute. Last week, the State Department issued a travel advisory for Israel, the West Bank and Gaza that described the Gaza coast as "dangerous and volatile." It warned that three dozen Americans participating in the flotilla could face arrest, prosecution and deportation. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton stated flatly that the United States does "not believe that the flotilla is a necessary or useful effort to try to assist the people of Gaza" and reaffirmed Israelis' "right to defend themselves."
The flotilla is facing even rougher seas. A suit has been filed in Manhattan federal court seeking to seize 14 of the vessels because they were outfitted with funds unlawfully raised in the United States by the Free Gaza Movement (FGM), among other groups. Plaintiff Alan Bauer, who was wounded in a Palestinian suicide bombing in Jerusalem in March 2002, is exercising his rights under 18 USC 962, which provides that anyone in America who "furnishes, fits out, [or] arms" a vessel to "to cruise, or commit hostilities" against any state or people "with whom the United States is at peace" shall face fines and imprisonment, and every such vessel "shall be forfeited, one half to the use of the informer [who brought the case] and the other half to the use of the United States."
Maybe losing their ships will teach these high-seas hippies that supporting terrorism is not a game.
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