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NZ Govt Misrepresents Peaceful Humanitarian Flotilla

NZ Government Misrepresents Peaceful Humanitarian Flotilla as Provocative

Through Hon. Murray McCully’s response to Harmeet Sooden’s letter, the New Zealand Government has officially declined to fulfil its statutory obligations to protect New Zealand citizens who are delivering medical supplies to Gaza at the end of June as part of a lawful, humanitarian flotilla.

Rather than address Mr Sooden’s requests, the Government has simply “advised the Israeli Ambassador that New Zealand citizens may be participating in the flotilla and [the Government’s] expectation that, if New Zealand citizens breach any Israeli laws, or are detained for any reason, they will be treated appropriately in accordance with international obligations.”

Mr Sooden explains, “As the flotilla doesn’t intend to enter Israeli waters, the only way we can end up in Israeli custody is by being kidnapped in international waters—something Israel has been doing to civilians since the 1970s.”

There has been no indication of a response from the Israeli Ambassador. According to a recent New York Times article, however, the Israeli Navy has threatened, “We will do anything we have to do to prevent a boat from breaking the blockade.”

Despite requests, the New Zealand Government refuses to state its position on the legality of Israel’s blockade of Gaza. The natural conclusion, therefore, is that the Government, in choosing to subordinate itself to United States foreign policy, condones the blockade, which the Red Cross has said “constitutes a collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel's obligations under international humanitarian law”, and the Goldstone Report has described as a possible crime against humanity.

Mr Sooden replies, “Israel like New Zealand has a duty to defend its citizens, but it has no right to raid our ships to enforce an unlawful blockade.”

Israel’s security concerns can be addressed without the resort to a military-enforced blockade. International law provides for neutral merchant vessels to have their cargo certified as non-military. Israel has the choice of cooperating with third-party states to establish mutually satisfactory mechanisms to ensure that contraband does not enter Gaza. There is no evidence thus far that Israel has availed itself of any peaceful options.

The Government discourages “the use of flotillas to deliver assistance to Gaza given their potential to escalate into violent conflict” and is of the opinion that “assistance and goods destined to Gaza should be channelled through legitimate crossings and established channels”. Mr Sooden says, “The flotilla is a lawful enterprise and, moreover, there would be no need for flotillas if Western governments had the political will to enforce international law.”

He adds, “The success of the upcoming flotilla and those to follow will be measured not by whether we reach Gaza, but by civil society’s actions to resist Western-backed Israeli crimes and to stand in solidarity with Palestinians.”

Mr Sooden’s flight departs from on Monday, 20 June at 11:15pm, and will join New Zealander Vivienne Porzsolt and other flotilla participants in Greece. He is available to meet with members of the media and public at 8:30pm at Auckland Airport.

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